Sunday, July 8, 2012

Vercors

My next rest stop was Grenoble and luckily I didn't have to worry about finding a CS host there... because I had already found one months ago. When I was all doing research for this trip I had come across a CS host who was offering help specifically to hikers. I had contacted him back then asking him for advice on my route through the Vercors. And now I would stay with him. Jack even met me right on the trail in order to show me a shortcut to his lovely apartment with a great view into the mountains. He had already bought the next topo guide for me as well as some resupplies. We went through the maps together and he showed me another shortcut through the Vercors. But best of all he had a telephone flat rate with which I could call land lines all over the world for free... As Jack went teaching the next day I spent hours on the phone connecting with old friends and solving a lot of organizational problems.


It was incredibly hot in Grenoble and the only thing I did for sightseeing was a visit to the art museum because they had air conditioning there... But I loved Grenoble, especially thanks to my fantastic host Jack. Therefore I left at the very last minute not looking forward to an almost 1,800 m straight climb out of Grenoble which I decided to split in half. Still I had to climb 1,000 in the afternoon and read very happy when I found a campsite at dusk. The Vercors is really beautiful but I want to day first that by now I was a bit tired of the constant steep ups and downs and the difficult rocky terrain. Yes, the scenery was great, but I felt that I wanted to do a bit more progress. Since the Vosges I had been struggling with difficult terrain and now I wanted something easy - and the Vercors is anything but easy...

A rare water source
One big problem is water...or the lack of it. 1,000 m ascents are made much more difficulty when you have to carry 4 l of water and still sweat like a pig. On my second day in the Vercors I hiked on the parklike high plateau. Very scenic - and very hot... I made it to the spring much later than expected with not a single drop of water left. But I knew from the guidebook and from Jack that the spring would be there and running and I was not worried. A couple of hundred metres from the spring were several spring fed troughs but not a single cow in sight. I was so happy about the cool water that I decided to have dinner right at the spring, something I hardly ever do. I am usually cooking in my tent at the end of the day. I had just begun to eat when I heard bells approaching and I immediately started to worry. I quickly packed up all my stuff that was lying around and then I saw them: hundreds of sheep galloping down the mountains. The ground was shaking under their hooves and I felt like witnessing a stampede. Luckily the sheep were all ignoring me. They were just after the water troughs and passed me with a distance of 100 m. I already thought that I was out of danger when a wild looking black beast came running straight towards me: the sheep dog. I grabbed my trekking poles ready to defend my life - when the dog just sat down beside me happily washing its tail... Finally the shepherd approached who turned out to be a young shepherdess. Despite my basic French I learnt from her that she and her dog were looking after this herd of 1,500 sheep! I also learnt that the sheep were locked up at night being an electric fence because of the wolves in the area who had so many sheep to eat that I should not worry about myself... I didn't and slept very well that night.

The weather forecast got the next day was very bad and I gave up on the shortcut. Instead I opted for a longer, but safer and lower route. But first of all I had to deal south another sheep problem. As soon as I was approaching the next shepherd's hut a huge herd was moving. And as soon as the sheep dog noticed me he made it very clear that I should stay out of the way. He did not bark out jump up on me, he just blocked my way. And the blood spots on his fur told me that I better obeyed...As soon as the herd had passed I was free to go again. I learnt from the shepherd that this was a famous Patous, the typical sheep dog in this region that looks like a huge wolf with a sheep fur.

My rescue in the rain
The rest of the day was pretty horrible: first I hiked in almost total white out that was at least blocking out the sight of ugly ski lifts, then I was having lunch in a road tunnel to escape the drizzle and the rest of the day I hiked in constant rain. I was shooting for a cabane, a free shelter and was positively surprised when I found an open forestry hut before that. I was so soaking wet that I was just happy to be out of the rain. I did not only stay the night, but the whole morning as the rain continued to fall. And I was so happy to have opted for that longer route that allowed me to wait out the train in a nice and cosy shelter. I only briefly panicked in the morning when angry dog barking came closer. Out there on the pouring rain was a guy mushing 10 huskies. The world is full of surprises...

Next day brought me into Die and a resupply and I had hoped that all the steep climbs would be over - but my hopes were in vain. Although the mountains were lower now I seemed to climb all the time. My shoes are almost destroyed from the rocky terrain and the summer heat does not help either. For three more days I struggled up every mountain in the Vercors, but eventually, one week after I had left Grenoble, I crossed the Rhone again and was out of the Vercors.

Don't get me wrong: the Vercors is a great hiking area. Great scenery especially on the high plateau, very well marked trails and plenty of lovely cities and villages. Only problem is the lack of water - and my lack of enthusiasm for daily 1,500 m elevation gains...

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