Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Haut Jura

In the Jura mountains several trails are paralleling each other: GR 5, GR 9, all their variants and the GTJ that mostly coincides with one of those. I usually took the trail that was most suitable to the weather... you don't want to be on an exposed crest in the rain. There are shelters along the trail, but unfortunately they are mostly locked and have to be booked ahead. I walked a long day to get to the shelter in the picture and found it completely looked up! I ended up camping in the tiny and sloping hallway because outside there was cattle and cow poo everywhere... Not very hiker friendly!

When the weather is good the Jura is truly spectacular. On to of the crest the views are incredible. Very often you can see all the easy to the Alps. I remember coming up a steep mountain side and being in a really grumpy mood because of the exhausting ascent when all of a sudden the trail was topping out and I could see across the next valley... all the way to the snow capped Alps. My mood improved rapidly and I could not get enough of the breath taking view.

The stretch towards Geneva is the most outstanding. You are climbing up to Crete de Neige, the highest point in the Jura range, shortly followed by the Reculet, almost equally high and very prominent. The views onto Lake Geneva and the city are incredible, and I was very lucky to have fantastic weather. You then follow the crest at an altitude of around 1,500 m for the test of the day. Views to both sides of the crest are fabulous, but the hiking is incredibly hard. Constant steep ups and downs and of course there if no water on top of the crest. And although tree line is up to 1,500 m I seemed to be hiking mostly in the sun.

Water has become a bit of a problem lately and you have to plan ahead carefully. But even then you can encounter bad surprises: one day I had trusted my guidebook that had promised a fountain in the forest at the end of the day. But that fountain was nowhere to be found although it was even shown on my GPS maps. I had one let of water left and survived a bit of a thirsty night- and learned that I will have to increase my water capacity. Another issue turned out to be less problematic than expected: cattle! I am still a bit shell shocked when it comes to cows after some near death experiences with aggressive bulls in the UK. But compared to their UK colleagues French cows are incredibly well behaved. Maybe the cow bells double as tranquilizer, but French cores just ignore you. Plus the cow bells prevent that they can sneak up on you and attack you from behind...

View from Reculet
My next rest stop was Geneva and after my rather frustrating CS search in Basel I started to send out requests early - but again only declines and no answers until a woman took pity on me. Couch surfing in big cities seems to be a big problem as potential hosts get swamped with requests. The descent into Bellegarde from where there are lots of train connections to Geneva was a real bone crasher. You loose more than 1,000 m of altitude on steep and slippery slopes. Luckily it didn't rain that day. Exhausted I arrived in Bellegarde but in time to get into Geneva before the Tourist information closed. Another hiker I had met in a refuge the night before was so fed up that he contemplated giving up on his hike.

In Geneva everything went according to plan. I got a city map, found the guidebook for my next section and made it to my CS host. The next day was spent relaxing in Geneva. Luckily the municipal museums are free so I could do some inexpensive sightseeing in an otherwise really expensive city. Shopping for the next stretch of my hike was expensive but I wanted take advantage of the Swiss supermarkets that carry dehydrated packaged food- something that does not exist in France. I enjoyed walking around not doing much. I only made it to two museums... And after another night in a bed (or air mattress to be correct) I am back on the trail today- with a 1,000 m ascent waiting for me.

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