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

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Alps, 2013, 23: St.-Sauveur-sue-Tinée to St.-Dalmas Valdeblore

SJuly 19, 2013—

Looking back to St.-Sauveur

THE HAILSTORM HAD  affected us so badly that we began to re-think our plans. Thanks to having had to skip most of the northern half of the walk, we had plenty of time, the next day's stage was fairly short, say five hours, to St.-Dalmas Valdeblore, and could be dome even if an afternoon storm threatened (as it did), but the following day, taking us to Utelle, was a long one, certainly nine hours, on exposed country, with no shelter, café, grocery, or anything. 

And storms were predicted for the mext few days. So we decided to bag it and take the bus from St.-Sauveur to Nice. It left at 8:45 in the morning, giving us plenty of time to make the secision, and me plenty of time to consider its immensity, and the immensity of my irresoluteness. Oh well.

The bus ride is dramatic at first, down the Tinée gorge, rock hanging over the road on one sode, the precipice falling away from it on the other, tight turns, one-lane tunnels, trucks coming at you, that sort of thing. I am happy at this state of things. The French, at least the provincial French, don't seem to feel the urge to conquer and subdue nature that thwpe American highway department does. 

We arrived in Nice about ten-thirty Tuesday morning, a little sheepish (me at least) at having failed, amd   Spent the rest of the day, and the next two days, relaxing, eating, visiting with friends, and indulging ourselves, always with an eye on the weather, and — me certainly — itching to get back on the trail. 

Finally, Friday morning, after a rainstorm the previous day seemed to have cleared the air, 
Chuck dropped us off at the train station, which is temporarily also an important interurban bus station, about nine o'clock in the morning, on his way to his office, amd we took the 9:10 bus back up the Tinée gorge to St.-Sauveur, where we'd caught the bus to Nice on Tuesday. We arrived at 10:45 and, because the weather didn't look threatening, dawdled over a cup of tea before hitting the trail at 11:10.

St.-Sauveur is at about 500 meters above sea level, as low as the GR 5 has taken us this far, and from there we immediately climbed to the village of Rimplas — the final "s" seems to be pronounced, at least by old people – at 1000 meters. (1600 feet; 3200 feet, roughly.) the trail starts on paved road, then enters forest trail, then an old unpaved road, fallen away a bit in places; it hugs the side of the at times very steep hillside above the Roubinastre torrent. 

We made Rimplas in an hour forty minutes, exactly what the book suggests, five minutes faster than I had five years ago — and that in spite of momentary confusion at a fork where we took the wrong choice for a few minutes before realizing it and retracing our steps. (Of course the same thing happened five years ago, though at a different juncture.)

Just before entering Rimplas I thought it looked like rain, and we put on our gear. Immediately it began to rain — not hard, more a sprinkling, but enough to make us grateful for the gear. By then we'd caught up with three young Frenchwomen, college students I'd say, who were walking nonchalantly in shorts and tee shirts, with sleeping pads on their packs, and no trekking sticks: they'd started out in Modane, and were going to Menton, staying in refuges and bivouac, for they had a tent.

From there it was a fairly long easy descent, again on ledge trail, to no apparent purpose other than a nice old stone bridge, and then back up again, first to La Bolline, the first of the three villages making up the Valdeblore ensemble, then past  la Roche on an unpaved road through (or past) meadows, finally into St.-Dalmas, at nearly 1300 meters (4250 feet).

Because I'd made and then cancelled twice running a reservation in the town gîte I was embarrassed to make a third. (Especially because I'd forgotten to notify them the second time, and they'd called me to find out when the hell we'd turn up, and expressed some displeasure when I said we were in Nice for the night.) So i'd made a disastrous decision to reserve two beds at a chambre d'hôte at the near edge of St.-Dalmas. We arrived at three-thirty to find a very swank house in an immaculately tended garden, and a distracted, somewhat overwrought woman picking up sheets of cardboard from a couple of children's car-seats she'd been installing in her VW.

She showed us our rooms, plural, for each contained one double bed. Big, airy rooms, each with a luxurious bathroom containing two sinks and a bathtub as well as the toilet and, in one case, a separate shower stall. This was going to cost us plenty, and there was no dinner possibility.

By now it was raining pretty hard. We cleaned up and changed, and then she drove us to the tourism office, considerably higher (2200 meters, 7200 feet) at the Col de Veillos — we'd never have got there otherwise — and there I found out about a promising third alternative to our GR5 to Nice and the GR52 I really want to take to Menton: the GR52A, shorter than the 52 and apparently easier because avoiding the heights. On the other hand, it also bypasses the Vallée des Merveilles, the site of Neolithic petroglyphs I want so much to see, so I'm still at a loss to make a decision, and will probably let external events make the choice — weather, fatigue, who knows what.

Madame our hostess had suggested the night's restaurant, but it would not serve until 7:15. My companion's back was bothering him, so we didn't do much walking: we nursed a beer at one place, then went to the town épicerie superette for tomorrow's lunch: whatever our decision, it would be a long day — we'd asked for breakfast at six — with no café, restaurant, or shop along the way.

We bought walnuts, prunes, a dry sausage, and a detailed map: if we were to leave the GR 5 we'd want reliable trail information. Today the balissage was missing now and then, the trail overgrown in places, blocked by inconvenient fallen trees at others. Somehow I had come to a final decision: we will walk to Utelle tomorrow, Levens Sunday, Nice Monday; then, after perhaps a rest fay, do the walk to Menton, which has been the real purpose of the trip. Then we had dinner, and then walked back to our sumptuous digs, and tumbled into bed.

It hadn't been much of a walk today, no more than say six miles and 1500 meters of up-and-down dénivelément (5,000 feet), but I was pleased at how easy the climbs had been, with our lightened packs. It felt good to be back on the trail after three days off in Nice.