Walks and hikes in Europe and California, posted sporadically as they happen… or as I reflect on them…

Friday, July 12, 2013

Alps, 2013, 16: Fouillouse to larche

For a number of days we have lacked internet access. I will post here the notes of the last few days. Photos alas will have to wait until I have more tome and a real computer, but those who follow me on Facebook may find some there.

July 9, 2013: 
Breakfast at 7:15 — we were a little late — bread, butter, little package of peach jam, café au lait into which I added some powdered cocoa. Then we hit the trail, stopping to admire the little Fouillouse cemetery with its cautionary  warning over the nice metal gates:

Souvenez-vous que nous avons eté ce que vous êtes
Et que vous serez un jour ce que nous sommes

The path was easy at first, ascending through now forest, now with their small patches of snow always close left and right and of course ahead. Military history was rarely absent, in the form of old pillboxes and hillocks which seemed likely to have. Been mounded over other installations. I wondered idly if these areas had ever been mined, then dismissed the idea. 

In a couple of  hours we reached our first col, the Vallonnet, at 2520 meters (8260 feet): we'd climbed two thousand feet. It was cold and windy, though not bad enough to require windbreaker or jacket; and mists swirled around the nearby peaks, though to the southeast the sky looked more promising. 

From there it's a fairly easy traverse, then climb toward the imposing ruin of the Viraysse barracks, whose parade ground, big as a soccer field, was entirely surrounded by barracks in beautiful stonework. Virtually all the roofs are gone, and two sides have lost their barracks, but what is left is impressive.

From there a half hour climbing switchbacks to the Col de Mallemort, a little higher than the Vallonet, and soon our destination was in sight, hardly a mile off as the crow flies, but down nine hundred meters — three thousand feet! — and about two hours of difficult walking, sometimes through exceptionally beautiful fields of flowers, but too often down steep switchbacks paved with loose scree and gravel.

Military installations continue to be ubiquitous, and at one point there's an explanatory panel describing the events of World War II, when the town of Larch ws completely destroyed, all but the memorial to the dead of World War I, by the retreating Germans and Italians. Now the flags of France, Italy, and the European Union fly over the site.

We entered Larche at quarter past one, footsore and with aching calves. The gîte is simple but clean and comfortable. I had a nice conversation, what I could understand of it, with two women in the Syndicat d'Initiative; they assured me that nothing at all happens here most of the time; a few skiers from December to March, a few hikers like us for six weeks in the summer. It uses to be busy here, with an army detachment and their dependents, a national gendarmerie, and the customs officials and workers, since Larche is a border town. Now all that is closed. Peacetime and open frontiers are bad for business.