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.
Wednesday, 27 June 2012
Saturday, 23 June 2012
Wednesday, 20 June 2012
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|
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
|Shelter in a chapel|
The next day the spectacular river walk continued first along a wide open bend in the river and then along an even more spectacular canyon. The valley became narrower with steep high rock walks on the Swiss side. The trail was getting more and more difficult with lots of blow downs and slippery ascends and descends. It felt like in a wilderness, not like in the heat of Central Europe. I was much slower than expected due to the difficult terrain but it was definitely worth it. This stretch was one of the most fascinating river walks I have ever done and I can only highly recommend it. I came across two other shelters but it was too early in the day. Strangely enough I didn't encounter many other hikers, only a group of disoriented Germans.
The next morning it was still training cats and dogs and I visited every possible museum and church in order to avoid hiking in the rain. But at noon I had to face it: 4 km walk along a busy highway in order to get back to my trail. But the forecast was good and I well rested. The trail does not follow the Doubs after that but it passes its source later on. I was expecting a tiny trickle but instead there is a huge stream already gushing out of a subterranean cave system. Very impressive - as is the rest of the Doubs river walk.
Friday, 15 June 2012
|On the way into Belfort|
I had such a comfortable stay that I left very late the next day to do my canal walk back to the GR 5. Unfortunately next to the canal was not only a very noisy motorway but also a lot of meadows. I suffered a bit of hay fever and my eyes were itching. Still I made it to a nice forest before sun set, had dinner and slept like a log.
Next morning started with a very bad surprise: When I woke up I could not hear any more in one ear!!! There had been no indication of a hearing loss the day before and I could not believe what had happened. I had suffered from hearing loss many years ago and from back then I knew that some causes of this need immediate medical attention to avoid permanent damage. On the other side it just felt like a tube congestion. No matter what I had to get out of bed first and start walking. Maybe the hearing would come back on its own. But at noon things had not changed a bit. The different hearing abilities in the two ears were not only annoying but also influenced my sense of equilibrium. I decided to have lunch first and then decide what to do. I bought a loaf of bread at a little village store and was just looking for a place where to sit and eat when I saw another hiker with a Z pack. A Z pack is an ultralight backpack made in USA and not something you expect to see on a trail in France. I introduced myself in rusty French and it turned out that the other hiker was an American.When I had told him about my Triple Crown and all the other hiking I have done he took out his wallet, gave me 100 EUR and told me that he wants to be my sponsor. Wow! Nothing like that has ever happened to me before.
And when I told him about my hearing loss he said that he was a retired emergency doctor.... It does not get better than that. He assured me that my ear problem would go away itself in a couple of days, but I was sceptical. It had also just dawned on me that I had taken health insurance without a deductible this time. The next ear specialist was only 4 km away, but if I didn't go now it would be very complicated to get back into civilisation further along my hiking route. And so I decided to go and see a French doctor. 4 km were easily hiked and I found the ear specialist immediately, but then I ran out of luck. The waiting room was full and no further patients admitted today. Come back tomorrow or see a General Practitioner. I had nothing to loose and went to the GP address nearby. It was an old house that reeked of cigarettes and the waiting room looked more like in the job centre in Berlin than like a doctor. Two ladies were waiting and I asked where the receptionist was. No receptionist, no appointments, no nothing. But yes, it was a real doctor. I had never come across a doctor without assistant before...
|Happily hearing again|
Tuesday, 5 June 2012
|Monastery St. Odile|