Friday, Sept 7th, 2007
We left Nevache, and our lovely hotel -- Les Chalets d'en Ho -- with some regret today, but with the weather once more near perfect (excepting the thick coating of frost, which, however, quickly burned off) and a great hike ahead, we weren't too upset.
The views when climbing out of the east/west valley were striking, with the low morning sun casting long shadows from the many piles of stones in the fields. After passing a beautiful lake, of which the valley apparently has over 200, we crossed the pass of Porte de Cristol at 2483m.
The next part of the hike took us several kilometers along a balcony path with increasingly dramatic vistas of the glaciers and peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins, which we won't visit on the H2H, but which looks well worth a return trip at some point.
We then climbed steeply up to the Crete de Peyrolles, at which point problems started. Christine had developed a couple of nasty blisters on her heels, which made climbing uphill very unpleasant (I knew exactly what she was feeling, having been in the same situation with the cruel shoes a couple of weeks earlier). And Mel discovered that his minor case of vertigo was not quite as minor as he had hoped.
A funny thing, vertigo: completely inaccessible to rational thought. The crest was anything but knife-edged along most of its length: I'd guess that the upper slopes of the sides were between 30 and 45 degrees, so gentle, in fact, that, as I said to Mel, I'd be hard put to hurt myself even if I intentionally threw myself to one side or the other. But, as expected, this made no difference at all to how he felt.
However, Mel is not one to give up because of a little terror, and so he soldiered on, albeit slowly, with great caution, and focussed solely upon the path ahead of him.
After a couple of kilometers, we started to descend (still on the crest), and further problems arose. For one thing, Christine's knees were now what was slowing her down, and for another, after about 200m of descent (out of a total of 1300m), Mel's knee started to complain vigorously once more (the same one that had given him trouble when going down into Modane a couple of days earlier).
Between Christine's eloquent grimaces, Mel's involuntary groans of pain, and me oscillating back and forth between them to check on and encourage each in turn, we must have made a tragi-comic sight, or would have done so if we had met anyone along the way.
The views from the Croix de Toulouse, a micro-chapel vertiginously located some 700m above Briancon were remarkable -- and the many and complex fortifications visible bear witness to the historical importance of the town's role as a strategic point of control in the French Alps. However, by the time we reached the chapel, both Mel and Christine were sufficiently tired so as to be unwilling to take the extra 50 steps required to look down!
But writing this in the afternoon of the next day -- a free day -- I sympathize completely with their decision. For despite the fact that I'm quite interested in military architecture, and that Briancon is supposed to be the crowning masterwork of one of the all-time great military architects (Vauban), I have not been able to summon up the energy to go back up the main street of the town to see the old city in the main fortress.
We finally made it to the hotel around 7:20PM: a very long day considering that we had started at 8:20AM that morning. I still feel tired some 24 hours later. But although I may be alone in this assessment, it really was a great hike :-).