St Etienne de Tinee to Auron- a final blog entry for 2019

It turned out that we were strangely reluctant to lose the habit of walking up steep hills, and with a convenient afternoon bus back to St Etienne de Tinee, we continued on the GR5 to Auron. The path went steeply through forest for the best part of 2000ft of ascent, and was not particularly interesting. The bus back down takes a much longer and windier route. It was good to walk without big packs though- we didn’t even need stuff for lunch. According to our own rules, this is not cheating. As long as we walk the whole way it’s fine. Crawling is also allowed (see ‘Plampinet to Briançon’).

Auron is a ski resort, not as brash as some, and quite busy in the summer- people escaping the heat perhaps. It will be a good place to start from next year, and relatively easy to get to.

It isn’t all modern ski development. There is a medieval church and with the key borrowed from the tourist office we were able to have a look at the very interesting murals.

This has been a great walk this year, sometimes hard, but always worth it. It settled into a pattern of a daily climb out of the valley to a col and then back down the other side. With lots of deep valleys running east to west, travelling north to south isn’t the most efficient way of travelling. But each valley, each climb, each col was different and the scenery was stunning.

We met a number of interesting people doing long distance walks, often meeting for several evenings in a row, including one young couple who had left Rotterdam on 15th April and walked all way here. Their daily mileage (kilometreage?) dropped rather when they reached the Alps.

We saw lots of marmots but no wolves (there are some here). We managed to avoid being attacked by pastous. These are large white dogs which live full time with the tightly huddled flocks of sheep. As paths leave the valleys there are usually signs warning that if they think you are a threat to the sheep they will attack you. We were resolutely unthreatening.

Tomorrow we catch an early bus to Nice airport and come home. There is a bit of a question mark over whether I’ll have time to shave off my holiday beard before church on Sunday.

And so, all being well, we’ll be back here next year to finish our walk.

Bousieyas to St Etienne de Tinee

Even the presence of an enormous image of the Buddha above the beds, couldn’t make the room flat. There were bricks under the ends of the beds but it was still a bit disconcerting. It was a pleasant place to stay though and the vegetarian meal certainly made a change.

Today’s walk would take us to our final destination for 2019. Although it was quite a long walk, it was nothing like as demanding as yesterday’s. There were two cols to cross but both felt fairly domestic after some of the high places of previous days.

Our first destination was the col de la Columbière, a very modest and gentle climb of not much more than 1000 feet, during which there were views back to Bousieyas where we had slept. It was a small collection of tin-roofed buildings only occupied in the summer.

Bousieyas

A bit of research has revealed that the absolutely enormous bird we saw was a Bearded Vulture.

There were also views back to yesterday’s route. The Pas de la Cavade can be seen in the picture below.

The descent on the other side of the col was much longer, traversing steep slopes with one or two gentler sections.

At the valley bottom we came to a village, St Delmas le Selvage.

The next col followed a similar pattern- a relatively easy ascent (although hot) followed by a long way down with hundreds of butterflies.

There was also quite a lot of lavender, a sign, apparently, that we are getting nearer the Mediterranean.

St Etienne de Tinee came into view.

And it got hotter, the breeze which had been pleasantly cool was more like a hairdryer.

But we were able to cool off a bit before finding our apartment, where we will be for two nights.

Although this is our final destination for this year, we might walk on a bit tomorrow and get the bus back to take the edge off the first day of the 2020 walk.

Larche to Bousieyas

We wanted to get going as early as we could today as this was to be a long day, it was going to be hot and thunderstorms were forecast for the afternoon. We had ordered croissants for breakfast and some bread to take for lunch, but it wasn’t going to be ready until 7am, so we were all ready by then, picked it up, and ate croissants as we walked.

An hour up a minor road brought us into Val Fourane,

where the scenery was impressive, the walking was easy and there were lots of marmots.

A steeper section brought us to the Lac du Lauzanier.

Looking back at the mountains we had crossed coming from Italy

The next objective was Pas de la Cavale. After a steep slabby ascent from the lake, it came into view, looking particularly unapproachable. But a way emerged- steeply up to the left and then the col was reached by a long traverse on scree. A reasonable path made it as painless as crossing scree can be- still hard work though.

When the col was reached it didn’t seem to be a col at all, but rather a dead end.

But there was a way, which involved teetering along ledges. Looking back from below, it was impossible to work out where the path had gone.

Looking back at Pas de la Cavale.

Once in grassier terrain we could have some lunch and we spotted a bouquetin.

This was to be a 2 col day and we had another climb ahead of us- to the Col des Fourches . Our legs resented having to go uphill again, but the chaos of grasshoppers and butterflies at each step was fun.

Soon after the grassy col we had to cross a road, which was going up to the col de la Bonette, the highest road pass in Western Europe.

Our route down was fairly direct which is more than can be said for the road.

We passed a ruined 19th Century barracks…

…and arrived at Bousieyas (Judith tells me it is pronounced ‘boozy arse’ but I don’t think that can be right) just in time to avoid a thunder storm.

We appear to be staying in a Buddhist refuge.

Larche

Not much to report. Had an early 10 minute walk into the village to see Ben off. He had survived the night, despite the accommodation being a bit of a step down from the 8 bed palace he had had to himself the night before.

Other than that we have relaxed, although a certain amount of energy has gone into logistics- preparing for the final 2 days of walking (for this year) with no shop in the village and a very limited campsite shop. All ready to go now, though.

Chiappera to Larche

Chiappera is a rather strange place. I suspect it is no longer a real village, with 2 hotels now owning more or less all the property. The one Judith and I were using had its base and dining room in the old school house. It seemed very reasonably priced for half board and we were treated to a real Italian meal with a number of courses, so that like the walking we were never sure what was round the next corner.

Our plan for the day was to cross back into France. The only snag being that the border follows an enormous ridge. To drive to Larche would be 127km. Crossing the ridge into France was a short walk in terms of distance but a long way up and then down again.

Looking towards the French border (which is on a ridge further back than the one you can see).

We didn’t get a particularly early start (8.30 maybe), mainly because we didn’t want to miss out on the rather good breakfast. Although the establishment was more hotel than refuge, it wasn’t quite hotelly enough to accept credit cards. We had enough cash, but when planning this part, I had assumed a credit card would be possible.

We met with Ben and set out. The climb for the most part wasn’t as steep as it looked like it might be on the map…

Having just set off, looking back at Chiappera

…but it was long and sustained and hot. It led through very impressive scenery, heading towards an impenetrable looking barrier of mountain.

On these high mountains at the frontier, the war is not buried far below the surface and there were a number of old bunkers and dugouts and coils of barbed wire.

Eventually a corner was turned and we could see the weakness in ridge which would allow passage into France- the Col de Sautron.

Approaching the col de Sautron

We ate lunch at the col, which even at 2700m (getting on for 9000 ft) was hot.

The descent was as far again down the other side and as we got lower it was a bit like slowly walking into an oven.

A gentle stretch with edelweiss in the foreground

Larche is a very small village. Ben setting is off tomorrow back to Maljasset and we are having a day off tomorrow. We are in a basic wooden cabin in a campsite, perhaps not quite was basic as Ben’s accommodation. He’s sleeping in a giant bed with 4 other people- all part of the ‘fun’.

The campsite doesn’t take credit cards either, something else we hadn’t budgeted for. Apparently there is a cash machine 18 km away, which we could go to tomorrow, but the bus doesn’t run on Tuesdays!

Luckily we found a bar which took credit cards and were able to get a glass of lemonade and cash back so I think that is now sorted.

Maljasset to Chiappera-an excursion into Italy

The official GR5 leaves Maljasset for a lengthy stretch along a road. We decided that we would avoid that by making a 2 day excursion into Italy. Our friend, Ben, joined us last night and will walk with us those these 2 days and then walk back on the GR5 so will be able to tell us which is better.

Our accommodation at Maljasset left the Auberge de la Cure (the Old Vicarage). It was a charming place with real character.

Our walk today crossed the Col de Mary. The ascent was much more gentle than yesterday, not too long and very pretty.

At the col we passed into Italy, and came down a beautiful valley. We stopped for lunch and, as we had a phone signal on this side of the col, I was able to post yesterday’s blog.

It was quite a long way down, but, again, a lot less steep than yesterday.

High up we had fleeces on for a while but in the lower part it really got quite hot.

Cooling off hot feet

Chiappera is a delightful jumble of stone houses. Judith and I found the place we were staying and were taken to a room in a house in a quiet spot high in the village. The place where Ben was staying was having a very loud beer festival and they weren’t ready for him so he was furious and came to visit us. When he saw how nice our room was he was even crosser. However, he went back again and has returned in a much better mood. For some reason they have given him a whole house- ‘it’s at least 7 times bigger than your room’ he announced triumphantly.

Ben’s terrace!!

Ceillac to Maljasset

A steep day- both up and down.

We did well getting away early, which is harder from a self catering place. Having done most of the cleaning up the night before we were away before 7.30, picking up a croissant for breakfast from the bakery.

Today’s col was a big one- Col Girardin, rather more than a ‘Scafell Pike’ above Ceillac.

There was a half hour walk along the valley before a steep climb through forest, which started near a waterfall- cascade de la Pisse. The necessary jokes remained largely unspoken.

The steep uphill seemed to go on and on, but eventually we came to a small lake- Lac Miroir, with a backdrop of improbably huge and complicated peaks and prickly ridges.

From there it was an hour up (slightly less steep now) to another lake, Lac Ste Anne, a particularly spectacular spot. The extraordinary colour of the water contrasted with limestone mountains behind.

And then it was steeply up to the col. For the last part all vegetation gave up entirely and we zig-zagged up scree.

Maybe you can see the path zigzagging up
Looking back. Ceillac in the valley and our not particularly flat route before there.
And on the other side of the mountain all that we could see…

It was a beautiful spot, but we did have to come down again. More steep rubble led to a delightful grassy/bouldery section with lots of marmots before a final very steep and loose descent, steep and loose enough for the guidebook to use that faintly euphemistic sounding phrase- “care required”.

Maljasset is a tiny hamlet, first spotted more or less directly below us in a very tight v shaped valley.

A very memorable day.

Our friend Ben is coming this evening to join us for a couple of days. It will be strange for him to end up here having been in London this morning. I wonder if we have explained sufficiently the oddities of refuge life- mixed sex dormitories, communal polenta, deeply eccentric showering systems and all that.

There is no phone signal or WiFi here, so I can’t post this today.

Ceillac 2

Another day in Ceillac. In the morning I went and did the Via Ferrata des Rochers de la Clapiere. Judith is too sensible for such things.

The picture shows the bottom half of the route. There are actually 2 pairs of people climbing it, but I doubt they can be found without prior knowledge. Lots of artificial bits of metal for hands and feet made it technically easy, but quite exposed. I enjoyed it but it was hot- the rock faces south and having to rent some gear meant that it was nearly 10am before I was on it.

Then more lazing, reading and exploring.

Strange pointy rocks (technical geological term)

Strange purple flower (technical botanical term)
Looking toward tomorrow’s col

Ceillac

A thoroughly relaxing day, reading, snoozing, exploring, and not walking.

Judith’s feet enjoying not walking

Ceillac is a small village surrounded on 3 sides by a dramatic cirque of precipitous mountains.

There is a concert in the church tonight (now there’s an idea).

The church

We might go but it will go on past our bedtime as it doesn’t start until 9pm, which is about when people go to bed in the refuges.

Ville-Vieille to Ceillac

We had a good evening at Ville-Vieille. There was a drink before dinner in the garden. The garden had an eccentric entrance- through a window and down a ladder. After re-negotiating that (best not have too much to drink), there was a good meal with good company. It was Bert’s birthday (one of our Dutch friends) so we had birthday cake, well Birthday Apple Crumble anyway.

This morning we retraced our steps back to Fort Queyras…

The fort in its strategic position

…from where we had to go up 1000m (one Scafell Pike in our measuring system) to the Col Fromage. The steep densely wooded valley didn’t look too promising as a walk, but we dutifully started to plod up through the forest. It was quite steep at first, and having watched some tennis on Sunday, we wished we could have ball boys and girls handing towels to us every couple of minutes. The angle eased but the trees continued, providing shade but preventing a view.

But when we did get above the tree line the world opened up spectacularly, with mountains all around and a multi coloured flower carpet to walk through. The pictures don’t really do it justice.

Another hour and a half’s walking brought us to the col. There was no cheese at the Col Fromage, nor indeed any cows, just the views.

Looking back at where we had come from. We think we could see the Col des Ayes which we had crossed 2 days ago on the skyline.

On a 2 dimensional map Ceillac is very close to the col Fromage, but in the 3 dimensional world it is a long way down.

We arrived rather wearily in Ceillac and had to find our Airbnb apartment. The directions we had been given assumed we would be arriving by car, so we had to walk to the main road and then walk into the village looking at the road signs, refraining from holding a pretend steering wheel. Thankfully the village is small and it didn’t take too long.

We have an attractive little apartment, which is good because we are going to have a little holiday and have 2 days off from the long walk here.