Up about 6.30 after a solid night's sleep. A fine clear morning; river loud but finches and blackbirds calling above it. The cat was already back on sentinel duty in the "lawn" carved out of the meadow — but breakfast is not served until quarter past eight! We discuss the day with the Dutch couple, and he reserves beds for us as well as themselves at the refuge atop the Dent d'Oche. We're eager to hit the trail, but must get off to a late start, at 8:45.
It takes a half hour to walk from our gîte to Crêt, where we join the GR5 . the Dutch couple is ahead of us, walking steadily but deliberately. When we break out of forest the views are superb, but we hardly stop to enjoy them: we have a day's work today. At 10:30 we take ten or fifteen minutes to rest: the Dutch are long out of sight.
The first part of the day is very difficult: steep, often muddy, long. I note the times in the guidebook and will retrieve them later. By noon we've reached the col near Mont Baron and it's clear the Dent d'Oche is an ambitious goal: we decide on Chalets de Bise instead. At 1:45 we reach a table d'orientation, and have a conversation with two French couples, petit marcheurs as they modestly say, up from Bernex, where I'd begun this walk five years ago, to admire the view of Mont Blanc, coyly peeking through mists.
The guidebook suggested it would take three and a half hours to get here: it's taken us four and a half, not counting the half hour's walk from our gîte. We've climbed nine hundred meters, about three thousand feet. I telephone the refuge at Dent d'Oche and regretfully cancel our reservation.
By half-past three we've reached the beautiful Lacs d'Oche, and I begin to realize how different this season is. I was here five years ago to the day: there was no snow to beseen, and the lakes were a brilliant green. Today they, and later the even more spectacular Lac de Dechon, are quite frozen:
A fair amount of snow impedes our progress after the Oche junction. We are overtaken by a quick hiker, Daniel: at first I think he's profited from our foot-breaks in the snow, but soon realize it's his technique makes him fast: light on his feet, he skips over the snow where we dig in. At the Col des Portes-d'Oche Daniel has suddenly stopped, transfixed: he's sighted a bouquetin, an ibex, which stands it's ground calmly.
Not wild?, he asks, and I explain they've been protected from hunting for decades, and have lost their fear of humans. I'm a little disappointed to find only six or eight of them scattered about, where five years ago there'd been a sizable herd — but it's later in the day this time; maybe that's it.
Still the snow seems treacherous on steep traverses. Then we meets another, lightly clad, running from Bise down toward Novel, who has found a bouquetin with a broken foot. We finally make the last Col. The descent is longer and more trying than I remember — a memory trick to be considered! — and Stefan is having knee problems.
At the bottom, a quarter mile from our goal, he's hit the wall; I encourage him to stay with it, and the mosquitos help. (I note the sudden veracity of the word "encourage.") He easily crosses the last little stream, and in a moment we're at home for the night.
The Chalet is unattended. We talk to a man there to fix a leaky pipe: he apologizes for the lack of amenities. There is no toilet, no heat, no electricity, no food; just the . Daniel is there with his campstove set up, and kindly volunteers to make coffee for us in the morning. We feast by candlelight on carrot, cheese, walnuts, sausage, and are in bed by 8:30. Will we be able to walk on to La Chapelle tomorrow? Another thing: won't all this snow interfere with the walk toward Chamonix?