Hiking in the Vanoise
Lac de Plan d’Amont
I was tired of waiting around for good weather to climb, and was ready to surrender to the weather gods. I give up! My joy won’t be held hostage anymore by reports of precipitation. I drove to Aussois, purchased a small backpack and bought some snacks. I bought a map and read over my options. It looked like I could do a loop hike from here up north to the Col de la Vanoise, and then back, clockwise. Right on, I thought.
I stuffed my tiny backpack and headed up in a mix of clouds and sun, first going through a ski area, then to the lake of Plan d’Amont. I hiked further, eventually leaving a road to head straight up grass slopes to the top of the ski area. From here I hiked to the Refuge de la Dent Parachée, technically a bit out of my way but I had plenty of time. The country was beautiful. At the refuge I sat for a while and thought about ordering a drink. But the skies looked murky so I pressed on, going across a balcony then downhill. I left my umbrella at a rock and had to backtrack a few minutes to get it. But soon enough I was down at my home for the night, the Refuge du Fond l’Aussois. It was getting downright cold!
I went in, ordered a glass of wine, read my book and just enjoyed the warm common room. After a short rest, I came back for dinner. Something great about the French huts is that they usually serve wine with dinner, and it comes in the price. I talked with some folks, including a nice fella from Germany, a teacher who was doing almost the same hike but counter-clockwise. I went to sleep peacefully, knowing that the weather forecast wasn’t great but that all I had to do was walk. I didn’t need dry rock slabs to make me happy.
Looking back at the lakes.
Home for the night.
An old house.
The Pointe de l’Echelle
From the Pointe de l’Observatoire
In the morning I continued up valley making for the Col d’Aussois. The weather was surprisingly good. I was also packing a trail lunch I’d purchased from the hut. At the col I detoured to hike up the Pointe de l’Observatoire, a nice rocky scramble. I was in a hurry because the clouds were quickly lowering and the wind was starting to scream. In the last minutes below the summit snowflakes started to fall. “Hurry!” I said, wanting to get a picture of the area and a view of the way ahead. I was just barely successful!
Hiking down in light rain I entered a green valley and saw a few people, my first of the day. I was listening to “the Art of Communicating” by Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s a fascinating book. I like this simple Buddhist idea of thinking of effective communication as that communication which relieves suffering. Lost in my own world, I rounded corners, went up and down and before I knew it the sun was back out and I was near Chalet des Nants, an incredible meadow with a hanging glacier above, ice chunks draped over black cliffs looking ready to crash down.
I ate lunch on a rock here, really impressed with the “French” nature of the pack lunch. There was bread, meat, cheese, a tin of corn and other vegetables. There were cookies, and a container of applesauce. Wow! This was a real treat!
I hiked uphill to the Refuge de la Vallette. In here, I was thinking about my boys and how their destiny might run in life. I saw them diverging and then coming back together in a synergistic way. Somehow this kind of walking was proving to be medicine to me. I’ve tried to convey it to friends, but it’s so intensely personal, I guess.
A last look to the lakes
The Cimes des Planettes
Above the Refuge du Roc de la Peche
Near Chalet des Nants
Looking across the valley
It was only about 2:30, and I didn’t want to go to the hut, knowing from experience that once you go in and take off your shoes you don’t come out again!
I hiked up a broad flat-topped summit near the huts with excellent views up and down valley. I could see the Valley de la Gliere, my destination for the next day. I was already realizing I could do more hiking per day than my “reasonable” itinerary showed. I made plans for a “monster” day, because the weather would be good again and I didn’t want to miss out.
I descended to the hut as the rain and wind started. Within the hour, it would begin to snow. The Refuge de la Valette was very cozy. Everyone gathered in the common room, and we put wet socks and garments as close to the wood stove as possible. I drank some coffee, then wine. Dinner was delicious. Stepping out into the falling snow to get to the bunkhouse was bracing!
The Refuge de la Valette
The Refuge de la Valette again
Valley de la Gliere
Morning at the Refuge de la Valette.
The Col du Grand Marchet
Cliffs of le Grand Marchet
Ibex at a waterfall
More scenery to the north
Time for Second Breakfast
A fine valley to ascend
The Refuge du Col de la Vanoise
A beautiful lake east of the col
A subpeak of the Grande Casse
Scenery east of the Col Vanoise
One of many beautiful valleys I traversed
The valley of Termignon
The Refuge de l’Arpont
With disturbing self-reflexivity
In the morning, the ground was white with snow and frost. But no matter, the sun was already out. I traversed mountainsides to get a view of the town Pralognan la Vanoise below, with morning clouds being scraped away by the sun. I passed through the Col du Grand Marchet then crossed a waterfall on treacherous frozen rocks while Ibex stared at me impassively.
Eventually I stopped for a snack in the Valley de la Gliere, to dry my feet and socks on warm rock. After 3.5 hours of hiking, I was at the Refuge du Col de la Vanoise, and it would have been crazy to stop here for the night. I would fit in another “day” today.
I passed a beautiful lake and was in awe of exciting new views to the North and East now that the bulk of glaciers had been bypassed. Here the scenery was really amazing, probably my favorite. I traversed a series of broad valleys with granite peaks and amazing blue lakes. I saw more Ibex and Chamois were everywhere. I loved this constant walking! Finally, in early evening I reached the Refuge de l’Arpont. It was a sleek, modern building, only the bunkhouse retained the traditional look. Happily, I met my German friend again here. We had a great long conversation about the world, politics, the environment.
Beautiful day above Termignon
I loved this balcony walk
Back home to Aussois
A packed lunch
In the morning I set off to the south, again with a packed lunch from the hut. Beautiful balcony trails followed, with only occasional ups and downs. There were quite a few old collapsed farms in this section. I talked with a French woman on the trail who I’d seen yesterday as well. She had a very heavy pack but was small and tough. I thought about her for quite a while after. Solitude has a way of spreading out small interactions, so that each word and turn in the conversation is later examined and drawn out in the mind. I imagine on the great lonely frontiers of 19th century America a settler would learn so much from the interaction of just a few words with another. Once you are used to that style, it seems clear that the information overload of a city would be experienced as horror.
Paragliders, that signifier of good weather, were everywhere. It did remain quite cold though, despite the yellow sun. But these days of good weather made me feel good about trying to climb again. I enjoyed my lunch by an abandoned farm, again impressed with the whimsical variety of the contents (the cheese was especially good), then finished the hike down to Aussois, at one point helping a lady who was descending a ski slope on her butt. She had weak knees and this was the safest way. I offered an arm and we went together this way - hopefully I wasn’t annoying!
Back in town I had an amazing tagliatelle lunch with beer at an outdoor table by a fountain. I was really in the lap of luxury, no matter how much hiking I crammed into a day!
I drove down valley to an anonymous camping site, contacted Georg for a plan to meet up the next day, enjoyed a pizza dinner and slept outside by the car.
Georg and I would drive a lot and try mightily to climb, but the weather just wouldn’t allow it. The hiking life was the better one, at least this year.