Grand Veymont

Last weekend I joined a trip headed up Grand Veymont (2341 m), the highest summit in the Vercors massif. As this was the same club I hiked with the weekend before, I expected there to be some proportion of foreign students. Wrong. The was only me. This ended up being really good French practice, as well as a great hike.

Mount Aiguille from near the trail headed, just before the clouds came down.

After about a hour on a southbound train, we arrived at the trailhead in Clelles. Although I glimpsed the mountains before starting, the clouds quickly came down and it started to rain. The whole trip was starting to remind me of Dent de Crolles. Fortunately, Saturday's hike was only to the Refuge from which we would mount our summit attempt. Hopefully the weather would clear off by the next day - although the weather forecast was 'variable', which can mean anything.

This random dog found a baguette. It was hilarious. Also note the rain and wetness. Gottaluvit.

The group of 12 hikers quickly became two groups: the Hikers and the Power Hikers. There were 5 boys chaffing on their leashes like a group of huskies, and they would gain several hundred meters on the Hikers before each stop. I was stilling battling my cold and decided to take it easy, staying towards the back of the pack.

Although we couldn't see the mountains because of the fog, the trail was still pretty scenic. Winding through woods, up and down, spots of fall foliage appearing here and there.

Fall foliage, and a sky trying to clear off. It failed.
After one break, I started to talk to one of the Power Hikers, and all of a sudden we had left the Hikers in a cloud of our metaphorical dust (mud, really). I didn't really realize how fast we were going until, an hour later, we hit a steep hill, and I quickly became winded because of the whole coughing-stuffy-nose thing.

The funny thing was, the Hikers didn't realize I was with the Power Hikers, and they thought they had lost me. So all of a sudden one of the Power Hikers got a text, "Do you guys have Molly?" Since the cell phone coverage is pretty spotty in the mountains, we weren't able to answer it for a while, and I hope the Hikers didn't spend too much time looking for me...

On the way down from the day's second (small) col, we found an abandoned 'parcours d'aventure', a very popular concept in France that involves bridges and other obstacles slung high in the trees. Sometimes it involves ziplines and climbing, so you need a harness and other safety gear. This one appeared to be more of a walkway than an acrobatic course, so we climbed over the fence to check it out.

The parcours from below 
Jump! On one of the bridges.
We walked all the way to the end, uphill, only to realize that the last bridge had collapsed, so we had to go all the way back to the start to climb down.

After this detour, the last few km of the descent to the Refuge in Gresse-en-Vercors were done away with and we spent the rest of the afternoon/evening eating and playing cards in the large single room. Dinner was a three course affair, with watery vegetable soup, spagetti with too little sauce, and unsweetened apple sauce for desert. We even had two bottles of wine, which I found hilariously French.

It was agreed that we would attempt the summit next day, if the weather allowed it. We divided into two groups (one fast and one slow).

At 5:45 am the next morning, a cell phone alarm rang out. The French, being French, had all agreed that one can simply not climb a mountain without starting before sunrise. An alpine start is an integral part of the French mountain experience. All the boys seemed to leap from their beds simultaneously, pulling on their clothes and yelling to one another. It took me a good 5 minutes to even consider moving. It was pitch black outside, no sign of whether the weather would allow us passage up the mountain.

After a rushed breakfast of müsli in warm milk and Petit Beurre (side note: Petit Beurre are these little cookie/cracker things that the French eat by the kilo when they are hiking. They are sweet with an end note of butter. Not bad), 12 hikers left the Refuge into the complete darkness of the early morning. We were hiking with headlamps, and I will try to give you a feel of what this is like:
What it feels like to hike with a head lamp.
You can basically only focus on the trail ahead of you. Or people's feet. 

Eventually the sun did come up, and the weather was clear. And what a sunrise! Every sunrise is unique. Sometimes the sun rises quickly and uneventfully. Other times the sun puts on a show, lingering and dancing waltzes with the clouds around it, creating colors you can't name. 

The sun above the hills, and a sea of clouds in the valley. My camera honestly doesn't do it justice.
We were above tree line as the sun rose that Sunday, and I caught myself glancing over my shoulder every few hundred meters to watch the evolving light. It filled my with a fierce, unrestricted joy, the happiness that is the reason I go the mountains. I feel like I belong, like I am in my element. 

All I needed to the do was summit, and my day would be perfect.

Grand Veymont, photo taken on the trail on the way up.
Suddenly, I was a Power Hiker, pushing my legs to go faster, feeling as though I could fly to the summit.

Enjoying the view
Incredible light on the mountains behind us on the way up.
By 9:15 am, we were on top, the world a sea of clouds at our feet. 
Victory on Grand Veymont
More cool light and a sea of clouds on the descent.
We descended back down the Refuge in less than two hours, and stuffed packets of Petit Beurres into our pockets to eat as we raced towards Monestier-de-Clermont to catch the early afternoon train. We still had one more col to climb, 400 meters vertical from Gresse-en-Vercors, bringing the climbing total of the day to 1500 meters. Elated by the success of the trip, my mind made my heavy legs light and we even had time to stop for lunch on the col before descending towards the village.

The descent was worse than the climb: 800 meters vertical downhill brought the downhill total to 1900 meters, which just does in your quads. We were under the cover of clouds again, and the steep trail down through the forest was almost horror movie like.

Descending through the forest
We reached the train stop 30 minutes before the train arrived, and finished off the rest of the Petit Beurre cookies, tired and happy. It had been a weekend well spent.

- The Wild Bazilchuk


  1. Spreke molly! Hørtes ut som en bra tur. Håper du har det fint i frankrike :D


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