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.
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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.
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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. From here 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.
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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!
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