Monday, 10 October 2011

Glandasse

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We should have missed the best weather but this year we were lucky.  We had four days of glorious summer on the Plateau.  Glandasse, the extension of the Vercors Plateau that provides a splendid backdrop to the Diois, particularly Châtillon-en-Diois where we live, rises in abrupt cliffs to just over 2 000m.  It's a magical place and like most such places it's difficult to get to.  There are only a few passes and they are all hard work for the walker and, fortunately, only accessible on foot.

At night, Glandasse is always cold and the biggest drawback is that, being a limestone plateau, there is very little water available, found only in a few widely spaced springs.  

The first day from our front door to our first bivouac at Les Assiers meant climbing 1 300m and we were carrying 35 Kg between us.  We weren't at all sure that we would manage the load that far and we wouldn't have fancied carrying it much further.  On the way up to the Plateau through beech forests we had a splendid view of a Pine Marten and, later on, saw about 20 vultures in the process of cleaning up the carcass of a dead sheep.  Since their re-introduction, Griffon Vultures have become a common sight in the region, particularly on Glandasse.  They seem to observe walkers from day to day, perhaps out of curiosity or perhaps speculatively.

A lovely evening and a camp site with views one way over the Isère and the Parc des Ecrins, and onwards into the higher Alps, and the other way over Châtillon, that we had left so recently, and the Diois towards the Rhône Valley.  Being very well-equipped, we slept snugly from dusk till after dawn.
The view down to Châtillon from the first bivouac.

View towards the Parc des Ecrins with early morning cloud tumbling into the valleys.
 The night was windy which probably kept the cloud away but left us with a chilly morning.  We moved further south east towards the tip of Glandasse, particularly the Royou.  There is a steep descent into another of those little lost worlds that we are so fond of.  We stopped for a few moments to watch a handsome chamois standing in the sun and disturbed another Pine Marten. This is country to stop and stare and to dawdle in.  A few minutes' silence is usually rewarded by a sight of an unwary bird or animal.  From a distance the Royou, a cylindrical block of limestone surrounded by cliffs, looked difficult to scale.  Closer up there is an obvious and easy route.  The view from the top is as rewarding as any.   360° of more or less unspoiled pleasure.
Looking down towards the Royou on the right and across the Isère and Parc des Ecrins.
We'd always been interested in finding Font Froide, one of the few and one of the best sources of water on Glandasse.  It's rather inconvenient but quite special.  On the way down towards the source we passed a superb maple.  Not the sort of tree that we're accustomed to seeing on the Plateau. A sure sign of the presence of water that it must have been able to tap and probably a sign of more persitant human presence in the past.  We assumed that, along with some other less splendidly situated maples, it had been planted.  Now it is perpetuating a little forest of its own kind.
Isolated maple with the villages of Les Nonnieres and Benavise in the distant valley.
After lunch we headed on to Font Froide.  Once in Scotland, we ignored the local wisdom and camped at a place in the Borders called 'Dede for Cauld'.  Never again.  And judging by the frigidity of Font Froide's water, it would not be a good place to pass the night.  A local legend suggests that this source's water is only safe to drink if taken with Pastis.  We are living proof that this is not the case.


Filling a water bottle at Font Froide.  Shady and damp but with enough hollowed out tree trunks to water an entire flock of sheep.
There is a little used path from Font Froide towards the tip of Glandasse and we walked as far as Echelas and decided not to walk down any more hills that we would have to re-climb.  As the summer pastures don't seem to extend to the tip of the Plateau any more, the vegetation was completely different, with long grass and myrtle predominating.  Higher up, the sheep seem to have done for the majority of the myrtle.  We walked back to Royou and bivouaced on top.  A memorable night, perhaps the clearest night we have ever seen.  The stars seemed to be touchable.  While we felt completely alone, it was obvious that we were surrounded by an abundant wildlife, just keeping its distance.
Evening view north from the Royou.
Morning view east from the Royou with some of the complicated karst scenery in the foreground.
Again, from the top of the Royou looking across the Diois towards the Trois Becs.
Our trusty and truly superior Gregory packs waiting on the bivouac site for an early departure.  (Well, early by our standards)
It was time to head north west towards an eventual descent as we weren't carrying enough food for more than four days and water is always a problem.  We headed past a colony of Marmottes who didn't show their faces and then disturbed a veritable herd of Chamois grazing on the steep slopes above the Royou.  Curious as ever, the Chamois watched us and then disappeared down apparently vertical rock faces  -  how do they do it? We passed the top of our original ascent from Châtillon, leaving the bergerie to our right and skirted round Pié Ferré.  That country is much grander and much less intimate than the Royou and for the last few months had been supporting a substantial flock of sheep.
The great prairie at the Col de la Raille and around the Châtillon Bergerie with a view across Archiane to the Grand Veymont and Mont Aiguille.

A little further on, the landscape becomes far more stony and forbidding, again with Archiane in the foreground, the Grand Veymont and Mont Aiguille in the background.
We planned our descent via La Palle towards the Abbey de Valcroissant.  We bivouaced at the top of the pass near the ruins of Malcollet, the remains of an obviousy ancient summer settlement with fine mountain prairies stretching as far as the eye could see. Around our bivouac we saw some nice specimens of the Glandasse Eidelweiss.  In the morning, the long descent to La Palle and to the Comptoir à Moutons -  a narrow cutting in the local conglomerate made by the people of Laval d'Aix as access to the Plateau for their sheep and an opportunity to count and check the animals on their way through.  The path follows a giddy route around the face of the cliffs and then an interminable descent to the Col de l'Abbaye.
Comptoir à Moutons.
 Unfortunately, the only feasible route on foot back to Châtillon is via the Col de Caux at 1 100m, another 500m climb.  As we were nearly out of water and the day was hot, we filled a water bottle from a relatively swift but shallow stream and dosed it with our purification tablets and hoped for the best.  The ascent of the Col de Caux was, by now, a real grind.  After that, downhill all the way to the Café de la Mairie in Châtillon.  We planned just to stop for a beer but another beer beckoned and by then it was too late to go home and cook so we enjoyed one of Veronique's inventive dishes.  By sheer good fortune, we arrived home with the first few drops of a thunderstorm that clattered around for the next hour or two and would have meant a good drenching on the plateau. Four magnificent but exhausting days and we even left a few kilos of surplus weight behind us.   

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