Friday, July 06, 2012

Day 10 -- Sisteron to Chardavon

Short summary -- nobody is perfect.

After a nice dinner in our Sisteron hotel of (for most of us) the local specialty -- l'Agneau de Sisteron (lamb) -- and (for some of us) way too much excellent cheese, we went to bed early once again. The following morning I had planned for us to visit the citadel... but for a couple of reasons this plan was summarily shelved. For one thing, a couple of hikers expressed a desire to start early so as to avoid the heat of the afternoon. For another, I wasn't quite sure that the hike was going to be as short as planned (4.25 hours)... in part because the current group hikes at a, shall we say, moderate pace, and in part because the trail went off my maps for a while and I wasn't quite sure what it did there (and thus how long it would take).

So we set off around 9:30, and found, as soon as we reached the other side of the Durance, that the trail had been changed... instead of turning right, as I expected, it turned left and started climbing steeply. This, it was to transpire, was only the first of a number of suprises during the day's hike.

It was a nice day -- warm, but not too warm, with scattered clouds -- and the hike went through lovely and dramatic countryside that ever and anon drew our guide's (i.e., my) atttention away from where we were going. In addition, the hiking group has in the meantime gelled so that there are always several interesting conversations going on at any one time... which also didn't help my concentration. And lastly, I think that in the back of my mind was the attitude that because it wasn't a very long hike, there was no great urgency.

Whatever the reasons, my map-reading was pretty woeful. On one occasion we missed a trail turn (all of us, that is, except for Russell, who bringing up the rear and being some distance behind (for reasons into which it is perhaps better not to go), didn't see which way we had gone and thus took the right path... only to be called back onto the wrong path... a call he followed without telling us that he had seen the trail markings going the other way... sigh). It took a while until we realized the error.

On another occasion an oddly placed hiking signpost pointed us towards our goal (the tiny village of Saint Geniez) along a road... but after a while I noticed that the road wasn't heading in the right direction. So, we retraced our steps to the signpost... and realized that it had been mounted incorrectly: the arrow indicating Saint-Geniez pointed in completely the wrong direction. A fact I could have realized if I had been paying attention to the map....

And then my time estimation was off -- ten minute predictions turning out to take over half an hour.

All in all, unimpressive orienteering. But, as Bismarck (I think) once said in a missive to the Kaiser, after a conference in which all of his plans had gone awry, the situation was hopeless, but not serious. It was, after all, not that long a hike, the trails were excellent, and the weather was fine.

We rolled into Saint-Geniez about 3:45PM, and, after a couple of rounds of drinks at the local café, got to our B&B around 5. Another great day on the H3H.

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Day 9 -- Jas des Bailles to Sisteron

Short summary -- living on the edge.

By which is meant both the paths and the weather... as I'll explain below. But first I need to finish off the day before, since I wrote the blog entry before dinner, and before our cousin Sophie, who was supposed to join us at Jas des Bailles, had appeared.

Dinnertime was at 7:30, and, since Sophie had neither appeared nor sent message of her arrival time (apparently -- in fact she had sent me an SMS but due to poor connectivity it did not arrive), we started without her. As each course appeared, we conscientiously set aside one seventh for her... only to divide it up amongst ourselves when the next course seemed imminent and Sophie still had not arrived. In this way we reached the end of dinner (which was very nice... and copious :-). And of course shortly afterwards Sophie showed up (her train had been delayed). Hungry, poor thing.

Fortunately, our very nice landlady (who had started to doubt that Sophie existed as more than a way for us to get extra large helpings of dinner) sprang to the rescue and offered her an omelette with paté, salad, and cheese... so although Sophie missed out on the superb lasagna main course, overall she did ok. The only problem was that the rest of us were all tired from our hike... so we all went to bed at 10PM, about fifteen minutes after she finished eating. It is a good thing that Sophie is a very understanding person.

The next day dawned cloudy and muggy. Since the hike would not be too long and no thunderstorms were expected, we didn't especially hurry to leave... eventually starting around 9AM. Another lovely hike. Down a valley, around a shoulder, along an outthrust ridge sloping down to the village of Valbelle, then to and across the wide valley of the Jabron, and up into the hills on the far side. After lunch we climbed to another high ridge, like but lower than the Montagne de Lure from the previous day, and walked several kilometers along it, with great views to either side, until the trail dropped down into the town of Sisteron.

I should say, into the very lovely town of Sisteron. It has a spectacular location between two huge spurs of rock where in ages past the Durance River, already very large and powerful due to draining a significant chunk of the French Alps, had carved a passage. Sisteron has a number of spectacular buildings, including a large church, a couple of towers, and an extensively fortified citadel... none of which, of course, anyone looked at closely since we were all tired from the hike! We did have a good view of the citadel when coming down from the ridge, and our hotel was situated on the same square as the church and the towers... but that's as close as we got. It is almost always like that when you hike in the mountains: culture and history take a back seat to baser needs and desires.

And a few last words about Sophie, since this was her first real mountain hike, I think. She did very well. Kept up the whole day, at times even in front, and although tired at the end there were no (ok, minimal... :-) complaints. We might have a convert....

And why "on the edge"? Well, there were dark clouds all day, with the odd raindrop, but as luck would have it, it didn't actually rain until we were in Sisteron having dinner. And the ridge walks at times gave us precipitous views down to either side. A little melodramatic, I know... but I figured Sophie's parents would appreciate the tension :-).

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Day 8 -- Cruis to Jas des Bailles

Awesome views... and cool!

As in, not hot! We hiked up to the 1830m peak of the Montagne de Lure today... a hike I was a little worried about since it was supposed to take eight hours, and if it had been hot it would have been very difficult. But it was not hot! Cool in the morning, high clouds, hike up through shadowy woods, breeze up top with scattered clouds... near perfect hiking weather.

In addition instead of eight hours, it only took seven... not, I hasten to add, because of poor planning, but because Suzi chose (sensibly, since it would probably have been too much for her) to take the shorter (5.5 hours) option, and so I allowed myself to push the others a little faster. For those who are wondering (i.e., Lidia) -- Thomas went with Suzi, so we didn't leave her to hike alone.

The hike up was charming -- through pine and beech woods, along small valleys that opened out further up with broom and other wildflowers and butterflies everywhere, and up top meadows of long grass and views... astoundingly beautiful views. The Montagne de Lure is the highest peak in the region and the day was clear. To the north one could see the snow-covered peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins, which we'll wander through in about a week from now. To the west one could see all the way to Mont Ventoux. To the east, range after range of ever higher mountains, to the southeast the checkerboard fields of the Plateau de Valensoie, and to the southwest the Luberon mountain. Stunning.

And the fact that there were a few moments that I even felt slightly cool made the whole day almost perfect.

Oh, and one more thing: with earplugs I couldn't hear a thing, so Russell survived the night :-).

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Beautiful countryside near Cruis

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Day 7 -- Forcalquier to Cruis

Short summary: pleasant and warm.

Of course, that's perhaps not how Suzi would summarize it. But having had the experiences of the first week, that's how it seemed to me.

I'll back up a bit.... Spent a nice five days in England (Madeleine's graduation, cousin Emma's engagement party, a hilarious play called "Noises Off" by Michael Frayn, and various meals and conversations with my mother, niece Maya, various other relations, Bonnie & Kissi, and so on.

Flew back to Provence yesterday (Monday) arriving at the Mas around 6PM. My brother Russell and Thomas and Suzi Gößl were already there. At 6:02 my friend and colleague Micah Adler arrived, followed at 7PM by our friends Jean-Paul and Françoise, and 7:45PM our friend François. After showing Micah around (his first time there), I, helped by various people, cooked dinner, signed checks, wired money to pay bills, answered emails, petted the dog, unpacked and packed, and various other things. Early the following morning I drove off (with Russell and the Gößls) to Forcalquier, met up with Reinhard and Valentin Sattinger, and resumed the hike.

Frankly, not hiking is more tiring than hiking.

It was a nice walk, some up and down, but not too hot (other than in the late afternoon, which got a little toasty). 5.5 hours hiking time. Lovely views. Nice hotel. Good restaurant for dinner. And now Russell is snoring on the other side of our room and I can't concentrate on much more than restraining myself from murdering him. I can't stand snorers. Oh, and wait, in the room above me is Thomas, who has one of the loudest snores I have ever heard (experienced, to my everlasting regret, on the H2H training hike), and whose voice I can now hear talking with Suzi... which means that once he goes to sleep I'm going to hear his snoring too.


Looks like it is going to be an earplugs night.

Either that or multiple murders....

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