Saturday, July 14, 2012

Stage 16 -- Pré de la Chaumette to Puy Saint Vincent

Short summary -- heat not a problem.

However, cold was another matter! After a so-so dinner and a restless night in a dorm room with the other three (although not due to them... I don't know why I couldn't sleep -- the altitude maybe?), we set off around 7:30AM. The weather was cloudy and cool, and after a few minutes it began to rain softly... and it continued to do so for almost all of the rest of the 940m climb up to the Pas de la Cavale. Climbing while wearing raingear is never my favorite thing... but it was cool enough that I didn't sweat too much. The climb took a little over two hours... for all of us other than Thomas, who rocketed up in an hour and forty minutes (thirty minutes ahead of the rest of us). He was, however, appropriately rewarded for his hubris: he got to wait in the windy cold until we arrived, and by then he was shivering. We all felt quite sorry for him. Honest.

It was so cold up top that we left as soon as we could. There followed a short 20 minute traverse to the 2760m Col d'Aup Martin, around the steep mountainside that I has been worried about the day before... but it turned out to be quite easy. I think that it was indicated as a difficult passage on the map because if it had been covered with snow, it would have been deadly. The far side of the Col was a very steep descent down a slope of fine shale that appeared dangerous and would have very much bothered any one with even a light touch of vertigo, but that in fact was quite firm underfoot.

And then the path went down... and down... and down.... After a few hours we got to a road. Valentin -- having dented a shin on a rock a few minutes earlier -- accepted a lift offered by a friendly French couple -- said lift being heroically declined by Russell, who in the absence of Valentin's injury would have accepted it in a split second! Thomas, Russell and I then followed the road down for another couple of hours. Then a path that led even further down. And finally, at around 1160m we hit bottom, and "enjoyed" a steep climb of about 250m up to Puy Saint Vincent... arriving at 5PM, after over 8.5 hours of walking.

Phew. About time for a rest day.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

That should have been...

Sateg 15 -- from Pont du Fossé to Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (and not Puy Saint Vincent... that's the next day)

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stage 15 -- Pont du Fossé to Puy Saint Vincent

Short summary -- vilely misled!!

Dinner yesterday evening was a little mixed -- so-so main course, smallalthough excellent dessert -- but the hosts were nice and the conversation at dinner interesting. They were French, but not from the area, and had moved there four years ago to open a B&B... and for the first three years nobody local spoke to them, despite seeing them every day on the street. Even at school their five year old child was only spoken to by the children of other "immigrants". Apparently this is not unusual in the more remote regions of France -- there was nothing personal, nor were the locals irritated by their opening a B&B... they just didn't want to interact with people who were not from there.

Another interesting thing -- our host told us that it would take no more than two hours to get to our lunch place, and then another two hours to get to the refuge. So we set off around 9:30, in excellent spirits since in the meantime four hours of hiking is almost like a rest day!

As if.

It took three and a half hours to get to the lunch place (although in defense of our host, 45 minutes of this was due to a bridge having been washed away by a river, so we had to go to the next one). And then it took another two and three quarter hours of tough hiking (over scree and rocks of varying sizes) to get from our lunch place to the refuge. Frankly for most people I think it would have taken closer to four hours. And since it is always all about expectations, we were suprisingly tired at the end of the day (5:30PM)... and a little pissed off at our host!

Beautiful countryside, though. Very steep mountains (like in Ticino, for those who have hiked there), narrow valleys, high peaks (2500-3500m). Still scattered patches of snow around -- looking out of the window here in the refuge I can see a couple that are lower than I am (1810m)! Tomorrow we go over a pass at 2760m, and having seen the low-level snow I was a little concerned, but we heard at dinner from some other hikers who had been over the pass today that there was no significant snow. In addition, the weather is supposed to be fine. So, it may be a long and tiring day, but there appear to be no major risks, other than that there is a 1km length that is of particular difficulty. How difficult we will find out tomorrow!

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stage 14 -- Les Brés to Pont du Fossé

Short summary -- halfway day!

At least for me -- 13 stages done, 13 still to do after today. Funny thing: today was the first day that I started to feel like I am getting stronger and fitter. Up until now I have been tired the shorter (but still six hour long!) days and have survived the longer ones... but today, which was six hours of hiking, I didn't feel particularly tired at the end of the day. Just as well -- the day after tomorrow is a huge day crossing the almost 2800m high Col de l'Aup Martin!!

The hotel last night -- La Pastorale -- was very pleasant, and the owner was helpful, organizing a taxi for us to go to dinner in the nearby town of Chorges (the hotel not having a restaurant). We ate well and went to bed early.

The hike today started with a stiff climb of about 630m up to a balcony trail along a forester's road. Although not particularly hot, we were dripping by the time we got to the balcony... and surrounded by flies. I think that flocks of sheep must have passed through a few weeks ago, and we were the beneficiaries of the resultant bumper crop of flies. Most irritating.

But the flies were not of the biting sort, the view from the balcony was a superb panorama (a bit hazy though, so no photo), there was a nice breeze, and some time later the flies suddenly just disappeared, so overall it was a fine morning.

Lunch in Ancelle was excellent (I had a tartiflette -- a classic Savoie dish of cheese, potatoes, and ham), and we shortened the afternoon hike due to popular demand ;-). As a result we got to our Maison d'Hôtes around 4PM... an unusually early time! And then our hosts were kind enough to wash our clothes.

It was a good halfway day....

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Notre Dame de Laus from above

Stage 13 -- Jarjayes to Les Brés

<sorry about that... touched the screen in the wrong place and swoosh the blog post was on its way>

I think that I was in the midst of saying that I felt a little out of place in the refectory, surrounded by people radiating one or the other variants of devotion that I find hard to describe but easy to recognize. However, clearly neither Reinhard nor Russell were affected in the slightest... at least judging by the two liters of red wine that they ordered and (with a little help from Thomas and Valentin) consumed with lunch (which was, by the way, very tasty)!

Afterwards we climbed a steep trail -- appropriately enough a Via Dolorosa with 15 stations -- to a pass to the north, arriving at the top hot, sweaty, and (I suspect) in some cases more tired than would have been the case without wine at lunch ;-). Shortly afterwards we noticed that Reinhard had begun to lag behind dramatically. When asked he said that he was OK, but wanted to take photographs of the huge vistas and lovely countryside. So we split into two groups -- Reinhard and the rest, who were more interested in finishing the hike earlier rather than later.

There remained a long and increasingly dusty descent into a wide valley, crossing a busy road and the railway line from Gap to Briançon, and then a shorter but even less enjoyable ascent of 4km or so along a moderately busy road to the very nice hotel that was our destination for the night.

About an hour later Reinhard limped in, having developed serious and deep blisters on the bottom of at least one foot: his hike, at least for now, was over.

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Stage 13 -- Jarjayes to Les Brés

Short summary -- saints and martyrs.

The saints being encountered at Notre Dame de Laus, one of the top pilgramage sites in France, and the martyr being Reinhard Sattinger as will become clear below.

We were in no hurry to depart from our yurtish paradise, and since Notre Dame de Laus, where we planned to have lunch, was not far away, we also had no need to depart early. So, we ambled off around 10AM.

The day was... well, probably hot, but to be honest, I'm so used to heat by now that unless it is extreme I'm not overly bothered. We walked a while along a quiet road through fields and forest, then up an ever steeper and ever less well marked trail to the Pas de Lièvre (Pass of the Hare). There we found out why the markings had gotten so sketchy -- the trail down to the sanctuary was quite precipitous, and my guess is that the Church wanted to avoid too many pilgrims arriving, or rather trying to arrive, by that route.

However, experienced hikers that we are, we came down without misadventure, after having enjoyed almost a bird's eye view of the sanctuary (photo to be posted shortly).

As we arrived coming down, Reinhard and Valentin arrived coming up, having speed hiked for three hours from their B&B in Ventrols, and we all went in to lunch. I must say that I felt a little out of place in the refectory, surrounded by a mixture of older couples and groups, and younger families, all radiating (at least to my eyes) one or the other variants of

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Jarjayes postscript

I wrote the blog entry before dinner, before getting to know the owners, and before the night spent in the yurts... and all three are worthy of comment.

First, dinner. Best we've had on the trip so far (and we have in general eaten well). A salad of beans and other garden vegetables that had just been picked, followed by lamb slow-cooked for four hours in the oven with "Oreilles d'Ane" -- pasta with cheese and spinach -- and finishing with apricots cooked with thyme and honey. The lamb in particular was heavenly. And as a further indication of how good the meal was, I'll point out that I don't normally like beans much, spinach at all, or apricots except as jam... and here I loved all three.

Second, the owners. Charming, engaging, helpful, he with a fine sense of humour, she with her genius for cooking... it was a pleasure to talk with them.

Third, the night in the yurt. Thomas Bily said he had never slept as well, and while I wouldn't go quite as far, they were very romantic (although for us this night only theoretically, of course, given that there was a notable lack of female company :-), with candlelight and spectacular views out over the vast valley to the mountains on the other side.

Definitely a place to go back to... and soon!!!

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Monday, July 09, 2012


Russell after the last big climb of the day

Castle at Tallard... another place to return to visit

Durance valley panorama with snow-tipped peaks on the right

Looking back through the South American hills...

Day 12 -- La Motte du Caire to Jarjayes

Short summary -- long hot day.

31C predicted... and it was probably about that. 8.5 hours predicted and it took about 8. We were all three of us quite tired by the time we arrived at our yurtish destination shortly before 5PM.

After saying goodbye to Thomas and Suzi... who had originally planned to hike with us today, but for whom the hike would simply have been too long... we walked off along the road to Le Caire around 7:45AM. It was a lovely cool morning, very few cars, and we made good time, arriving in Le Caire after an hour.

There we turned off and headed up into the hills along tracks and then paths that got wilder and wilder. The hills were pretty rugged, and at some point we reached an outlook point from which we could look back along the way we had come... not a sign of civilization to be seen. It felt a little as if we were making our way through some South American landscape before the advent of man... if we had heard monkey calls or the deep cough of a jaguar I wouldn't have been surprised. I've called this France's Empty Quarter before, but this was the first day that it has really felt as if we were all alone.

And then we came to the top, and the valley of the Durance appeared with its motorway, railway, towns and villages, roads, orchards and greenhouses, light industry, electricity pylons, airfield and so on. A stunning view, huge and expansive, framed by mountains... but lacking the magic of the lush and wild hills we had just come through.

Still, off in the distance, but much nearer than when we had seen them last, we could see the snow-tipped peaks of the Parc National des Écrins where we will be in a couple of days. And that was a fine sight too.

The walk down from our pass was delightful for a while, with non-stop views, but towards the end of the morning there was a long, steep, hot and stony descent into Tallard that dragged a bit. It didn't help that I had started to feel a little hungry by mid-morning. At any rate, we came down to the surprisingly tiny Durance RIver shortly before 1PM and sat down in the shade to have lunch.

Looking at the map I saw two things -- why the Durance was tiny (most of the water is diverted through a tunnel for several km to a hydropower statino), and that there wasn't too much further to go to get to Jarjayes. We had done the bulk of the hike before lunch.

But that which remained turned out to be much more difficult than that which we had already done. The heat built up in the afternoon and there was a crushingly steep climb of about 350 meters up a southwest facing slope that just about did us in (photographic proof will be posted shortly!).

We were, as said above, footsore and tired by the time we got to Jarjayes. But some cold water, a shower, and an hour lying down listening to music on my iPad have brought me back from the brink and now I'm thinking about dinner and then bed... instead of just bed. So all's well. Tomorrow's hike should be less strenuous.

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Sunday, July 08, 2012

Rest day in La Motte du Caire

Short summary -- needed by some, appreciated by all.

Except for the Sattingers who will be taking their rest day tomorrow (due to unavailability of rooms in La Motte du Caire).

Delightfully inactive. Our host offered to wash our hiking gear, so we didn't even have to do that. Thus the day consisted of a leisurely breakfast, conversation, pool for some, Sudoku for others, a few purchases at the local minimarket, Mass at the local church, a leisurely lunch, an afternoon siesta (for all but me... blogging, email, and organizational responsibilities called), a few games of Carcassonne, and at the end of the day a leisurely dinner.

It is yet one more of the wonderful things about hiking: it makes you appreciate not hiking so much more.

As said, the Sattingers left in the morning (although we'll see them again in a few days), Sophie left in the afternoon, and the Gößls will leave tomorrow morning... so it will just be Thomas Bily, Russell and I heading off on the long (28k, +1100m, -880m) hike to Jarjayes tomorrow. And it is supposed to be pretty hot... 31C... so it may be a long day. But don't worry overmuch if I don't post to the blog tomorrow evening -- I doubt the yurts in which we will be spending the night have Internet access!

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The Passage of the Dead Man


Landscape on the way down to Nibles

Thomas Bily and Russell

Morning, on the way to La Motte du Caire.

Stage 11 -- Chardavon to La Motte du Caire

Short summary -- signs of wear and tear.

Nice place, the Gîte de Chardavon. An old farmhouse dating back, in part, to around 1600, that has been renovated over the past 12 years by a friendly Belgian couple. Very atmospheric inside, swimming pool outside, friendly welcome and a decent meal. Only drawback -- vast numbers of flies due to being next to a working farm.

The following morning, due to popular demand, we had breakfast at 7:30 with the intention of leaving around 8 so as to get a good amount of hiking done before the heat of the day. However, due to popular sluggishness, we didn't actually leave until about 8:40. We walked back up for a half an hour to Saint Geniez, then struck off along the GR953D... which turned out to be one of the trails in the Saint James' Way tree (the pilgrimage route to Santiage de Compostela in Spain). It was well signposted, and led through fields and woods up to and over a shoulder with spectacular views, before descending to the hamlets of Chateaufort and Nibles (which has our vote for best place name on the H3H so far).

By the time we got to Nibles it was after noon and getting quite hot. Suzi was starting to flag -- due both to the heat and her blisters -- and so she and Thomas decided to take the bus (which, however, didn't arrive... so they hitchhiked) the rest of the way. Reinhard, who has been having trouble with blisters and so has been hiking where possible in sandals, decided that since the rest of the day was a little too rugged for his sandals, and too long for comfort in his boots, he'd prefer to hike along the road (7+km on blacktop in a cloudless afternoon... not something I'd have chosen!).

So we were only five to hike out of Nibles -- four tough and experienced male hikers, and one heroic Sophie. We had about three and a half hours of hiking still to do -- in the heat of the afternoon and climbing up to and over another shoulder -- so it was a brave decision... and one she regretted quickly ;-).

The first indication that the hike might be a little difficult came quickly -- a signpost pointing the way to La Motte du Caire (our goal) via the intriguingly named Passage de l'Homme Mort (Passage of the Dead Man). Then came a steep climb, at the end of which Sophie was weaving a little -- probably due as much to hunger as to the heat, so we stopped for lunch. That revitalised her for a while, but a series of hot dry fields, followed by a long, steep, and nearly shadeless climb up to the shoulder left her head down and panting at various points. Nothing to be ashamed of though... even Thomas Bily (our indestructible Niederbayer) was showing signs of tiredness!

But she made it to the top, and from there all the way down (helped on by the occasional aggressive horsefly... I've never seen someone so tired move so quickly!). Not bad for a first time hiker, not bad at all.

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Sisteron and citadel

Sophie at the end of her first day

After we had hiked several hours from the far distance visible behind her.

Parc National des Ecruns

As seen from the Montagne de Lure. Just visible in the distance... we'll be there in a week!

Montagne de Lure

View to the top -- 1830m