Alpine cattle drive

July 14th, Les Gourniers, Réallon, French Alps : the cattle are brought up to the mountains.

Every summer, the cattle of the region is assembled in the tiny mountain hamlet of Les Gourniers, sitting at the entrance of the Ecrins National Parc, a 93.000 hectares nature reserve in the French high Alps. On the French national holiday, July 14th, the herds are taken up to the mountains in the traditional “amontagnage” to graze for the summer. It is a half day journey up the mountain, followed by a communal meal, celebrations and blessings upon arrival, and another half day back down to the valley. Everyone in the community takes part, even children as young as 6 years old.

The women are an important part of this tradition and usually go up the mountain dressed in the traditional garments. Not last year, though, since any kind of celebration was prohibited with regards to the pandemic in order to avoid attracting tourists. Still, we meet quite a few women on this journey. One of them is Léa, a former dairy farmer who now breeds beef cattle and is, according to the locals, the person we need to talk to. Chairwoman of the local women’s agricultural organisation, farmer since the mid-eighthies and in charge of the local festivities and traditions, Léa is a force to be reckoned with.

In this picture, a young girl is driving one of Léa’s cattle back to the herd. It is very dangerous to stray up here in the mountains, where wolves and ravines form a real threat to isolated animals.

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