Wednesday, 20 June 2018
A call with Humphrey this morning reminded me of this excellent trip that dates back to 2012, the above picture featuring Roy and Susan at Col de Vallonpierre, 2607 metres, on 8 September 2012.
For anyone looking for a fine ‘hut to hut’ route of up to a fortnight in the Alps, this could be a great choice. Kev Reynolds’ Cicerone guide provides all the information you should need, and the Parc National des Écrins 1:50000 scale hiking map covers the entire route.
If you are planning to go in August, it may be best to book the mountain huts in advance, but outside that month it’s simply courteous to call ahead to let the guardian know that you will be arriving. The hut guardians are usually happy to do this for you.
Huts vary regarding bookings – some (possibly most these days) can be booked by email, or once they have opened reservations can be made by ‘phone. Due to increasing instances of ‘no-shows’ many huts now require payment of a deposit, often by bank transfer. This isn’t really practical for UK visitors due to high bank charges. We’ve solved this problem in the past by agreeing to confirm our reservation by ‘phone a couple of days before arrival.
If you are going as a group you do get piece of mind by taking the trouble to book in advance. If you then get delayed by bad weather you’d have to undergo a session of phone calls to adjust the bookings – luckily in nearly forty years of Alpine trips this has yet to happen to me.
For anyone interested, my contemporaneous GR54 blog postings are here.
Have fun in the Alps! If you go to the Écrins this September say hello to Humphrey if you bump into him. Have a great trip, HMP3!
PS Conrad has kindly commented, with this that I know will be of interest to Humphrey, and others who are familiar with Conrad's adventures.
I've finally composed an Index - .
Monday, 14 January 2013
This was at least our fifth slideshow for Stockport Walking and Outdoors Group, and achieved a record (for us) attendance of some 42 people.
We had a most enjoyable evening, reliving the experiences of our recent trip to the French Alps, the blog postings for which are here – hopefully I’ll soon find time to add an index to aid ‘navigation’ of the website, and we will of course be happy to present the slideshow to or answer any queries from folk who may be planning to visit this beautiful part of the Alps.
You can email us via the ‘Contact us’ button on our topwalks.com website.
Friday, 14 September 2012
Another great mountain day to bring the GR54 tour to a conclusion.
At 3am it was snowing outside our dormitory. By 7am we were shuffling our way from the dorm to the dining room for an ample breakfast. Some of those who had been keen to shoot off early on previous days were late risers today, notably the Belgian couple and three French, one of whom was probably still upset and depressed after losing his GPS yesterday. We do hope it turns up.
We established from the guardian that the route over Col du Vallon should be safe, and set off at 8.20. It was an easy 400 metre ascent to the col despite the fresh snow. JF and Steve went ahead, the three French followed, and the Belgian couple plus a fourth French descended (we think) via the easy path to Bourg d'Arud. The two jolly German campers followed us but they weren't seen again today.
The top picture shows a view back towards the refuge from our ascent to the col. A winter wonderland.
Steve and JP were loitering at the col, but soon buzzed off whilst we found a sheltered spot to wait for Ken, who has a painful knee. It was quite cool in the snow at 2531 metres, though the wind was fairly light.
A careful, albeit easy descent led down towards Lac Lauvitel. All too soon we reached the lower margins of the snow, above 2000 metres, from where Sue is pictured (middle) with the hills beyond Bourg in the distance.
The three French caught and passed us as we continued over steep ground around rocky bluffs to reach Lac Lauvitel (pictured - bottom) at 11.20 am. We spent 45 minutes at this beautiful spot, where we enjoyed an early lunch of bread, cheese and salami - the uneaten portion of yesterday's packed lunch.
Resuming our route soon after 12, we paused to photograph a very bold marmot (visitors feed them here), before climbing a rocky path to gain more views of the lake. A well constructed path then descended steadily, and all of us removed layer after layer of clothing.
We continued into zones of shrubs, then trees, with a river flowing noisily beside the path. Our plan of stopping at La Danchère's buvette failed, as it was closed, but we looked into the small church with its mosaic glass windows, and ate our remaining supplies on a bench.
Back on the path after some adventures with a footballing dog, we passed huge 7 inch diameter mushrooms, then descended on the left bank of a river, coming out at the hamlet of Les Gauchiors.
Then it was a track through woodland in dappled sunshine, avoiding large puddles, for some way. But it was flat, easy walking, with a few flowers for interest, not far from the Romanche river.
The streets coming into Bourg d'Oisans were plain, but adorned with huge, colourful hanging baskets. So it was that at 4pm our 13 day GR54 circuit was closed and we joined Steve outside a street corner café for celebratory drinks.
Later, after the pleasure of rooms with baths in Hotel des Alpes, we enjoyed more beers, together with Steve and JF (who turns up like a bad penny at the very mention of alcohol), before all seven of us adjourned to La Muzelle for an excellent meal and a treat from Ken by way of some real bottles of red wine, a nice change from our usual litre pichets!
Then we had a good sleep before travelling home. As I write (10pm Friday) some are still travelling. Bon voyage, thanks for your excellent company over the past fortnight, and by the time you read this we hope you have arrived home safely.
Thursday, 13 September 2012
Top - on arrival at 11.30
Middle - after lunch
Bottom - late afternoon
The refuge has no heating, apart from our group of 12 plus three campers' body heat. So as I write this (6.30pm, and many folk are wandering around in blankets) we are looking forward to something warm coming from the warden's warm kitchen.
Tomorrow's return to Bourg d'Oisans could be something of a culture shock!
Basically, a wet day in the Alps.
We woke as expected to leaden skies, and as usual our little group was last to leave the gite, at 7.50, half an hour earlier than usual. This gave us fifteen minutes before a light drizzle drew attention to the need to don our waterproofs.
It wasn't a day for long breaks. The 1350 metre ascent to Col de la Muzelle was a steady plod taking rather less than three hours. By the time we got there the party ahead of us was about to leave, having seen enough of the sleet that was today's meteorological feature at the col. There had been some respite on the way up, with good views back to Col de Côte Belle, pictured - top, just to the right of the bobble that is Côte Belle. In fact our waterproofs came off for a while.
The ascent to Col de la Muzelle is noted in Kev's guidebook as being up a potentially difficult shale cone. Since his book was published, according to Hélène, the path was closed for three weeks in 2010 to enable it to be widened sufficient to be negotiated with safety in all but the very worst weather. Accordingly, it presented no problems at all today.
We found a sheltered spot on the col, where Ken arrived late and left early. The views, it has to be said, were limited, but at least we weren't in cloud, nor was it particularly cold. Steve was appointed as group photographer, and he performed the task admirably - see middle picture (Ken was long gone).
A rare (and very brief) phone signal delayed my departure, as the opportunity to catch up with these postings couldn't be missed!
Refuge de la Muzelle was clearly visible beyond a nearby lake, and was reached in about 40 minutes from the col. By now the drizzle had turned to rain, and the weather deteriorated further after our 11.30 arrival at the refuge. The bottom picture was taken later in the day when the rain had stopped. A blanketed resident is to be seen on the balcony of the chalet style refuge.
We are with the same people as last night. A friendly crew.
Whilst we had picnic lunches from Valsenestre, the allure of hot meals proved irresistible, so we enjoyed omelettes and pasta carbonara, leaving the perishable part of our packed lunches until later, and the rest for tomorrow.
Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Whilst plying us with breakfast, Marie Claude told us that the village of Désert-en-Valjouffrey has only fifteen permanent residents plus a barking dog, a far cry from days of old - in the 1850s the population was apparently 200 to 300. The interesting house in which we were staying was built in 1788. Marie Claude's house may have been older - the dining room had a catacomb like ambience, with massively thick walls and huge broadening pillars supporting the floors above.
The forecast was for afternoon rain, so we got away at 8.30, expecting to get wet later. We didn't - the rain, just a brief shower, didn't arrive until after 5pm, so we enjoyed another sunny day on the GR54 trail.
The path up to Col de Côte Belle was unrelentingly steep until we got to some high, well graded zigzags. Having said that, we are 'match fit', so the 1050 metres only took us two hours.
There was a party in full swing at the grassy col. Lots of cameras were swapped and pictures taken.
Then Sue arrived, delayed by botanical diversions, and we had to start all over again.
We cracked open our packed lunches. The boiled eggs were delicious.
Our new found friends soon departed - we would all reconvene at the gite later - and we lingered for an hour at this great vantage point. Of particular interest was the view towards tomorrow's route over Col de la Muzelle. It looks easy enough until the final 200 metre ascent of a steep cone of black shale, grit and slate up to its 2625 metre crossing of the ridge linking Pic du Clapier du Peyron (3169m) and Roche de la Muzelle (3465m).
The top two pictures (I couldn't decide which I preferred, so I've included both) show the view towards the col (the lowest point on the horizon) from the start of our descent to Valsenestre.
Just 100 metres above the col, the summit of Côte Belle lurks enticingly. So much so that Sue, Susan and Roy felt obliged to visit it, for very similar views that Ken and I had from our spot on the col where we were guarding the bags against marauding Belgians.
Apparently the summit area was littered with large edelweiss plants.
The walk down featured an area of slate-like slabs - spiky and shattered, one of which precariously overhung the path. The vegetation increased as we got lower - shrubby stunted trees, then birch woodland, then larch, pine and fir trees.
Views towards the Col de la Muzelle steadily improved. We'll have enough to fill an album!
The rest of our packed lunches were scoffed at a path junction where we decided not to take advantage of the good weather to go over the col to Refuge de la Muzelle, but to risk that walk in tomorrow's forecast bad weather and descend to Valsenestre as planned today.
After passing some Belgian picnickers, we stumbled into the pretty village of Valsenestre at 2pm. The gite d'etape Le Béranger was very much open. 'JF' (Jean Francois - classical guitarist turned civil engineer), the Belgian camper, was enjoying a beer outside.
We soon settled into a relaxing afternoon at the gite (pictured - bottom, behind the tree), with the rest of the GR54 gang. There are twelve of us plus JF and two Germans who are camping nearby. The only other Brit is Steve, from Bristol.
Hélène is catering for us more or less single-handedly. She lives 'down the valley'. In fact all the summer 'residents' of this pretty spot live elsewhere. The whole steep-sided valley is shut in winter due to avalanche danger.
We enjoyed a fine meal at our 12 strong table, which became 13 when JF turned up in search of pickings - he's a 'poor student' - he got them. Cheers JF!
There's no signal here but a comment from Helen appeared at some point during the day. Hello Helen. This will probably therefore be one of a series of postings to be sent on Thursday, when we should get the first phone signal since Sunday lunchtime!
Monday 10 September 2012 - GR54 Day 10 - Refuge des Souffles (1975m) to Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey (1255m)
Roy devised his own alarm system whereby the volume of his snores grew louder and louder until, at 7.15 precisely, they had woken everyone in the room including himself.
The couple running the refuge were a little strange; perhaps they were on something that made their behaviour a little erratic. Breakfast arrived in small quantities until more was requested, then it came with a smile. Some puzzlement was exhibited when the guardian arrived with our coffee, only to find we'd filled the only bowls provided with muesli. He simply waited for us to finish the muesli before pouring the coffee.
Sue's 'tea' arrived in the form of a jug of hot water. Eyebrows were raised when she was cheeky enough to ask for a tea bag. "Heathens" observed George, the Chilean Francophile.
By 8.20 we were ready to join the short string of trekkers who were heading for the Col de la Vaurze (2498m). It was another cloudless morning, with clear visibility thanks to last night's storm. The day remained sunny throughout.
For the first hour we enjoyed an undulating belvedere path that headed deep into a combe punctuated by rocky spurs and stream-cut gullies. Sue is pictured (top) crossing one of the spurs. A young Belgian couple soon overtook us, leaving just the campers behind us.
It was a delightful path (pictured - middle) in perfect weather. Soon the slope steepened for the final 400 metres up to the col, but the path hardly got any steeper at all, instead choosing ever lazier zigzags past recumbent sheep and hovering birds of prey to manoeuvre its way up the hillside and eventually reach the fine vantage point of Col de la Vaurze, from where our destination for the day was just visible as a collection of rooftops 1200 metres below us. There were of course many fine mountain views from this spot, including 3564 metre d'Olan to the east.
We were last to leave out of the little group of GR54 trekkers at the col. The descent was at first quick and easy, then care was needed to cross a few steep gullies. A grassy spur at 1900 metres provided a fine venue for a lengthy break, near a shepherd's hut with a tethered goat. Susan had a long chat with said animal but has so far declined to share the wisdom imparted to her.
The entire descent offered a clear view of tomorrow's route to Col de Côte Belle (pictured - bottom) and as we continued down to Le Désert we paused frequently to admire that view and the fine vistas north east to the ring of mountains at the head of the Vallée du Valjouffrey.
Lower down, we passed through ancient walled lanes lined with crocuses and red berries, beside meadows intermingled with piles of rocks (cleared to form the meadows) that made the area look like a golf course from above.
Our accommodation in Le Désert, booked by Sue back in June, was to be at the Bar des Écrins, which we guessed would also serve lunch. We arrived at 1pm to find it conclusively shut. Luckily, further down the road at Auberge l'Eterou, Marie Claude was able to offer us a three bedroomed holiday house in a nearby building, and half board and a packed lunch (the shop we'd hoped for was at Bar des Écrins) for €55 each. She lost an arm (so to speak).
Somehow we'd managed to overtake the rest of the GR54 brigade, and soon they were milling around outside our gated courtyard. We peeped over the fence to say hello and wish them well in their quest for lodgings and provisions.
Meanwhile, Susan, Roy and Ken managed to produce from the hidden depths of their bags enough bread, cheese and salami to provide plenty of lunch for the five of us.
Thanks, Alan R, for your comment (there may be more but we have no phone signal in Le Désert!). I don't think I'll have the Blackberry for much longer, and the negligible cost of postings and messages isn't a problem; and I've yet to enter the mysterious world of 'Apps'!
Five other trekkers were located at the gite that is apparently connected with the Bar des Écrins. It's some way from the Bar. We had no way of knowing. Anyway, it seems they may have taken our places at that gite. We aren't complaining. Whilst they had beer, we had three separate bedrooms and a well fenced garden in which Sue and I could spend an hour or two in our underwear whilst we washed and dried our trousers for the first time on the trip.
Ken could do his exercises (as if the walk wasn't enough!), and Susan and Roy strolled up to a cascade and back. Gulian seems to have gone home, and Jean Francois, the camper, has disappeared.
Marie Claude's attentively served meal was most enjoyable - courgette quiche > two massive sausages and Dauphinoise potatoes > a selection of cheeses > chocolate cake and chartreuse ice cream, with the usual few pichets of red wine.
Monday, 10 September 2012
Sunday 9 September 2012 - GR54 Day 9 - Refuge de Vallonpierre (2271m) to Refuge des Souffles (1975m) via Col de Colombes
Our longest day of the trip - on excellent paths throughout.
We were early to bed and early to rise for the basic hut breakfast. By the time we left at 7.15 it had been light for about thirty minutes and the sun was glinting enticingly on a distant summit. More photos were taken of the idyllically situated refuge and its reflection in the lake.
A switchback path got us down a few hundred metres, then a good undulating path over easy ground past a crowded but completely silent pen of sheep led eventually to Refuge du Clot, where the guardian jokingly asked for money when Sue wanted him in a photo of the refuge.
He charged just €1.30 each for our coffees - very reasonable. It looks a nice refuge, and several of those who we met at Chaumette stayed there last night, but its location doesn't compare with that of Vallonpierre.
Beyond Clot, a series of delightful paths led to La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar. They took us down ancient walled lanes and through woodland where the sun's dappled light played with shadows on the tree-lined paths.
Open fields (pictured - top) and narrow ways etched into steep slopes also featured, and on the final approach to La Chapelle our eyes were drawn across the valley to the spectacular Cascade de Combefroide, beside which we would shortly ascend.
La Chapelle was buzzing with people. It's clearly a popular tourist destination. A pleasant little village with a food shop and a couple of cafés, one of which Sue and I utilised to enjoy a first lunch of what turned out to be deep fried potato croquettes.
Supplies duly replenished, we set out after a chat with Alain, and with another totally unconnected stranger. At Vallonpierre, Myriam had pointed out a route that she said was much better than that taken by GR54. We took it. Over Col de Colombes. It was a long, steepish, 1300 metre ascent, initially past the Combefroide cascade. This wasn't so spectacular close up, as you could only see a small part of it at any one time.
We climbed the first 900 metres at a good pace in less than two hours. There was lots of ling (heather) just about in flower to brighten our journey. Small birds of prey hovered nearby, and the constant chirping of grasshoppers and flitting of butterflies distracted us from the steadily increasing cloud cover.
Lunch (second instalment, usual fare) was taken at around 2000 metres beside a burbling stream, then we headed up the final 400 metres to the col. Susan and Roy (pictured - middle) zoomed on ahead whilst Ken was today's stalwart backmarker. There were fine views of other enticing higher paths leading to the Breche de Roland like Pas de l'Olan.
Skies were uniformly grey by the time we reached the 2410 metre col, where the others are pictured (bottom) shortly before the first drops of rain.
Col des Clochettes soon came into sight as we hastened past a small lake that in sunnier conditions would have seen some of our party baring all. We passed George, a Chilean who lives in Paris and Barcelona, and his lady friend Morgan. It drizzled a little as we descended to the small but perfectly formed Refuge des Souffles, which turns out to be virtually full tonight, with nearly 30 visitors. We again have a dormitory to ourselves!
After Roy had gone bilberry harvesting, and various ablutions had been achieved (washing clothes, showering, etc), we watched a storm outside before adjourning to the crowded dining room where we enjoyed the evening in the company of the aforementioned George and Morgan, and Peter from Malvern, the first Brit we have encountered since starting our walk over a week ago.
A number of the people we met at Chaumette two nights ago are here, together with a large guided party. Jean Francois, camping outside but dining in the refuge, confirmed our thoughts that the GR54 route from La Chapelle is not as good as our Col de Colombes route, due to a 'steep and hot wooded path with lots of flies' the way he came. Others agreed that the Colombes route is to be commended.
Thanks everyone, they are appreciated. And sorry about the build up of postings - we went for over three days without a phone signal, a record for me in nearly five years of blogging.
Sunday, 9 September 2012
Saturday 8 September 2012 - GR54 Day 8 - Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (1790m) to Refuge de Vallonpierre (2271m)
Another fine mountain day. Short, but with three high passes.
Dawn was again cloudless, and it took a few hours for the clouds to start building, so most of the day was spent in bright sunshine. After the traditional breakfast (coffee, bread, jam) in this traditional refuge we set off last of the thirteen guests, just before 8.30.
We managed 300 metres of the well graded 800 metre ascent to the Col de la Vallette before emerging from the shade of the valley into the sun cream zone. The others are pictured here (top).
Kev's guidebook refers to some 'scrambly pitches and narrow ledges' which we hardly noticed on this fine day.
After using Gillian Price's guidebooks we had got used to a fairly relaxed attitude to any difficulties presented to Gillian; Kev Reynolds seems to me to be just a little more cautious with his descriptions. This is not a criticism of either author, just a comparison of styles. Anyway, today's walk brings several warnings from Kev, and as on many mountain walks a slip could have been painful. But careful negotiation of the good paths across steep scree in the fine weather presented no difficulties to our international group. It would undoubtedly be harder in wet conditions, and walking poles were certainly helpful today, especially in descent.
Col de la Vallette is only 50-60 metres below a small 'pap' which promised fine views. So we went up it. And there were. I even took a video, first of the trip. A great viewpoint. Sue, Susan and Roy are pictured here (middle).
Back at the col we met Alain, a Frenchman on a day walk. He was about to leave. We persuaded him to go up the pap.
Two more cols were then visited. The first, Col de Gouiran, involved only 120 metres of ascent and was very easy. The second, Col de Vallonpierre, involved steep shaley scree on both sides of its narrow crest. We lunched here and I lingered at the fine vantage point for an hour or so whilst the others ascended a further 130 metres along the shaley crest to Pic de Vallonpierre (2738m), from where they got a good view of today's refuge.
A French backpacking couple shared my perch on the col. They were still there long after we headed off. Perhaps they would camp in the idyllic area around the source of the Torrent de Vallon Plat.
It's good to see these genuine backpackers, as this whole area is eminently suitable for that activity, with huge numbers of idyllic sites, though fixed camping is not permitted in the National Parks, so you have to move on every day. Fair enough.
It was an easy walk down to the perfectly located Refuge de Vallonpierre, where climbers Myriam and Daniel have been guardians for nine years. Contrary to Kev's information this is a CAF refuge, built in 2000 and still looking very new. (Pictured - bottom.)
On reaching there at 2.30, two litres of tea were in order. We enjoyed that, and some cake etc, whilst gazing up to the summit of Le Sirac, flitting in and out of cloud some 1200 metres above us. The refuge nestles beside a small lake. There's a resident telescope on the patio, with which to view eagles as well as climbers on Le Sirac. Today there were four climbers - two couples who had set off at 7am and who returned at around 3.30, in plenty of time to go down to the valley.
There are 13 guests in the 39 bed refuge tonight. We are in a dormitory for nine together with a family of four, who like eight others didn't turn up, so it won't be as cosy as expected. My feet will be next to Ken's head, so hopefully he can be silenced without too much difficulty.
We enjoyed another excellent meal tonight, in the engaging company of two sisters, Manon and Anne, from Grenoble, the former an aspirant chemical engineer, whilst Anne works in land management. Hello to both of you if you read this.
Friday 7 September 2012 - GR54 Day 7 - Refuge des Bans (2076m) to Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (1790m)
A great mountain day in superb weather.
After breakfast involving lots of coffee and home made or locally produced jams and honey, we waved goodbye to Stéphane, forgetting unfortunately to record on film the refuge's solar oven (I'll have to delve into some Himalayan memories to locate a picture of something similar) or its outhouse, the view from which was the same as that on the last but one posting.
It was a cloudless day as we arose shortly before the 7.15 am dawn. The sun warmed us as we descended for an hour and a quarter back to Entre-les-Aygues, pausing frequently to admire the views back to the refuge, sited dramatically on a rocky outcrop.
Our path now rejoined GR54 for the rest of the day and beyond. A long bridge saw us safely across the Torrent des Bans, where we paused for a break in the sunshine before heading up the pleasantly shaded Vallon de la Selle - a long valley in which we commenced a 1200 metre ascent to the 2761 metre Col de l'Aup Martin.
We soon re-entered the Écrins National Park and were rejoined by the warm sun before we reached the Lacroix pastoral cabin, where two young shepherds seemed to have their hands full, with two large horses, half a dozen donkeys, a small but adventurous cat (it followed us up the hill) and substantial herds of cows and sheep.
Our first attempt at elevenses was abandoned due to excessive horse attention and slobber, but after the second and successful attempt we ambled on up the good path, with fine views (pictured - top) up the Selle's side valleys.
Lunch was taken on a grassy spur below the final 300 metre ascent over 'black scree' to the col.
Given the dry weather the ascent over the scree presented no difficulties at all, and we reached Col de l'Aup Martin soon after 2pm. The middle picture shows me at the col.
There were several others on the path today, and we joined one of them here - Gulian - walking GR54 like us, for the lovely contouring route to another col, Pas de la Cavale, before he went ahead on the final descent to tonight's refuge.
We paused at this second pass to admire a golden eagle, soaring so fast that Sue was unable to focus the binoculars on it, perhaps distracted by the din of squealing marmots, though I was able to catch it with the camera. Not a prize winning photo though.
Soon after starting our 1000 metre descent, the refuge came into view, but it would be a good two hours before we were down there enjoying beers in the warm late afternoon sunshine.
The zigzag path down had so many hairpins that it seemed like a walkers' answer to Italy's Stelvio Pass.
There were thirteen of us staying at the refuge. The rest were French. We were segregated. It was good to have a hot shower and a dormitory of our own, notwithstanding Ken's snoring, and the French were all very friendly, especially Gulian, who seems to be managing fine with trail shoes, and Jean Francois, who is camping nearby and seemed surprised that he was struggling to keep ahead of us today despite his heavier load. We must look very old!
After another good meal, darkness and bedtime arrived in quick succession. The end of another fine Alpine day.
The predicted sunshine arrived today. Once again we spent little time on GR54 as we'd planned a side trip to the small Refuge des Bans, as insurance against bad weather.
So it was a leisurely departure from the pretty village of Vallouise, where the Thursday market provided all manner of enticing goodies for some of our party's lunches for the next few days. Food shops will be a rarity as we have now entered the more remote southern areas of the Écrins region.
Last night's gite accommodation was in the classic French style - cheap, homely, with good food (including a cassoulet with chicken and broccoli) and wine on the house. Well done Denis and Maryline.
A good track along the left side (right bank) of the Torrent l'Onde took us as far as a small campsite at Pont des Places, then we forsook GR54 in favour of Maryline's suggested path which continued on the right bank of the river. This made for an entertaining half hour or so, as the path narrowed and undulated before finally crossing a bridge to reach the tarmaced road near a small chapel. A few minutes along this quiet road (pictured - top) saw us reach the road head at Entre-les-Aygues, to which we will return tomorrow.
Before leaving Maryline's unsigned path we stopped abruptly to admire an adder that was sunbathing on the path. We don't often see snakes in the Alps. Today there were also lots of lizards about, whilst dippers and grey wagtails flew up and down the torrent, and nutcrackers, jays, willow tits and great tits were noisy in the woodland. Wheatears and redstarts followed our progress above the tree line.
My thermometer read 29C. It was hot going along the excellent path to the Refuge (pictured - middle, with the refuge hardly discernible in the distance), which we reached a couple of hours later, having taken a half hour break in the shade for lunch.
Sue and I had enjoyed a very modest lunch on the trail, so omelette and chips went down well with some cola, whilst the others duly supplemented their earlier cheese and baguette lunches with cold beers (pictured - bottom).
Refuge des Bans is 'guarded' by Alice and Stéphane, who makes excellent chips.
We met quite a few day walkers returning to their cars after lunch or snacks at the Refuge. But tonight just the five of us are staying. So we can choose our positions in the 22 bed dormitory. The washroom comprises an outside tap, and the lavatory is in an outhouse that may be interesting to locate in the dark.
This afternoon Ken went to play in some snow whilst the rest of us headed up a vertiginous path behind the Refuge. I soon gave up and stopped to compose this entry. The others went some way further but didn't gain a significantly different view to that from the refuge - .
(This posting was intended to be made on Thursday 6 September but has been delayed due to the lack of a signal in a remote mountain area.)
Thursday, 6 September 2012
Wednesday, 5 September 2012
Wednesday 5 September 2012 - GR54 Day 5 - Monêtier-les-Bains (1495m) to Vallouise (1166m) via Col des Grangettes
We award top marks to Gite Le Flourou and Pierre, its genial host. The facilities were excellent and the food was great. All for under €50 per person, including beer and wine.
By 8.30 this morning we were on the road again in brighter conditions with the sun secreted behind the Serre-Chevaller mountains. Kev's GR54 guidebook talks about today's path passing through a 'sorry area' of ski pistes, bulldozed tracks and other eyesores that make this the ugliest section of the walk. So after ten minutes, instead of heading into this 'sorry area' we kept to the right and headed up an amenable forestry track beside the Torrent le Grand Tabuc.
It took us an hour to reach the end of the track at 1825 metres. From there a delightful and superbly graded path delivered us back into the Écrins National Park and high into Vallon de la Monragnolle, with fine views across to the remains of the Monetier glacier and the sunlit peaks of Montagne des Agneaux (pictured - top).
Sadly, high cloud obscured the sun before it rose high enough to enter our line of vision, but it remained warm, dry and windless. T-shirt weather for me, though the others donned something warmer at times.
At about 2340 metres we arrived at a junction where the path to our left headed over a minor col and into the ski area to rejoin GR54 on its route over Col de l'Eychauda (2425m). Those averse to a bit of easy scrambling should probably take this route.
The five of us spent the next 40 minutes climbing steeper ground, initially on a good path over scree, and for the final 150 metres or so on a narrow, vertiginous path with good hand holds, to reach our high point of the trip to date, the 2684 metre Col des Grangettes where the other four are pictured (middle).
The descent on the south side of the col thankfully presented no difficulties, and we soon reached the turquoise waters of Lac de l'Eychauda. From here onwards we met a string of day walkers ascending to this beauty spot for lunch.
Our own lunch was taken on the descent into the Vallon de Chambran, from where the view back to our route down the cirque looked quite dramatic.
Over five hours after deserting the GR54 route, we rejoined it shortly before reaching the buvette at Chambran, where we enjoyed coffees, served by a small child in a free-range chicken zone.
Duly refreshed, we continued onwards towards our destination for a pleasurable couple of hours on good paths, with fine views down to the Vallouise valley once we had lost the views (pictured - bottom) back along GR54's route to Col de l'Eychauda.
Once in Vallouise, Gite l'Aiglière was soon located (4pm) and Denis and Maryline provided a most welcome pot of tea.
Since our arrival the cloud has dissipated and the weather bodes well for tomorrow.
Thanks Chrissy for your comment. I'll be looking at your blog for inspiration for 'Postcards from Timperley' when I get home.
Helen, sorry to hear it's raining in Ottawa. You have misunderstood my comments re the weather, which is actually very good. We've had no storms and in five days' walking it has drizzled from high cloud for just a couple of hours, hardly wetting us at all. Have a great time in Newfoundland.
Tuesday, 4 September 2012
Tuesday 4 September 2012 - GR54 Day 4 - Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arene (2077m) to Monêtier-les-Bains (1495m)
Stale bread featured in today's breakfast menu at the Refuge (pictured - top), but never mind, we fuelled up sufficiently to reach the welcoming coffee stop provided by Chez Finette in Le Casset, and filling crepes for lunch in Monetier.
Yesterday's mizzle had just about subsided by the time we set off at 8.30 this morning, but the summits were still in cloud and a degree of protective clothing was in order by the time we reached our high point of the day, Col d'Arsine (2340m) an hour later. On a good day the short walk up to the Lac du Glacier d'Arsine from here may be a worthy diversion, but in today's dull weather there was no great enthusiasm for that.
The descent to Lac de la Douche saw another walker hurry past us whilst marmots scurried for their burrows, chamois viewed us cautiously from afar, and dippers hunted in the streams and pools (pictured - middle) that bordered the path.
On a less cloudy day the Cirque d'Arsine would have provided a stunning backdrop to this descent. Today a shepherd and two large white dogs (patou - a Tibetan breed) typical of the area were tending a large herd of sheep, some of which had very young lambs.
We followed the milky waters of the Petit Tabuc stream as they gathered volume and the path widened as it entered woodland. Some day walkers were encountered on the approach to Le Casset - there are a few people out and about, if not doing a hutting route like ours.
An easy stroll beside the river delivered us to Monêtier in time for lunch after a short wander around the village.
A lazy afternoon followed, in our spacious room for five at gite Le Flourou, from the window of which the bottom picture was taken.
Thanks again for your comments, hopefully some sunnier pictures will follow over the next few days.
Later, after an excellent meal despite the polenta, we can confirm this gite is, as described by Kev, very friendly, and unlike last night's (albeit friendly) refuge they have taken the trouble to light a fire.
Monday 3 September 2012 - GR54 Day 3 - Le Chazelet (1786m) to Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arene (2077m) via Col du Lautaret
Superb paths under cloudy skies, with light rain in the afternoon.
After an adequate breakfast at Gite Chez Baptiste we set off at 8.45 under skies which would remain cloudy all day. We were the only people staying at the gite apart from a young French couple who today planned to walk to the lakes we had enjoyed yesterday.
Otherwise we saw no other walkers apart from the foursome who are staying at this refuge - we met them earlier when they were looking for the parking spot from which to walk up here.
The top picture is of le Chazelet, from the road up to the Oratoire Ste Anne, a small chapel, from where layers of cloud partly obscured the view down to the Romanche valley.
From the chapel we descended gently to Les Terraces, one of the many small villages in this area. From there, a good track led directly to the metropolis of La Grave, where luncheon supplies were obtained and we enjoyed a lengthy 'pre-elevenses' with the chatty proprietor of the Le Serac Hotel.
The GR54 route would have taken us unnecessarily over a 300 metre bluff, so we followed Kev Reynolds' suggestion and took a perfectly acceptable alternative through the Romanche valley and up to the pretty village of Villar d'Arene.
From here we rejoined GR54 for its beautiful valley section to the bridge at Arsine. Then it would be a relatively short walk up to today's lodgings, so at Susan's suggestion we now adapted our route to visit the Botanical Gardens at Col du Lautaret.
So we headed off up the GR50 path, which very amiably chose an easily graded route far enough from the road to feel reasonably remote, and led us to the well provisioned Col du Lautaret which leads on to the cycling mecca of Col du Galibier.
Sue and I went inside for omelette and chips whilst the others munched their bread and cheese outside. We observed their increasing layering before they eventually took refuge in the café.
It had started to drizzle.
After an hour in the comfort of the café, we decided to explore the nearby Botanical Gardens. Luckily it was out of season, so the usual charge of €6 was waived. Our visit (pictured - middle) revealed a host of Alpine flowers from all over the world, with a surprising number still in flower. A wonderful place. A small exhibition of drawings by flower artists was also interesting, revealing heavy involvement with Grenoble University since the founding of this and other similar gardens in the late 1800s.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed along the path, which contours beautifully around the mountainside (pictured - bottom), with great views even in the light rain, to reach Refuge de l'Alpe de Villar d'Arene, hidden deep in the mountains, by 4.30pm.
Whilst Kev's guidebook insists that it is essential to book this refuge (and indeed it may be to enable them to judge their catering needs), today there are just four others staying here - Michel, Helene, Jean-Luc and Evelyn - the French foursome who we had encountered looking for the car park. They are using the refuge as a base for some day walks. Both they and the lady guardian were very jolly.
Dinner took place after the goat had been milked and involved the disposal of several rabbits, mainly by Roy, washed down with red wine as usual. Cheese (excellent Brie) followed, then creme without the caramel, accompanied by some local dessert wine, shared with our French friends, in celebration of Susan's birthday.
Happy Birthday, Susan.
Sunday, 2 September 2012
An excellent mountain day in continuing fine weather.
Agnes and Manu, aided by six year old Maritsa, provided all we needed for a good breakfast at the Auberge du Savel, and we left their cosy establishment at 9am for the 100 metre descent to the Ferrand Torrent and its communal watermill.
A well graded path then led to the touristy village of Besse-en-Oisans, where lunch ingredients were purchased and sun tan lotions were applied.
Sadly, as it was the day's only opportunity, a consensus that it was 'too early!!' meant that we failed to linger for an early elevenses. Perhaps yesterday's rip-off experience at the Refuge du Col de Sarenne has put everyone off. I hope not.
Anyway, we were soon enjoying the effortless ascent of a perfectly graded path up to the 1902 metre Col Nazié. Susan, Roy and I had to wait there for ages as Sue and Ken had been distracted by such sights as Yellow Mountain Saxifrage, Field Gentians, Knapweed, Eyebright and Alpine Toadflax, all new to Ken.
We reassembled for the ongoing ascent (pictured - top).
Eventually Col Bichet, with its large wooden cross, was reached. Snow covered vistas glittered in every direction, with the 3465 metre peak of Roche de la Muzelle prominent to the south.
A cool northerly wind suddenly assaulted us as we emerged onto the grassland of the Plateau d'Emparis. We moved on quickly down to a stream at 2160 metres, where we decided to add a 'lake loop' to our itinerary.
Thus we left GR54 and set off towards Lac Noir, soon pausing for a leisurely lunch with fine views in the shelter of some large rocks.
Lac Noir is a superb viewpoint; Lac Lérié, a bit further on, is even better - with brilliant views (pictured - middle) across the deep cut of the Romanche valley to the lofty heights of La Meije (3982 metres) and a splendid array of other peaks and glaciers.
There were quite a few day walkers around Lac Lérié. It was good to see them taking advantage of the sunny afternoon. One family had brought their small pet cat along. We left them searching for it in some marmot holes under a rock.
Sunlit Le Chazelet soon came into view (pictured, bottom left of the lower image) and after an easy descent we reached our gite, Chez Baptiste, at the very respectable time of 4.10pm.
Beers on the terrace followed, as we took turns under the hot shower, until spots of rain from a different sort of shower - not to mention the cool northerly - finally drove us indoors.
Alan R and others - thanks for your comments. We hope the expensive hot drink episode was just a minor blip. At least they were Large Hot Drinks!
Saturday, 1 September 2012
An excellent first day in weather that belied the forecast showers and wind.
Bourg is a pleasant place, full of cyclists attempting some of the classic Tour de France climbs such as Alpe d'Huez and the Col du Galibier (thanks Robert for your card btw).
Today's extensive market also brightened up the town centre. Shortly before we braved the streets of Bourg the rain kindly eased, leaving us with the minor inconvenience of damp pavements on which to commence our journey.
After some entertainment from Roy, who thought he had wet himself - but it turned out to be a leaky Platypus, we started steeply up a rock face littered with wires that some would argue were unnecessary.
This brought us past Autumn Crocuses and Solomons Seal to the fleshpots of Le Châtelard, namely Hotel la Fôret de Maronne, just in time for elevenses.
The owner, Frank, a Belgian exile, explained that the reason we hadn't seen any other walkers on this fine Saturday morning was that we had chosen to visit the area 'out of season'. Fine. We'd understood GR54 to be a popular and challenging undertaking. We encountered no other walkers on today's well graded paths. Frank commented that Alpe d'Huez houses some 37,000 (do we really believe that?) occupied beds in the height of the winter season, and that his restaurant serves over 100 lunches every day at that time. We may well have been his only visitors today.
After elevenses we continued past a vintage Simca Aronde and through some pretty hamlets before dropping down to Pont Romain in the Sarenne gorge.
It was then a long but easily graded walk, initially past old mill paraphernalia, then through pleasant woodland where we found a bench for lunch. That was because the nearby Auberge de Combe-Haute was shut, its summer season being from mid July to mid August.
Soon after that we moved above the tree line and headed gently through open country (pictured - top) up to the heady summit of the 1999 metre Col de Sarenne, about the height from which overnight snow had receded this morning.
A cold wind (today's temperatures didn't exceed 10C) encouraged us to seek the warmth of the nearby Refuge du Col de Sarenne, where we received a warm welcome and were relieved of €25 for five hot drinks, twice what Frank had charged.
The descent to Clavans (pictured - bottom, below an impressive slab of rock) was steep but easy, undertaken in the company of a dozen or so vultures.
A wrong path was taken - my fault - resulting in a direct descent to Clavans-le-Bas and missing the excitement of a visit to the Cimitiere des Huegenots.
The Auberge du Savel was easily located, at 4.50 pm, just before the arrival of a long awaited shower, and we were soon enjoying our own en-suite showers.
Dinner was acceptably appetising, if not exceptional - soup, pasta and veal, tart - and the house red was agreeable. Any residual jet lag was disposed of by way of an early night.
Grass of Parnassus graced much of today's route and is undoubtedly 'flower of the day' - but don't expect many such accolades as most of the remaining Alpine flowers are definitely past their best.
Friday, 31 August 2012
We hope you enjoy your trip to Spain, JJ.
Hopefully JJ will be providing further commentary on his own exciting activities at adventures-with-jj.blogspot.co.uk/
The little Embraer 135 got us safely to Lyon, where it was cooler and cloudier than in sunny Manchester.
Susan and Roy duly appeared on time from the direction of Zurich, and the 3pm bus to Grenoble that we'd booked ran smoothly and on time.
Grenoble bus station, in rain, was the scene of some confusion as we queued for 25 minutes to get tickets for a bus to Bourg that we could just as easily have got from the driver. Anyway, we caught it in the nick of time, then spent the next 45 minutes in Grenoble's friday afternoon rush hour. It's not a pretty city.
Racing driver tactics, supported by blaring raucous sounds from the bus radio until reception faded, enabled our driver to recover 15 lost minutes, and by 6.15 we had been dropped off in Bourg d'Oisans more or less outside Hotel des Alpes, our chosen lodgings for the night.
A stroll around Bourg revealed a rather damp Alpine village, pictured, and Roy, Susan and Sue posed for me outside the hotel. The rain, and the fact that it was well past beer o'clock, soon drove us indoors.
Ken, who had travelled from Ottawa yesterday, materialised an hour later having repeated our bus ticket queue scenario in Grenoble, and our now quorate international quintet happily chomped its way through everything that Hotel des Alpes could throw at us.
The weather hasn't quite realised that we've arrived. It's raining hard, and occasional glimpses above us reveal lots of fresh snow at low levels. Just as well that we start walking tomorrow, and not today...
Gibson - have a great trip - I'll catch up with your own postings in a couple of weeks.
Alan R - shame about the rain in Gairloch, but hopefully it washed the midges away!
The picture of Sue is from five years ago - you'll recognise some more familiar clothing over the coming days...
Helen - I'll get back to you in a couple of weeks when we've returned from the Écrins.
We are on our travels again.
Hopefully on BD1343 to Lyon by the time you read this.
We plan to walk around the Écrins by way of a 13 day ‘hutting’ tour. Our itinerary is here. The weather forecast is good, as is normal for this time of year in the Alps. It’s an International Expedition, with TGO Challengers Susan and Roy joining us from Glastonbury, Connecticut, and Ken is popping over from Ottawa.
I’ve not replaced my phone since our E5 trip, so postings may be brief, and I may have difficulty in picking up your comments. I’ll try, though.
The route is one of Kev Reynolds’ favourites. We are looking forward to it.
The picture above was taken at the Col de Chavière, in the Vanoise region, on 1 September 2007.
That’s about as close as we’ve been to the Oisans, which have appeared enticingly in the distance on a number of our Alpine trips.