THERE WAS REALLY not much to report about the walks on July 3 and 4. They were short, downhill for the most part, and pretty much devoid of views. If we weren't so lazy (or, in my case, old) they would have been tacked on to adjacent longer days.
On July 3d we could have walked right through Montgénèvre-not-my-favorite-town and stayed in Briançon a day earlier — or even two nights, though I'm not sure Briançon is worth all that much time. (Though we did have a very nice dinner there.)
From Montgénèvre-not-my-favorite-town we walked a bit of main road, then ducked into forest, often descending fairly steeply on logging roads, at other times keeping to narrow forest trails, in an hour or so we emerged onto meadows, passing a pasture whose three bored ponies eyed us as we went by. Then it was back into forest, climbing to another old road, which suddenly led to the magnificent Pont d'Asfeld, the sober, strong stone bridge built in the 18th century but looking as good as new. (Perhaps partly because 21st-century vehicles are not allowed to use it.)
Yesterday, July 4, we spent a lazy morning in the lower outskirts of Briançon, partly in search of shopping, partly killing time before a second two-hour walk, from Briançon o its suburb Villard Saint-Pancrace. The reason for this short day is that the following day's walk, which we did today, if you're still following me, looks like a long and strenuous one.
But our walk to Villard Saint-Pancrace took hardly an hour, as it turned out, because we were tricked by balissage indicating an alternate. This wasn't present five years ago, and I was unprepared for it. It cost us what I recalled as a delightful ramble alongside an irrigation "canal," hardly more than a ditch, filled with speckled frogs.
Two interesting middle-aged ladies from Antwerp, however, who had notbeen fooled by the variant, said that it wasn't that interesting at all, so maybe we'd done the right thing.
In any case we were up early this morning and on the trail at 6:30, knowing we were facing a long ascent and hot weather. In two hours we'd gained 500 meters and arrived at the Ckalets des Ayes, where the buvette I remembered from five years ago was still in evidence, providing a welcome cup of tea.
Another two hours of climbing brought us to the Col des Ayres — I've posted photos from there to Facebook — and here we took advantage of a windbreak and benches predecessors have gratifyingly improvised out of the stones lying around to stop for the pique-nique last night's hostess had prepared for us.
Then it was down, down, down, from the col at nearly 2500 meters to tonight's gîte at below 1700. The surprise came immediately: the GR5 was covered with snow on the south side of the col, and covered with a bank we could never have walked across, because it ended in a very steep slope. Not realizing this, we took a wrong trail for maybe a hundred feet. At that point our trail could be seen clearly emerging from the other side of the snowbank, so we went back and improvised a scramble over the rocks around the snow.
After that, Bob was your uncle. We descended by switchbacks and straight steep runs, on scree, then dirt, sometimes grass, trough alpage pastures, ultimately coming to a paved road that took us through fragrant spruce forest and ultimately to Brunissard, then la Chalp — where we reached our delightfully comfortable Chalet Viso no later than 2:30!