Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stage 61 -- Ceillac (Pied du Melezet) to Maljasset

<reminder: photos now available at:

Wednesday, Sept 12th, 2007

Tuesday was a rest day, and breakfast at Le Matefaim was, as expected, minimal, although there must be a good baker in town because the bread was excellent. I told the proprietress that we wouldn't be coming for dinner and then Chris and I set off to look for alternatives. There weren't many, but we found one that looked like it would be OK, and it was. Not great, but certainly OK, and with friendly service and a dog who did a highly skilled imitation of a film-star (photos to follow).

I ordered Magret de Canard, which I like best when it is served with cooking juices (Bratensaetze), but this one came with a creamy mushroom sauce, which was nice but a bit of overkill given the fatty nature of the Magret. In addition, and much to the confusion of the waiter, I shared a Fondue Savoyarde with Christine, which was a mistake. Not because I couldn't eat my part, that wasn't a problem, but rather because it was the worst fondue we have had so far -- they had not managed to get the wine to mix fully with the cheese, and the result was... disappointing. But the Cahors wine was excellent, and everything else (especially the Salade Landaise that Russ and Sally had) was very good. And much, much better than the previous night at Le Matefaim.

In case you are wondering why I am suddenly going into such detail about the food, it is at the request of Lidia, who commented that describing a meal as "excellent" didn't really give her much opportunity for vicarious pleasure!

Today we rose fairly late, both because the hike would be short so there was no hurry, and also because we needed to get lunch from the supermarket and it didn't open until 9.

The first part of the hike was along a road up the valley to the south, then we started climbing steeply, passing a couple of idyllic lakes, before reaching the Col Girardin (2699m) around 2PM. We sat for a while soaking in the wild view across the Maljasset valley, picking out tomorrow's pass.

There were a few clouds around, and a bit of wind, and given the altitude it wasn't warm enough to stay there for very long, so after about 15 minutes we started the steep 800m descent to Maljasset. This was a good test of the various leg injuries of the group, and luckily it seemed as if everyone came down ok, with Russell's knee again being the most problematic.

Maljasset is a classic hamlet: a half-dozen houses, huddled together. Our Refuge for the night seems to be nice enough, although there is a slightly ominous message on a whiteboard: "Depuis 127 jours le bonheur n'est plus dans la vie." Seems like one of those things one shouldn't ask about.

There is no connectivity here, and probably won't be tomorrow either, so it may be a while until you read this.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Stage 60 -- La Chalp-Arvieux to Ceillac (Pied du Melezet)

<reminder: photos now available at:

Monday, Sept 10th, 2007

Wow, 60 stages done, and before the end of the week we'll be out of the high Alps. Earlier in the H2H it seemed as if we were crawling along, now it seems as if we are rushing. I'm not quite at the point of nostalgia yet, but I can feel it approaching!

Had our (or rather my, since I'm the only one who speaks French well enough to notice) first encounter with Provence today: the woman from whom we bought sandwiches for lunch spoke with a Provencal accent, and when I asked her about it she laughed and said that we were in the south now.

The weather agrees: today, as for the past several days, was again sunny and cloudless and warm. The hike was very pleasant: a gently rising balcony trail to a picturesque lake, followed by a steep descent to the village of Chateau Queyras with its impressive 13thC castle reworked in the 17thC by our friend Vauban. Afterwards came a long climb up a valley to the Col du Fromage (so named, I think, due to the extensive deposits of white, crumbly chalk up there), and at the end of the day a short descent through golden fields into the village of Ceillac.

The day was marred only by one thing: clouds of flies on the climb to Col Fromage. They didn't bite, but they annoyed nevertheless, particularly Russell who had the misfortune to swallow one and then promptly vomited. Not a recommended way to lose weight. Yuck.

The Queyras, through which we have been hiking since the Col des Ayres, is one of the most remote regions of France, surrounded by 3000m mountains with only one entry point lower than 2400m -- the gorge of the Guil River, long considered impassable, and along which a road was only built at the start of the 20th Century. It is also, no doubt as a result of its long isolation, a charming place, both landscape and villages, and Ceillac is no exception.

Our accommodation here is, however, another matter. Avoid the Gite-Restaurant de Matefaim if you should come to Ceillac. For a start the rooms are in a separate building some 100m from the restaurant where you have dinner and breakfast. And then they are miniscule, with sloping ceilings making for much head-banging. Lastly (thus far) the evening meal compared somewhat unfavourably to the average standard of cuisine in Britain in the 1950's: definitely the worst we have had in France so far. I am not looking forward to breakfast....

Sunday, September 09, 2007

A third anonymous post!

Curiouser and curiouser...

Strange Things Continue to Happen in the Alps more Frequently
by Urs Ruefli, Alpine Alien Agency, Lausanne

This morning, I had a highly interesting interview. I spoke to an eye witness, Mr Alois Hirnreiser. It was not easy due to his strong dialect. Thus I provide the original interview with the best translation I can offer.

AAA: Mr. Hirnreiser, please briefly describe your profession.

Mr. H: Sog Loisl zu mia wia olle andan a. I bin a Schuasta.
(Mr. H: Please call me Loisl, as all do. I work as a shoemaker.)

AAA: Herr Loisl, what happened on July 5, 2007?

Mr. H: Moanst jezd den arma daifa von dem I dia vorhin erzaed hob?
(Mr. H: Do you refer to the poor devil about whom I reported to you just before?)

AAA: Yes, Mr. Loisl.

Mr. H: Mei, i hobs ja schon gsogt: der hod dermassen verhaude fiass ghabt, sowas hob I no nie gseng. Ois voia bluad.
(Mr. H: As I already stated: he had terribly damaged feet, worse than any thing I have ever seen. All covered with blood.)

AAA: What was the reason for this?

Mr. H: Mei, I moan dea muas ueba vui berg glafa sei. Vo drei dog schaud koana so aus.
(Mr. H: I think he went over many mountains. That mess could not come from just a few days.

AAA: Can you describe him in more detail, please?

Mr. H: Mei, des woa a buildl von am mo. Aussa de fiass. De warn dermassen verhaud. Aba sonst. Mei, gros wie a bam, arm wia bea und koa gram fet.
(Mr. H: Well, he was like a picture of a man. Except his feet. Those were quite damaged. But otherwise he was tall as a tree, arms like a bear, and no gram of fat.

AAA: What did he want from you?

Mr. H: Mei, seine schua warn ganz schee verhaud. Wia seine fiass hoid a. I hobs erm hoid gricht. De schua moane. Via de fiass haeds an dogda brauchd.
(Mr. H: Well, his shoes were quite damaged. As his feet. I repaired them. I mean the shoes, not his feet. His feet were in need of a medical expert.

AAA: What happened to him after he left?

Mr. H: Mei, wia soi I des wissn. I moan, der hod ja kaum ge kenna. I hob dann da Resi, des is mei oide, gsogt: „Resi, do legst di nida, wie dem seine fiass ausschaun. Eha ged a Schwein ueba a hengebrügn ois der auf no an Berg aufi."
„Mr. H: How should I possibly know? He could hardly walk. I then told my dear wife Resi: "Resi, you might want to lie down, if you look at his feet. It is more likely that a pig will go over a swinging bridge than him walking up another mountain."

There is an interesting piece of information to add to this. Another eye witness observed that the bespoke person left the village the next morning. He was walking in a row after another person in a red raincoat. And, did you notice the reference to the pig in the context of the swinging bridge. I never mentioned pigs to Mr. Loisl. Can that be by accident? I don't think so!

Stage 59 -- Briancon to La Chalp-Arvieux

<reminder: photos now available at:

Sunday, Sept 9th, 2007

After an enjoyable and lazy rest day in Briancon, we said goodbye to Mel, whose cheerful presence will be missed... although I must say that it will simplify the ordering of meals (Mel has been on a no-carb diet for the past several years, which presents its own special challenges when you are staying half-pension in a refuge!).

Christine and I also welcomed Russ and Sally back to the hike (after a total of 6 rest days in a row), and we set off around 8:40AM to cross the 2478m Col des Ayres into the high plateau of the Queyras.

Once again it was a beautiful day, and quite a bit warmer than has been the case for the last week. Just as we were unlucky earlier in the summer in the Northern Alps, we seem to be lucky now in the Southern Alps -- and, frankly, just when we really need to be, since if we get a snowfall between now and the 15th of September that blocks any of the next several passes we will be stuck without good options for completing the H2H by foot!

So please cross your fingers, or press your thumbs, or do whatever culture-specific gesture that would be appropriate to wish us weather luck for the next week.

Today's hike was shorter than estimated -- a mere 5.5 hours or so, and we arrived early enough to spend a couple of hours in the warm afternoon sunshine in the garden of our hotel. Even though it is at 1550m, the day was plenty warm enough for sunbathing. Books were read, drinks were drunk, and much relaxation was enjoyed!

And now for the daily injury report. Both the climb and the descent were fairly gradual, and the trails were well-cut and maintained, so it was not a particularly tough challenge for fragile legs. As a result, Sally and Christine came through fine without significant pain.

Russell, though, needed to take an Ibuprofen during the hike, and requested an icepack for his knee afterwards. I don't think that he is in major pain (either during the hike or afterwards), but he is trying to manage his knee as best he can to avoid it getting worse. I have told him that if he is in enough pain for the hiking to be unpleasant, he should not feel obligated to continue -- the weather is fine, there are other people on the trails, and it seems likely that Christine will be hiking to the end of the High Alps, so I feel quite safe. But for now he intends to soldier on.

And that's about it for today. The restaurant here looks excellent and dinner is calling....