Monday, 3 August 2009

A trudge in the rain

The Vosges; from Petit Ballon to Grand Ballon

We woke up the next morning in a fug of steam. All our gear had dried as stiff as a stiff thing. No matter how hard we dream of breakfast American style we still face the pathetic bread and jam as is normal in these parts. At least the coffee is good.

Outside the weather is miserable. It's raining and the cloud is down. Visibility is about 10m.

After our barely digestible breakfast we retreat upstairs to lie down and overstay our welcome in the hope that the weather breaks. We are turfed out at 11am and quickly get our gear together and fall outside into the light drizzle. It's not too bad and we depart in a fairly jovial mood.

We start out again on the GR532 and we will follow this most of the day until it joins the GR5. The trail rises and we come again to the still closed Hostel where we spent our first night. It's all new from here.

The trail meanders and wanders up and down but doesn't really gain a lot of height. We are walking through heather and stubby fir trees. There is plenty of fruit about; blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, blackberries and wild strawberries. If it was warmer we might stop and collect some. The weather does clear a little and we are rewarded with some views over the valleys below.

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After a while the trail rises again and we come to a part that is marked as a Nature Reserve. We are astonished to learn that the trail is normally closed here and that it opened only yesterday! We wonder who would bother us if we had arrived when it was closed!

However only an hour later the rain begins again but again it's not too bad as we are now walking underneath a deciduous canopy. As the rain starts to get heavier we are fortunate enough to stumble upon a hovel beside the trail. It must be used by hunters. Inside it's dirty and greasy and covered in grafitti. We sit down on sawn off logs and have a bite of lunch. The left-over meat pie from yesterdays dinner goes down well.

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We wait awhile until the rain eases off and then continue on our way. Eventually we find ourselves descending and suddenly stumble out of the woods onto a road beside the Lac de Lauch. It's drizzling now as we walk past a ruined Hostel and along the dam in fron of the lake. We briefly chat to a fisherman who seems to be in a good mood but who has caught nothing!

On the other side the trail climbs steeply as we regain the height we'd just lost. At some poit we join the GR5 and then the trail rather boringly follows a small road. Then we meet our only other trail users of the day as we are passed by a small group of very muddy mountain bikers.

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Pretty soon we come out of the woods and follow the lane itself up to le Haag. We are right beneath Grand Ballon now, though we can't see the summit, and more importantly a Ferme-Auberge as hoved into view. We stagger in for a very welcome pint, but are disappointed to learn that they have no TV and hence we cannot find out whats happened in the Tour.

After restraining ourselves to a single pint we get back on the road for the final climb up to a Chalet Hotel just beneath the summit. Inside it's dark and creepy. We realise it's the hotel from "The Shining", though we didn't notice and boys on tricycles or twin girls. or rivers of blood come to that!

We manage to get a room which is more or less the size and shape of a cupboard. It's covered in wood panels. Even the ceiling. We spend some time trying to get the enormous radiator to come on. The staff assure us it will eventually get warm. Ha bloody ha! It does get warm, but then the heating goes off at 10pm. Our boots are still damp in the morning.

The hotel is so unwelcoming that after a shower we retrace our steps down the hill to the warm and friendly Ferme-Auberge where we partake of a huge meal. This time we have a bottle of the local Pinot Noir. The only downside is that a) a raucaus party are sharing the room and b) some twat in running shorts and a bare chest comes in sweating horribly and orders a beer at the bar, gross!

After that we reluctantly crawl up the hill back to Jack Nicholson's place and try to sleep as best we can.