Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Friday, 14 September 2012

Thursday 13 September 2012 - GR54 Day 13 - Refuge de la Muzelle (2130m) to Bourg d'Oisans (720m)

Approx 18 km with 500 metres ascent, in 7 hours 40 minutes, including breaks totalling 1 hour 30 minutes.

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.

Great views.

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.

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Thursday, 13 September 2012

The View from Refuge de la Muzelle

The pictures were taken on 12 September from the refuge, looking back to the Col de la Muzelle (2625m):

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!

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Wednesday 12 September 2012 - GR54 Day 12 - Valsenestre (1294m) to Refuge de la Muzelle (2130m)

Approx 10 km with 1350 metres ascent, in 3 hours 40 minutes, including a break of 10 minutes at Col de la Muzelle (2625m).

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.

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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tuesday 11 September 2012 - GR54 Day 11 - Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey (1255m) to Valsenestre (1294m)

Approx 9 km with 1050 metres ascent, in 5 hours 30 minutes, including breaks totalling 1 hour 30 minutes.

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!

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Monday 10 September 2012 - GR54 Day 10 - Refuge des Souffles (1975m) to Le Désert-en-Valjouffrey (1255m)

Approx 10 km with 600 metres ascent, in 4 hours 40 minutes, including breaks totalling 1 hour.

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'!

Later:

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.

Later still:
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.

Excellent.

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Monday, 10 September 2012

Sunday 9 September 2012 - GR54 Day 9 - Refuge de Vallonpierre (2271m) to Refuge des Souffles (1975m) via Col de Colombes

Approx 21 km with 1400 metres ascent, in 9 hours including breaks totalling 2 hours.

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.

Comments:

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.

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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Saturday 8 September 2012 - GR54 Day 8 - Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (1790m) to Refuge de Vallonpierre (2271m)

Approx 11 km with 1300 metres ascent, in 6 hours including breaks and diversions totalling 1 hour 50 minutes.

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.

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Friday 7 September 2012 - GR54 Day 7 - Refuge des Bans (2076m) to Refuge du Pré de la Chaumette (1790m)

Approx 18 km with 1200 metres ascent, in 8 hours 5 minutes including breaks totalling 1 hour 50 minutes.

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.

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Thursday 6 September 2012 - GR54 Day 6 - Vallouise (1166m) to Refuge des Bans (2076m)

Approx 12 km with 950 metres ascent, in 4 hours 30 minutes including breaks totalling 40 minutes. Plus assorted extras in the afternoon.

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 - see separate posting..

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The View from our room at Refuge des Bans

The sun has now gone down on us, but the distant mountains will be bathed in light for several hours to come.

(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.)

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