31 July 2009

Haut Chablais

Morzine, another trip for the Brewery ol’ boys

Map: IGN Carte de Randonee, Morzine 1:25000 (3528ET)

Route selection made with the help of Headwater, who offer an independent walking trip (High Alps Walk) in comfortable hotels with luggage transfers each day.  

Morzine from Mont Chéry
Day 1

Started the day with some great vignettes from the previous evening in my head. I particularly enjoyed our host Bill’s advice to his partner’s question ‘you’re leaving me all at home alone, what do I do if the smoke alarm goes off?’ The answer? ‘Take the batteries out!’
Smiling as we approached the Télécabine du Mont Chéry in Les Gets (comfortably ahead of the hordes of mountain bikers we were to see on our return later the same day), our ex finance director Paul bought 4 tickets, using exemplary French, only to realise that this precluded him from ascending in the lift with us. Trés amusing.
A short ride over the meadows above Les Gets, and, with Darrell navigating, we quickly managed to electrocute Bill on a cattle fence before finding the right path which took us steeply up to the summit of Mont Chéry 1826m, with fine views southeast to the whole of the Mont Blanc Massif and the rocky peak of le Roc d’Enfer to the west.

On Mont Chéry, the brewery clan gather again!

Cloud obscured views directly eastwards, denying us a perspective on the week’s walking ahead.
We descended on a steep muddy path, some 400m, down to Col de l’Encrenaz for a rest stop at Auberge l’Encrenaz. Fine, sunny and very hot!
A small ascent north eastwards up through the woods before a lunch stop at les Praz and then a contouring path with easy walking took us into the forests above our destination, the attractive hamlet of Essert-Romand. A long descent, so weary knees for all!
An easy stroll to start the week, about 13km.

Day 2

Another day enlivened with another of Bill’s funnier remarks over breakfast, thinking back to the previous day’s ascent when fellow walker Hugh had to take an urgent rest break on the first stage of the climb to the summit of Mont Chéry. Bill’s observation: ‘didn’t know whether to dig a hole, or call the rescue services’, delivered in such deadpan fashion that you actually believed this went through his mind…!
Anyway, on with the day. Rain. Clouds down on the hills. But, a break around 0900 got us off and out for the day. Dropping our car near Lac de Montriond, we walked along the east side of the lake looking down on to the aquamarine waters of this attractive stretch of water, finally serenaded, somewhat unbelievably, by a Scottish piper who was determined to have some practice at the head of the lake before the somewhat incredulous looks of the locals. An easy track then led us to the waterfall of Cascade d’ Ardent and then on through the hamlet of Les Albertans to the steep path up the ski slope to Les Lindarets.

Lac Montriond
Upwards through the forest towards the Col de la Joux Verte, narrowly avoiding death by reckless mountain bikers descending at speed on our path. Note: the whole Morzine area is a mountain biker’s paradise and they descend many of the paths at a speed where they will ‘total’ you simply because of the speed they are travelling on the steep muddy paths. Be warned.
We joined the easy path along the Super Morzine ridge, ignoring our navigator Paul’s call for a lunch stop, until we reached the high point of the ridge, called the Aréte (1764m), albeit with views to the north impeded by thickening cloud.
Two of our compatriots then baled out and took the chairlift, then the Télécabine back to Morzine, whilst Darrell, Paul and I descended through the forests, again narrowly avoiding death by mountain biker, back to l Élé, just north of Morzine, to be collected by Hugh and Bill in the car. Pub.
A good mountain day, with some decent ascent and some tantalising views through the clouds.
19.2 km, unless you were the two wimps who descended by mechanical means.

Day 3

A longer day beckons, but with a good weather forecast we all set off in good spirits, having dropped a car off in our final destination across the mountains in la Chapelle-d’Abondance the previous evening.
We arrived, fighting our way through a herd of belligerent goats, at les Lindarets, in time to get the early chairlift on the Télesiège de la Chaux Fleurie. This took us from ~1500m to our start point of around 1900m, and we headed off on to the narrow ridge of Tête de Lindaret, reaching the summit at 1930m on a narrow muddy path before a somewhat awkward descent (for those in our party with dodgy knees) to the Col de Bassachaux at 1778m.
There followed a bit of imprecise navigation by yours truly before we headed down the boggy start to the GR5 path which eventually took us to more solid ground towards the farmsteads of les Covagnes and Lenlevay, where an unclear map (nothing to do with the navigator) took us up through the woods on a muddy forest track to the real start point of the climb to the summit of Mont de Grange, the highest mountain in the Chablais Alps (shared with les Cornette de Bise).

Track to the summit of Mont de Grange 

Here we left Bill and Hugh to enjoy lunch and an easy descent, and Paul, Darrell and myself powered up the steep, initially muddy, path northwards on to the Crête de Coicon, a narrowing and lofty ridge below the mighty slopes of our main objective of the day.
Grunt work all the way to the summit, arriving after one hour twenty minutes compared to the signpost time of two hours for ascent. I’ll spare Paul’s blushes, but he did beat the signpost time too ;). A good path throughout, with great views in all directions, including Lake Léman to the north.
The summit was magnificent, with marvellous 360 degree views to the Swiss Alps and the wall of the Dents du Midi to the south. An atmospheric top, with clouds enclosing us for a while before revealing the secrets below us,
including a lone and pregnant chamois, gripping a narrow ledge on cliffs below us. A fine top, not exactly secluded, but worth the effort.

Summit of Mont de Grange

Down we dropped, with the prospect of a 1400+m descent before us, with the summit at 2432m and our destination in la Chapelle-d’Abondance at 1029m. Actually, the descent was more than that, as we found out as we descended the tortuous and little used GR5 path northwards.
From our climb start point we first descended to the farm at l’Etrye (grumpy sheepdogs), before the unpleasant ascent of almost 300m to the col at les Mattas at 1930m.
Then the real descent started, with zig zags on slippery paths and steep sections down isolated river valleys. The GR5 on this section is remarkably overgrown, with bushes and flowers encroaching the path on most sections – it’s as though the French authorities were trying to discourage its usage.
And, I for one wouldn’t blame them. An unpleasant and challenging path at the end of a long day, with unrelentingly steep forest tracks all the way to le Moulin, before a short walk along the D22 to collect our car at la Panthiaz.
But, as always, a good feeling for all at the end, topped off by Bill’s excellent paella and a few beers back at the chalet in Morzine.
About 19km.

Mont de Grange, seen from the ascent of les Cornettes de Bise
Day 4

Another fine weather day prompted an early start and drive around to Châtel for a ‘rest day’ involving the Telécabine de Super Châtel and the chairlift (Télésiege du Morclan) to the ridge that defines the French/Swiss border. Great views again, although cloud inhibited views to the massive bulk of the Swiss Alps to the east.

Team on the Swiss border ridge at le Morclan
A short walk to the high point of the border ridge at Pointe des Ombrieux 1978m, on a narrow but easy path, before we beat the retreat for our planned ‘long lunch’.
Back down the chairlift and cable car to the thriving but overly touristy town of Châtel, followed by a short ride to the calmer environs of Abondance, an attractive valley base with charming feel and imposing abbey.
Based on a recommendation from good friend and colleague Catherine Crone, we settled down to enjoy a spectacularly good lunch at the Hôtel de l’Abbaye, with some good beers and fine wines helping us to consume a marvellous table d’ hôte lunch on the attractive terrace overlooking the river d’ Abondance. Highly recommended!

Lunch venue in Abondance...an excellent spot!
A drive back over the Col du Corbier to Morzine and a lazy finish to the day. Feel’s like we’re on holiday!

Day 5

Another bright day dawns, and with the easy day had yesterday, we were raring to go. The long drive around to la Chapelle-d’Abondance always seems excessive, but it’s a great valley base ringed by the highest mountains of the Chablais Alps. Parking the car just north of la Chapelle-d’Abondance at the Chalets de Chevenne 1217m we were soon off on our travels, heading straight up the hill on the GR5 before contouring up the valley of the Ruisseau de Chevenne, a steep river valley with hard gravel track alongside to condition the feet at this early point in the walk!
We made good progress to the Col de Vernaz on the Swiss border, breaching this in just under two hours. Good views into Switzerland were grabbed before we headed north on the steep and unrelenting zig zags up to the huts at la Calaz 2065m, where a rest stop was welcomed by all, enjoying the views in bright, hot sunshine.
On again, taking a narrow contouring path high above the steep slopes below the south face of our objective, les Cornettes de Bise, which at 2432m is the highest peak in the Chablais, at exactly the same height as our summit two days before, Mont de Grange, which, incidentally was clearly in view for almost all of our day.

Final approach to the summit of les Cornettes de Bise
Wisely, Hugh and Bill decided to descend at this point, with the prospect of a steepening path up through the limestone landscape immediately south east of the summit. It would have been purgatory for their knees if they’d proceeded further as the day was basically 1200m up then 1200m down.
Darrell, Paul and I made quick progress to the summit from here, summiting at 1330 (just inside the signpost guide time, despite the stops we’d had on the way up).
A great top, with quite a few people enjoying the stupendous views in all directions, north to Lake Léman, south as far as the Mont Blanc Massif and the Dents du Midi, and west to the tumultuous Swiss Alps, where some of the ‘greats’ like the Matterhorn, Eiger and the Dom were in view…at least in my imagination…
A fine top, highly recommended.

Summit views from the Cornette de Bise
Descent after taking lunch immediately below the summit, though the steep limestone slopes was easier than expected, but the zig zags from la Calaz were hard work for tired knees. Stopping for a short break at la Calaz we were enthralled by the sight of a golden eagle being repelled from a nest by three swifts…an impressive spectacle.
Down, down, down…another Alpine descent, with a loose gravel track back to the car park needing a particular reward.
Yes, you guessed it…a few beers ;)
Hugh and Bill had done the gentlemanly thing and sourced a suitable hostelry, where we thoroughly enjoyed a couple of beers (Pelforth Blonde) in the beautiful setting of Les Gentianettes, a hotel with fine garden at the bottom of the road down from the Chalets de Chevenne in the centre of la Chapelle-d’Abondance.
Distance today 11km with 1200m up and down…good for the soul!

Day 6

Our last day, so a decision made to walk up the nearby Pointe de Nyon, which although only 2019m, towers over Morzine and is a fine looking peak, with steep pyramidal shape and sheer cliffs to the north. We started from the bottom of a well-used chairlift, and via a series of big zig zags reached the summit in under one and a half hours (the signpost time), a total ascent of some 627m.

Mont Blanc from the Pointe de Nyon
Darrell, Hugh & Paul on the Pointe de Nyon
The summit is easily gained from the top station of the chairlift and afforded great views in all directions, with Mont Blanc in the middle distance to the south, the Dents Blanche to the west and the whole of the Haute Chablais to our north and east. Superb, and good top for spotting future trails for us all!

Descent from the Pointe de Nyon
Descent via the same path in less than an hour, before a quick visit to have a look at the ski village of Avoriaz (ultra modern, bland and hardly worth visiting in the summer), before dropping back to Morzine for a well-earned beer.
Very hot weather, particularly down in the valley. A gourmet meal was enjoyed by all on our last evening together.
Another week in the Swiss Alps follows for me, rather pleased that I’m not driving back to the UK with the others.

And finally…

Thanks to Bill McCosh for the use of his new chalet above Morzine…his customary generosity and good humour prevailed throughout the week, in spite of dropping the sofa on his big toe, almost chopping his finger off with the bread knife, and generally buggering up his knees again on some steep descents, without a single complaint.
And thanks to Paul (for book-keeping the kitty, keeping us amused with his running commentaries on most matters, and his attempts at cooking … Roma you still have a job!); to Hugh, for his steely determination to continue clambering up mountains despite breaking legs last year and his vertigo; and to Darrell, for his eye for detail on the map when I was attempting to navigate, and for his constant support when I fancied another beer.
Well done all.

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