Culoz is the last city on the GTJ and from a viewpoint high above the city you have a spectacular view on what is to come next: you see down on Culoz, the river Rhone and far in the distance the high cliffs of the Chartreuse mountains. In good weather you can also see the snow capped mountains of the Alps, but on this trip I will skip them.
After the long descent into Culoz I first rewarded myself with a long shopping trip to the local big supermarket and then headed off to a long walk along the Rhone. I thoroughly enjoyed some flat fast walking after all those climbs and descents. The GR9 coincides here for about 1 1/2 days with the GR65, a pilgrimage trail leading to Santiago. During lunch break I met the first pilgrim, a Spanish cyclist. But judging from the guestbook entries in the churches most pilgrims are Germans. No surprise that all the interpretive signposts along the trail were in French and German.
For two days the GR 9 now meanders sound in the Rhone valley. Sometimes along the river, sometimes high above it with incredible views. Vineyards are everywhere. I was mostly feasting on wild strawberries though that were growing everywhere. Unfortunately they are not very nourishing and very time consuming to pick, but they taste great.
The Chartreuse is a little gem and please mark both words. It is just a little regional park and you could traverse it on two days. Which would be a shame as it is incredibly beautiful and there are several trails that would allow you more extended hiking trips up to a week. But keep in mind that this is demanding hiking. Lots of steep UPS and downs plus very rocky terrain with difficult footing and even some climbing stretches with steel cables. As I am running a bit out of time I choose a short route through the park. From St. Pierre d'Entremont I ascended 1,500 m first to l'Alpette de la Dame, walked along the beautiful plateau to the Col de Belleforte and reached there the highest point of my hike so fast: 1,902 m. The views were incredible and the scenery reminded me a lot of a Lilliput Sierra Nevada. I saw several mountain goats and tons of marmots. After that you ascend through a place that is very fittingly called Chaos de Bellefort. Rocks are everywhere and make hiking very strenuous - and finding a campsite almost impossible.
After a very uncomfortable night I woke up to a slight drizzle and lots of clouds not knowing that the most difficult part was still ahead of me. I ask had to descend over the limestone cliffs onto the next pass. The rain had made the rocks very slippery and everything was so steep that steel cables were needed to help you down. I was surprised that there weren't any warning signs as this descent could be really dangerous in wet weather. I was happy to reach the pass - and see several day hikers heading up the direction I had just come down. This is close to Grenoble and a popular day hike even on a normal Tuesday. I was fed up with all the slippery hiking and had already taken a bad fall on a muddy trail. I just wanted to get down and have my rest day in Grenoble.
Still I want to highly recommend the Chartreuse. Due to its proximity to Grenoble this park is not a secret in France, but very beautiful. Well signed trails, plenty of water, lots of wild life and some of the most spectacular scenery so far on this hike. Ideal for hiking trips up to one week in alpine scenery that can already be hiked very early or late in the season and easily accessible via Grenoble.