Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stage 52 -- Refuge de Rosuel to the Refuge du Col Palet (Val Claret)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Friday, August 31st, 2007

3:45 in the morning. That's when Russ and Sally got back from, it turns out, a cafe/disco in Les Arcs (30 mins drive away). They had a great time, although the alcohol and cigarettes and short night left Russell feeling a little under the weather this morning. He said to me, is there any way to get to Col Palet by car, because if there is, I'm taking it. Unfortunately there wasn't.

But fortunately it is not a long hike. The literature says 5 hours from Rosuel to Col Palet, the signpost said 4.5 hours, I did it in 2 hours and 40 minutes (not counting about 40 minutes waiting for Russ and Sally). So, it was almost like another rest day.

The weather was dry but with fog and low clouds, so we didn't see very much other than a couple of dozen marmots who seemed to have figured out that they are living in a National Park and thus need have no fear of humans. Everywhere else they whistle alarm and run away at first sight; here they let me walk by at times only 5 meters from them.

The hut at Col Palet is pretty basic at the best of times... and this isn't the best of times because they are renovating. So although there is a shower, it is cold, and the toilet is an outdoor portacabin. At least the wood-burning stove in the dining room / lounge is on and putting out a goodly amount of heat.

There are a couple of French guys hiking the GR5 and five other English hikers here tonight, so I'll talk to them if Russ and Sally as expected collapse into bed around 8:30 :-).

No connectivity, so you won't see this for at least another day.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Rest day at the Refuge de Rosuel
<reminder: photos now available at:

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Not much to report from the day. Sun and clouds in the morning, steady rain in the afternoon. I listened to Dune for most of the day, followed by checking (and being able to download!) email, then answering it, and blogging.

Russell and Sally walked off to a nearby cafe for lunch and did not return until the late evening. Apparently they found an owner as gregarious as Russell was, and when I called them at 7 to say that dinner was going to be served, they said they were in the middle of a game of Boules (in the rain? Or maybe it was inside??) and that they would have dinner there. In consequence they missed out on another superb meal (Tartiflette... mmmmmm) at Rosuel, but I'm sure they had plenty of fun (and are, as I write, still having it!).

Tomorrow we head into the Parc National de la Vanoise. A short hike of 4-5 hours the first day, followed by a couple of longer hikes. Reception may be spotty, so if there are no blog posts, you'll know why. I'm off for a shower and some horizontal digestive activity... perhaps while finishing off Dune. The weather is supposed to be good for the next several days, so no need to keep it for the trail!

Stage 51 -- Refuge de la Balme to the Refuge du Rosuel

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

After 7 days almost without rain (the couple of showers the previous day didn't really count), today the weather turned bad again. Not really bad -- it was still quite warm -- but rainy and that's bad enough when you hike.

Fortunately the hike today was relatively undemanding: a long downhill into the deep valley of the Isere (same Celtic root as the Isar River that runs through Munich), followed by a relatively easy climb up the Peisey-Nancroix valley to the Refuge de Rosuel where we would spend the night.

In addition, the following day was to be a rest day, and that always makes untoward weather easier to bear.

We set off quite late, seeing no reason to rush out into the rain, shortly after our dinner companions of the night before, both of whom were planning to go further that day than us. In point of fact, I think that neither did: he ended up staying with us at the Refuge de Rosuel, and she was last seen in the valley at a bus-stop, looking sort of damp and saying something about there being no buses going to where she wanted to go. Rain makes traitors of us all.

We had a nice lunch in Landry, marred for me by a blistering broadside from Sally in response to my fairly innocuous observation, having checked the news, that yet another publicly homophobic Republican Senator had gotten himself into trouble by consorting with homosexuals. Sally more or less accused me of being bigoted since after all Democrats also got into scandals. My attempts to explain that I was drawing attention to the hypocrisy were vigorously ignored (yes, it is possible), and the rest of the hike was done without much communication. I blame the weather... and the fact that given the zero visibility I listened to more of Dune.

We met our other French friend from the previous evening -- Pierre Schwartz from the Alsace, a name that will amuse German readers -- a couple of times during the day. Although he was hiking at least 40% faster than us, he ended up taking about the same time, primarily because he stopped to collect some 3kg of Cepes (Steinpilze, and I don't know the English translation, to my shame), as well as taking trails that added at least another few hundred meters of ascent and descent vis a vis the route we took.

Pierre was a very nice fellow, and he not only shared the raw Cepes with us on the trail (excellent taste), but also prepared and cooked them in the kitchen of the refuge that evening, to go along with a superb meal prepared by the Gardien. This was, I think, the best meal we have yet had at a mountain hut, surpassing even the excellent repast at the Gafadura Huette in Liechtenstein so many weeks ago.

We were only six at the refuge that evening -- a combination of end of season slowness plus poor weather -- and so we all ate together, sharing three bottles of wine and much humourous conversation. It was a very nice atmosphere, and, as said, a superb meal. With such cuisine and table conversation, who cares about a little rain? Not me.

Stage 50 -- Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme to Refuge de la Balme

<reminder: photos now available at:

Tuesday, August 28th, 2007

Apologies for not posting more frequently; as feared, we have entered a region of minimal connectivity.

Today we had a lovely hike, marred only a little by a couple of showers (although the last one, at least for Russell and Sally, was a little hefty). But I get ahead of myself.

We left early, before 8, heading for lunch at the Refuge du Plan de la Lai, which the long-haired, laid-back dudes at the Col du Bonhomme assured me was at least 3 hours away. 90 minutes later I was working at convincing the Gardien of Plan de la Lai to make us a couple of sandwiches with the last of his bread for a later picnic: we had arrived there not only ahead of the freaks' predictions, but also of the daily bread delivery.

One success later we continued on our way. Some time after the first of the aforementioned showers we had lunch and I described the upcoming path to Russ and Sally: we go round this shoulder, I said, then climb to a pass next to a massive rock monolith that local legend says was kicked out of a ridge over there (and with this I glanced to the northwest and pointed to a ridge with a conspicuous notch) by a giant called Gargantua.

General disbelief.

Russ said, you just made that up and you got lucky that there was a notch in that ridge. I said that I hadn't and although I was lucky that I could see the ridge at that moment, I nevertheless knew where to look. We haven't followed up on the conversation, but I can reveal to you now that it was in fact not made up, and that Rabelais later used this tale and others from the Savoie in his ground-breaking work, Gargantua and Pantagruel. But that is perhaps a little too much literary one-upmanship for this blog. Grin.

We continued on. About an hour later we stopped for a rest at the beginning of the 700m climb to the Col du Bresson. The day was in one of its sunny phases and Russell and Sally were inclined to tarry and enjoy it. I told them that I mistrusted any day that had already rained on me, and that I was going to push on. I explained how to get to the refuge after the pass and assured them that I would wait there if the signposting was unclear.

By the time I got to the pass the skies were once more dark with heavy clouds and, since the signposting was clear, I started the 500m descent. Almost immediately the first few drops fell, so I sped up, using what Sally calls my "gazelle" moves (or at least, that's what she says on a good day; on a bad day she calls me Gollum). Each time I slowed down, the raindrops started again, and so I went down in 30 minutes what should have taken an hour, arriving just 5 minutes ahead of a torrential thundershower.

Fortunately Russ and Sally arrived in a good mood: the short shower hadn't troubled them overmuch. We then had a very nice evening, with a couple of (unconnected) French hikers, a couple of bottles of strong red wine, and an extremely tasty traditional Savoyard dish (whose name escapes me at the moment, but which contained pasta, lots of cheese, onions, and mushrooms).

The only fly in the evening ointment was my discovery after dinner that the toilet was of that rather unpleasant type known in England as "Turkish toilets": no seat, just a couple of places to put your feet while crouching over a hole. I commented to the Frenchman that it had been a long time since I had seen one of these... and that I had not missed them. Yuck.

Stage 49 --Refuge de Miage to Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, August 27th, 2007

In spite of the singing last night, we all slept very well. After saying goodbye to Gabi and Thomas in the morning, we hiked down to Les Contamines de Montjoie ("Contamines" always sounds to me like there has been an industrial accident nearby, but in fact it means commons, as in land that was held in common tenancy by a nearby town or village).

From there we went up valley, climbing steadily to Nant Borrant, a little hut with a lawn, small tables, parasols, bright sunshine, good food, and beautiful views. Bet you can't guess what we did there....

After a leisurely lunch we had a long slog in the hot sun up to the Col du Bonhomme. I think the mountain scenery was spectacular, but I'm not sure, because I was listening to an audiobook on Russell's iPod Nano and it turns out that I am unable to do that, walk without stumbling on a trail, and look around at the scenery all at the same time. When the book in question is a science fiction classic like Frank Herbert's Dune, well my multi-tasking just becomes that much more inept.

In retrospect, although I love the book, it was disappointing to have in a way "missed" the hike. I have therefore decided not to listen to any more audio-books while hiking unless there is literally nothing to see.

We arrived at the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (French place-names must be on average the longest in Europe), a rather stark-looking place in rather stark surroundings. At 2433m this is the highest overnight that we will do on the H2H, and looking around at the emptiness left me happy that the rest of the time we have been and will be lower and in greener surroundings.

Not only each mountain hut, but also the personnel of each hut, seems to have its own character. The personnel at this hut were, well, a crew of skateboarders comes to mind. They had some odd hut rules as well: no showers before 17:00, and everyone had to sit together at one (very) long table where it was for those on the side closest to the wall impossible to easily get out once they were seated. But the food was plentiful and our dinner companions (an Irish couple by the names of Conor and Una -- hope I have the spelling right!) exceptionally congenial.

Another nice day.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Stage 48 -- Chamonix to Miage

<reminder: photos now available at:

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

It turns out that Thomas and Gabi will only be with us for one day of hiking, because (they say) they can't figure out how to get from Col du Croix du Bonhomme back to Chamonix on Wed AM in less than 7 hours. Personally I think Thomas just wants to get back to play tennis -- I caught him making a court reservation for Wed night :-).

Another lovely hike, down the Arve valley, up over a pass, then a descent to cross under the end of a glacier, up over another pass (going through a large area of blueberry bushes as we did so), and finally a descent to the Chalets de Miage, under another of the many glaciers descending from Mont Blanc, where we are staying for the night. The highpoint of the day was at around 2140m at the second pass where a number of very friendly, and apparently salt-deficient, sheep tried to lick us and out backpacks. Not even fairly hard pushing dissuaded them. We have some neat pictures....

The refuge is full tonight, so we dosed ourselves with a couple of liters of wine, popped in earplugs, and are now chatting (odd that this is possible with earplugs) with an English couple doing the Tour du Mont Blanc. Russell just rolled over and over down the row of beds, somewhat to the detriment of Sally, Gabi, and Thomas who were in the way.

Now they are singing songs.

Despite us all being in bed at 9:05, it doesn't look like it is going to be an early night....