Day 2

Date: Saturday 11/08/2018
Stage: Le Petit Chesnay > La Chapelle d’Abondance

Distance: 17,4 kilometers
Ascent: 1231m / Descent: 1547m

Weather: Sunny, 26°C

I slept really well. My initial goal of the day was to get all the way to Chalet de la Torrens or Les Mattes, just below Mont de la Grange. But I soon notice I will never be able to get there today.

Since I went to bed early, I’m awake very early and I prepare slowly for this second day in the Alps. At 6h50 I’m ready to leave. The first two kilometers go smoothly and I gradually go higher. The scenery now changes into a mountain landscape now and the cows with their cowbells create their own atmosphere. After 4 km I start the ascent of Tête des Fieux (1772m). But suddenly I barely move forward. While the path itself looks fun and steep, with tree roots strewn across, I have to fight with my vertigo. On my right there is a huge drop and the higher I go, the more I feel frightened and helpless. It literally cuts my breath and I start getting into trouble. Although physically I’m able to do the climb, my vertigo and the resulting fear are draining all the strength from my body. I use my hands to hold the tree roots and pull myself up all the while using my “horse blinders” technique. But it’s barely helping. In the end I manage to get to the top and reach the viewpoint 500m further ahead. I have to sit down and catch my breath for quite a while. My knees are shaking and I feel as if made a heavy day long physical effort, though I only walked 4,5 km and ascended barely 300m.

While resting I’m looking at the next hurdle on my trail, the Pointe de Pelluaz. First I thought the GR goes around it and I felt relieved. But once I got to the junction it seemed the GR only goes over the Pointe and not along an easier path past the Chalet Vert. Reluctantly I follow the wide road up to the hut of the ski lift just below the Pointe. There I meet a shepherdess. She’s taking care of a flock of sheep and tame chamois. She tells me that the new young owner of the plot of land of the Chalet Vert doesn’t want any hikers on his lands and therefore removed the GR markings. Older farmers tried in vain to convince the young guy to let hikers on his property. After talking to the woman for a while, she offers to accompany me to the top of the Pointe de Pelluaz (1908m). She thinks this is the most difficult part for people like me. Between the chamois, we start the ascent. Once we arrived to the top, she still wants to have a little chat while I have trouble feeling confident and I’m holding the cross with both hands. I finally thank the shepherdess for her help.

The woman was right as the path leads along a wider ridge to a another Pointe without name (altitude 1915m). Then I can start a descent to 1839m and I arrive at the junction with the original GR. It seems the markings have not been removed after all and I see quite a few hikers going towards Chalet Vert. I’m cursing! I could have saved myself the hassle of going up the Peluaz if I had taken time to investigate the trail a bit more. Anyway it’s too late. I’m starting to doubt. I’m thinking about stopping. I really am afraid I will come across many more hurdles like this morning. I sit down at the Lac de la Case (1751m) to think everything over. The sunshine and a longer break help

Day 2: The mountain in the middle of the picture belongs to the Aiguilles de Darbon, at around 2000m altitude. On the right you see the Portes d’Oche, followed by the Château d’Oche and Col de Planchamp. The GR goes through the boulder field on the right.

I am walking for 3,5 hours and I only covered 6,5 km and 550m of ascent. Distance is not so important in the mountains, but ascent is. So you may understand why I started doubting if I should keep going or not. Another hiker I came across sows even more doubt. In his opinion the Pelluaz is much easier than the climb to Portes d’Oche (1937m). I decide to keep moving. Once I arrive at the Portes, I will be able to decide if I’ll manage or not. A family is taking a breakfast and I start talking to them. They tell me the next 500m are actually not that bad. And I get confirmation when a runner and his dog pass us. I look at their progress. Some time later, I start moving and this part is indeed not so scary. My courage is raising again for the rest of the day.

At Col de Pavis (1944m) I see a lot of hikers. They are mostly day hikers who left their car at the chalets de Bise and then walk loops of 5 or 10 km. I meet two ladies and I accompany them. Suddenly we see a huge flock of chamois crossing our path. Of course we stop and watch them. A little later one chamois pushes down a loose rock. It is coming down in our direction. One of the ladies is scared and starts running forward, because the rock seems to be going to hit behind us. But then the rock changes direction and finally lands at the feet of the woman who ran off. I advise her to stand still next time and wait until the rock came much closer before running away.

The ascent towards Col de Bise (1915m) goes smoothly. In the long descent to the chalets de Bise, I meet a man who is going to erect some fences in the mountains. He’s talking about vultures who seems to be a huge threat to all small (wild) animals, including dogs of hikers. Other than vultures, also stray dogs are a threat to local wildlife and that’s one of the reasons why you see fewer and fewer marmots in this part of the Alps.

At the chalets de Bise (1500m) I have a drink with the two ladies and I also order a good lunch. After lunch I’m looking for a shady resting place, but there are plenty of stray goats who occupy all the shady spots. At a slow pace I start climbing to Pas de la Bosse (1816m). It takes me around 50 minutes and in the mean time it became so hot I have to stop often and take a break. At the top there is a nice little breeze and I lay down behind my backpack to recover from the climb.

It’s way past 3 pm and I know I’ll never reach my initial goal. A couple is also arriving at the pass. They’re planning on continuing all the way to the top of Cornettes de Bise at 2432m. It looks like a frightening climb and only looking at the wall in front of me makes me feel very little. After the couple left, I start the 4,5 km descent for La Chapelle d’Abondance. It’s actually I nice descent.

A bit past the Chalets de Chevenne, you pass an enormous picnic hut. It looks like an ideal place for hikers to rest but can also be used as an alternative sleeping spot.

I arrive at Chapelle d’Abondance around 5 pm. I follow a sign towards a gîte d’étape (Au Gai Soleil). Once I arrive there, I accidentally enter through a wrong door and I meet a very unfriendly lady. She offers me a bed for €30, including breakfast. But I don’t want breakfast, as I like to choose my own food. She says it’s not a discussion, so she sends me off to an auberge (Le Féto). That one seems to be full and as I don’t want to be walking around for too long after this mentally challenging hiking day, so I choose a luxurious hotel (Les Gentianettes) right next to the GR.