Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hiking in the Massif de la Vanoise mountain range (Savoie)

It has perhaps become a  bit of a tradition to organize a joint birthday retreat in the summertime to a refuge in the mountains.  Last year turned out to be quite an amazing trip, so I was quite eager to reserve a space when I received an email with the subject heading "minchompleanno".  This year, I was a bit more cautious not to drink copious amounts of genepi the night before, in order to ensure I was fit enough to reach high elevations at a faster rate than a snail's pace.  Nevertheless, we still earned the title of the last arrivals to the dinner table, but once again, the refuge host and our friends were kind enough to forgive us and feed us later than expected.  This time we forgot something in the car and I got a bit carried away with photography on the way, however, the hike itself was relatively short with a small amount of elevation gain.  The refuge du Fond d’Aussois is located in the Vanoise massif mountain range at 2350m, surrounded by some magnificent peaks, glaciers, streams, looking over a picturesque valley.  Friday was a "Nepalese night", where the Nepalese host of the refuge showed us a slideshow of all his undertakings including superb shots of Mount Everest, of course.  Finally, a Nepalese dinner was served -- what a treat!!

Our group consisted of 18 people this year of different nationalities as usual (Italian, German, Czech, Spanish, French) and at the end, we have formed three groups with different programs for the following day.  One group was heading for the glacier, the second group went on a hike to (Grand Roc?)  and Jakub and I decided to head over to the "lac du Genepi" (how fitting! :).  Before bedtime we gave Laura a little goodbye present as she will be leaving us to go to Barcelona and we'll really miss her!!

Day 1 

Nothing like fresh mountain water!! (Hydration is always very important)

Group one set off for the glacier at 4AM while the rest of us slept in.  I think we managed to start hiking around 9 AM and as the locals suggested we took the short cut and hiked directly to the lake without a path to follow.  The terrain was decent and it was actually hard not to step on the dense carpet of flowers on the ground.  I even saw chives all around little streams and wondered if these were introduced here by people or belong to the native flora....

After some easy hiking, we reached the lake rather early on in the day (before lunchtime).  Clearly, the name of the lake comes from its color which has a turquoise greenish tinge to it, similar to the local alcoholic genepi liqueur that is commonly consumed in the mountains and results in decent hangovers.  Genepi is made from Alpine wormwood, Artemisia genipi, which grows on the local hillsides (and we managed to see one plant along the hike).

Lac du Genepi.

Skinny dipping.

The lake from bird eye's view.

The lake itself was at 2900m and we thought it would be kind of pathetic to go back to the refuge at such an early hour, so we decided to conquer the nearest summit, Roche Chevriere, at 3276m.  This hike was a bit more challenging, steeper and on harder terrain (mainly loose rocks) but the views at the top were worthwhile as usual.

Roche Chevriere in the back (snow-covered) as seen from the Refuge.

Hitting the snow patch.

Summit view.

Roughly 3276m.

One of the glaciers.

On the way down, we did our favorite shoe skiing and we managed to meet up with some of our friends that were getting back from their trip.  It turns out they did not make it to the glacier but had a good time doing all the safety training on steep snow patches close to the pass.

Summer skiing with no skis.

The descent.
I would say we had perfect timing because we made it back to the refuge, finished a beer on the patio and then the big storm hit.  The rest of our group arrived rather soaked but with big smiles on their faces ;)

The cow heard and some of our friends making their way back in the storm.

The storm left as fast as it came and we spent the rest of the lazy afternoon sunbathing and drinking beers.  Even the marmot came out on his sunbathing spot to chill out.  The evening was spent eating dinner, chatting and then giving out gifts to the birthday boys and myself...  and of course I had a bit of time for photography!


Laura, we will miss you!!!


Milky way.

Starry night and galaxy.


On Sunday we did a joint group hike to the "pointe de l'observatoire" (3015m).  This hike was very popular and busy.  When we reached the summet I was not to inclined to climb the last few boulders at the top as it was overcrowded and a bit sketchy (slipping would result in falling down off the cliff).

Almost there.

After the hike we slowly packed our bags and headed back to the parking lot.  The truth is, nobody wanted to go back to the sweltering city full of cars and people.  We did stretch out the day a bit by stopping at the dam reservoir on the way back for a refreshing swim and this was one of the highlights of our trip.

High five.

For some reason, Jakub seemed to attract most of the cows, they almost went home with us.

Goodbye mountains, hello civilization.


There were about five brave souls who dared to dip in this icy stream.

Last but not least, we stopped for some ice cream and beers (this was dinner number one).  And a bit later we went for pizza.  

Who said ice cream doesn't go with beer?

Waiting for our pizza while watching Marco eat his slice :)

What a fun trip - thanks guys - I look forward to next year!!!

To view all of the photos click here.

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