Chevenoz, June 21, 2013—
Stefan woke at 5:45: It's raining! Up quickly to bring in from our balcony-terrace all the clothes we'd washed last night, and our boots — fortunately not much was all that wet. We spread them out to dry inside, waxed our boots, and repacked. One distant thunderclap. Rain let up, then resumed, gently. This will be a good morning to work on accounts, journal. And prepare: how, for example, to keep this iPad dry? Finally we go out to breakfast in the nearest café: café au lait, a croissant.
A delivery man arrives, bill gripped between his teeth, two hands carrying stack of three crates, the top one full of eggs. Rests one end of stack on counter, freeing one hand, takes bill out of mouth, sets it on counter, says good morning, shakes proprietor's hand, restores bill to teeth, takes up cases with both hands, replaces them on counter from which proprietor has removed cup and saucer formerly interfering with deliveryman's ability to deposit cases safely, removes bill from teeth and sets it on top of eggs, says see you later to proprietor, shakes his hand once more, turns and leaves the café.
We went back to our little apartment and repacked. The storm had blown over and a fine day promised. We checked out and made a last trip downtown for purchases: the FFRR guide to the first stage of the GR5; telephone chip and plan; three carrots, a hunk of cheese, and a saucisson.
Then, finally, we set out on an exceptionally well blazed Grand Randonée, from the railroad station, across the highway, and into the foret communal. At the last house before the forest I noticed an old woman at her kitchen sink. I caught her eye and lifted my empty canteen, miming a request for water. She opened the window and took the bottle to fill it; a little conversation, the usual — where are you from ; where are you going; it's a long way!
The trail was well marked until a crossroads in the forest, but balissage was completely missing after that. Still, we did fairly well using map and compass until we were nearly at Armoy. There, however, we got completely turned round (without knowing it), and unaccountably circled back, always in forest frequently quite muddy, until we finally came out onto a paved road at a sign reading — Thonon-les-Bains! We were back where we'd started, even a little west of where we'd started, further than ever from GR5, after three hours of sometimes hard walking, probably seven or eight miles.
The good thing was that there was a spiffy country highwayside bistro handy, where we had salades Savoyarde and a liter and a half of Badoit rouge. I phoned a chambres d'hote in Chevenoz, where the day's hike should have taken us, and reserved a room and dinner for the night; then we walked back into town. At a bus stop by the hospital I asked a young woman about a bus to Chevenoz, and she told me to take the bus she was getting on, go to its terminus at the Place des Arts in Thonon, and buy tickets there for the bus to Chevenoz.
The ticket-selling woman at the bus counter was also very helpful. When I wondered if there were a bar or café at Chevenoz she refused to sell us tickets until the bus came in, so she could ask the driver. He said there was, though he was unsure if it were open, so we hurriedly bought the tickets and climbed in.
There were only two other passengers, both very young women who kept up a steady conversation with the driver all the long and twisty road. We left Thonon at 3:15, heading first toward Evian, then turning off and climbing to St. Paul toward Bernex, then turning down into the Abondance valley, arriving at Chevenoz about 4 pm.
Chevenoz is a church, a school, and a bar-cafe (closed today), little more. I noticed a sign advertising our chambres d'hote and we walked a quarter mile down toward the stream to it, encountering a couple in their sixties toiling up the road; they assured us our gite was just ahead of us. We found a chalet with vive guest rooms, an old Savoyard barn, lawn, and little lettuce patches. It is very beautiful here. The weather changed fast just after we arrived, from clear, hot, and a little humid to thunder, lightning, and hail the size of golf balls.
Our room is on the top (second) floor, with a double bed, a single bed, our own bath, and windows looking out toward the imposing crest we will climb tomorrow, weather permitting. Below us, four double rooms. Rez de chausée, sitting room, dining room, kitchen, and I suppose the rooms of the owners.
Our dinner companions are a Dutch couple from den Bosch, talkative and interesting, fluent in English, in their early sixties I would guess, fit and athletic. They have done considerable mountaineering, the last two weeks on the Italian side based around Courmeyer. Dinner was, first, grated carrots with a hint of coriander, cinnamon, and orange sections; then fondue with bread, ham, sausage; dessert was a smetana-like substance with huckleberries. Red and white wine en pichet.
Then to bed — but not before a magnificent sunset lighting up half the surrounding mountains. We are quite in the countryside, fragrant and alive: quite a contrast with airports, bus stations, city types!
What to do tomorrow? We can sleep after a long hard walk at Bise, but it is unattended and we are not really provisioned. Or shall we take a bus to Bernex and stay in a hotel? Seems like cheating. Or climb to Dent d'Oche with our Dutch friends? Or simply bite the bullet and face a long day to La Chapelle? Well, we'll look at the weather and decide…