Posted by: Richard | June 25, 2009

Day 10: To Petit Refuge de la Balme

June 22: Today could end up being a killer day, with a possibility of a 10 hour day if we did the entire route.  We started early at Plan de la Lai.  The poor weather of the day before had intensified during the night, and we looked out to soggy skies and a wet road.  We ate breakfast and packed.  As we ventured outside it started to rain.

A light drizzel is ok, a hard rain at the end of the day is tolerable, but a driving rain as you start a 10-hour day is demoralizing.  Add to this that the route today is “the soggiest and muddiest of the entire 750kms!”.  We were not enthused for the walk.

We started across a wet route through cattle alpages for a couple of hours, hopping from one puddle to the next.  Lynn was having a rare off day (in retrospect we realized she hadn’t really had any water since midday of the day before).  The day was not fun, my legs were cold and my core was wet (it was humid and I had my rain coat on).  This was the first day where we got to put a lot of our gear to the test (I had my raincoat, gloves, toque, pants on for the first time).

After three hours of walking, we had only done two hours worth of guide book walking.  We were going slow.  As we approached where our ascent would start, our path was barred as a shepherd had taken over the route to graze his cows.  We have been menaced by cows (and more particularly recently their dog herders).  Lynn and I made a decision to head cross country to avoid the cows and pick up our route a few hundred meters later.  This entailed walking through thigh high alpine meadows, climbing up and down a steep river ravine and finally dropping back onto the route.  In a word, it sucked.  Really bad.

We were now cold, tired and a bit demotivated.  We also had a 500m ascent over the Col du Bresson to tackle.  We saw some other people, which actually gave us a bit of a lift (I’m unsure why, but it is nice to see another walker every once in a while).  We started to climb, and the higher we got, the worse the weather became.  The wind rose and the smattering of rain turned to piercing snow.  About 300m below the col, I asked Lynn if she wanted to stay at the refuge on the other side of the col.  We agreed, and I double checked that it would be open in my book.  It said that it wouldn’t!!! I was aghast.  Thankfully, my mobile phone had reception, and I called the refuge and it was open!  We were ecstatic and started up the col.

Near the col, we saw something we have never seen before.  Each blade of grass looked like a sword, with about a cm of snow piled delicately against the blade of grass.  It was crazy and also beautiful.  We took a few pictures, but didn’t linger.  It was damn cold.

We crossed the col and dropped into warmer temperatures (only mildly) and were excited for our refuge.  It was only 3pm when we arrived, but being cold and tired from the day before, we stopped at the refuge very early.  Lynn and I cozied up to the fire and warmed ourselves up.

The guardian of the refuge was a very nice man, and after making a spectacular dinner for us, helped us spot animals and rare plants with his binoculars.

We went to bed with a change from Poirot as we started Oliver Twist by Dickens.  The evening was bitterly cold and Lynn and I both woke up several times.  We also met the only two other people doing the GR5.  They were both solitary walkers, and I was very glad that I wasn’t walking this alone, but had Lynn with me for support, motivation and warm snuggles in cold refuges!

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