Tuesday, October 9, 2012

August; a hiking month.

I was really hoping to do plenty of multipitch climbing and alpinism this summer but bad luck combined with lack of time made this goal a wee bit difficult to achieve.  Nevertheless, I did get to do some amazing hiking, managing to cover distances and elevations I've never reached before.  So all in all, great satisfaction.

The first more serious hike we went on was to the Refuge du Pavé which I have already described on this blogpost .

The second hike was a spontaneous weekend idea to the "Grand Van" near the Chamrousse ski resort in the Belledonne range quite close to Grenoble.  It was just a day hike to escape the horrible heat down in the city.  Regardless of the elevation and temperature, we still got somewhat sunburnt though.  As Christoph described it - this was going to be a "small hike" with not too much uphill.  He also referred to it as a "promenade" which one pictures as a leisurely walk!  I was thankful that I've already done some hiking this summer because we covered roughly 800m+ of elevation.  Those crazy Germans....

On the way through the forest, we picked many blueberries and up to this point the hike seemed relatively leisurely. A very nice view of the Vercors mountain range.

Mont Aiguille (the very visible table top mountain), also known as the birthplace of mountaineering.  There is a climbing route on it that I'm determined to do, and I'd like to go there before we leave Europe.

Marco and Christoph, my hiking companions and crazy photographers :)

We passed lacs Robert on the way.
At summit, having a break and enjoying the view of the Belledonne, looking over at l'Alpe d'Huez.

On the way down, we seemed to have taken some type of a detour so the hike just never seemed to end, and after drinking my one liter of water I was craving beer like I've never had before. :) And trust me it tasted better than ever before!


My final and third serious hike of August was to the Rocher Blanc (also in the Belledonne) with my friends Steph (France), Mario and Yolanda (Spain).  This was my so called "learn my lessons" hike.

DAY 1.   La Martinette > Gîte de la Combe Madame > Col du Tepey > Gîte de la Combe Madame

On saturday morning, we drove to "la Martinette" where we left our car and started our hike to the cottage, Gîte de la Combe Madame.  Right off the start I've learned several things:  

1) I was the only person without hiking poles (thankfully Mario had spare ones!)
2) My backpack was huge and heavy (60L not full) compared to my friends.
3) The hike I was about to undertake would be the most difficult I have ever done in my life.

As for the heavy back-pack, I immediately unloaded few clothing items in the car and started eating one of the apples to reduce the weight.  However, I was determined to drag it up all the way to Rocher Blanc and back, even if I had to pass out on the way.

The depart, everyone is full of energy, ready to hit the mountain trail. Photo credit StephM ©

The hike to the cottage was feasible with some sweating involved (for my part :) and served as a good warm up to start the day.  The cottage was very nice and we were one of the first to arrive, wondering why it's so empty on such a lovely day (well that really changed by the time the sun had set!).

Picnic Time! Photo credit StephM ©

The "fridge".

While having a picnic we were trying to figure out what to do for the rest of the day and came up with an idea to go to the nearest pass which was actually just visible from the cottage - Col du Tepey at roughly 2750m elevation.  There was not really a hiking route up there, so we followed the "goat trail" where possible and then just dealt with the raw nature as we went higher.

Easy, peasy so far ;)

The "rubble" part of the hike begins. Photo Credit MarioS ©
Just when you think you've reached the top, you discover more surprises.    Photo Credit MarioS ©

Finally we reached the pass, with some very magnificent views.  It was well worth it.

Mont Blanc, in case you didn't notice! :)  Photo Credit MarioS ©


Three hot babes chillin' in the snow.   Photo Credit MarioS ©   

And then it was time to head back to the cottage.  When we returned, it was much more crowded and people kept trickling in until dusk.  We had some time before dinner, so we had a little stretch session, a nap and ion rehydration for the next "big" day.  

Resting with peanuts and beer ;D Photo Credit MarioS ©

Waiting impatiently for dinner, and something was rather funny.   Photo Credit MarioS ©

Dinner was of course delicious and local.  We had a vegetable soup with stinging nettle, tartiflette and blueberry pie for dessert.  As the sun set, we made plans for the next day, determined to wake up at 5:30AM and hopefully depart by 6AM to beat the heat at least for the ascent.

Steph had a little moth friend during dinner time.  He seemed to be fond of her eyebrows and was reluctant to leave.

Dusk, full house at the lodge, time to go to bed.

One of the many excessive things I brought along was my tripod so I decided at least to make use of it since I've brought it along.  I tried to take a photo of some star trails above the col du Tepey, however, I just realized my camera can't handle long exposures anymore - time for a new one me thinks!

DAY 2.   Gîte de la Combe Madame >> Rocher Blanc (2928m) >> La Martinette

At dawn.  Vercors range in the distance.
As planned, we got up super early, in fact it was still dark out and it felt like 20C+ already!!  I realized then, I've brought too much food with me, so I tried to eat a decent amount of it for breakfast.  We got off to a quick start and the trail was very nice (so far).  The hike got more challenging and steeper of course but it was very similar to the hike we've done the day before (except this time I had my friend backpack with me :), so I was training my muscles and was very glad to have hiking poles.  As the sun came out, it was already very hot so we wasted no time and kept steadily going forward.  The last little stretch was a bit hard as it became steeper and once again we came by several "false" peaks, only to keep finding more terrain to cover.

And so the boulder fields begin and somewhere up there awaits for us Rocher Blanc....

The sun finally catches up to us and it gets only hotter from now on.
Nice to see someone else in this rockland, even though they seemed to be very well adapted for it.

Reaching the snow patches...

Getting higher and more excited.

The foreshadowing of the oppressive heat to come; where rocks become mirrors.

After passing several "false peaks" we knew victory was near....nifty red rocks here.

The only living thing in site.

....AND....finally, after all that hard work, (~3+ hours of hiking) we made it to the summit of Rocher Blanc at roughly 9:20AM.  Time for second breakfast anyone?

Woohoo, the heavy-ass backpack made it to the top.

Aiguilles d'Arves in the haze.

Down the rabbit hole.  Photo credit StephM ©
Exciting as it was, this was not nearly the end, nor was it the hardest part in retrospect.  We still had to descend 1900m in elevation on challenging terrain in sweltering heat.  At start, we had to practically downclimb a rather steep side of the ridge using super loose rock for foot and hand support.  We had to move at snail's pace and stay together so that we would not hurt any one as a result of tumbling rocks....kinda sketchy!  A helmet would be good next time.

Where's Waldo?  I mean, where's Mario?

Russian roulette, which rock will not loosen when I step on it?   Photo credit StephM ©

OK, now it's just a kid's game compared to the previous section.

Once we passed the steeper difficult portion, we were essentially hiking in boulder fields until reaching the beautiful lakes "Sept Laux" and then we used trails from then on.  But the lower we went, the hotter and unbearable it became, and water was beginning to run low.... the views made up for all that and the urge to swim in the lakes was really strong, but Steph mentioned it is frowned upon to bathe in these pristine lakes due to body oils and sunscreen entering the pure water.  If everyone did that, the lakes would no longer be pristine, of course!

Photo credit MarioS ©

We came across this passenger plane wreckage that was scattered over several hundred meters.  Apparently it's here since the 1986 crash.

The plane wing now serves as a sign.

A flat trail!    Photo credit StephM ©
Clean, pristine, so perfect and pure.  You can see meters deep!

Stream water dripping from my head - the only way to really keep cool for 5 seconds.
The remaining and final section of the hike almost seemed the longest and hardest (personally), as I ran out of water and the heat and lack of shade was exhausting. I think my legs were becoming a bit jello-like.   After we drank even Mario's water, I even opted for drinking chemically treated stream water that we took as a last resort.  It tasted well and I did not get sick - good thing to know.  By the end, I dipped my whole head in every stream we passed to cool down...  it was very lovely to finally reach a restaurant and have some refreshing beer and take the hiking boots off.  Wow, what a fun hike, but I definitely need to do this more often so I'm more in shape.  Thanks to Steph, Mario and Yolanda for making this happen!!

~~~~The End~~~~


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