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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Alpwalk 1

La Chapelle d'Abondance, July 2, 2016— 

Landed at Geneva 1030 am on Wednesday June 29, spent the day with Jim in Thonon waitiing for the 5:35 bus to Bernex where we were to meet Curt at the hotel we'd booked, found the clerk had lied and the bus did not travel on Wednesdays and the bus she'd sold us tickets for would drop us off miles from our hotel at a place where we would find no other transportation. We shrugged and accepted the only option: a taxi. Thirtyfive euros, but we were at the hotel.

Walked a mile or so down into town — Bernex — for dinner at Tante Marie's; not bad. (See Eating Every Day ) Asked the hostess if we could get a cab back up to the hotel, a half-hour climb from there, and she volunteered to drive us there. Typical provincial French kindness, greatly appreciated!

Next day, Thursday, June 30, we walked to the Dent d'Oche, which I remembered fondly from eight years ago when I first walked this alpine traject of GR5. There are three stages to this walk. The first took us the mile or so down to central Bernex, where we bought nuts and dried fruit for our lunch. The owner of the gite we'd slept in, very comfortably by the way, hearing me mention saucisson sec to my copains, brought one of his own manufacture out, in a ziplock bag, and handed it to me with a smile. How much do I owe you, I asked: I can't sell it, he said, only give it. It's yours. 

We bought a baguette at the bakery, then walked east along the main road — the only road — through the village of Trossy, then turned south, crossing a bridge, and continued on the road, now climbing rather steeply. This brought us to the end of Stage 1, the cafe-restaurant La Fétiuere — the word is local, and refers to the large copper basin in which milk is slowly curdled to make cheese. The staff was just opening up, but brought us tea, which we took on the patio, on a pleasant morning.

As we were drinking it we heard cowbells coming nearer. Just our luck: a herd of perhaps fifty milk-cows was sent up the very trail we were about to take, east, toward the Dent. That would muddy the track!

We left the cafe rather regretfully — among other things, it had the last toilet we would see for a couple of days — and entered pleasant forest, walking steadily uphill on a dirt road. We noticed a trail leading off to the right but ignored it, walking on to a group of chalets — rough farm buildings, really — where we realized our mistake, and turned back, only two or three hundred meters fortunately, to the cow-affected trail.

This continued to climb, sometimes roughly, through the forest, then out into an alpage where the cows by now were grazing. Before too long we came to the Chalet d'Oche, a cheesemaking barn, closed of course, but with its welcome water-trough. End of stage two, and time to rest up for the finale.

Stage three breaks into two halves. The first is a rather steep climb, by switchbacks, through the alpage, on a dirt-and-broken rock trail. The second is a notorious chimney or chute, rising precipitously between stone walls. Hiking sticks don't heelp much here: much of the work is hand-and-foot, or finger-and-toe even; and the really hard parts are assisted by a chain bolted to the rock, which you can use to haul yourself along. Slow going!

Finally at the Refuge we took off our boots and staked out mattresses in the dortoir. There are six other guests: a family from Utrecht, father mother daughter 23 and son 20; a Finnish couple from a provincial town, the wife a schoolteacher. All spoke English, of course; the gardienne and her assistant did not.

Dinner — again, see Eating Every Day. Not bad. Ibexes, of course, which the French call biquoutin, all around. To bed as early as possible, tired but happy, and reasonably good sleep.

Don't have the stats yet: say 8 miles, 2000 meters climb, six hours including a couple of breaks.