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

Friday, July 19, 2013

Alps, 2013, 20: St.-Étienne to Roya

Roya, July 13, 2013—

Leaving St.-Étienne

And so breakfast in the great ugly institutional hall, coffee coming out of one spout of the inscrutable machine, hot milk from another, applecake, moldy-tasting applesauce, guaranteed fruit juice. We stopped at the bakery for a baguette and a pain au raisins, and walked out of town. Lazily I walked the way I knew it would be rather than look for the ballisage, so we saved ourselves some nasty climbing by walking along the main road for maybe half a mile. 

Then, though, there was no denying the balissage, and rather than continue by lazy but still climbing asphalt hairpins to ascend the 450 meters to Auron, a town I do not like, we took a really punishing scramble up steep, loose, stony paths, 70 meters higher than necessary, and then dropped to Auron, a town I do not like, and had to walk through it, on hairpins of asphalt streets, past seven-storey ski condo chalets with prominent signs


 as if anyone would want to, and then came to the golf course at the foot of the ski-lift where our GR5 would return to sanity. 

Except that there was no sanity. There was a scene that reminded Stefan of Burning Man. The National, European, and International championships of downhill trailbiking were being held here, right here, this weekend. Pavilions, shops, campers, emergency clinics, and of course every European media outlet was here, as well as smartalecky kids and teenybopper groupies. Zoo time. 

We had a cup of tea and then set out. Impossible to resume the official GR, as temporary fences had been set up everywhere. I navigated by map, and before long was far enough from the craziness — if not from occasional unsettling pairs of downhill cyclists (for they'd ascended their courses, unlike us, on the ski-lifts) — to intersect with the GR 5.

We climbed quite a ways on nice forest path, coming out at a fine viewpoint, the Belvedere du Chamois, at 1810 meters. Then we climbed in earnest. Having nothing better to do I counted my steps: 1960, to climb 200 meters to the Col du Blaimont. I figure, and could be wrong, that it's about twenty inches to the step, say 3200 feet or, roughly, a kilometer, to climb up 650 feet: a one-in-five slope, or 20%. 

In any case at twenty to one we were at the col.  Like yesterday's, it didn't offer thrilling views or defining moments. It was a big grassy plateau, with hikers scattered about apparently snoozing after their lunches, and now and then a trailbiker nonchalantly speeding through. We ate fruit and bread and then, an eye on clouds to the southwest, started our descent. 

Like yesterday's, it led us through alpages of flowers, and occasional ruins, even what looked as if it had at one time been a fairly extensive hamlet, complete with a chapel — Saint-Sébastien — now without a roof and part of a wall but charming in its (literal) delapidation. 

It wasn't terribly hot, but it was warm, and midday: at one point we walked right next to a big flock of sheep, all totally flaked out, lying in one another's shade, hardly bothering to glance at us though we walked past close enough to reach out and touch them.

Ultimately we arrived, at 2:30, perfectly dry, at our gîte in Roya, where we have a private room containing bunk-beds with drawers under them and three hooks on the door. In a later report I'll try to describe this gîte/refuge life. Right now it's time for sleep. We have a nine-hour walk tomorrow.