Laugavegur

Laugavegur - From Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk

4days

trekking

55km

walked

1100m

D+

4

fords

Laugavegur is certainly the best known and most popular trek in Iceland. This last point dissuaded me for a long time from exploring it, but Laugavegur is also the trek of many superlatives in terms of landscapes. You know what people say about those who do not change their mind … It would have been a shame not to discover this legendary path during our last trip to Iceland. 55km in an incredible setting to discover with us.

Laugavegur


The itinerary

Spanning 55km in the south of Iceland between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk, Laugavegur, “The road to the hot springs”, allows you to discover some of the most beautiful Icelandic landscapes. The latter will be as varied as grandiose. Although the record is 4:39, the trek is generally covered in 3 or 4 days. The steps are as follows (direction North-> South):

  • Landmannalaugar – Hrafntinnusker: 12km for 470m of D +
    Hrafntinnusker – Álftavatn: 12km for 490 of D-
    Álftavatn – Emstrur: 15km for 40m of D-
    Emstrur – Þórsmörk: 15km for 300m of D-

The basic route can be extended by 22km to Skogar via the Fimmvörðuháls.

There are no major technical difficulties in terms of terrain except for river crossings (see below). The path is very well marked but you have to be careful in fog because the marks will quickly disappear.

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Course direction

Laugavegur can be done from north to south or vice versa. In general, the north-south direction is preferred for various reasons:

  • The wind is generally oriented N-> S in this region, it is therefore better to have it in the back than in the eyes especially when it raises clouds of sand.
  • The trail generally descends in the direction N-> S
  • As there are more people who the route in this direction you will cross a little less people.

Big highlights if you travel the trek in the south-> north direction, you will end in beauty at Landmannalaugar which is certainly the most beautiful landscape of the trek and you will be entitled to a bath in natural hot springs, ultimate pleasure after 55km of walking !

In fact, the distribution we found was 60/40 for N-> S against S-> N.

Difficulties

Weather

The Laugavegur does not present any difficulty in itself if it is not the few fords as we approach it below. The only real difficulty is related to the weather. Iceland, by its geographical location (close to the Arctic Circle and in the middle of the Atlantic), experiences very changeable weather which can be violent. Don’t get me wrong, a big sun can be replaced by a storm in a few minutes.

Find out as much as you can from shelters or if you have the network to know what the weather is coming or at least the trend. Iceland has an excellent reliable and well-made weather site: https://en.vedur.is/

The two main threats will be rain and wind. The latter can be very powerful and raised clouds of sand especially in the Alftavatn-Emstrur portion. Remember to protect your eyes! A little physiological fluid can be welcome in case of eye irritation.

For rain and especially if combined with wind, a long poncho seems to be one of the best ways to protect yourself. Gore-tex and other waterproof-breathable membranes very often end up allowing water to pass in the event of sustained showers (flow and duration). Protect your bag and its contents well also thanks to a bag (watch out for the wind!) And waterproof bags inside.

Fog is also a real danger because it will make the markings disappear if it is thick. You will find on the road a commemorative plaque of a hiker who died a few hundred meters from a refuge because he got lost due to a storm obscuring the markup! The danger is real! If you are lost staying where you are and waiting for a lull, do not try to go further this is how you put yourself in danger.

Even if you are in a group, tell someone outside of your route and the dates planned. He / she can give the alert if you are not back after a few days.

River crossings

There are four river crossings that you must ford, that is to say by crossing the rivers on foot. In addition to being a very unpleasant moment given that the water descends directly from the glaciers and does not exceed 5 ° C, this is a moment to be approached with caution because a fall could be problematic or even dangerous.

Here are some tips to minimize the risk:

  • Cross where people cross: if the groups cross here it is because it is surely the best passage, more there will be more people which is a guarantee of security in case of glitch
  • Organize the crossing well: store what must be protected from water, prepare a small towel if necessary, plan the trajectory of your crossing, detach the waist and chest belt from your backpack because in the event of a fall it must be able to get rid of it quickly.
  • Provide suitable shoes: many people provide sandals or crocs for the crossing, this allows to protect from sharp rocks and improve grip (and can be used in the evening at the bivouac). For my part I did it barefoot, it works but you have to be careful with slippery rocks.
  • When crossing and especially in case of strong current, stay facing the flow and move aside. Do not try to fight against the current but on the contrary to use it to help you. Walking sticks are very practical for improving balance.
  • A ford crossing becomes dangerous when the water level exceeds the knee: if this is the case, be extremely careful and cross in a group if possible, holding on to each other.
  • In general: do not tempt the devil and it is better to turn back to the holy path and except to take reckless risks.

General informations

Join the Laugavegur

The access points of the trek are as follows:

  • Landmannalaugar: accessible by bus or 4×4 by the Landmannaleið road and the F208 – Beware of some fords to cross.
  • Þórsmörk: accessible by bus and 4×4 by the F249 – Please note: many fords to cross and some really deep!
  • Skogar: accessible by bus and by road 1

If you are on foot, you can see that access by bus is easy at the ends of the trek. We went through the Reykjavik Excursions company. The “Iceland On Your Own” pass allows a certain flexibility and lowers the price a little – Count 100 € / person round trip.

You will find the info at the following address: https://www.re.is/tour/hiking-pass-iceland-on-your-own/

Another company that we encountered several times on site: https://trex.is/scheduled-bus/

Refuge or bivouac?

The Laugavegur offers the possibility of crossing it either entirely in a refuge or in a tent or a mix.

Shelters are a comfortable but very expensive choice! Count 130 € per night for two without the meal which is not offered. You will therefore have to bring your food even with this choice. However, the shelters include a kitchen that does not take meals-on board. You can also stock up on basics in some shelters which can be useful.

You will find a lot of additional information on the FI website:

Price: https://www.fi.is/en/mountain-huts/terms-and-conditions
Distribution of shelters: https://www.fi.is/en/mountain-huts/map
FAQs about Laugavegur shelters: https://www.fi.is/en/mountain-huts/faq

PLEASE NOTE: shelters must be booked in advance. We were lucky to find space the same day without a reservation, but it is rare. Some of the people we spoke to on site had booked several months in advance and had long been on the waiting list …

The bivouac sites near the refuges are chargeable (around 20 € per night) and quite variable in quality:

  • Landmannalaugar: very stony and noisy because sometimes crowded. The common tent is nice.
  • Hrafntinnusker: potentially very windy. Stone walls protect a little.
  • Álftavatn: also windy, you can use the buildings to protect yourself from the wind
  • Emstrur: pleasant even if the pitches are dense
  • Þórsmörk: prefer Laugidalur which is very pleasant and offers beautiful views of the glaciers

You can also bivouac between the huts (except in the Landmannalaugar park) but the very sandy or rocky terrain is not always practical.

In terms of our experience, we had planned to bivouac near the shelters but the excruciating weather we had led us to spend two nights in the shelter.

First day - From Landmannalaugar to Hrafntinnusker


August 18, 2019, after two days spent in the Landmannalaugar to discover this wonderful site, we begin our four days trek towards Þórsmörk.

Also discover the Landmannalaugar through a day hike

The beginning of the trail is behind the refuge of the Icelandic hiking association, the “Ferðafélag Íslands”. We start by crossing an old lava flow which presents pretty balsatic structures. The weather is fine for the moment and we don’t see anyone.

We quickly reach the fumarole on the heights of Landmannalaugar. This is followed by a short but intense climb which allows you to reach the top of the hill. The landscapes that await us always reveal themselves as rich in color!

Volcanic formations sometimes create strange shapes. We come across one evoking a dinosaur or dragon skeleton – which fits very well with the decor and the atmosphere elsewhere.

The path continues following the crest of the hills. The wind has risen since we passed the small pass. The temperature has dropped well, we are also a bit humid since there is also mist. Here, impossible to protect yourself from the wind because there are no trees or bushes; just rockery as far as the eye can see.

Fortunately, the path is well marked otherwise we would quickly get lost. Temperatures continue to drop and time to turn bad.

We manage to shelter as best we can in a trench enough to eat a little bit and put on big gloves and protect the bag from the drizzle.

A little further we will come across small fumaroles just next to the path. It’s a chance to be able to see this kind of phenomenon so closely.

Quickly we arrive on a plateau which is lost endlessly in the fog. It is getting more and more stuffy. There are almost no more colors, we see life in black and white. Even if you don’t have the views you want, the atmosphere is great. You feel good in the heart of wild Iceland. We meet few people and that’s good because I was a little afraid of the crowd.

The few hikers we see, look more like shadows than real people.

A few more snowfields to cross and here we are with a view to the Hrafntinnusker refuge. The 12km will have been fast because we were not idle given the weather.

It also seems to be getting worse and worse, which is confirmed by the person at the reception of the refuge. The rain arrives and will force in the evening, the wind will keep him strong. Tomorrow’s weather looks horrible.

We had planned to bivouac but we change our minds. First of all, the bivouac area is not very attractive, while rocky and in the wind, the weather does not encourage you to stay outside. We are not there to perform but to enjoy walking. Luckily there are 2 places left! We take them even if the 130 € note hurts a little …

We are the first to arrive with a lovely retired Canadian couple. We sit on a double berth before we cook to warm up. The refuge is nice and clean. There are two large dormitories and a kitchen with all the necessary equipment.

The afternoon will be dedicated to observing the outdoors (especially small birds fighting against the wind), chatting with hikers who arrive drop by drop and resting.

Meal time will be hectic since everyone cooks almost at the same time but at least it warms the atmosphere.

We will sleep well tonight because, luckily, there are no snorers with us. It is in our interest to rest well because the day of tomorrow is going to be terrible …

Day 2 - From Hrafntinnusker to Álftavatn


This day will be remembered as one of the worst we have experienced hiking from a weather point of view … There will be no photo on this day of walking because we did not want to damage the appliances. Anyway we would have had monochrome white as a photo …

The awakening is almost collective around 7am. Everyone is watching the weather outside because it is supposed to get better in the morning but for now it is rain, fog and very strong wind. Nobody hurries. We make a rich breakfast in order to store calories.

9 am … The weather has not changed … The groups are starting to prepare. Motivated by this emulation, we also set off. Final adjustments outside. We directly took out the big artillery to protect us from the rain (poncho, rain pants for Hélène, …).

We attack! The wind comes to us from the rear left (big drop!) It is so strong that it bothers us to walk. Sometimes the gusts (in the 100kmh surely) deport us by a few steps … The whole thing is accompanied by an almost horizontal rain which only wets us on the left but which lashes the face. Landscapes, we only see the general shape. The path follows a succession of small hills.

Despite these particularly harsh conditions, we are living in a great moment because we are doing good things against bad luck and we are laughing at all this! We seek in our complicity the energy to move forward and it works! Fortunately for us, we have suitable equipment; we meet certain groups in canvas sneakers and without real protection against the rain, apart from comfort we can quickly border on danger …

The kilometers pass under always equivalent conditions. At the end of this long plateau, we begin the descent which leads us to the real difficulty of the day: the first ford!

We join him quickly. It is not very wide, at most 8m but the flow is strong and the water level reaches the knees! The idea of ​​crossing a river whose water is at 4 ° C is never cheerful but with this wind and the rain I admit that you have to look far to find motivation. The simplest and that is what we do, is to turn off the brain and go. I’ll go first. When you enter the water you have a feeling of cold but it’s okay, it is after 10 / 15s that the pain arrives, sharp and violent! When you get out of the water it goes in 30s but at the time it is really not pleasant. Hélène follows me, for her the pain is even worse I think but she overcomes the difficulty and arrives on the other side. There follows a little apocalypse moment because we have to get dressed in the rain and in the wind with the ponchos in the face, trying in vain to dry our feet … This first wading was epic for us. conditions and will remain in memory.

We only have a few kilometers to Álftavatn where we will resume the night in a refuge because we are still very wet after a day like this and it is no use playing “heroes”. The refuge will also be transformed into a giant clothes line because everyone arrives soaked (at different levels). We will spend the afternoon resting, warming up and above all chatting with Adin and Amélie, a very nice French couple that we will see again in Paris.

The weather will be a little milder at the end of the day, the wind will be just as strong but it will not rain any more. This will allow some stuff to dry outside in the wind.

What a day ! Too bad we couldn’t take pictures of the walk. Like another day like this during a previous Sarek trek, this one will remain in our memory like Mordor! We will sleep well tonight anyway. Tomorrow’s day promises to be better, because the sun must return.

Laugavegur is not difficult in itself but the weather is really the hard point. Plan ahead and go equipped!

Day 3 - From Alftavatn to Emstrur


We had a good idea to choose the night in a refuge. We wake up rested and ready for a new day. The icing on the cake it is beautiful this morning!

The preparation is therefore done in a serene and relaxed atmosphere. Most of our things have even had time to dry out. Only the shoes are still wet.

We say see you soon at Amélie and Adin and we take the road towards Emstrur. What a pleasure to be able to enjoy the beauty of Laugavegur and its landscapes.

The huge Mýrdalsjökull glacier is visible in the distance. This mass of ice is already impressive but it is nothing next to the Vatnajökull …

The trail quickly leads to the first ford of the day. We approach the obstacle with much lightness that yesterday saw the sun. The river has a very different physiognomy: unlike that of the previous day, it is wide and relatively shallow. The crossing is nevertheless painful because the water is still as cold …

We continue our journey in a landscape which opens more and more. The soil is becoming increasingly black with ash and slag. The landscapes have another profile, just as beautiful.

We pass by the site of Hvanngil, a small refuge which offers bivouac areas more pleasant than Alftavatn. The path then attacks an immense plain with a lunar landscape: just sand, flat, some plants struggling to survive and lots of space. It is a beautiful place.

Shortly before Hvanngil, a second ford awaits us. It is particularly wide but does not pose any major difficulty for us. We are getting used to it.

Although this portion of the Laugavegur is beautiful, it becomes monotonous at the end because it is really long … The exit from the plain is by a sort of “door” marked by rocky hills to the west. The path retains the same appearance but offers very beautiful views of the Eyjafjallajökull.

The path is no longer very long until Emstrur but the landscapes are still as beautiful. There are only shades of black and ocher, punctuated with green touches sometimes.

Emstrur is located in the hill and offers a beautiful view of the Mýrdalsjökull. There are some hard dwellings to spend the night but the site also offers bivouac areas which are rather pleasant although dense. As the weather is rather optimistic we will spend the night in a tent.

It is a pleasant site and the weather is nice and even good if you protect yourself from the wind.

I will take advantage of the end of the afternoon to fly the drone in order to take some aerial photos.

This day will have been superb as much by the landscapes as by the weather. We will still have a few drops in the evening but nothing bad. We are already attacking the last day tomorrow …

Day 4 - From Emstrur to Þórsmörk


Just 15 more kilometers and we will have reached our goal : Þórsmörk. We will start the day by reading the safety instructions in the event of a blowout as we enter the Katla area.

The Laugavegur, meanwhile, looks like what we could walk yesterday, that is to say a soil composed of dark sand and slag. We will first pass through a sort of valley carved out by the melting water of the glacier. This then takes us to the heights, which allows us to enjoy the view.

The terrain presents no difficulty. Just let yourself be carried away while admiring the landscapes. The Laugavegur will then gradually descend to the huge area where many glacial rivers meet. The landscape opens towards the west as you go, which allows you to guess the sea in the distance.

Without being ugly, it is not the most interesting portion of Laugavegur. Note however the gradual reappearance of trees.

The path then crosses a river thanks to a bridge over an impressive gorge before climbing on the top of the hill. From there we descend to join the 4th and last ford of the trek.

It is particularly wide and deep to the knees. It is done in 2 steps which allows to recover a little in the middle. Caution is advised as there is quite a bit of flow.

We are almost there ! The end of the path is really of little interest because it follows a kind of big track. Remarkable fact: we live in a forest which is particularly rare in Iceland!

Tonight we will sleep in Langidalur. I do not recommend Husadalur because the view is less pleasant. We will arrive at our destination in the early afternoon. It is a pretty, well-kept site, and above all it offers a marvelous view of Þórsmörk and the surrounding glaciers.

Here we are, the trek is finished. The afternoon will pass under a bright sun which will do us a lot of good. Everything will be enhanced by a small bottle of wine bought at a high price to celebrate!

There are beautiful hikes to do from Langidalur, including the ascent of Tindjöll.

We take the bus tomorrow towards Reykjavi and then continue our trip to Iceland.

Conclusions


Although it is a particularly well-known and popular trek, the Laugavegur nevertheless deserves the superlatives that we know; as much for its landscapes which are marvelous and changing from one day to another but also for its weather which will put your resistance to the test. This last point should not be overlooked. Even if some people have 4 days of good weather others can have 4 ugly days! Later during our stay, the Laugavegur was even closed due to the too difficult weather, that is to say!

If you hesitate for your next trip: go ahead, the Laugavegur will mark you and create lasting memories.


Bivouac au Snofjellstjonna - Dovrefjell

Dovrefjell – Sunndalsfjella National Park

9days

trekking

100km

walked

3600m

D+

3.5

days absolutely alone

Norway is full of sublime national parks and choosing one is not necessarily easy as it all deserves to be discovered. After some time of reflection, our focus fell on the Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella national park by combining with Innerdalen, one of the most beautiful valleys in Norway. We invite you to follow us during the 9 days of this spring trek, far from the world and in magnificent landscapes.

Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella, Innerdalen and route


Le Parc National du Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella

Located south of Trondheim and east of Ålesund, the Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park covers an area of ​​1693km². The park is especially renowned for the unique presence in continental Europe of muskoxen, relics of mammals from prehistoric times. The park revolves around Snøhetta, a beautiful mountain 2286m high.

Muskoxen are large mammals of the goat family, contrary to what their name indicates. Relic of the ice age, we find them today in Canada, Greenland, a little bit in Siberia and for a few dozen heads in the park of Dovrefjell. The latter were reintroduced after extinction due to hunting.

With a weight of up to 300kg, muskoxen are large mammals that don’t hesitate to charge if they feel threatened. Running the 100m in 6s you will have little chance of escaping. Some caution is therefore necessary, especially in the presence of young. Local guides recommend keeping a distance of 300m.

The park is mainly made up of tundra: short grass, moss and lichen. Trees disappear very quickly with altitude.

Getting There :

The park is easily accessible by public transport. The Oslo-Trondheim train line bypasses the entire southern and eastern part of the Dovrefjell. You will therefore have various choices:

  • Dombås: small town to the south
  • Hjerkinn: mountain resort with a youth hostel
  • Oppdal: the local town with all the services you need. A good base to shine.

The northern part is accessible by bus via line 901 from Oppdal and in the direction of Kristiansund. Information can be found here: Bus 901 timetable

Innerdalen

A little north-west of the Dovrefjell Park is the magnificent Innerdalen Valley. The “Visit Norway” site even names it “the most beautiful valley in Norway”.

The valley is easily accessible and offers accommodation in refuges and a campsite which has been voted “Most beautiful campsite in Europe” by the Guardian! What superlatives for this place.

Getting There :

To get there we took bus 901 from Oppdal and got off at Ålvundeid rv. 70. For the long stretch of road before starting the path, we hitchhiked. There is a little passage we did not wait very long.

Route

We started by joining Oppdal from Oslo Airport by train (fast and not very expensive) then from there we took bus 901 in the direction of Kristiansund. We stopped at Ålvundeid rv. 70 towards Innerdalen. We recovered route 70 from the valley by cutting through the mountains. From there we joined by bus the stop named Lønset after a night detour to Oppdal. We then crossed the Dovrefjell in a global north-south direction to reach Hjerkinn from where we took the train to Oppdal.

You will find the whole of the walked part below (downloadable):

Download

Refuges

The Norwegian shelter system is different from ours. While in France the shelters are often guarded and remain partly open in winter, here many are the shelters without guards and which requires a key to be open summer and winter.

This key is available by joining the Norwegian trekking association, the DNT. You can then borrow or receive a key to access the shelters. PLEASE NOTE: shelters do not generally offer winter shelters!

You will find the necessary information here: https://english.dnt.no/

Day 1 - Innerdalen


10 a.m. on June 11, 2019, we are on bus 901 in the direction of the fork which will take us to Innerdalen. I am with Arthur with whom I have already done the GR R2 in Reunion. 3 years that we have not seen each other but here we are in the middle of Norway left for 9 days of trekking. We arrived in Oppdal yesterday after a quick trip by plane to Oslo and then by train.

The bus stops at a stop lost on the road. We are going down. We put the bags, we settle everything and we left in the direction of the valley.

This first portion is a 10km asphalt road that hurts your feet … We walk but we try to stop when a car overtakes us. It works after 20-30min. A nice couple of Norwegians who are local and who go up to Innerdalen for the weekend.

At the end of the road, we only have 3km to go. It’s hot today, so we remove a layer and we set off again. The beginning of the path is nice, it looks like what you can find in the forest in the mountains. The surrounding landscapes are beautiful but you can’t see very well with the trees. But now, another small climb and a turn and Innerdalen is revealed to us, wonderful.

I had seen some photos before leaving but I must admit that seeing the valley like that in all its beauty leaves you speechless …

Another 15min walk and here we are at Renndølsetra. It is an old summer farmhouse in the purest Norwegian style. Today it is a gîte, the site is really beautiful. We chat a little with the guard to find out where to bivouac. He tells us that on the heights of the valley, the ground is soggy because of the melting snow. So he advises us to stay around. It is here that there is the most beautiful campsite in Europe according to the Guardian. As the camp is not yet officially open, it lets us settle in for free! Really nice ! We will still have a beer to participate a minimum.

We will put the bags further under the undergrowth before going for a walk in the valley. We will pass the Innerdal Turishytte which also offers a beautiful site to spend the evening.

Once our little tour ends, we return to our bags. We set up camp not far from the water. We light a small fire and settle down to enjoy the end of the afternoon under a bright sun. What happiness. Everything is perfect: the site, the landscape, the little fire.

It will not have been a big day (in the end, about 5 km of walking), but it suits us well, we can take advantage of it. We go to bed under the sun. Indeed no night in this season, we will have to get used to it but the stream next to it rocks us enough to fall asleep quickly.

Day 2 - From Innerdalen to the Dovrefjell


The night was good and not so cold. The objective of the day is simple: reach the “entrance” to Dovrefjell park by crossing the mountains to the south.

So we set off after breakfast and the packaging of the camp. It is dizzying today or even a little drizzling.

The beginning of the hike leads to a small bridge which allows you to cross the river. We then attack a steep climb which leads to the Flatvaddalen between 700 and 900m above sea level. This passage under the greyness is a little sad but still offers beautiful views.

This fairly flat portion is very humid due to the presence of numerous lakes and marshy areas. In addition, we are early in the season, so there is a lot of snow on the heights and it melts at all costs, which adds to the ambient humidity of the small valley.

Its southern end offers a beautiful view of the Sunndalen. From there the path forks to the side of the cliff towards the east. We will have our midday break at the fork in the Tverrådalen which is all snow.

This portion is pleasant especially thanks to the view. It is a little further that it becomes less funny. In fact, we then launch into 700m of vertical drop in terrain that hurts the knees, our heavy bags of food for the next 8 days do not help.

We will reach Eiriksvollen in the middle of the afternoon. We wanted to stay there for the night but the cabin is locked … No problem, in addition we spot a tick here, so we will try to hitchhike to go to Grøa because we spotted a campsite there. We will be taken after a little waiting by the school bus which will even make a detour to drop us off. Arrived on site, we turn on the campsite to find the reception but nothing … strange. A lady goes out to ask us what we are looking for, we explain to her and answer us without much kindness that here it is a private campsite and that we cannot stay … You will have to explain to me the principle but all is it that we find the beak in the water. Well … After consultation we decide to return to Oppdal because we will find something to sleep in and then we have to review the start of the journey a bit because planning level we are not at the top.

Returning to the main road, we will cross a bus that goes in the direction of Oppdal, we will jump on the opportunity. Back in town we find a hotel and we are redoing the plans for tomorrow. We initially wanted to go through the Grødalen to enter the Dovrefjell but finally we opt for the Dindalen. We thus gain almost a day of walking overall which relaxes the planning and will allow us to take better time on the spot.

We will still have worked well today and fall asleep early because tomorrow we finally attack the main subject!

Day 3 - Dindalen


And we get back on the road! The shower did good last night but it’s the last one for a few days.

Bus 901, a few minutes and here we are “dropped” in Lønset. We attack there because it saves us a bit of walking and the climb is more gradual.

The start of the path is on a road / track. By particularly pleasant, this portion has the advantage of allowing rapid progression. It is good today under this beautiful sun. After a few kilometers we return to Dindalen. It is a pretty valley, dotted with charming chalets which seem uninhabited for the moment. To the south we can see the end of the plateau where we are going.

Before that, a short break at Dindalshytta, a refuge still closed at the start of the season.

Another small climb which gives a nice view on the valley and here we are, we enter the national park of Dovrefjell. Upstairs we are on a sort of plateau, it is “flat” and the wind blows very hard from the front here.

A few more tiring kilometers with this headwind. We arrive in sight of Snøfjellstjønna lake. There are quite a few pretty cabins here, some quite large, but people in sight. I think people don’t ride much this season.

Some easy crossings of rivers (from rocks to rocks) and we arrive at a big chalet at the foot of the climb on the west side of the lake. As the wind is still blowing so strongly, we use the chalet to protect ourselves from it. No one will mind. There is even a perfectly protected outside table. We therefore ask ourselves, end of the walking day.

Sheltered from the wind and in the sun it is good. We take advantage of the afternoon admiring the lights on the lake which vary from minute to minute.

We will install the tent on the heights, protected from the wind by a hill, near the lake there is too much humidity.

Traditional evening: sausage, cheese, lyophi, sleeping bag, reading, sleep.

A good first day, we didn’t do a lot of kilometers but at least we are finally in the Dovrefjell itself. Tomorrow we will progress further in the heart of the park.

Day 4 - Further in the Dovrefjell


The night was good despite the wind. The good news is that it fell this morning! We can therefore prepare for calm.

We will leave early. The path begins with the ascent of the hill to the west of the lake. From the top the view is appreciable:

The landscapes open and offer a beautiful view of what awaits us.

The land is made up of rocky moor as far as the eye can see. Lots of rocks on the surface which makes walking quite fun and not boring. In the distance, the Snøhetta massif overlooks the park.

There is no actual path but cairns often with a red dot or “T” are regularly spaced to facilitate orientation which is very practical in these landscapes where everything looks the same.

The progression is pleasant. We will have our lunch break next to a very small hunter’s hut (Pilbua maybe?) Before heading towards an intersection around Lake Urdvatnet. There is a wide river here to cross but fortunately rocks have been cleverly arranged to cross dry (with a little gymnastics all the same).

We will then pass a hill around 1500m above sea level before descending to the pretty Langvatnet lake.

Nature sometimes offers a nice encounter, this is the case during the descent when we come across a small nest containing an egg on the way. There is no tree here, so the birds manage like that. We do not linger so as not to frighten the parents who must be in the area.

We will take a short break at the (hunting?) Hut that we meet north of the lake. The hour is already advanced, we decide to stay here for the night but we have to find a corner where to put the tent.

We will find ourselves an absolutely superb bivouac area on a small strip of land in the middle of the lake. The view of the Snøhetta is magnificent.

We will start by setting up the tent before making us a hot tea and resting in the sun!

We did not meet anyone today. Or even animals except a few birds. The feeling of isolation is therefore complete. It is always as pleasant as it is disturbing at times.

We feel good this evening and the landscapes never cease to impress us. One has the impression of being alone in the world here.

It has been a great day. We fall asleep serenely and we can’t wait to be tomorrow to find out more.

Day 5 - Reinheim


What can we hope for more than waking up warm in our down in the middle of wild Norway … Well, it’s true that getting out of down is less pleasant but the weather is good today and a good little walk awaits us.

Classic morning ritual and on the way when everything is done.

The first stage of the day takes us to Åmotdalshytta, a large refuge that can be reached quickly from the lake. No one in sight. It’s been 48 hours now that we crossed soul alive …

Today we are joining Reinheim. From here 3 options are available to us: go through the summit of Snøhetta, take a pass at 1554m further to the NE or an intermediate route which passes at 1698m. We will choose this last option (the top of Snøhetta still seemed to us (too) snowy at the start of the season).

The landscapes are much more mineral now. We have gained altitude and even the grasses and lichens seem to be unable to stand here except for a few leathery ones. We will meet a hare in the distance … the only living creature we will meet today if we except a few birds.

We will take our break at 1698m above sea level, the highest of our journey. Here the view of the park and the Snøhetta is striking. There is no noise, not movement. We really have to be the last or the first humans on earth …

The descent to Reinheim will be quick and fairly easy if not a few tricky snowfields. We will take the path that we cross towards Larsurda and indicated by a sign.

Arrived in Reinheim, we discover another set of chalets which seem quite cozy but which are mostly closed … As we said in the introduction, you must have a key to enjoy the shelters or we do not have it not. We will be a bit like tantalum to see armchairs, benches and wood stove through the window …

We are not all that bad because it is fine despite a fairly strong wind. If we protect ourselves we are fine.

We arrived early today, so we can enjoy the beautiful surrounding landscapes, the calm and the solitude. We can still eat on an outdoor table this evening, we appreciate the comfort.

Two more days in the Dovrefjell and still no muskox in sight or reindeer … To tell the truth, we have seen nothing for 2.5 days except the infinity of the landscapes … It is appreciable and we we feel good but sometimes it makes you a little dizzy. I do not know what would be such an adventure alone … It must be strange but I will try well.

Day 6 - Snøheim


Pleasant weather when waking up this morning. Another night away from the world and in the sun. We are repacking the camp for a short stop this morning as we are going to Snøheim just 6km from here.

The road begins with a climb in a large snowfield which allows us to admire the landscape in the distance. Once arrived at the top we discover a large very mineral plateau and away from the bad weather that comes right on us.

No choice we go to meet the rain that we see getting closer quickly. We will be below at the level of the lake which runs along the east. It’s raining hard! We are quickly wet, luckily we see Snøheim in the distance.

I am amazed at the size of the refuge because the map announces a “shelter”, we are here in the presence of a very large refuge. The fact remains that we are not there yet we have to walk. So put your head between your shoulders and walk as quickly as possible in the skidding rock garden with the prospect of a shelter or even a good fire in a few minutes.

We reach the refuge well wet. The rain has decreased in intensity but it is still drizzling with a lot of wind. So we cool down. On the spot, the calm intrigues us … but it is early perhaps that the hikers have not yet arrived … We look for the reception: closed !!

The refuge is closed! That we did not expect … we are on June 16 yet! Okay, let’s go get the winter refuge, it’s already a luxury.

So we go in search of this famous winter refuge … Short version: there is none. We will go around the huge refuge several times and nothing. Not an open shelter, not a room for hikers. We try to knock on the window if there is anyone inside, no one. We therefore resign ourselves: the refuge is closed, there is no one and no place planned for hikers out of season, it is still raining and it does not seem to want to stop … shelter.

We spotted a sort of covered balcony which gives access to the bedrooms. Fortunately for us there is a small bench and the whole is quite isolated from the wind. I’m not sure if we have the right but we settle here to shelter (in the end we will leave the balcony in the state where we found it I do not think we have bothered. ..). We start by putting on dry clothes and then we throw the stove to make an invigorating freeze-dried product. We look a bit like old wet dogs but we’re not bad.

We will settle down under the survival blanket after the meal to take a warm nap and sheltered from the wind. I am still impressed by the effectiveness of the covers. We are well below, the exit will not be easy.

After an hour or two spent on the balcony we want to stretch our legs especially since it is almost no longer raining. Will follow a long afternoon alternating walk to warm up and rest / reading. We will also spend a lot of time admiring the totally crazy chases of the ducks on the little lake next door (we can feel the level of distraction …).

In the evening we will take shelter to eat next to the reception because the area is sheltered from the wind. We will not be that bad after all, we will even have a good time listening to music alone in the world once again. It has now been 3.5 days since we met anyone except a hare, a few birds and our crazy ducks.

Day 7 - Meetings


It rained a little more last night but this morning we have only gray weather and a little fog. We have breakfast in the shelter on “our balcony”. At the end of the meal, we hear an engine noise! It is the refuge keeper who goes up to do DIY. It’s been almost four days since we met anyone, it’s always weird because it feels like a stranger enters our world which boiled down to the two of us.

We quickly fold the tent and our things and we hit the road. We start the descent which is done by following the track which leads to Snøheim. The path is not very beautiful but the landscapes compensate.

Lower down, once out of the clouds, we see in the distance a 4×4 which goes up towards the refuge but which is stopped for the moment as if to observe something … We thus pass in “vigilance” mode arrived at the level from where was 4×4.

That’s when we see them: two beautiful muskoxen peacefully grazing. We approach slowly while keeping our distance. Finally we stop a hundred meters to observe them.

Oxen are beautiful beasts, massive and impressive. The two specimens that we have in front seem peaceful and show no sign of stress or nervousness and we are very good like that. We did not try to hide when we arrived while remaining calm and “humble” so as not to appear as threats. We will stay maybe 30min to observe them grazing not far then we resume our road happy to have had this meeting.

We continue our journey on the lookout for new encounters but nothing apart for the moment can be two small black dots on the horizon.

We could join Hjerkinn during the day but we prefer to stay a bit more in nature. So we go out of the way to 2/3 of the descent to fork towards the summit called Kolla. We will find a great spot a little higher not far from a charming river with a magnificent view of the whole area and perfect for watching the oxen around.

So we set up our last camp of the trip. Once the tent is pitched, we do a little routine check of the surroundings to see if our musk friends are around. In the distance, we see what appear to be two silhouettes of oxen. We decide to go to meet them to check.

Simply equipped with our cameras, we walk towards a meeting point. We confirm as and when it is indeed muskoxen, what luck! Closer we realize especially that it is not two or three muskoxen who come to meet us but six in total !! Unbelievable ! There are even three calves, we are thrilled. They calmly go up the road and we head a little higher to watch them pass.

We are super happy, what a joy after all these days without seeing anything. We get closer to the road and that’s where we realize that they were not six but seven! The large male is just 50m away. We fall a little “nose to nose”, we are surprised. So we stop and we don’t move. It was then that an absolutely terrifying rumble filled the air: the male made it clear to us that he did not appreciate our proximity. We therefore move back quietly without sudden movement.

Once our distances are taken we take a little cover but the small group of oxen is on the alert and compensates for going back. We did not want to scare them but the presence of the calves must stress them. They therefore turn back but quickly branch off to the left of the path towards our camp. We therefore decide to follow them remotely while remaining discreet.

We will find a good observation post on a prominence from the military past of the park (the park has long been a firing range of the army). From there we can observe the whole family at will, keeping our distance. The male has seen us but does not seem worried given the distance.

It is extraordinary to see this kind of animal frolicking freely in the tundra, watching the little breastfeed, running after their mother, all without anyone and in the greatest calm. It’s a very beautiful moment.

The male is splendid. He watches peacefully and guides the troop. It emanates power and strength.

We will spend a long time observing them there, without trying to interact or get closer. We then return to our camp, very happy with this moment!

It is early and the weather is fine. We will spend the afternoon reading in the sun.

A little later the oxen will approach themselves while remaining at a distance. They will even arise for a while for a little nap, we will imitate them.

The end of the day will be calm with the muskoxen nearby. We start the list of the last: last meal in nature and last bed in bivouac. The oxen have established their “camp” for the night 400m from us. It will rain a bit at the start of the evening, a few showers but nothing too bad.

The day was superb and full of images that will quickly turn into memories. To be there in contact with these almost prehistoric animals in this magnificent setting and devoid of all humanity is great. We are lucky.

Day 8 - Return to civilization


Last awakening in the heart of Dovrefjell. The oxen continued their journey this morning. We fold the tent and back on the way we continue towards Hjerkinn.

The path is fast and without much interest as we descend. Once there, rather than return immediately to Oppdal, we opt to climb to the Snøhetta viewpoint which offers a striking view of the park. A final climb awaits us to reach the famous building at the top and the panorama is revealed.

This point marks the end of the trek. We finish with a picnic in front of this superb view, enjoying the kilometers covered.

We just have to go back to Oppdal and then take the train and the plane back tomorrow.

Conclusions


This must be the sixth time I have been to Scandinavia and I never tire of it. The Dovrefjell offers a still different face from other Norwegian or Swedish parks. I was amazed by the isolation we experienced during the first part of the trek. I think this is partly due to the season but still … Even at Sarek we met more people …

The meeting with the muskoxen was a beautiful moment and justifies by itself that we go through the park. I have rarely had the opportunity to be “in contact” with large mammals in a wild environment, it is a great experience to live.

Let’s not forget Innerdalen and its incredible panorama. In the same way, do not hesitate to take a look if you are passing through.

At only half a day of travel, the Dovrefjell and its region therefore offers very beautiful possibilities for wild hikes, far from the world and within a sumptuous park.


Vue sur Rapadalen dans la montée vers le Skierffe - Sarek

SAREK

9days

trekking

170km

walked

2500m

D+

1

day without rainning

It’s been fifteen months now since we returned from our Lapland adventure along the Kungsleden. Fifteen months that the Far North is calling us again. So, of course, the GR738 has allowed me to escape a week in the mountains but I need my annual migration to the Nordic countries, this time we will take the direction of the Sarek National Park in Sweden for nine days to trek in a wild and raw Nature.

Sarek and Route


Vast almost 2000km², the Sarek is a Swedish national park located a few hours drive south of Kiruna and not far from the Norwegian border. Often considered the last wilderness in Europe, Sarek is a concentrate of wild nature. Here there is no road, no marked path (and even almost no “real” path), just 2 bridges, no refuge as such, at most some cabins as spartan as rare and weather conditions may be hard. Your only neighbors at (tens of) kilometers will be the reindeer that the Sames let graze here all summer long.

A true paradise for the walker who wants to be in the middle of nothing for several days.

On the other hand, the Sarek has a price: no path, no road, etc. implies that you have to navigate even in an often harsh environment. You have the choice between marshes, dense birch forests or large empty expanses in altitude and for the weather: rain (a lot), wind, snow and a little sun sometimes…

Sarek is a difficult environment. The terrain and the weather can be very hard and changing. Even in summer, very short indeed, you can have winter conditions at altitude. Be prepared! The Sarek are aimed at experienced walkers who know a minimum of the middle of the Scandinavian Arctic and who are equipped accordingly. Here you will be alone and the help will not always be able to intervene quickly, besides that you will have no telephone network, nor quick escape.

Warning: the following tutorial is part of a specific context of this month of September 2018. Do not assume conditions in advance (especially with regard to crossings rivers) and do not take the characteristics that we have encountered as an absolute truth. Prepare your hike well and always keep a margin of safety.

Our route allowed us to travel a good piece of Sarek and to pass by the Rapadalen and Skierffe, THE point of view not to be missed in the park. About 170km long, it took us 9 days of walking to achieve it at a rate of 20km / days. It was not a health walk but it is achievable. You will find below are details (the GPX is downloadable):

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Joining Sarek


Who says isolated region says not easy to access. In addition, we leave in September which corresponds to the end of the season here, some services are already at a standstill.

First step: going to the North. We chose Kiruna once again as a base camp. You can also start from Gällivare which is accessible by train (but no longer by plane). Kiruna has the advantage of having an airport and some good hotels. It is the “city” of northern Sweden. To enter Sarek there are several “classic” points: Ritsem, Kvikkjokk and Saltoluokta. Since the lake crossings and the bus to Ritsem seemed complex because the services were finished for the season, we chose Kvikkjokk as an entry point and Saltoluokta as the exit.

Getting to Kvikkjokk by public transport from Kiruna, requires taking a train to Gällivare and then several buses and a taxi, in other words, it’s long and we did not have many days in front of us. So we chose a solution not “sexy” and rather expensive: the taxi. It is still 4h30 drive and around 5000SEK, three it’s better but good …

So we arrived on site on a Sunday, we bought gas for the stove on Monday morning and we took the taxi at 12h to arrive around 16h (driving sport driver …).

For the return of Saltoluoka it is “simply” taking two buses to Kiruna or one to Gällivare.

Here are some useful links to prepare transfers:

Also links to the main “resorts” in the area and information on lake crossings:

Warning: you will certainly have to cross lakes by boat, although some are rowing there are motor boat crossings. You will sometimes have no choice. By cons it is very expensive! Here is a non-exhaustive list valid for 2018:

  • Kvikkjokk-Padjalenta : 250SEK each
  • Sitojaure : 400SEK each (Twice a day or on demand)
  • Saltoluokta to the bus : 200SEK each
  • Ritsem : ??

No bank card for the first two but euros seem accepted. In the end, plan cash!

Day one - Departure and Padjelanta


We are September 10, 2018 in Kvikkjokk around 16:30, the weather is nice, the sun begins to be low in the sky and we are waiting at the water’s edge the arrival of the water taxi that should lead us to the beginning of the Padjelanta. We are all three, with Quentin and Matthieu, eager to immerse ourselves for 9 days and 170km in the Sarek. We had only a hurry after last year and the Kungsleden: come back and make even more wild, here we are!

Our “pilot” arrives with a few passengers coming back from Padjelanta. We see with him some details and we embark for 10min of boat. Although early September, autumn has already established its camp here. The birches are dressed in their yellow-red hues, it’s beautiful. The sunlight is soothing. We slide on the water quietly, what a nice way to start a trek.

The jetty is sketchy but there is a small cabin next door for hikers who missed the last boat. We take the time to discuss with the pilot about the route, the passages of lakes, … First a little gruff, it will prove quite nice and will give us good advice.

Now we are alone, the bags are loaded on our backs that bear the weight of the 10 days of food but we are going the light heart on a very good way, marked and easy. This is also a good thing because we will spend two days along it, the time to warm our leg before attacking the heart of the subject.

We will do 7km tonight. Nothing really difficult. The landscapes are pleasant but not particularly impressive because one evolves mainly in dense forest. There are some comfortable bivouac areas along the way. So we settle down at nightfall, not far from the river.

The time to get on camp and eat and the rain begins to fall in fine drops which precipitates our movement back into the sleeping bag warm and soft.

End of the first day which will have been especially a day of transfer. We really attack the march tomorrow with at least 18km to go. In the meantime: good night!

Day 2 - Futher along the Padjelanta


It has rained all night and the environment is particularly humid this morning. We will bend the camp under the drizzle of what hasten our departure.

Today we continue along the Padjelanta. So we are progressing easily even if the rain has made some passages slippery (including the famous boardwalks crossing the marshes). After some time we start to leave the forest at times, allowing us to admire the extension of the valley for kilometers downstream and upstream. We have, for the moment, only met one person at the Nunjes cabin and that will be all for the day …

We are fit and happy to be here. Even if the weather is not good, the weather is not unpleasant. The sun plays with the dense clouds and creates beautiful contrast on the orange birches.

There is not much to say about this particular day. The landscapes remind us a lot of those of the Kungsleden for now but can be at more impressive dimensions.

In the evening (around 16h – the sun setting at 19:30, we shifted the day: get up 6h bed 21h), we will put the camp a little before Såmmarlappstugan, where the path comes very close to the river. It is a nice spot for the bivouac with a beautiful view of the surrounding hills. Unfortunately we will have the right to a succession of small showers all the evening. We still managed to light a fire despite the wet wood but it will not heat very hard.

We do not stay late tonight. The sun setting early and rain not helping but especially we are tired of these first 20km. You have to give the body time to get used to it, it will be better in a day or two.

For now we fall asleep, rocked by the plop plop rain on the tent. It’s nice to feel a little further from civilization tonight but I can not wait to be really isolated, just a few days of patience.

Day 3 - End of Tarradalen and end of path


A second rainy night. We are bending a wet camp again but at least it has stopped raining for now.

We will arrive quickly at Såmmarlappstugan where we will cross the caretaker doing the cleaning before closing. He expected to leave this afternoon. The time to chat and admire the morning mist on the river and we take the road on the Padjelanta which rises slightly here.

The vegetation is becoming more and more sparse as the day progresses, this allows us to enjoy the view of the entire valley.

We will arrive in view of the cabins of Darreluoppal in the early afternoon. We will meet three people in this area who will be the last for 48h.

Another hour of walking and we are at the cabins.

We will arrive at the cabins in the middle of the afternoon. Then the big question is whether we continue a little way or if we stop here for the night and enjoy the comfort of the winter cabin …

After deliberation, we choose to push further. It will always be won … So we go back on the road again a few hundred meters. Indeed it is here that we come out to walk in the pampas freely. So we choose to cross the river (we will stay west of it for later), climb a little on the heights and finally out of the way.

It is amazing how this little step aside, the one that leads you off trail, is loaded with a strong symbolism in my opinion. By this small step one finds a kind of total freedom, one can walk where one wants, as one wants, having for only constraint the ground. However, we also leave a reassuring line that leads from a point A to a point B without asking too much question. Inwardly, therefore, we must accept all this freedom. For my part I will have to wait a few hours off trail to just find a nice feeling of walking in freedom.

In any case, what reassures me is the field. I was afraid that it is complicated on this section but for now it is grass with some bushes and rockeries. Nothing really bad.

We will not be long in crossing our first reindeer in this ground which is ideal for them. They usually move in a small group of about ten individuals, but one can cross larger herds.

After twenty kilometers we will set up the camp right next to the river Vassjajåhkå to the right of Lake Vassjajavrtja. A very nice location with a beautiful view and relatively sheltered from the wind.

The bivouac quickly installed, we take advantage of the fact that it is still early to go about our business: photo, rest or hunt wild berries that abound in the area.

It will not be long before we have successive visits of small groups of reindeer to the other side of the river. They still keep their distance but it’s a nice show while we eat our lyophi well protected from the wind. In the evening, temperatures fall quickly and it is difficult to stay outdoors for a long time after eating.

Thus ends the third day of walking. For the moment everything is fine if it is a few small sores and a little tired but nothing abnormal.

It’s the first night I feel like I’m far from civilization and still, in the end, there are the cabins that are a short walk away … In any case, the morale is good the physicist is following and I can not wait to get a little further into Lapland.

Day 4 - Off tracks and Lake Crossing


Here we are, today we really enter the  Sarek whose limit is represented by the small river next to which we camp.

The night was cool but good. We are starting to get a good run on camp storage and we are quickly back on track for our 20km daily.

We continue towards Alggajavrre Lake. The off-trail progression is much easier than I expected and that’s good! Even the few streams to cross are low enough not to bother us too much. We are moving relatively quickly in this beautiful valley. We pass small passes in small passes, revealing each time a new perspective. Here, more trees obviously but the grassy steppe as far as the eye can see. I love this kind of landscape. It feels very small and you breathe.

We will quickly pass the barrier reindeer that serves the Sami to gather their animals. We will cross it at the river but there must be “doors” to cross it elsewhere I guess. The meal break will be done a little further, in front of the Renvaktarstuga.

The Renvaktarstuga are private cabins that belong to the Sames, so you can not use them as a refuge for the evening. On the maps you will find further indications “Låst” or “Forfallen” next to some huts; it means “locked” and “ruined” respectively.

A little after the meal break, we will come across our first crossing a little complex of river. Indeed we find here the confluence of two arms which form a rather important stream in the end. It is therefore necessary to cross a little after the Renvaktarstuga and stay to the west of all the rivers (left bank). We will arrive after some research time to cross (almost) dry by jumping from rocks to rocks. Once again I think we are lucky because the level of lessons is low in this season, it must go very differently in the spring and the crossing must be much more difficult!

We will quickly see Alggajàvrre which marks our entry point into Sarek and a little above Alkavare Kapell, a small chapel, a remnant of a period of mining exploration in the area.

To cross the lake there are two possibilities: row or pass by a bridge. You will find to the north-west end and under the Kapell, boats to cross the river.

The system of the three boats: it is a system that you will find in Sweden and Norway. To cross the train you have two possibilities. Either there are two boats on your side and you take one to cross, or there is only one boat on your side and you will have to cross, come back to drop a second boat which is on the other side and cross a new time. In summary with three boats, we make sure that there is always at least one on each side and it is the responsibility of the user to ensure it. It is therefore necessary to play the game even if it can take time (we will come back to the crossing of Sitojaure) and ensure that there is always a boat at least on each side.

No luck for us, there is only one boat on our side. But hey, the crossing must be 300m, we should get by.

We load our stuff, the guys and the last (me) pushes the boat to finish putting it in the water but the problem: it blocks! It can not be taken off. The water level is so low that near the bank there is not enough for the boat to float …

It will be nice to unload, no means to properly float the boat …. Good … Since we know that there is a bridge a little higher we do not take the head: we unload the boat and we go back to the bridge. I think it could have been put in the water by emptying bags and all, removing the shoes and pushing in the water but except a certain laziness to do all that, we did not know the depth either on the rest of the course, the bridge seemed a good alternative. Suffice it to say that 2018 was a particularly hot year for Sweden, even in the Arctic, which must partly explain the low level of the lake.

So here we are on the way to the “Bro” which is about 2km higher (to locate the area from far it is in the set of small hillocks that can be seen quickly by leaving the area of ​​the boat). So we reach it quickly and we quickly realize that it pulls a little face this bridge …

In addition to its rusty side and the few hanging ends, we have the right to a beautiful sign with a raised hand that seems to indicate a ban to pass … Not having too much choice we start anyway, one by a. It creaks and it squeaks but it goes. Honestly, we were not reassured at all at the crossing and I advise you to be very careful if you go there … (Back in France and after translation, we will realize that the sign means that the bridge is repair and do not borrow it …).

Here we are on the other side … Half turn then and it is left towards the Kapell that we will reach relatively quickly if it is the crossing of the river Gajnajjågåsj which will take us a little time because we have a search for a dry passage.

The detour by the bridge has consumed time and we have made less progress than expected. So we want to continue at least to the east end of the lake.

We are now progressing in a kind of miniature forest composed of bushes, height height or shoulders, particularly dense which makes navigation and progression particularly difficult. So we move slowly while making our way. It makes sense to have a path in the corner but you can not find it and try it up or down, there is nothing to do and frankly it annoys me! In addition to Quentin begins to have a suspicious knee pain, we will have to be vigilant.

We will finally arrive at the end of the lake and a not too bad place for the bivouac after 23km of walking … a good day.

The setting up of the bivouac is accompanied by a “nice” small fine rain that will not let go of the evening … So for me a moment a little gloomy in the gray and the cold. It’s a shame, the corner must be beautiful under the sun.

Once again we will not be slow to join our down especially since we are very tired tonight but well be happy, we are concretely in the Sarek tonight and we will begin to explore it tomorrow!

Day 5 - Alggavàgge and magic hut


Cold and rainy night! The alarm clock is not so easy … but the landscape compensates: indeed a light layer of snow sprinkled the head of the surrounding mountains is beautiful. The morning atmosphere is very serene but the clouds will soon come back to their appearance bringing the rain …

We go back on the road looking for the famous path that must pass in the area. So honestly, except for some traces of passages that are due to humans but also to reindeer, we will not find a good path for a moment. No, we will have the right to these horrible bushes which are, moreover, soaked this morning! So we are all wet pants and it goes into the socks by capillarity. So I quickly wet feet and to be honest, they will not dry before the end of the stay … It progresses very slowly and galley, it’s a dirty start to the day! To top it off, Quentin’s knee pain is sharp and very similar to tendonitis. This is worrying for the future because we are at least 40-50km from an exit point … So it will be necessary for the knee to hold!

After this horrible area, we finally arrive in a clear space that allows us to walk a little faster even if we sometimes progress in the marsh that ends to moisten us. On the other hand, the view is superb and the mountains keep their snow cap.

We will take the lunch break (at 11h …) on a small prominence and with a magnificent view of the valley towards the west with a large herd of reindeer below. Magnificent.

We begin the descent on the west side of the valley. In the distance the snow-capped peaks and glaciers of Mihkatjåhkkå and Māhtujåhkkå.

The descent is easy and beautiful. Do not cross the Ahkavegge, on the contrary at this level stay on the left of the valley (north side). You will see in the distance a Renvaktarstuga, that the semblance of path crosses on the left. We will cross here a beautiful herd of reindeer curious enough to come to about thirty meters.

The confluence of two valleys offers a magnificent landscape. It’s superb, that’s what we came for.

We arrive after this beautiful meeting to a potentially delicate passage: the crossing of the Guohperjåhkå. Do this “under” the reflaktarstuga, there are cairns that indicate the passage. Once again, our crossing was made easier by the low level of the river but in spring it must be another pair of sleeves!

The continuation of the progression will be relatively boring especially that it drizzles! There is not really a well marked path, at most reindeer tracks … Try to stay on the heights it will be easier to move forward. In any case after a while, we finally see the little hut next to the bridge that allows to cross the gorge of Skàrjà. I’m happy we did not get very far, we improve in navigation. I can not wait for it to arrive because Quentin has a lot of pain in his knee, he has to rest it.

The descent to the hut will be fast. This one is stupid but there is the essential: a table, two benches and a space of “storage”. By cons not enough to sleep properly, so we put the tents outside because we stop here for today. The sun makes its appearance again after a little while. The corner is really beautiful because it is at the confluence of several valleys. At 360 °, summits, valleys and the raw beauty of the country Samis.

As I said we will stay here for the night. The place is beautiful, it is nice and then it will be good to be a little sheltered to eat and do the evening.

This little hut, Mikkastuga, is a real moment of relaxation and happiness in the trek, a breath of fresh air that allows us to find a semblance of comfort. So we will spend the end of the afternoon to warm up quietly in the sun or tidy up a little, clean, … We will have the visit of a Finn who walks for 2 weeks in the Sarek, to make summits, a colorful character but who knew the “job”!

The hours go by, the light changes continuously, I want to redo the same photo every 15min. That these great spaces are beautiful!

In the evening we will have a king feast: sausage, cheese, pistachios, the famous four-cheese freeze-dried fondue that has become a tradition of hiking, soup, chocolate mousse lyophi, caramelized almonds … What to redo the calorie stock for the next day !

We are well, it is cold but there is no wind which makes things bearable. We spend a little time playing cards before joining our apartments outside after some final night shots. This evening is the best I spent trekking and this bivouac (luxury) is one of the most beautiful of these holidays. That will have done us a good crazy in this middle of course.

I fall asleep happy, unaware of the horrible day that awaits us tomorrow …

Day 6 - Horror


Morning rise and cold to change … At least it does not rain … for now. We fold the camp and we leave.

Here there is a path not too badly drawn, we lose it from time to time but we end up finding it in general. Quentin’s knee pulls a little but we took some gear to lighten his bag, it seems to stabilize the pain at least …

You will see this portion of the path is not complicated. There are three streams to cross, no problem for us but be careful in the spring. Only the Tjåggnårisjåhkå asks us to spend some time looking for a dry passage. The track forks after the river. You have to aim for the little prominence in the distance called Bielavàràsj (on my right side of the board).

It is from this point that the rain returns. At first light, it becomes stronger as and when. For now it’s okay if the atmosphere is less pleasant. In any case the view is beautiful and the valley impressive. One last rainy photo before the beginning of the horror.

The rest of the way takes us to the technical part of the day. The path passes under the big cliff of Bieltjåhkkå. We meet a duo father / daughter who warns that it slides hard and indeed already it is smooth rock and rain does not help! To top it off, the water-soaked vegetation soaks our pants and the rain always falls harder. So we move in this passage by moving slowly because it really slips.

After 45 minutes, we start to get wet. We finally reach the plateau of Lake Sàvvajavrre and there we go to a whole new level. Already we are almost 1000m, the mercury has fallen well, but we have a strong headwind (about 50km / h) and we are in the clouds. So take rain, wind and a temperature around 0 ° C and you have the great combo. Quickly we find ourselves wet to the underpants (literally), the goretex gives up the game and we are immediately wet at the torso. Basically we are fully soaked!

Then starts a long moment of struggle, we lose our temperature extremely fast, so we start to walk like crazy. Heads down in the wind, we advance as quickly as possible to warm from the inside. We do not talk anymore or just some jokes from time to time to warm up the atmosphere.

We will talk about it together next but I can tell you that at that moment we all felt extremely vulnerable in the middle. Already we are 60km from any civilization, the telephone network does not pass obviously and even if necessary the relief could not intervene by this weather. So we are all alone, walking like ghosts to escape this plateau that is literally sucking all traces of heat in our bodies.

Further, before attacking the descent, we will make the ghostly meeting of a group of reindeer posed waiting for the end of the storm. The descent sounds like the exit door of this hell of fog.

The few tens of meters of elevations remount slightly the thermometer but we are soaked and we stay cold. We continue to move forward. We will arrive quickly in a forest of sodden birches that will continue to wet us.

After long kilometers, we finally find a spot where to land. The camp is hastily mounted and we jump into our respective tents. Matthieu and I are in underwear because all our clothes are soaked. Directly under the cover of survival time to resume a few degrees. Quickly we dress with dry clothes (thankfully the backpacks have not (or little) taken the water) and we take refuge in our down.

It will take us 3 hours to return to a suitable temperature! The rain fell continuously for 7 hours. The “evening” around 17h it finally stops and it’s happy because we have to eat something hot to recover. So we go out “cook” in underpants because the pants are soaked. The clouds have finally risen and reveal a beautiful scenery. We spend a good time with our lyophi and the view. It’s crazy the speed with which we go from one emotion to another on a hike: we alternate between saying “but why are I fucking here? Why am I doing this?” at times of grace offered by a view, a hot little thing to eat or just a good joke. It is also that finally that one comes to look here, the simple things which have a real beneficent impact on you.

We will go to bed early, rain resuming in the early evening. Fortunately our sleeping bags are not wet.

This day will have been very rich in teaching, first and even if we know it is the speed at which a difficult situation can happen, it is also the fact that the water will always cross but it is especially the harshness of the climate here. This day changed our perception of this trek. We went from wild “walk” to engaged hike. Tonight we especially want to get out of here. Our arrival in Rapadalen will have been very sporting.

In terms of feedback, I think we have prepared too much in “French Mountains” mode. Sweden requires a particular approach especially in terms of moisture management. Afterwards, we will have to review some points. But let’s be reassured too, we overcame that and the Swedish father / daughter duo we met today will say to Saltoluokta (where we find them) that they had a lot of problems too and it was hard so good, if even experienced local galley, it’s ok!

In the meantime I fall asleep, exhausted, warm and listening to the rain outside. I hope it will stop by tomorrow morning.

Day 7 - Rapadalen


It rained again tonight but at least this morning it stopped … By cons everything is obviously wet from yesterday. I must admit that this morning I have no desire to get up and put on clothes full of water (pants, socks, …).

But hey … you have to go. We fold the camp and we start. It was not too bad recovery from the day before but Quentin still has bad left knee and the right one starts to make his too … it’s not good sign and we have 60km to go …

The beginning of the path is still and always in the dense and wet forest, we will not dry today … By road I hear a vague trace of track that seems to have been recently trod by a human given the few footprints that we find here and there. It is far from the beautiful Padjelanta and its 4-star layout. Here no boardwalk in the swamps, you have to go straight and up to mid-calves sometimes. And marsh level we are served today. Anyway to summarize we have the choice between the forest of wet birches, swamps and a bush dense to the height of man who whips your face … A real treat.

In spite of everything one progresses and the few passages close to the water reveal every time a splendid landscape with, in the background, the Gådoktjåhkkå all sprinkled with fresh snow.

The further we go, the less the trace is visible. It often disappears in rivers and marshes.

Early afternoon, Nammàsj (pronounced Nammatche) is in sight, it’s our destination. We are trying to set up camp near the landing stage that normally leads to Akste but is no longer operational at this time.

We will reach our destination around 16h. We have a nice bivouac area and above all an incredible view of Rapadalen.

The camp installed, we s’atèle our classic tasks: drying business (we even have the chance to have the sun!), Photo, foot care … Moreover, when it comes to feet, mine start to get a little tired of being so wet that I have some open sores on the heels and a toe that starts gently to purge … but hey, when you walk 8 hours a day in swamps you must not s’ wait for better – we also meet a Swede later who had an interesting philosophy: “Get wet and accept” (Be soaked and accept it) …

We will light a small fire tonight. What to warm a little even if the wet wood does not heat very hard.

The day was good in the end and we made good progress despite the difficult terrain and the knee of Quentin. The bivouac is really beautiful and pleasant. Once again, the lights of the self make you want to take pictures continuously.

Because it’s freezing, we will soon be joining our down.

Day 8 - Skierffe, Kungsleden and Sitojaure


It was cold tonight! With Matthieu it was because we are two in the tent and we have good duvets but Quentin is well peeled. We had about -5 ° C. The funny thing is that since everything is soaked, and everything has frozen, even the shoes. So we have the good fortune to put good big blocks of ice right after the sunrise.

By cons who says cool night said pretty sunny morning atmosphere :

The first step of the day is to climb the Skierffe. Just 600m from D +, it is not huge but there is no way on this side which changes the situation in the end. So we start off trail through the birch forest once again relatively dense.

In order to find you I advise you to aim at the waterfall that descends to the left of the Skierffe. Following this course you will not encounter any major difficulties. There is just the Nammàsjjåhkå to cross but looking a bit you can find a watchtower.

We arrive quickly at the beginning of the climb which is done largely in the forest. The slope is quite steep and the lack of path does not help but by going quietly no worries. In addition, the view is more and more beautiful as one raises what gives balm to the heart:

You will reach a “false” plane at the top of the climb where trees are scarce. Take direction to the right (full east) at this time. Once the cascade has passed from above, you start the long final slope towards the summit. I advise you not to walk too close to the cliff, already for safety but especially to have the surprise of the view when you reach the highest point of Skierffe.

And I must tell you that this view is absolutely beautiful! From above you kiss in a glance Rapadalen and its delta, Nammàsj very small down, Tjahkelij, the lakes of Làjtavrre and Tjaktjajàvrre, … It’s amazing! To the north you can also admire the large empty moors that extend to Lake Sitojaure. The Skierffe keeps its promises in any case and we are happy and far from the harshness of the last days. That’s why we walk: to see these unique and wonderful landscapes with our own eyes.

We take advantage of this magical place to make our lunch break. However at 1179m altitude it is cold especially in the Far North, we cool quickly being static. Still some photos and we take the road again.

The continuation of the path must lead us to the lake Sitojaure, for that we must reach the Kungsleden but the path goes down to Akste to go up. So we decide to cut straight past the Doaresoajvve. We find ourselves again off the trail in a very pleasant terrain walking freely. The landscapes are superb: tundra as far as the eye can see with a backdrop of great peaks all white.

We finally reach the Kungsleden which seems to us a highway after these 7 days in the pampas: the path is wide, perfectly marked and marked up every 10m. In short we advance quickly on the end of the plateau and then in a forest / swamp relatively sad.

Around 16:30 we arrive in sight of the little cabin near the pier which allows to cross the lake. From here we can take a motor boat but as we do not have enough Swedish crowns on us (400Kr / pers), we say that we will row on the 4.5km except that … there a 0 rowing boat! There should be at least one except that no … It’s a problem!

Fortunately for us there is an American waiting for 1h the boat to pass the other side. We will wait until the driver arrives and see with her how we can arrange to pay for our crossing (euros, transfer, ..).

Then starts the wait, we do not know what time it will pass, there is just a word saying that it will … We wait while chatting with the American hiker, nibbling, improvising a petanque to pebble base, …

Time passes and is long, after 2 hours of waiting we begin to wonder what we will do ….

Fortunately, our pilot will arrive around 18:30. Fortunately she also accepts euros, so we will be able to cross tonight and not waste time. So we embark all four and left for 10 minutes crossing.

The distance is really long to the small village on the other side. I think that rowing is possible but it is a good step not to undertake if there is too much wind! And I’m not even talking about the case where you have to make an extra round trip to bring a boat to the other side. I advise you to prefer the passage with the motorboat even if it is expensive.

We arrive on the other side, we land and we take the time to chat with the pilot who is also a reindeer breeder. Initially we thought we would stay well at the Sitojaurestugorna for the night (a refuge) but she advised us to continue the road 3km further to bivouac and spend the 50 € of the night (500kr) Saltoluokta is more fun according to her.

So we take the road at dusk walking quickly to try not to arrive at night. The Kungsleden is still “rolling”, so we need just 45 minutes to cover the 3km to the bivouac near a water point.

It’s already dark when we get on camp. We will have the visit of a beautiful red fox, not afraid who will approach a few meters to glean a little food I think. He will leave after a while leaving us to our lyophi eaten in the light of the headlight.

The sky is clear, it will still be cold tonight. We sleep for the last time in our tents because tomorrow is the last day.

Day 9 - Last day toward Saltoluokta


The mercury is still down well tonight as evidenced by the frozen tent awakening. The rising sun also reveals the beautiful landscape that surrounds us and which we could not enjoy yesterday. I love these early morning atmosphere where everything is calm and peaceful.

We fold the camp one last time and we take the road for the 15km that separate us from the Saltoluokta fjallstation.

The landscapes are really beautiful all along this stretch of road, moreover we are lucky to have a big sun today, the perfect time to finish the trek. It’s the first day without any rain.

So we go forward the light heart happy to find the civilization after these 8 days not always easy.

It will take us only 4 hours to travel the distance that separates us from the “resort”, 4 hours of show offered by nature:

We will arrive in Saltoluokta around 13h. There are a lot of people here, it’s even surprising and a little destabilizing after a week having almost nobody. I always need a little moment to land …

The rest of the day will be shared between a small beer, a sauna tour with a beautiful view of the lake and the valley, a good evening meal (~ 25 €).

In the evening we will wait for the dawn and we will be rewarded by a beautiful show! A great way to finish this trek.

We will fall asleep with our head full of northern lights in our room.

The next day we will take the boat at 12:30 and then the bus to Kiruna where we will spend a day before returning to France.

From the bus ride, we will feel a nostalgia for the great outdoors and the “Wild”. Unfortunately we say goodbye to Lapland but already we want to go back to live such an experience again.

Conclusions


What an adventure ! I wanted to go to Sarek as soon as I heard about it and my hopes were not disappointed. Sarek is wild, hard, beautiful, breathtaking. The dimension of Nature, whether landscape or weather, make you feel very small. It is rare nowadays, in Europe at least, to walk 3, 5 or even 7 days without crossing a real human structure or even people or just 2min time to cross.

This trek will have been one of the hardest that I have done and it is the same for my acolytes. The field was the main difficulty but the weather will have arranged nothing. But besides that, the reward offered by the landscapes and all these little indescribable moments largely compensate for the difficulties. A few days after our return Quentin was talking about amnesia to pain, I like this picture. We forget what was wrong and we only keep the good and we immediately want to leave a little further, a little longer. I do not know yet where it will be, but what is certain is that the call of the North will still be strong in the coming months.


Bouquetins au col de la Vache - GR738

GR738 - Crossing Belledonne

8days

trekking

130km

walked

10000m

D+

10

mountain goats

It’s been a long time I wished to walk along the Belledonne Mountain Range. The creation of the GR738 was a perfect time to do it and to discover this beautiful but unknown place of the French Alps.

In France the “GR – Grandes Randonnées” are some long hiking paths managed by the French Hiking Association. This are awesome paths to discover the French mountains, country or even seaside.

Follow me along this 8 days on this difficult hiking path wild and lonely, only 4h away from Paris.

Belledonne and the GR738


Belledonne extends from Chambery to Grenoble. The mountain range is 60km long and 10km wide. Its highest point is the “Grand Pic de Belledonne” at 2977m. It is one of the last mountain range not being a natural park but some projects are being leaded this way. Less know than the Ecrins, the Vanoise or the Vercors, Belledonne offers a large choice of interesting hikes in marvelous landscapes, all of this far from the crowd. It is easily reachable by car but also by train.

Belledonne is a place of pastoralism so you will cross herds of sheep guarded by sherped dogs called Patou. The fauna is rich, you will meet Ibexes, mountains goats and the wolf is also there especially in the nord side.

Patou : this dogs are raised to guard and protect the sheeps. This are defense dogs so they will not let anyone coming near the herd even a hiker. So beware approaching a herd because several people are bitten every years.

How to behave meeting a Patou :

  • Do not cross a herd of sheeps, always go around or pass it keeping your distance.
  • The Patou, when it spots you, will come running towards you and barking loudly to “mark” his territory. He will then smell you and evaluate the threat you represent. Talk to him gently, without shouting, stop the time he “scans” you or continue to walk quietly, have a calm attitude to put him in confidence. He will accompany you as you move away from the herd.
  • Do not run or be threatening of any kind. Do not brand a walking stick for example. Any action that can be interpreted by the dog as aggression could lead to aggressive behavior.
  • If you have a dog with you, do not take it in your arms

The trails that make up the GR738 are not from yesterday, they were known as the “Shepherds Trail” before, but the official status of GR dates from 2017 with an official opening in the summer of 2018. When I traveled the GR (July 2018), the section between the “Col de la Vache” and the “Brèche de la Roche Fendue” was not yet marked GR (but there is a markup consisting of a yellow line and / or blue points) but this should be finalized in 2018. With these 130km long and 10 000m of elevation gain, the GR738 is positioned as a long and difficult mountain range crossing like the GR54 or the famous GR20. One of the specificities of the GR that marked me is the few village that we cross. If you want to go independently, you will have to provide food for almost the entire hike. If you do not want to carry heavy laods, it is also possible to go from shelter to shelter.

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As I said before, Belledonne is not crowded and wild, so you will hike meeting few people especially in the most remote parts. For having traveled, the GR738 is a beautiful trek, quite physically demanding but rewarding in terms of landscapes especially on the Seven Laux – La Pra section.

Day 1 - Departure from Paris and first kilometers


We are July the 06, 2018 at Gare de Lyon, let’s go for 8 days of hiking along the GR738. I will be solo for this trek because I had to do it with my brother but his holidays have been canceled unfortunately … This is the first big hike of the year and I didn’t train a lot recently (…), we will see how it goes physically knowing that the backpack is particularly heavy because I have 8 days of food with me since I want to be completely autonomous.

Direction Aiguebelle to join the beginning of the GR738. The trip is fast because the village is 30 minutes from Chambery that is reached in 3 hours from Paris by TGV.

So here I am at the beginning of the 130km that separate me from Vizille, the end of the GR. To find the beginning of the path, join the main street of the village towards the NW. The first red and white marks that will accompany you for a few days are located at the junction of the road that climbs towards the Planay (it’s a pity that there is no small sign marking the beginning of the trail, whatever something a little solemn).

So let’s say it right away, I do not like the first days of walking, in general it’s difficult (the time to launch the machine), it’s not beautiful in terms of landscape and I always make a mistake of navigation. And you know what … I got the winning trio this time! The climb over Aiguebelle is not very pretty and I will be accompanied by flies and horseflies. The bag is heavy, I’m not “warm” and the fatigue of the trip makes it hard on this first day. To top it off, I’ll go in wrong a direction at Les Bugnons  adding 2 or 3 useless km!

I choose to keep the location name in French so that it is easier to find them on the map.

The goal today was to go up to Fort Montgilbert and camp there. I arrive at 7pm, exhausted (…) and harassed by mosquitoes – a hell! No adequate surface to put the tent, I decided to push further in the hope of finding a better place.

In the end, I will stay next to a forest track and I will spend the evening in the tent because mosquitoes made the outside unbearable … This is a typical first day! I hope it will be better tomorrow. For the moment sleeping, it is necessary to recover for the continuation.

Day 2 - From Fort Montgilbert to Refuge de la Perrière


Early wake up and fast packaging. It’s a long day waiting for me: 17km and 1700m of climbing ! Few hundred meters away from my camp I cross an old tower with a place that would have been perfect to put the tent … Too bad!

The trail then goes down to a small village called Les Granges, I meet briefliy a mountain goat in the descent in the undergrowth. In the village, the GR738 passes on the other side of the valley, in the shade, to go up towards Col du Champet.

The climb for the pass is long, I physically in pain and tired. I pay for the lack of training this year. Fortunately the trail oes under the foret cover.

Arrived at the pass I give myself a little break, time to nibble. Trees begin to be rare at this altitude (~ 1800m); the surrounding mountains show themselves, the landscape has already changed and is more beautiful.

The GR738 then leads to the summit of the Grand Chat (1992m) and runs along the ridge to Frog Lake – LAc des Grenouilles. It is a nice passage but I have a little trouble to enjoy because I have more water for some time and it is very hot. Unfortunately the place is dry …

Fortunately, I cross the little “lake of frogs” that allows me to drink a little even if it is not deep and the water a little muddy (thank you straw filter …). On the other hand on this one there I show some stupidity given that a few meters lower (but hide at the sight from the lake) is the refuge of Arbarétan to which there is water …

Bakc on the trail after this short refreshing break. Next key passage, the Col de la Perche (1988m) that I quickly join. You must then descend relatively low before climbing the Col de la Perrière (1979m). On the way we cross the spring of Gargoton which is full of charm and which allows me especially to drink to my thirst and refuel. I give myself a good break before attacking the 300/400 m climb.

The ascent to the pass is not complex in itself but I’m really getting tired today. I can not wait to get to the shelter of La Perrière and breathe a little.

The latter is located not far from the pass slightly below. It is a pretty cabin with about fifteen beds. The building has been entirely renovated by the association “Tous à poêle” in 2018. Although not guarded, the refuge of the Perrière offers a good comfort. It is also popular with locals because it can be reached from Val Pelouse in 50min walking. Since we are Saturday, quite a lot of families have come with their children and the shelter will be full tonight. For my part I will put my tent outside to sleep in peace.

I’m happy to arrive because I’m exhausted. It is not too late, so I have time to enjoy the place and the atmosphere. It will follow a pleasant evening animated by children’s games and the friendly atmosphere. The sunset is beautiful.

From here I see my goal tomorrow, the Col de Claran (1956m) which is only 4km in staight line but which will require a good ride again.

My feeling is shared tonight because although the place is nice and there is a pleasant atmosphere, the GR738 has not particularly impressed me with its landscapes. On the other hand physically I’m suffering and I hope that the next days will be better. For now let’s have a good night’s sleep.

Day 3 - From Refuge de la Perrière to Refuge de la Pierre du Carre


The night was good even though I wake up with my legs and my back stiff . I am the only one awake, it is dawn, the atmosphere is soothing. The “camp” is quickly folded and I start on my way to Refuge des Férices.

This stage of the GR738 begins with a nice climb to the Col de la Frèche (2183m) enough to warm you up in the morning!

The terrain has changed since yesterday. It’s wilder, more rocky, I prefer it. Once at the pass, the path goes from combe in combe to cliff side down nicely towards the Ferices. This portion is very beautiful, very wild but be careful the path can be steep (especially downhill). Be careful especially if you are hiking with children.

I reach the little rustic Refuge des Férices which is a simple stone hut with just enough installation inside. I think this place has a lot of charm and the place it is in is really beautiful.

I give myself a long break before heading to the Chalet de Pré Nouveau some 400m below.

The knees are painful in the descent and the fatigue of the last days is there. This portion unlike the previous one has little charm … I will cross in this descent the only other people of my 8 days having traveled the GR738 in full …

Lunch break at the cabin (which is closed) before beginning the ascent to the Claran.

Again this portion is not very pretty because it evolves in dense vegetation and very wet. It is only at the approach of the Claran refuge (1828m) that the landscape opens again. In any case, the climb is long and difficult for me …

The final climb to the finish collar will tire me even though the view is beautiful. Behind the shelter of the Pierre du Carre is revealed with him the idea of ​​a good cold beer. By cons it seems much closer than it is in reality and the descent is a torture for my knees.

I finally reach the refuge, exhausted once again … There are few people and I will quickly find myself alone with the guards. I eat a good portion of blueberry pie with a well deserved beer, best moment of the day. Once again and as often, the view of the refuge is beautiful.

I will spend a lot of time talking to the caretaker and his wife who are very hospitable. If you pass in the area, I really advise you to spend a night or just some time to eat because there is a pleasant atmosphere of “family refuge” that sometimes gets lost with large establishments.

There are a few pitches above the refuge to set up the tent. They offer a nice view of the valley.

I go to bed early because I need to recover. I’m getting worried for the future and I hope I’m going to hold physically. Walking alone does not help because I have no one to motivate me when I’m tired. The group provides a nice energy.

I fall asleep tonight, lulled by the “scare to wolf” (blank shots of gas cannon) of the shepherd who is a little higher on the mountain.

Day 4 - From Refuge de la Pierre du Carre to Chalet du Léat


Fourth day … my little rituals are well-honed and I get up again early and I fold the camp quickly. The day begins with a long descent … I do not like descents, especially at the beginning of the day.

This one is particularly ugly and not pleasant because the morning dew has soaked everything and it skids. It breaks my spirits and already that I began to tell myself that I will not be able to finish the GR738, this descent undermines me a little more.

Consequence: arrived at the T-fork when the trail joins a forest track, I seriously ask myself whether I continue GR738 or not. It is a scene that would be very cinematographic with the following cornelian choice: to the left the GR, to the right the return home punctuated by a failure. I call my girlfriend to the rescue who finds the words to motivate me and convinces me to continue.

Direction the left and the motivation to finish this GR738 !!

The path follows the forest trail for a good distance. It is not very pretty but at least the ground is good and in the shade. Arrived at the Praillet 1700m, the trail begins a gentle descent through the pastures towards the Aup Bernard that I reach quickly.

After the Aup Bernard and a rehydration break, another descent towards the  Bourgeat Noir awaits me. There is not much to say about this portion again, except that once walks under the trees which is both pleasant because we are in the shade but from a landscape point of view I prefer big open spaces.

Arrived at the village, the GR738 rises normally towards Refuge of the Oule but I will have to double my stage tomorrow to hold my planning, so I make the choice to take a direct route towards the chalet of Léat and thus to gain a little time for tomorrow.

The path in question evolves in the forest (fortunately because it is very hot) but climbs very very strong! I have the chance to meet a mom and her daughter who are hiking to the day between the Léat and Oule and I go up with them, it’s more motivating and it allows to chat.

I am very happy to arrive at the chalet which is nestled right next to the pretty Lac du Léat in a small depression. It is a beautiful place and the cottage is very well maintained.

We share a little mint tea with my two climbing friends before they get on their way again. Soon a pair of walkers arrived to spend the night at the shelter as well. We will be joined a little later by a group of fifties’ very nice. In the end it’s a nice evening that I spend. The surroundings of the chalet are really pretty especially in the orange light of the evening.

I put my tent right next to the shelter. Tomorrow, direction the Sept Laux, for, I think, a new approach of the GR738 because it will be a much more “mountain” and rocky environment.

Day 5 - From Chalet du Léat to the Sept Laux


I did well to sleep in my tent and not in the shelter because there was snorers! I even heard them from outside!

Long day in perspective because today I double a stage (even if the stage until La Martinette is not very long) and tonight I’ll be at the Sept Laux.

To change, the day begins with a descent without great interest towards the bottom of the valley, from there you go towards La Martinette.

Then begins the long climb of 1100m to the Seven Laux. It is early so I have plenty of time to climb this drop and I go quietly at my own pace.

From what I’ve been told, prefer the GR738 trail rather than the one that passes by the “Cul de la Vieille” (translation : the old woman’s ass 🙂 ) because this passage requires to use your hands which is not ideal with the bag . The climb is beautiful and wild, we go between the scree and on nice trails gradually taking the height. There is nobody again and it is sunny.

Once at the Lac Noir, you are almost there. Another 10min and finally the Refuge des Sept Laux is revealed on a small piece of rock between the lakes. The Sept Laux are a huge hydropower complex created by EDF (French Electical compagny)(I imagine that there must still be lakes initially). There are many lakes larger or smaller that communicate together. At this time the lakes are low as can be seen in the photos but it’s nice all the same, especially in the direction of the south.

I sit on the terrace of the refuge to eat a good omelette. I chat a little with the hikers present and I enjoy the satisfaction of having climb these 1100m especially that I feel much better physically, so I am confident to finish the GR738.

It is whe planning the next few days that I realize my mistake: I have not counted the stages well and I miss a day. Currently I miss my train !! So I’ll have to double another stage … By analyzing a little bit the map and the rest of the stages, I decide to try to double tomorrow’s stage, ie to walk to Jean Collet rather than to stop at the Habert d’Aiguebelle. It’s going to be a long day but it’s feasible. By cons to win a little time tomorrow, I take my bag and I push to the sheepfold of Cos under the Col de la Vache to set my camp.

The path between the refuge and the sheepfold is really beautiful especially with the light plays due to the clouds of the late afternoon.

The surroundings of Lac du Cos are beautiful and offer dreamy camping pitches ! I set the tent not far from the sheepfold which is not occupied for the moment. I have all the view of the lake and the Pyramid (2912m) in the background. It’s a nice moment, serene and lonely again.

In the evening I will have the visit from few ibex on the heights behind the tent. The colors on the surrounding mountains are very beautiful and it is not cold. It’s really a beautiful bivouac, certainly the most beautiful of my GR!

Day 6 - From Lac du Cos to Refuge Jean Collet


Well, it’s a long day waiting for me! I have to double my stage and join the refuge Jean Collet. The first problem is that in front of me there is the Col de la Vache and it is still under snow. Indeed, the precipitation has been exceptional this winter and the snow is still present. I know it is manageable because I met groups that had succeeded but during late afternoon every time. I begin early in the morning, I hope that the nocturnal refreezing was limited …

So I start the climb in the rock for the moment. Behind the view is beautiful with the morning sun and the lake below.

I quickly join the snow. I think that from 2300-2400m everything is all white. Fortunately the surroundings of the snow field are ok to get through. Not being equipped with crampons, I prefer to spend in the rockery and avoid a slide … For the climb it is easy and it is even more “playful” because I use my hands a little in some passages.

I quickly arrive at the pass in the end. On the other side no surprise: the snow on 200m of descent… except that this snow is totally frozen and so it is a long slope of ice which presents itself to me ! Ouch !! I am not equipped for. So I have 3 choices: either I turn around and I go elsewhere (but where?), Or I wait for the sun turns and warms the collar but in this case goodbye doubling the stage today, or I try to go down the slope by sliding me on the butt …

I choose the 3rd option because I want to move forward. I’ll be honest, in hindsight, this idea was not very clever because being alone, the risk was quite high … But hey, here I am slowly sliding on the buttocks braking with the walking sticks as much to say that the equilibrium is precarious and that I am cold at the buttocks! Besides I begin an uncontrolled slipping and I can stop only with a depression in the ice a little lower … I get away without much damage if it is a nice hand injury but it could have been much worse.

The descent will take a good hour in the end and a good stress!

Fortunately, and to make me forget this misadventure, some ibex are waiting for me downstairs and scarcely scorn to shift to let me pass. I realize some beautiful pictures, I like this kind of meeting with the local fauna (a priori their presence here in the morning is common).

I take the trail towards Pas de la Coche after disinfecting my hand. We can see the path snaking away. The passage of the Col de la Vache really symbolizes a change in the landscapes, given that the sequel to the GR738 will be in a much more rocky, more wild.

When I walked the GR738 in July 2018, the trail was not marked “GR” from the Col de la Vache to the Brèche de Roche Fendue. There are other markings including yellow lines and / or blue dots. The GR tag should be completed by the fall of 2018.

The landscapes are very beautiful on this portion.

I quickly reach the Pas de la Coche, which normally symbolizes the end of the stage of the day. It is still early so I have plenty of time to join Jean Collet.

For now I head towards the Brèche de la Roche Fendue (2480m). The path is very wild and does not even appear on the IGN map (which is rare). Enjoy the small spring that gives birth to the Creek of the Great Mountain to refill the source water as good as fresh.

The climb to the Brèche is done in the scree all along. It is a good climb, long enough in the end especially that it is very hot.

The passage of the breach is beautiful because it is really a small opening in the surrounding cliffs.

As for the passage of the Col de la Mine de Fer and the whole descent to Jean Collet, I do not have many pictures to present to you because, behind the Brèche de Roche Fendue, I was in the clouds all along . This creates a nice atmosphere but it is more difficult to appreciate the surrounding landscapes.

The Col de la Mine de Fer and the descent to the Refuge Jean Collet do not present any particular difficulty.

I reach the refuge in the afternoon. I did a good job, I’m happy. I therefore offer myself a small craft beer as a reward.

End of the day pretty classic. I will spend a lot of time talking to the guardians and a hiker at the shelter. I will then install my tent a little above because there are some places planned for the bivouac. The place offers a beautiful view of the valley and Grenoble 1700m further down. Seeing Grenoble is also the symbol of the near end of the GR. Another 2 steps and I will have finished. In any case, this day is the most beautiful of the GR738 in terms of landscapes in my opinion.

Day 7 - From Refuge Jean Collet to Refuge de la Pra


It’s go again ! This stage represents the last real stage of the GR since the last will be just dedicated to the descent on Chamrousse.

For now the first part of the day begins with the descent to the Habert du Mousset, which is quickly realized.

We then enter the heart of the subject with the climb on Col de la Sitre (~ 2160m). It is a nice climb quite steep but that does not present a major technical difficulty. You just have to take your time.

I admit a certain apprehension to pass this pass because I know that there are sheeps guarded by a patou behind and that some hikers have already had “nice” contacts with this good doggie …

Fortunately for me the flock is lower and down to the lake of the Grande Sitre, so I will avoid a bad meeting.

We have a beautiful view from the pass with the small lake below and the whole area to the Col du Loup. This is the next step that I reach quickly.

From there begins the long descent to Lac du Crozet. The lake is beautiful and it must be a good spot for the bivouac. On the other hand there are some people since we are near Pré Raymond or Pré du Mollard.

From the Crozet, you bifurcate on the left towards the Col de la Pra. All this portion has a lot of charm because there are many small streams that crisscross the valley.

Passing the pass is a formality and I reach the refuge 5min later. It is a “big” refuge, with two buildings facing the beautiful landscape that stretches between Le Galeteau and the cliffs of the Jasse Bralard peaks. I love these great alpine slopes traversed by pretty streams.

So I move to the terrace of the refuge to eat  with a beer admiring the landscape. It is early I will have plenty of time to rest, enjoy the moment and chat with people.

Warning: the bivouac is now prohibited in the direct area of the refuge, following a municipal bylaw. Indeed the tourist affluence has greatly degraded the area, not to mention the people who tear trees for campfires. Link to the refuge site and the order.

By talking with the guardians, they tell me that hikers saw the Wolf yesterday a few meters from their bivouac! It is unexpected but I would like to live the same thing tonight!

After this long pause of several hours I’m back on the trail towards Lake Longet to get out of the no-bivouac area. I get a nice little place at the SW end of the lake, right at the water’s edge.

No wolf tonight but the nice visit of a group of chamois near the camp. A beautiful moment to sign my last bivouac along the GR738.

Day 8 - Back home


Last awakening, last storage and last departure of the bivouac. I only have 3 hours until Chamrousse before returning to the tumult city. My camera was out of battery, so I can not show you the pretty Robert Lakes. This would have been the only nice landscape of this stage because the rest (especially after the lakes) is not very beautiful compared to the last days. The end in particular is done by the ski slopes …

I thought that Chamrousse would be an authentic mountain village but it is not. It is a resort 100% dedicated to skiing without much charm. I will wait for the bus to Grenoble to the terrace of a restaurant. Direction to the train station and return to Paris … That concludes these 8 days.

The most attentive will have noticed that I did not realize the last stage which consists of a long descent towards Vizille. I did not see any interest in this section and it was confirmed to me by a group of hikers.


Conclusions

Well above all, I was surprised by this GR738. I was expecting something easier and I must admit that it made me doubt myself ! Well, my physical training was not at the top, far from it, but still it’s technical. One of the key points of this difficulty lies in the fact that if you want to achieve it in complete autonomy you have to take all the food with you … The bag weighs quite heavy at first. On the other hand you can realize it from refuge to refuge which limits this difficulty. The first days are also quite demanding in terms of altitude. Well, it must still nuance because I realized in 8 days what is expected in 10 and I think I could have reached Chamrousse directly the same day as the Pra. If I get there, you can do it too.

In terms of landscape there is really a contrast between a very “forest” start, nice but no more and the portion after the Sept Laux which is very beautiful and very wild. This whole area really deserves to be known. In addition one meet really few people (at least in the beginning of July) and it is appreciable to enjoy the mountain.

The layout of the last born of the GR family (in 2018) allows you to discover this beautiful and little known Belledonne mountain range and I am happy to have realized it. If you are looking for a beautiful alpine trek far from the classical routes I really recommend the GR738 which will not fail to emulate the next years.

Feel free to share your experience of this route in the comments!


Vercors crossing

3days

trekking

42km

walked

1660m

D+

10

Ibex

Finding a mountain hike for a few days in November is not always easy but the Vercors was the perfect place: isolation, landscapes, wildlife, altitude, everything you need to walk a few days away from the world.

The Vercors is a special place, limestone massif of the pre-Alps located close to Grenoble, it stands out for its isolation and the relative lack of water that reigns there. There is also a rich fauna easy to get close of. The massif is easily accessible by car or train, which makes transport logistics easier. I do not know why, the Vercors and its highlands have always had a reasoning a little mystical in me and it was a long time that I wanted to discover this place.

So we sealed the bags for three days at the end of October. The goal was simple: join Corrençon-en-Vercors from Chichilianne taking the time to savor the fall on the Hauts Plateaux. Here is the story of this beautiful autumn trek along the GR91.

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Day 1 - From Paris to Mont Aiguille ("Mount Needle")


For this adventure, I will be accompanied by my friend Geoffroy, Jeff for the friends. It is at Gare de Lyon that we meet for an early start towards Grenoble. We will be there 3 hours later O magic of the French High Speed Train (TGV)!

For the next part we will take a TER which will deposit us at Clelles. The train station and the village are lost in the middle of nowhere, that’s it, we are there, we can start our trek!

It begins with a small disappointment, since Jeff forgot his camera memory card! I will be the reporter for the next few days.

The first stage of the hike is to join Chichilianne and more specifically the Richardière, close to the Mont Aiguille. It is about 13h we still have a few hours before us before dark.

In the background of this first stage, the magnificent Mont Aiguille, rock prominence, alone, at 2087m. It is a historic place for mountaineering because it is the first “real” ascent made in 1492. It is also our goal of the day because we intend to bivouac towards the Col de l’Aupet.

The path is not difficult until the Richardière and relatively flat. We turn around the mountain that presents us different profiles.

Once at the Richardière (1000m), we begin the climb through the forest of Chichilianne. We quickly gain altitude and for my part I struggle a little and I am short of breath. Jeff, he’s in the lead. It is getting late and the sun is falling.

We arrive at the shoulder under Mont Aiguille around 4pm, for my part exhausted … We can not drink as we wish because there is no water there. We hope to find some tomorrow at the fountain of Bachassons. For the moment we install the camp which offers a beautiful view of the Mont Aiguille and the surrounding valley. As there is still light we leave to try to find water on the north side but nothing … we come back empty-handed.

The temperature falls quickly and the wind does not help! We will take refuge in our sleepingbag very early after a meal taken in a hurry! We have enough water for tonight but we need to find some tomorrow.

As often with the first days, the warm up was not easy but we are still happy to be here wrapped up in our sleeping bag.

Day 2 - From Mont Aiguille to the Playe's fountain


The night was not too cold, we had equipped ourselves knowingly. Dawn holds a glowing sunrise and the weather is sunny, all we need to attack the day the good way!

The breakfast has been light and fast because the lack of water does not allow us to make tea or coffee. So we resume the road fairly quickly once the camp folded.

The first stage takes us to Pas de la Selle, which will be our gateway to the highlands. We leave the trees behind us in the climb which is therefore more and more mineral. The view to the pass is marvelous: down below the valley covered with morning mists and Mount Aiguille planted there in all its splendor.

The arrival at the pass finally reveals the Highlands and it’s worth it! It’s like being in the Rohan of the Lord of the Rings: large heaths of short grass as far as the eye can see with a few trees here and there. It is very beautiful and there is nobody !

We then branch off to the north in search of the Bachasson fountain. On the road we cross a small hut lost in the land, there is a stop 2min.

We are looking for the fountain that we will find a little further. It flows slowly but it flows, it’s already that! We fill our bottles thoroughly (3L / person).

We take the road towards the Cabane des Aiguillettes for a coffee. It’s sunny but it’s very windy. The view is very beautiful with the Grand Veymont (2341m) in the background wearing a pretty cloudy hat.

We arrive quickly at the Cabane des Aiguillettes but it is already occupied by other hikers with whom we settle the time of a coffee.

The news are not good though: our companions inform us that many fountains are completely dry. Not good! So we take extra bottles that we fill with snow melted in the stove … We still hope to find some water on the road …

We leave after this short break a little “worried” about this water problem … we’ll see. Initially we wanted to climb up the Grand Veymont but as it is all hooded we decide to turn west and recover the GR91 earlier than expected.

We go through the Pas des Chattons (The Kittens Pass) where we expect a nice surprise! It is here that we expect a dozen ibex literally grazing on the way … We are approaching carefully so as not to scare them to the point of finding ourselves within 10m of them. It is even up to us to shift the path to pass because these gentlemen (there are only males) do not bother to move … We take the opportunity for some photos!

I had heard that the wildlife here was not very shy but at this point! As I said we are only males here, the females are higher with their young.

The landscape changes quickly after the Pas des Chattons. We are losing altitude, so the trees are coming back in numbers. Those are only conifers however, the conditions being always rough here in winter.

We will find, a little by chance, our first Scialet a little further. Scialets are kind of bottomless holes (at least in appearance) that are due to the very nature of the Vercors basement. Indeed it is mainly made of limestone and is therefore particularly prone to erosion by water. It is also this karstic subsoil that makes the Vercors an area so arid because the water disappears directly into the crevices of the ground. In any case do not fall in!

We reach the GR91 a little further north-east of the “Grande Cabane”. We will now follow GR passing through the Vercors from one side to the other. North direction.

We stop a little further just before the fountain of Serrons to have a break. The view is beautiful on the Grand Veymon.

We continue towards the fountain of Serrons. Even though we were told it was dry we made a 100m detour to see. And of course it does not run very well but it flows ! So we decided to fill all the bottles with good clean water (half was filled with melted snow and not very clean).

Well it takes 10min per bottle and we have 6 bottles to make … A long break in perspective, but it’s okay we are well there waiting in the sun.

9L later we resume our way with the sun in the back.

Landscapes oscillate between fairly rocky ground forest and open spaces where crossing bison would not be surprising. We move quickly, it’s pleasant. We have not met many people since we left the Aiguillettes cabin.

Further we cross the fountain of La Chaux which does not run almost (just a drop by drop). We recover some water that stagnates in the pipe to drink at the break.

We continue our road in the maquis for another 2km towards the fountain of Playe, we plan to bivouac nearby hoping to find enough water.

And we are lucky because the fountain still has an acceptable flow. So we will have enough water tonight to drink our thirst and cook. We set up the camp next door. The view is beautiful from here but the temperatures drop quickly with the twilight and it is windy again.

We will have a good meal rich in comparison with the day before but we will not linger outside because it is freezing tonight. Direction the sleeping bag at 6:30pm to fall asleep not long after. A nice day with a lot of diversity in terms of landscape and especially a real immersion in the wild Vercors.

Day 3 - From fountain of Playe to the Carrette's Cabin


Fresh night but no problem with our warm sleeping bags. The breakfast will be nicer than the day before because we have water. We also refuel the bottles before we leave because we will not cross other fountains and tonight we will be at the Carrette’s Cabin, so we need stock.

We take the road past the Cabin of the Jasse Play which exhales a good smell of fire passing by …

The path then continues through the forest and through small depressions. There is a pleasant maze of rocks and tree. A little further, not far from the Head of Cognaux, we overlook the forest and the rising sun offers a beautiful light. We take the opportunity to take a break and take aerial photos because we can finally fly the drone since the wind has fallen.

We continue our route along the GR91. The landscapes are so beautiful. The progression is fast since the day before we are on a flat downhill.

The GR91 then takes us through the Canyon of Erges. So it’s not the Grand Canyon either, but it’s original, the trail is steeped between two cliffs of about 20m high with sometimes some organic shapes.

Small meal break not far from the “Pot du Play” after crossing the canyon. We have lost a little altitude since this morning and it is felt by the presence of more and more numerous hardwoods.

We then quickly reach the plain of Darbounouse. I find this place beautiful especially when we are there because the clouds created games of shadows on the ground, quite beautiful. It’s like being in the American Great Plains and we would not have been surprised to see a herd of bison grazing.

Photo shoot to immortalize the moment.

Back in the forest we do not have much distance to the Carrette Hut. The weather quickly turned gray and temperatures dropped in the process.

We arrive relatively early at the cabin which is nestled in a small depression east of the road. We could have continued to Corrençon but we wanted to enjoy this last night in the forest.

The cabin is already occupied by a mother, her daughter and a friend, we share a tea before they go back home.

Since there is a small stove, we will look in the surrounding woods if we can find some dead wood but the harvest is poor. This may help to gain some few degrees …

The hut could not be more simple: a rectangular hold with a stove in a corner and a table in the middle of the room, at the bottom a staircase leads to the floor, a simple wooden floor, intended to sleep. Without being clean is not too dirty either, it will be fine for tonight.

Our loneliness is quickly interrupted because two travelers arrive: a girl and her little brother who also come to spend the night here.

The hour passes quickly and we are already at the meal where we share our food. The stove heats very little and we are not unhappy to be 4 to warm the cabin a little.

Unfortunately, we will not stay at 4 because one of our acolytes did not feel good at the end of the meal and they made the choice to go back to their car because they felt the need to see a doctor quickly … Too bad and not nice for them because they came from far …

We are back alone. We enjoy the end of the evening calm and cold in the light of the candle! Bucolic!

Early sleeping, tomorrow return to civilization.

Day 4 - Arrival to Corrençon and back to Home


We did not sleep badly even though it must have been cold outside as evidenced by the beautiful frosty landscape that awakens us.

Let’s start the day with a photo session:

After breakfast, we continue to admire this morning show outside and in aerial view:

Past this contemplative moment, we fold the bags one last time, we then leave, to ward Corrençon-en-Vercors. But before that we make a small detour through a cave not far from the hut that houses a spring.

It is found after some hesitation. The place is quite nice and especially practical if you need water.

We then take the direction of the village. The path goes through a double place of interest : the 45th parallel mark that symbolizes this latitude and a monument to the memory of the Vercors guerrillas because the High Plateaux were a place of the Resistance during the Second World War.

The path that follows takes us back to civilization. It becomes almost drivable and meanders between golf and cross-country ski circuits … We arrive in Correçon-en-Vercors shortly thereafter.

Jeff will push to Villard-de-Lans on foot but I hitchhike on my side because I have a knee pain that has appeared since yesterday …

Villard, which is quite nice as a city, marks the end of the trip, a bus ride to Grenoble and train to Paris and here we are at home …


Conclusion

The Vercors will have kept its promises: what an extraordinary place! Only 1 hour drive from Grenoble and so isolated. There is really a feeling of end of the world here. I was particularly surprised by the variety of landscapes and their staging, in only 100m of altitude one passes from the grassy plain to the forest then to barren lands.

The hike itself is really nice and accessible. The only point of attention is the water, it is necessary to inquire a little in advance but there is this site to know the state of the fountains: Link.

I advise you to go discover this beautiful corner of France as well in summer, autumn or even in winter ski touring or snowshoeing.


Cirque de Gavarnie depuis le refuge de Baysselance - Pyrénées

From Cauteret to Gavarnie - French Pyrénées

4days

trekking

40km

walked

2750m

D+

2days

raining...

It’s been a long time that we wanted to discover the Pyrénées and in particular the National Park (Link to the site of the Park). We took advantage of our summer holidays to hike four days from Cauteret to Gavarnie. A short trek between lakes, refuges and sumptuous passes.

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Day 1 - from Cauteret to Lac d'Estom


We arrived the day before at Cauteret. The city is friendly and very active. It also has the advantage of being easily accessible by train (with bus at the end). Last restaurant and especially last night in a bed before starting 4 days in the mountains.

Note on the duration of the hike: we chose to go slow during this trek and enjoy the mountain. Some days, especially the third, are relatively short but it’s good not to have to run. The crossing must be feasible in 2 days I think by walking at a good pace.

So we are ready to go up to Estom Lake this morning. The weather is gray and it is not very warm. We reach the beginning of the path that is near the intersection of the Avenue du Mamelon Vert and Avenue Charles Thierry (GPS coordinates: 42 ° 53’17.7 “N 0 ° 06’58.2” W). The beginning of the path climbs above the city in the undergrowth. We are accompanied by some morning hikers.

The section to La Raillière (1050m) is not very interesting, we follow the road a little higher on a path “civilized”. The arrival at the thermal establishment immerses us in a real crowd. This is the starting area to the famous Gaube Lake. On our side we fork to the climb of Lake Estom, there are still a lot of people with us.

The vegetation changes little by little, there are now less hardwoods and more conifers. We follow the Gave de Lutour, the landscape is nicer now but the sky is more and more threatening …

After some time we pass the Fruitière which marks the end of the road. We finally reach less “civilized” areas. We will stop a little further to have a snack next to the river and with a herd of cow for the animation. He still has a lot of people on the way.

The end of the climb to the lake will be in the rain. This portion will be long, it’s our first day of walking for a long time, the bags weigh and the weather does not help. Under the sun the mountain must be beautiful but in this case it does not benefit too much.

We will take advantage of the small Refuge to warm up a bit with a tea. They are full tonight, so we will sleep under the tent. We pitch it a little under the refuge to be sheltered from the wind tonight. It’s not too bad even if it’s never fun to bivouac in the rain but it’s part of the game …

In the end, a good first day with the necessary elevation and weather conditions unfriendly … Hope that tomorrow will be better, we’ll see.

Day 2 - from Lac d'Estom  to the Oulettes de Gaube passing by the Col d'Arraillé


A good cold and wet night as we like … The alarm clock is not very pleasant this morning and we would prefer to stay warm in the sleepingbag but we must go …

It is not raining for the moment but the sky is totally covered and gray. Once on our way we attack the climb to the Col d’Arraillé (2583m), the trail offers a beautiful view of the lake with green waters.

The weather is deteriorating as the temperatures drop, we quickly find ourselves in the fog and the few people we meet tell us that there is fresh snow in the pass … Quickly, we will be under our first snowflakes … The atmosphere is gloomy, we have not slept well, it is now really cold and it snows at least August … the Charm of the Mountain!

We finally arrive at the Col! The climb has seemed endless with this weather … It has a little bit of snow at the top but nothing nasty. Unfortunately, the fog closes us all the sight which must however be beautiful in good weather.

We begin the descent after a small meal break. We quickly lose altitude and this slope is a little more sheltered so we warm up a little. We are even entitled to our first rays of sun since our departure from Cauteret … The weather seems to want changed but it is shy for the moment. We are not the only ones enjoying a little warmth as evidenced by our meeting with a little fierce Marmot.

We will arrive quickly at the Refuge des Oulettes de Gaubes, it is a superb place! The Oulettes extend at the foot of the Vignemale in a kind of mini valley surrounded by high walls.

We will have a break at the shelter before going to pitch the tent in the spaces provided for this purpose west of Oulettes. There are not many people at the moment but there will be a lot of tents tonight.

Once the tent is up we have the visit of a curious who has understood that hikers are generous in apples or other treats!

The weather at the end of the day will be changing with some sunny moments but especially the greyness and the rain. Temperatures have also dropped a lot tonight. So we are wrapped up in the tent hoping to spend a night not too cold.

Too bad the weather is so ugly today but we still had a good day of walking and the Oulettes are very beautiful. In the late evening, the face of Vignemale will play hide and seek with us, offering us beautiful images.

Day 3 - From the Oulettes de Gaube to the Refuge de Bayssellance


The night was difficult! It was very cold as evidenced by our tent all covered with ice this morning. I took for myself a summer sleeping bag (comfort 5-10 ° C) so I had to sleep with the jacket to gain comfort. Fortunately, Hélène had a good 0 ° C comfort sleepingbag.

It was cold but this morning, O happiness, it is very beautiful !!! Our first rays of sun after 2 days of bad weather what joy! The Oulettes de Gaube reveal all their beauty under the morning rays. The north face of Vignemale is superb. All this is good for the spirit.

We take out all our things to dry them on a big rock. After 2 days of rain everything was wet. We continue with the breakfast that we share with another couple. We feel that this morning everyone takes their time to enjoy the weather.

We are not in a hurry to fold the camp and it is only at 11am that we take the road to the refuge Baysselance. It’s a short walking day in perspective but as I said in the introduction we wanted to enjoy the mountain and its beautiful landscapes.

First step, going back on our step and join the fork that we had taken under the pass of Arraillé. There are a few people on the way but it is ok. We often stop taking pictures because we finally see further than 200m! We discover below Lake Gaube and in front of us the beautiful red rocks of the mountains closing west of Oulettes.

Once the bifurcation exceeded, the climb is steeper but the view of the Vignemale and the small glacier that resists somehow motivates well and moves us forward.

We will finally arrive quickly enough to Hourquette d’Oussoue (2734m) before descending to the refuge Baysselance (2651m). We discover a brand new view that now extends eastward with Gavarnie in the distance. The location of the refuge is superb.

We meet a lot of people who have made the way from the dam Oussoue to climb the Petit Vignemale and its 3032m.

Our arrival at the refuge will be accompanied by a good cheese omelette and a nice piece of pie! The shelter team is very nice.

We are in the early afternoon and we enjoy the sun.

We will eventually go up the tent a little away, near the cliff, on a promontory that offers us an absolutely wonderful view of the Mountain with, in the distance, the circus of Gavarnie.

The evening will be magic. It will be a succession of changing lights, shadows, clouds of fabulous shapes. One of my most beautiful bivouac in terms of scenery and what happiness to finally have this weather!