A trip to the French Alps ....
Group: Allan Boyd (Organiser), Bob MacDonald, James Anderson, Jamie Anderson, Alasdair Anderson, David Anderson, Mark Setford and Miriam Murphy
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Day1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day11
Day 1: Thursday 27 August
With road works at Raith interchange and on the M8, we decided to go for an early start. Bob, having met up with Mark and Miriam, picked me up in East Kilbride and we arrived in plenty of time at Edinburgh airport. Jamie made the short trip from his flat in Edinburgh. James, Ally and David didn’t leave so early and were caught up in traffic but still arrived with a little time to spare.
The flight to Geneva was uneventful. Having picked up our rucksacks we took the short train trip to Geneva Central station. After a short walk around the station, we boarded the next train to Chambery. It was very warm on the train. Just as we were about to alight at Chambery, James was feeling a bit queazy .. which caused us some concern as we only had a few minutes before our connecting train to Modane. However, two doctors came along at once .. our own Dr Jamie and a fellow passenger. After a short rest we transferred to the Modane train.
On arrival at Modane, James was feeling a lot better. The Hotel Commerce was directly across the road from the station and we soon settled in. After a beer in the warm sunshine we sought out a local restaurant where the highlight was the enormous lasagne that David was served up. An early night was called as we had been up since around 5am, and we had a bus to catch at 8:30am.
Day 2: Friday 28 August
We had a good breakfast at the hotel and then gathered our gear and walked across the road to the bus stop for the 8.30 bus to Bonneville. It was a scenic trip up the valley and after an hour and a half, we arrived at the village, having had an easy ascent from 1050m to 1800m. It was a sunny and warm day.
We had a stop for some drinks at a cafe before starting the difficult part of finding the start of the track. A sign to the GR5 was eventually discovered nailed to a tree 5 yards off the road. The initial ascent was steep crossing the road several times. On the way up, a Lammergeier flew over us but was quickly in the distance, so no photos of it. The climb levelled out as we had to walk a stretch along the road but it steepened again. A final climb took us to the Col de L’Iseran .. at 2770m, the highest pass in France with a road.
There is a cafe at the col and, after photo shoots, we had a welcome lunch stop and watched the variety of cyclists and motorcyclists arrive and depart.
The descent was initially down through ski stuff. However, we soon reached the tree line eventually getting our first view of Val d’Isere. We walked through a quiet Val d’Isere but found a bar and stopped for a very welcome beer. It was a further 2 km to La Daille but the Hotel Latoviere was the first to be reached at the edge of the village.
We got booked into the hotel which had very good rooms and facilities .. in fact the best of the trip. In the evening, we opted to eat in the hotel which offered a good fixed price 3 course meal. After dinner we had a drink before eventually heading for bed.
Day 3: Saturday 29 August
Val d'Isere to Val Claret
We started the day with a steep ascent out of La Daille. As we climbed out of the trees we were watched very closely by many marmots, which inhabited the slopes .. they kept their distance but we were able to get some good photographs of them before they disappeared into their burrows. After a short time we reached a tiny grass runway, indicated by a lone windsock, which was fenced off from the surrounding land. As well as looking very rough, the runway was also much steeper than normal runways and it was clear that only very skilled pilots would be able to land and take off here.
We walked on and very quickly arrived at a large cairn that indicated the Pas de la Tovière. Here we had great views of Mont Blanc, Lac du Chevril and Tignes. We took lots of photos and after a quick break we were back on our way, now heading down hill towards Tignes.
When we eventually reached the outskirts of the town we headed left, up the valley, towards our accommodation for that night in Val Claret. We walked along the edge of the small Lac de Tignes and up into the town centre, past lots of clubs bars and restaurants (although many appeared closed for the season).
We checked into our hotel, lightened our rucksacks and headed towards the funicular railway that ran to the Grande Motte glacier.
While waiting for the funicular we were blasted by cold air that came down the tunnel from the top of the mountain and I was very happy to get on board the slightly warmer train when it eventually arrived. We were able to ascend more than 900m in only a few minutes before emerging to beautiful views from partway up the glacier. We then took a cable car to even further up the mountain and got even more stunning views of the surrounding valleys.
On the way up the glacier, Jamie announced that he had left his walking poles at the bottom of the funicular and that he would have to collect them on the way down. However, when we returned to the bottom station, they were nowhere to be seen! No one had handed them in and they hadn’t been found by any members of staff. Evidently some unscrupulous person must have found them and thought they were too good to resist.
It was a very good day with excellent weather and beautiful views. We had a pleasant evening back at the hotel where we were able to reflect on what we had seen and done.
Day 4: Sunday 30 August
Day 5: Monday 31 August
Many in the group had a restless night's sleep in the hut, probably due to the 2517m altitude. Breakfast was a little mediocre consisting of rye bread and some crumbly cake served with jam. It did, however, come with coffee or hot chocolate in a bowl, which was very French. It was cold outside the refuge with a sharp wind blowing across the col. The 1000m descent started by curving down a moraine in the shadow of Grande Casse, the hanging glacier still looming above us.
The descent was steep with impressive views out over the valley. Part way down we crossed a causeway that had been built with flat stones across a shallow lake. Here we also emerged briefly into the sunlight that had been hidden by the imposing peaks surrounding us. The path then continued down through grass and then forest to the ski-town of Pralognan, host of the curling at Albertville 1992.
Here we had a drink during which Mark and Miriam decided not to do the via feratta which we had planned. The rest of the group walked back up the hill to the start of the route beside a waterfall. Allan, Jamie and I set off in the first group to attempt the route. It was very tough going for our first route, with a few over hangs and plenty of exposure. We managed well however, and completed the 80m route in under half an hour. James and Bob did not feel like having a go, so Jamie and I took David up between us. Though a little nervous, he managed just fine, though we chose not to attempt a monkey bridge above the thundering waterfall.
Back down in the village we started our long trek up the valley toward our next refuge. It was a long and hot walk as the sun beat down on us. A few short forested stretches gave us a much needed respite from the sun. We stopped for lunch in a small town part way up the valley, all opting for the delicious omelettes.
Back on the road the path became steeper and steeper as it rose to the back of the valley. Sooner than hoped however, we saw the refuge peeking round from behind a cliff and we arrived to find Mark and Miriam already enjoying a beer.
The Peclet Polset refuge was very modern and even had a luxurious 6 min shower, even if there only was one for the whole hut. We had a hearty dinner of vegetable soup, a pork rib main, salad and cheese. There was a dessert of fruit cake before the Genepi was brought out for a toast.
After dinner we took a small walk outside to the top of a large cliff. The night was quite dark and at this height many stars were visible in the sky. Lights out was at 2145, to save power, which took us a little by surprise. We all had torches though and even lent one to our friendly German roommate.
Day 6: Tuesday 1 September
Refuge Peclet Polset to Refuge Aguille Doran
Last breakfast at the Refuge de Peclet Polset was 7.30 so everyone was up early again. The highlight of breakfast for the Anderson boys was the 3kg tub of Nutella. Otherwise it was the usual cereal and coffee in the same bowl (at different times).
After a team photo we were on our way shortly before 8.30 for the 300m ascent to the Col de Chaviere (2796m). Shortly before the pass the forecast rain arrived so it was waterproofs on for the first time on the trip and a quick photo stop before beginning the descent towards Orgere. Steep at first, the route passed through several alpine meadows before the Refuge de l'Orgere came into view and was reached via a steep zig-zag descent.
On the way we were able to trace the potential 'high route' for tomorrow through the clouds, which appeared very steep.
Crossing the Val de L'Orgere we arrived at the Refuge de l'Aiguille Doran by 12.15. This is a small hostel and we have one of the two well-appointed dormitories with a shower and en-suite to ourselves.
An excellent lunch was had at the restaurant, and then the afternoon was spent catching up on our washing and relaxing in front of the refuge with its view 1000m directly down into Modane, where we had started on Thursday.
About 4pm the cloud swept in and there was a rush to rescue our washing as the rain came on. We gathered for pre-dinner drinks before the best dinner so far on the trip. Tasty vegetable soup was followed by sliced pork in a creamy mushroom sauce served with huge slices of rosti potatoes. The obligatory local cheese board was followed by a prune flan. Ally won the prune stone competition with 20 stones after eating David's helping (he was to suffer for this in the morning!). After sharing the last of Jamie's whisky with our hosts and some fellow guests everyone was in bed by 10pm.
Day 7: Wednesday 2 September
Refuge Aguille Doran to Refuge de Plan Sec
David‘s condition worsened today with two more casualties (Allan and Ali) falling to the dreaded lurgy. Not a great morning all round as heavy mist marred the highly anticipated scenic views. Instead, it was a long and painful snail’s pace up through the forest. Each of the ill folk were caught short en route disappearing into bushes in rotation. One time, Allan didn’t manage to distance himself so, still within earshot; he enlightened us with an orchestral symphony in Baroque style.
Halfway through the forest ascent, David was still flagging so Jamie, bestowing real brotherly love, unburdened him of his pack. Having left the Refuge De L’Aiguille Doran (1900m) we eventually made the 325m ascent to reach the clearing. Now at a height of 2225m, we ascended further still along a gradual path to some little stone huts in the hamlet of Le Barbier (2350m). We had a quick peek to compare with our bothies back home but no tables or chairs or wooden benches, just bare stone walls to provide shelter from the elements. The mist was clearing fast revealing great views across the Maurrienne. We could see a Dam and reservoir in the distance and pinpoint our accommodation for the night. Some birds of prey were swirling above us (tells you how bad the guys were, he he!) as we tried to figure out their origin. We still had a long traverse around the horseshoe to get to Plan Sec but it looked so close from where we stood across the valley. A zip wire could have ensured our speedy arrival but alas we plodded on. A contoured path made for some pleasant walking down to the Col Du Barbier (2227m) and an easy ascent to (2500m) affording clearer views of the two Dams and stunning aquamarine reservoirs - Plan d’Amont and Plan d’Aval.
Now at the highest point of the day, we stopped for a good break. Here an opportunity arose to ascend a peak in excess of 3000m. Despite having carried two packs for almost 600m of ascent over a distance of about 3.5 kilometres, the magnetism of the hill was too great for Jamie and Ali having made some recovery, (not sure now if Ali indeed had the lurgy, or whether the double helpings of all 3 courses the previous night was contributory) and not wanting to be outdone by his brother, decided to join him. They both set off for the Col de La Masse (2923m) and then on to Le Rateau d’Aussois (3031m). We watched them for a while before setting off on the downward trek to the head of the reservoir Plan d’Amont (2244m). At the lowest point, a bridge over the river bore a sign advising one person to cross at a time? The steep descent to the river was extremely hard on the knees. I waited for a while at the bridge for others but no sign, so I aimed to tackle the final 150m - 200m ascent to our accommodation Plan Sec. About half way up there were some magnificent views across the reservoir and I stopped to soak it all in. Mark caught up and we made our way along the last kilometre together. We hoped to stop at the earlier Refuge ‘La Fournache’ in the hope of quenching our thirst with a ‘Panache’ (a beer shandy) but it had shut down.
At 2:45pm we arrived at Plan Sec and were greeted by the owner who showed us to a double room for two. Having not had much sleep the night before, the prospect of a room for two for Mark and I seemed too good to be true but soon all was revealed. The room was the same size as the bed which we didn’t mind but the mattress, sheets, pillows and blankets were all really damp, in fact almost wet. The morning rain had been sheeting in through the open window …we hoped?? Thankfully the sun was still hot and there was plenty of drying so the sheets, blankets, pillow cases adorned our surroundings until sunset. The others arrived not long behind and a Panache was awaiting Allan who looked like he was about to collapse. Still struggling with the lurgy and off his food, he passed up cheese and ham omelette while the rest of us tucked in, except for Bob who had cheese only. James and his crew had a plush room for 4 and Bob and Allan had a double bunk bed each with a 45 degree arrangement of steps so easily managed in desperate situations. The toilet block and showers were a good 30 metres away which was not convenient through the night for beer-filled bladders and even less so for those with bowel disorders.
Since our arrival, we had been looking out at the progress on Ali and Jamie as the hut afforded a great vantage point across the valley to their intended peak but even through Mark’s super-duper camera lens, we didn’t manage to spot them. Bob was enjoying the sun drenched vistas from his monogrammed deck chair…only Bob!
At 5:45pm, much to our relief, Jamie and Ali, arrived triumphantly having now ticked off all 3 of their things to do in the Vanoise ...
1. Swim in a mountain lake! J 2. Climb a Via Ferrata!! JJ 3. Climb a Peak over 3000m!!! JJJ
Dinner was another success but just fell short of the wonderful cooking the previous night at Ref de l’Aiguille Doran. Potato and Leek soup with bread and butter followed by chicken in a great tasting creamy sauce, polenta and ratatouille followed by bread cheese and then crème brûlée still flaming with Genepe. (Juniper liquor). The dining room was filled to capacity at 40 seats, the majority of which were taken up by the French.
Full stomachs and wine a plenty, the French kicked off the singing with a very animated rendition of “La Bella Polenta” (an Old Italian folk song) and we joined in best we could. It was a hoot, sung in the style of “Old McDonald had a farm” where you keep adding something except it was ways to eat Polenta i.e. how you cut it, eat it, and digest it and how it runs out the other end…how apt?!
After some wine and beer, I headed to bed but some stayed for a final night cap….or two!! During the night, in the pitch black I ran the 30m gauntlet when a noisy Bob brushed past with a sense urgency ….oh dear, not another casualty?!!
Day 8: Thursday 3 September
The day started with us enveloped in cloud, so the concensus was to walk round the main path to the Refuge L'Arpont. However, Miriam was keen to climb the hill behind the refuge to see if we could get above the clouds. After breakfast we said our goodbyes with Miriam and myself starting the long climb up .. with the option to cut the corner off if the weather did not improve. The first couple of hundred metres were in thick fog, but the sun was trying its best to break up the cloud. We reached the top ski station and the weather was definitely getting better, so we dumped our bags and continued climbing. Within 20 minutes we had broken through the cloud and the views were amazing. The route ahead was clear with a well defined ridge. We took our time and kept going up. Eventually we got to our target peak at approx. 3100m.
Plenty of pictures were taken of the surrounding hills. We could also look down to where the main group would be walking, but we could not see anyone. Finally, we had to get going. It was a fairly easy walk down retracing our steps to the bags. From here we were going to attempt to traverse the mountainside and get down onto the main path. A little steep in places but we eventually got to the point where we could see the main path below. There were also some impressive rock formations to view as we decended. A little further down I decided to head down to the path, but Miriam was keen to keep high and traverse further along the valley. Once on the path I made good progress until I met a local shepherd and his Pyrenean Mountain dogs. He was keen for me to press on to the next hut, but I pointed out I was waiting for Miriam. The dogs set off up to meet Miriam and escort her down to the path. At this point it was 3.5hours to the hut and Miriam was not best pleased. However, after saying goodbye to the shepherd we sped up and made good time. Unfortunately, the weather closed in again and the last hour was spent 'intheclag'. Spurred on by a couple of text messages from Jamie, we finally made it to the well apointed Refuge L'Arpont.
The main group had arrived around 2pm, but there was no food available, so they had to survive on beer (poor souls). It’s a hard life. After a clean up we had a tasty 3 course meal washed down with the local beer. A fine end to a great day.
Day 9: Friday 4 September
Refuge L'Arpont to Refuge Plan du Lac
After an excellent breakfast we set off with some mist in the valley but the sun already breaking through in places. This turned out to be one of the most scenic days, with views back to the Grande Motte and several of the glaciers of the Vanoise. The route traversed high above the valley and seemed more remote than previous days. Wildlife, other than marmots, had been pretty scarce on previous walking days but today we had sight of some bouquetin and a spectacular head butting performance from a small group of ibex. I also spotted a weasel and a fox. There were several sightings of large birds of prey, possibly lammergeyer, a type of vulture.
We began our descent down to Refuge Entre Deux Eaux for lunch. However it was late season and most of the food was no longer available. The omelettes were fairly underdone and didn’t settle well with those of us with dodgy digestion. Miriam was offered mouldy cheese and dry bread which she promptly returned to the owner.
From the refuge it was a short re-ascent up a fairly good path. The refuge was fairly quiet and was ruled over by Alain the cat, who took a liking to our group and joined us for dinner.
Dinner was soup, sausage with rice, cheese and cake, which was pretty good. I think we were all cheesed out by this time and so it was hardly touched.
Day 10: Saturday 5 September
Refuge Plan du Lac to Geneva
Weather wise, our final walking day (or part day) turned out to be the poorest of the trip. It was initially a very Scottish ‘in the clag’ day but the mist slowly lifted during the morning. We passed the Lac close to the refuge but could barely see more than a few metres ahead. As we dropped down in height through the forest towards Termignon the sun broke through.
At Termignon we found the local tourist information office and managed to book a minibus taxi that took us back to Modane. There is no local bus service on a Saturday outwith the high season. The first stop after we arrived in Modane was at Hotel Commerce where James was reunited with his wallet. We had a couple of hours to spare before our train at 4pm so we had a beer and lunch (mostly burgers and chips) and soaked up the last of the sun.
We had to change trains at Chambery and, with an hour between trains, went walk about. We stopped for a coffee in the main square and found the famous elephant monument.
The hostel was only about 15 minutes walk from Geneva railway station. On arrival, we asked about somewhere to eat and were directed to a local Italian bistro. The warden had negotiated a set meal at 20 Swiss francs with a soft drink, salad and a pizza. This turned out to be a bargain; the pizzas were so big that I don’t think anybody managed to eat more than half – not even Ally!!
After dinner we went to an Irish bar, but after one drink most of us decided to head for bed. Only the youngsters (Mark, Miriam and Jamie) stayed on for a pub crawl and arrived back in the wee small hours. I never heard them return, I was sound asleep until about 3am when loud Afro-Caribbean music started in one of the neighbouring buildings. However, this did not last very and soon it was back to zzzzzz.
Day 11: Sunday 6 September
The journey home
The hostel in Geneva served up an excellent breakfast with yogurts, cheese and a selection of cold meats. As our flight was not until early evening we had plenty of time to explore Geneva using our free transport pass for the day. We walked to the lake which was only a few minutes away and is dominated by a fabulous fountain. We headed for the old part of the town and wandered around the old streets and visited the cathedral. We even found the Church of Scotland.
Miriam set off in search of a cuckoo clock for her granddaughter Ruby and was successful despite most of shops being shut on Sunday. The others jumped aboard a tram and visited the United Nations building and surrounding gardens before meeting up at the hostel at 3pm to pick up our luggage and head for the airport.