Hiking (mountain trail, in places narrow and exposed)
Alpine route (equipped or very exposed section, snow field, blocks)
Maljasset » Chiappera
Just after leaving Maljasset, the trail turns off to the east into the grassy valley of Mary to reach the pass by the same name, which opens out onto Italy. The route follows the Maurin valley downwards, past Lake Sagna to the hamlet of Chiappera at the bottom of the valley, near the imposing Rocca Provenzale fortress.
At the fork in the trail after the Maurin chapel, head down the track to the right to cross the Ubaye river. Opposite this, climb up through the larch wood until reaching the Alpet stream. The track then joins the old marble quarry track, which is left behind on the left on reaching a wide terrace. Continue, climbing back up the little Mary valley across meadowland. Leave the trail that descends to the right towards the Pierre André peak. On a level with the upper Mary shepherd’s hut and just before reaching it, leave the trail heading to the Marinet lake to the right and then a little later, the trail that branches off to the left towards the Rourre lakes. Every so often, the trail uses an old track paved by the Italians to reach the pass. At the pass, take note of the letterbox placed there by the "Alpes sans Frontières" association. (Hubert Tassel, CDRP 04)
Natural and cultural heritage
Head back up the watercourse leaving from Maljasset, and you will come across the listed church of St Antoine de Maurin, built in the XIIIth century in the beautiful meadowland setting. It was destroyed by an avalanche in 1531, only to be restored then in pink Guillestre marble (pink and red coloured limestone). Only one typical alpine chapel is attached to it, as each hamlet has its own. Numerous mission crosses in larch wood frame the onward trail in memory of the rare ceremonies given by a priest to baptise or hear all of the confessions of the inhabitants of this isolated region. Before plunging down into the Mary valley (etymologically derived from the word “mauvais” or “bad”), a few remains of a green marble quarry (serpentine veined with white limestone) can be distinguished in the middle of the woods. In operation from 1838 until the Second World War, the serpentinite was used for a number of buildings such as the steps of the Garnier opera or the pillars of the street lamps on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. The trail then starts the climb up the valley, which is decorated with a Passour cross reminding us of one of the signs of the Passion of Christ, to reach the Mary pass. It passes one sheepfold after another at the foot of the igneous rocky peaks ranging from dark green to orange. In fact, the quartzite Pierre André point is named in memory of the shepherd who climbed it for the first time. Its profile still makes it a popular spot for modern-day climbing, despite its all-in-all rather modest height. The passage of the troops and their canons at the time of the Franco-Italian conflicts and then of the flocks of sheep have left their mark on this wide, grassy valley. This is an area which demonstrates astonishing geological specifities. Between the famous, pinkish Aiguilles de Chambeyron and the Brec de l’Homme mountains stand rocky glaciers (34 of which are still active in Ubaye), glaciers covered over time by considerable layers of rock in the form of lumps of limestone scree that appear to flow like lava. This phenomenon is particularly visible at the foot of the northern slope of the Aiguille du Chambeyron peak, there where the rocky scree of the Marinet glacier are almost hurled down into the emerald green lakes of the same name. Leaving behind this particularity, which Man has taken years to explain, the trail reaches the Mary pass, which features a real letterbox that anyone can fill or empty to take the letters to the nearest post office… This tradition, still alive today, has the merit of perpetuating Franco-Italian exchanges and of acknowledging the geographical proximity of the two countries. Indeed, Via Alpina benefited from this in 2002, the year of its inauguration: the French postman climbed to the pass to collect the letters brought by the French and Italian delegations who had arranged to meet each other on the pass to celebrate this event! (Sara Zeidler, Gilles Chappaz, Grande Traversée des Alpes)