In Oisans, France, torrential rains and melting snow have swollen rivers, including the Étançons, which has completely overflowed its banks, submerging La Bérarde and destroying this century-old village. A historic mountaineering center, La Bérarde no longer exists, and neither does the road, washed away by the flooding over several kilometers. Access to the heart of the Ecrins massif is neither possible nor authorized.

This is a major disaster for the mountain community in France, and of course for all the inhabitants of the Veneon Valley. The hamlet of La Bérarde, which belongs to Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans, 11 km away, was completely devastated last Friday and Saturday. The torrent des Étançons, which flows from the Meije, overflowed its banks, swollen by heavy snowmelt. It swept away the bridge at the entrance to La Bérarde. Worse still, the Etançons torrent overflowed its bed, turning it to the west, and submerged La Bérarde, sweeping away several houses.

“Since 2 a.m. today, June 21, the Étançons torrent (a tributary of the Vénéon) has suffered a break in its flow, with major ice jams causing flooding in the heart of the hamlet of La Bérarde,” said the Isère Prefecture. Aerial videos show the hamlet completely flooded, with heavy brown water still pouring down, destroying dividing walls and houses and the heart of the village. The church at La Bérarde is surrounded by water.

At the start of the flood, the houses in the center of the village were still standing, but would be destroyed the day after.

The 1892 church no longer exists, nor does this street, nor some of the houses visible in this 2022 photo. ©JC

Saturday, the rescuers from Sécurité Civile carried out dozens of helicopter rotations to evacuate the inhabitants of La Bérarde, as well as visiting mountaineers and hikers – a total of around 97 people. In Bourg d’Arud, campsites near the Vénéon were evacuated yesterday, while the road is cut off after Venosc and even before this village, the first when you come from Bourg d’Oisans.

It’s a disaster for La Bérarde, the Mecca of mountaineering in the Écrins massif on the Isère side. There were no casualties which is a miracle considering the situation. The PGHM (mountain rescue) managed to rescue (then heliport) a resident trapped in the frame of his chalet, surrounded by water. 

It’s a disaster for La Bérarde, the Mecca of mountaineering in the Écrins massif


Seen from a helicopter, the new bed of the Étançons torrent has ravaged the center of La Bérarde, sweeping away several houses. Built in 1892, at the time of the first conqueror of the Meije, the emblematic peak of the Oisans massif, the church of La Bérarde has been destroyed. It’s a landscape of apocalypse for all mountaineers and hikers who have ever visited the area.

It should be noted that the mayor of Saint-Christophe-en-Oisans and the prefect of Isère have each issued an order prohibiting people from entering the Upper Vénéon-La Bérarde disaster zone, due to the risks to people (buildings threatening to collapse, inability to cross rivers).

How could such a catastrophe happen? The river was laden with materials that may have been responsible – in part – for the June 21 tragedy. The retreat of the Bonnepierre glacier, a tributary of the stream, also made way for a new lake, which may have overflowed with last week’s particular weather episode, combining torrential rain and sudden melting of record snow volumes at altitude for late June.

A symbol of mountaineering in France, a wilderness place not accessible in winter, La Bérarde has become a dystopian allegory of our present world, and this is terrible news for all mountain lovers in Europe.