Train. Bus. Car. Van.
As we flew along the winding roads, there was definitely a feeling of being in the south. A mix of rumba and guitar music was coming out of the speakers as our driver gave us advice on our route. There where yellow flower by the side of the road and it just felt so good to be hitch-hiking to the small village where our path was to start. Chatillon-en-Diois has that special French feel to it. Small little streets of cream coloured stone, flowers and one or two residents out with their dog.
A few weeks earlier myself and J.M had decided to make use of the Easter weekend to hike across the Vercors. At the heart of this mountain range there is the Reserve Naturelle des Hauts Plateaux du Vercors, which is the largest protected natural range of France. This means it is pretty much unspoiled and uninhabited, with abundant wildlife. Hiking paths criss-cross the region, and apart from a few mountain cabins, there are no other buildings. Due to it’s height and type of rock (limestone) there is hardly any water, completely dictating our routes and timetables. To go across the mountains we decided to head south and then hike along GTV (Grand Traversée du Vercors) back towards Grenoble. We were slightly worried about the weather, as although Saturday was sunny and bright, the forecast was not great, with even a slight possibility of snow. Another consideration was the amount of snow on the ground, as we had no up to date information.
After a tour of the village we said good-bye to our driver, who had kept our rucksacks, and set off up the path into the mountains. The first part of the trek climbed steadily, going from the valley right up onto the plateau. Halfway up the saucisson and cheese came out, giving us the energy to get to the first cabin indicated on our map. It was half past three, so we decided to continue to the next cabin and water source. Soon after our progress was halted first by a herd of chamois followed by a massive group of ibex. These large mountain sheep just looked on peacefully as we walked past. A sudden sharp crack! broke the calm as two males clashed above the cliffs. We finally tore our eyes away from the sight and set of again, on snow slopes this time. Our fears of snow were not unfounded, but due to the time of day walking on the sludge was tiring more than dangerous. Up and down valleys, around peaks and then suddenly the whole inmensity of the plateau. The silhouette Mont Aiguille against the horizon, its tip in the clouds resembled something out of Lord of the Rings. We continued, and somehow decided we didn’t need the path any more. Walking in the middle of monotonous plane, interspersed with pines and snow, we slowly veered slightly to the east. By the time we realised we were several kilometres from our intended pass. But after much extra climbing, checking of altimeter, map and gps we slowly worked our way around the mountain that was now in out path. Just as the sun dipped below the horizon we climbed down a snow slope back onto the path. Headlamps out, we soon made it to an intersection. Then suddenly another light cut through the dark. With a cry of joy we raced the last few metres to the refuge. Which turned out to be packed. With people already in bed. After greeting some of the other walkers we climbed into the loft, were we whispered over our delicious cous-cous before getting into our sleeping bags. + 2000 metres under our belt the first day, we gratefully fell asleep.
After a slow start on the second day and what can almost be called brunch, we set off on the second leg of the journey. This was the wildest part of the whole trip, as except from a group of hikers we saw just at the start we didn’t see any human presence the whole day. Although I’m often in the mountains, and don’t see anybody the whole day, the sensation on the being completely cut off from civilisation was exaggerated on the plateaux. Maybe because up high one can normally see a village, even very far off in the distance. The other thing that makes the isolation complete is the lack of phone coverage. The countryside is very rugged, with a mix of forest, open grass and grey stone cliffs. The morning was gray but it started to snow slightly at lunchtime, which then turned into rain. We passed beneath the steep slopes of the Grand Veymont and continued into the clouds. Although we were surrounded by rain and snow, water was always a preoccupation, as springs are very scarce. So when we came to a well in the middle of a clearing, a bit of engineering was needed to hold our mug with bits of string and straps to be lowered down into the crystalline water. Having replenished our supply, all that was left was to get to the next cabin. This time it was empty, and after starting a fire in the small stove we had our supper. By this point we had already crossed most of the reserve and needed to decide waht we wanted to do next. The answer was obvious: go all the way to Moucherotte, overlooking Grenoble.
Having decide to finish what we had started, the third day demanded an early start. We decided to have a quick coffee as we went through Corrençon before heading up into the mountains but everything was closed. Imagining that the world had moved on without us we didn’t see anyone until a far off car drove down the main road. Assured that we hadn’t missed out on world revolution, we had almost given up hope of getting a warm beverage before leaving civilisation, when we came across a bar at Villard ski station. Sitting next to a local sipping his pastis, we charged up on some caffeine. By now we were running against the clock, stopping for a quick meal beneath Pic Saint Michel. This was mountain I knew well from ski rando so I knew we only had a few kilometres left. Across Lans-en-Vercors ski station before attacking the slopes of Moucherotte. The snow was awful and tiring. As we neared the shear cliffs, the view of Grenoble, my Grenoble, opened up before being swallowed up in the clouds again. In the fog we climbed the last few metres to the summit. We had done it!
Climbing back down into the sun a celebratory bottle of the green liqueur was pulled out and put to good use, as we looked back the way we had come, the Hauts Plateaux completely lost in the distance, far, far away…