Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Jocou and Serre de Beaupuy - more Mountain Pines

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Anyone reading our blog may have concluded that we are obsessed with the local mountains and the Mountain Pine in particular.  Yes, but next week we'll be doing something completely different.

Just under a week ago we went back to The Jocou for the third time.  It's a dominant, 2 000m, peak offering magnificent views in every direction:  to the east across Trieves and the Devoluy towards the Parc des Ecrins;  to the north over the Vercors towards Grenoble;  to the west over the Vercors towards the Rhone Valley and to the south over the Diois.  On Wednesday, the views were as expected but, as so often, a combination of haze and distant pollution over Grenoble and the Rhone Valley spoiled them for photography.

On the Jocou summit looking towards Les Ecrins and a friendly Raven coping better than us with the ferocious wind.


We had intended, for the first time, to brave the more exposed route back via the Col de Seysse.  The path runs along a razorback ridge with spectacular drops each side and then descends very steeply to the Col.  Given the strength of the wind and our attitude to heroics, we remembered Falstaff's words: "Of valor discretion is the better part".  So we returned by a another route through the forest.  



The treeline is at about 1 800m and has the poignancy of a battlefield.  The Pinus Mugo are the hardiest but even they struggle to survive.  Battered, lopsided trees pepper the hillside until the forest establishes itself lower down.



Even at 1 600m life is tough for a tree.  A valiant attempt to establish larches culminated in this strange group of lichen-clad survivors, huddled together for mutual support.






One severe February day, a couple of years ago, we approached The Jocou via the Col Vente-Cul which, returning to Falstaff's aphorism, was as far as we got.  That time the freezing wind was armed with tiny, ice particles.  


On the Col, once again, the Mountain Pines still grow, albeit slowly, in the most exposed situations.  Completely ice-bound they must have been encased like sculptures for months on end.  Lower down, another elegant example of those redoubtable little trees.



But Spring is here and Summer is coming.  This time there was an abundance of new flowers on the path up to the Jocou summit.  Pulsatillas in white and purple growing surprisingly right at the top, mostly solitary and delicate in a wild and hostile environment.  Anemones and carpets of crocus.  The most striking at the moment are the gentians, glowing in the grass.


A few weeks ago we had driven up to the Vallee de Combau and walked up to another 360 degree view -  first the Tete de Praorzel and then the Serre de Beaupuy at 1 750m.  Again, not great light for views and again the ever-present vapour trails.  


From the Tete de Praorzel looking north over Chichilianne, Mont Aiguille and the Grand Veymont.


A handsome lone Mountain Pine, relatively protected from the weather, Les Quatre Tetes on the Vercors Plateau in the background.  Lower down, in a sheltered valley, there are stands of beech trees, always decorative and strikingly graphic.

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