When is a walk a hike? Hiking Mont Vuache: a photo blogpost

Me posing and, ahem, wearing tights

At the weekend, Jen and I hiked up Mont Vuache. The small mountain is close by to us and we’ve been there before but this time we took a different route up and down. It’s a moderately difficult hike (that is, you can do it in trainers but not flip flops) and takes a few hours if you amble and enjoy the views as we did. We took the eastern route, which begins in the lovely hamlet of Chaumont and climbs steadily for around an hour before you reach a plateau with a much gentler slope.

An appealing part of the hike are the views. When higher, it offers an almost panoramic perspective: you can see a great deal of the Jura, Geneva and the Genevoise bassin, and Mont Blanc and the Alps. We loved seeing Salève, ‘our’ mountain close to home.

View of Mont Saleve, with the Alps in the background. Our home is down there somewhere.

You know when you’re arrived at the summit because there is a cairn there. You place a stone on the pile, rest for a moment, and if you’re like us, go and find somewhere to eat your lunch.

View from our lunch spot.

The descent was a little more difficult because the leaf fall of autumn hid the loose stones and rocks. Of course, the locals hot-footed it up and down in a nonchalant, carefree manner whilst I walked sideways like a crab, trying not to slip.

On the descent - the remains of the old castle are our goal

So – was this a walk or a hike? And does it matter? Well, it matters in how you classify it for Garmin’s Connect page, or Runkeeper, or any of a host of fitness sites that track and record your sporting activity. As for the definition, well – perhaps it’s to do with intensity, or how long you’re out there, or how fast you move.

We suspect these must be inedible - the locals would have snaffled them otherwise

I’ve tried for a while to define a hike and all I came up with is this: when hiking, you need a decent pair of shoes and you wear a rucksack. If what you’re doing on your own two feet fits this definition, then it’s a hike. Otherwise it’s a walk.

Clear view of Mont Blanc from Vuache, nice

Of course, you could easily walk the route we took to climb Mont Vuache in trainers and without a rucksack. But then it wouldn’t be a hike, would it?

‘Un petit tour’ – cycling from the Alps to the Mediterranean, via Ardèche and Provence

In an hour or so I will start cycling solo from the Alps region where I live to the Mediterranean. Along the way I will cycle through the contrasting landscape of Ardèche, through the red earth and tall plane trees of Provence, and end the trip at the wide flat salt plains and lagoons of The Camargue on the South coast. I’m carrying everything I need on a specially equipped touring bike, including my stove, tent and sleeping bag. It will take a few days and 400 or so kilometres.

It’s not an impressive trip especially: Googling ‘bicycle touring’ will quickly reveal the trials of those cross the globe on two fragile-looking wheels, perhaps circumnavigating more than once. One man quit his job, packed up and left home several years ago to embark upon a perpetual world tour, never to return (at least, not yet). Some people might cycle this distance in a couple of days. So, relatively speaking, it’s not ground-breaking. But it is for me. Besides, this trip is the beginning, not the end: I am certain there will be more to come. So I consider this a trial run of sorts: will I like it? Will it like me?

Which begs the question – why bicycle touring? In short, I might not get another chance like this. I have some free-time at the moment, so it’s opportune. I also want to get to know France, and in particular the places I am visiting, in the kind of depth that only the immersive, slow-paced approach a bicycle offers. I want to improve my French; and hopefully meet some interesting people, too – bicycle touring seems to dissolve social boundaries, it’s a good conversation starter. What’s more, I’m obsessed by cycling. It will be a pleasure to be on the road for so long in France, this ‘spiritual home’ of the bicycle (if I still think the latter after this tour I will judge it a success).

I am going to be blogging each evening and Tweeting along the way, technology permitting, with updates (although there will be no photos until the end of the trip since I don’t have the suitable doohickey at the moment). So, bye for now and I hope for a ‘bon voyage’.

Video journal: taking the war walk at the Glières plateau

On Saturday, me and Jennie followed the war memorial walk at the Glières plateau in Haute-Savoie, about thirty minutes from home. Unlike our previous walk to Le Grand Piton, it offered no summit, no grand views from the mountains which we couldn’t see at the beginning, and barely a place to rest and eat lunch. Rather, we followed a linked series of paths that were significant during the French resistance counter-attack during the latter stages of the Second World War. We started at the war monument.

After an hour or so of walking over the stone roads and passing the re-built infirmary and so on we found ourselves in the walk proper. We began the descent, eventually finding our way into a wood where the trees offered some shelter from the heat.

When you’re on a descent and know you’ll end up where you started, you can safely assume that every step you take down you’ll need to take up on the return, albeit in a difference place. Only on the second half you’re tired and so the ascent feels worse. When we’d walked for about and hour and a half on the way down, we knew we had some walking to do to get back. What’s worse was that it was getting late-ish: although we still had plenty of time, we needed to move quickly without too many breaks – so I started recording ‘on the run’.

I don’t know enough about the events in January 1944 to do justice to it in a retelling (you can learn more here). But we did walk through the sentier de l’attaque, the path taken by the massed German troops towards the plateau where the French Maquis were waiting. As I traced the path taken by the advancing soldiers I tried to immerse myself in their thoughts and feelings, and imagine how it must have been for them and for the French fighters they were about to face.

Despite the great interest in the local area,the walk itself suffered from several issues which made it less enjoyable than it might have been. It seems churlish now to complain – the views, were, after all, quite spectacular and the walk well signposted and challenging – and it has piqued my interest in local history, especially during the war. But sometimes when you finish you feel elated – here, we simply felt relieved.

I’m not sure we’ll take this walk again, but this doesn’t detract from the memories and respect for all the men who fought here, and the courage of the Maquis facing such terrible odds. I took some photos, too – you can find them here.

Walking guide details
This was walk Number 26 in Janette Norton’s Walking in the Haute Savoie: Book 2, South (Between Annecy and Chamonix) ISBN: 978-1852844110. It is described as a difficult / medium walk and took us about 6 hours.

A short video journal of climbing Le Grand Piton

I can see the mountain Le Grand Piton from my desk, every day as I work and now as I write. In the short time we’ve been here, I’ve wanted to walk it, having seen it so often. This weekend, we did.

Like many good walks, it started with a drive to a car park by a church. We left the car in Beaumont, about ten minutes away from home, and started up the steepish path, clearly able to see the tower at the top which was our destination.

And so the walk began. It was very good weather, with a bit of a breeze to keep cool. The directions from our guidebook were very easy to follow and there were very few people around. About an hour or so away, we stopped for a break, where we could see up close and personal what we’d only looked upon from a distance usually.

Two paths diverged in the wood and we, we took the one… with the red rock (it had a big splog of paint on it), which meant we were on the right track. It was the more difficult option of the two according to the guidebook, but it had better views.

The low-resolution, ham-fisted video doesn’t really do this justice, nor does it capture the scale of the view before us – and the peace in which we found ourselves, so distant from the teeming life below. Still – onwards and upwards – we’re not at the top yet. Shortly after, we reached a high spot, which I thought then was the top, and which offered views of the pre-Alps all around.

And now to the best bit of every walk we do – lunch. We had packed lunch as is normal, and we planned to eat when we arrived at the summit. I wondered if Jennie had found a good spot?

And that’s where this story ends. Now, as I write, I’m looking at Le Grand Piton, the very mountain we climbed, and it feels good to imagine myself at its summit, looking down over Geneva, and France, and our home, even this office.

A coda

I realise that posting these videos is more or less like showing someone your holiday snaps or home videos. Sorry about that. But despite my explanation, I can hear you ask: why did I climb the mountain? For that, we need to turn to William Shatner and in doing so, I hope rescue this post from mediocrity. Happy viewing, climbers. (Thanks to Andrew for the video recommendation).