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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Alpwalk 2

La Chapelle d'Abondance, July 2, 2016— 

I'd expected the second day to be the hardest, but not this hard. I awoke about five in the morning and went downstairs to write, but found the door to the common room locked, so spent some time outside, most in the entry hall where one sets one's sticks and boots. Not conducive to writing. The weather was cloudy but dry; the clouds drift by — at tthis altitudee, 2200 meters, you're actually in them — and occasional part allowing a glimpse of the marvelous view. Ibexes everywhere, of course. 

A little before  seven three healthy young people, two male and one female, shinnied up the cheminee wearing shorts, tanktops, trainers, and backpacks. extringuisher weighingg a good thirrty pounds, and they'd left La Fetiuere an hour and ten minutes beforee! Finally the common room was opened, and bowls of cafe au lait were brought, first to these three heroic porters, then to the rest of us. 

Breakfast here has improved: fruit juice as well as coffee; an apple as well as bread. Then it was time to attack the walk to La Chapelle, since the refuge at Bise is now closed. This would be a six-stage walk and it would be diifficult, though not including anything as ardduous as the cheminnee had been yesterday.
First we climbed, much of the time finger-and-toe on rocks, to the summit of the Dent, where we did not linger. Then came what was to me rather a brutal descent, some of the time traversing with the help of bolted chains, then steeply on broken granite, finally dirt-and-gravel, on switchbacks.

Next we climbed, again on dirt-and-gravel, to a first col, down, then up to the second, where a herd of complacent mature male ibex congregate; finally down a slope where the trail was two or three times covered with snow. And here suddenldy my right knee failed, in a familiar way: the meniscus had taken more than it wanted on the descents, wherwe now and then it had to twist sideways. 

I hobbled on, up to the Col de Bise, and then began a descent amost as hard as the one from the Dent, though not needing chains at least, because always in alpage. The trail here is dirt — rutted cowtracks, actually — and very uneven. In normal condition, and certainly when I was younger, this would not have been difficult: given the circumstances, it was slow and painful.

At the bottom both my legs suddenly gave way and I sat down hard. This was just at the large white stone on which my hiking partner had announced, three years ago, that he could go no farther. A wave of sympathy for him, and remorse for my earlier failure to express it — but that didn't help in the present sittuationn. Curt andd Jim were attentive, and volunteered to carry my backpack, but I rested a few minutes, then hobbled on..

There'd be no question of completing stages five and six, the reasonably easy ascent tto the next col and the rreasonaby difficcult descent from it and the stroll into La Chapelle. But there was no placee to sleeep in Bise now, only a fromagerie wheere we could buy beer and cheese. There was no ttelephone to ccall a cab, and our phones wwere useless in this isolatedd valley. And tthe road in and out was closed for road repair!

It would open at six, though, and then we could walk down it, seven kilometers, to the next town. In the end, thhough, we met a cadre of hikers ledd by two gguides, and one of thee guiddes volunteered tto drive us into town.

After a couple of hours of refreshment and conversation with the farmer's wife, and with Dorian a young Brussels fellow who was walking to Gap to visit his grandmother, we piled into Valentin's car. He drove us all the way to La Chapelle d'Abondance, where we arrived at about the time we'd expected.

Curt and I walked the quarter mile up to the hotel I remembered from three years ago, to find it unchanged and available; then back down to the center to get our packs and an elastic knee brace for me, then back to the hotel where we checked into the same room I'd had three years ago. 

What a relief to find hot and cold running water again, to shower, to be clean! And then a fine dinner and a solid sleep.

Our third day, today, Saturday, July 2, I rested and wrote and studied the road ahead. I'll walk down to the center in a few minutes and post this, I hope; then another dinner, another goodd sleep, and back, tomorrlow, on the trail…
 seven three healthy young people, two male and one female, shinnied up the cheminee wearing shorts, tanktops, trainers, and backpacks. Each was carrying a fi