Sunday, August 12, 2012

Montoisey (No 8)

Waking-up to another beautiful-looking Sweet-zerland Sunday morning meant there was a good chance of bagging a peak or two in the Jura before the end of the day. I'd been planning a walk for some time that would go from Crozet (in France, near Geneva) to the "Balcon de Léman" - the section of the Jura ridgeline which provides magnificent views out over Geneva, Lac Léman and the Alps on the eastern horizon. Above Crozet, it would be possible to reach the top of four peaks: Montoisey, Montoiseau, Treumont and Les Voyrieres.

The first two of these - Montoisey (No 8) and Montoiseau (No 16) - are often confused as being one and the same. But they're not, although very few people ever go to the top of Montoiseau. They do to Montoisey, because it's got a huge cable car station at the top to ferry skiers to the top of their run. Despite the fact that one can "summit" this peak in winter via a cable car, it's still the eighth-highest peak in the Jura, so was a "must-do" on my now expanded Jura project. (Why stop at the seven highest? We're still only just half-way through the year, and there are so many great walks to be done.)

While the drive from St George to Crozet (which is about 15 kilometres northwest of Geneva) was in glorious sunshine, we were a bit taken aback when we first spotted Crozet and the scenic Balcon de Léman ... as the latter was completed shrouded by a tablecloth of cloud that obscured the entire top of the southern, French Jura. We drove on with optimism, taking bets about what time the clouds would lift and dissipate as the day heated-up.

 Hmm, that doesn't look good.

The cloud layer was still there when we left the car in glorious sunshine at the cable car station at the top of Crozet (it's at about 600m). It was about 9.30am when we crossed the car park and first set foot on the steep trail that headed straight up the mountainside. The path more or less shadowed the cable car route directly up the steep slope, however mostly zig-zagged through the forest within a couple of hundred metres of the alien sounds and appearances of the easy-ascending apparatus. (Most of the other hikers we saw in the car park jumped into one of the gondolas, and headed up the mountain leaving us in their dust.)

 It's possible to walk up under the cable cars, 
but there's a much better trail through the adjacent forest.

The forest trail was steep and hard, with lots of rocks and tree roots to be wary of, but also very beautiful. It occasionally popped-out alongside the cable car route, crossed a couple of forestry access roads, and became entangled with a precipitous-looking VTT (mountain bike) trail; but in general it was fabulous.

Lis on the forest trail.

 Intersecting the cable car route.

The trail marking isn't the best, so at times one just has to follow your intuition, and keep heading up until you find another yellow or red trail marker on a tree or rock - somewhere on or adjacent to the trail. We were soon puffing, and sweating. It was getting warmer. Maybe the ridgeline will be clear of its clouds by the time we would get there.

 Follow the yellow markers ... or the red markers when the yellow ones disappear.

Unfortunately we had no such luck. The last bit of sunshine shone on us soon after we emerged from the forest trail near Le Fierney - the upper cable car station, which is connected to Crozet. It was about 10.30.

Approaching Le Fierney cable car station.

 Looking back towards Le Fierney: 
sunshine on the downhill, clouds on the summits.

We looked back down towards Crozet and the Pays de Gex, and further beyond towards Lac Léman and Geneva. All were bathed in sunlight. We turned around in the direction of the nearby summits of Montoiseau and Treumont. Both were obliterated by a swirling misty layer of grey clouds that were scudding across the Jura before dissolving into thin air. Hmmmmmm.

As insurance, I ducked into the cable car station and asked the attendant what time the last car would be going down the mountain. 5pm. That might be a useful option to have up our sleeve later in the day.

We headed further up the mountainside, past the fenced-off small botanical refuge (very luxuriant, as you'd expect in the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Jura and the nature reserve Haute Chaîne du Jura), the chalet de Fierney Girod, and numerous ski-lift structures.

 The botanical reserve near Le Fierney.

Being summer, the latter were all standing idle. And being such a misty mountain day, the empty lifts looked a bit like some kind of medieval death scene after a macabre public hanging. All these things were hanging in the mist, swinging in the breeze, as the wind whistled through their wires and gaunt structures. It was a weird scene for what was meant to be a lovely summer's day.

 Lifeless chairs swinging in the mist near Montoiseau.

We passed to the south of a small, picturesque lake, which also appeared grey and semi-hidden among the low-lying clouds that, by now, swirled all around us. We were walking into another of those "expect the unexpected" classic Jura white-outs.

 Lis heading into the white-out.

No problem. With my GPS switched-on, and permanently in hand, we soon found our way to the top of Montoiseau (No 16 on the list of Jura peaks, at 1600 metres). We'd climbed more than a thousand metres in altitude since we'd left Crozet. No wonder we were feeling leg weary. The weather appeared to be getting worse and worse, the higher we went, which meant we stopped at the summit for just a few minutes: only really long enough to take a couple of photographs.

 At the summit of Montoiseau. No views.

 This was as good as it got from Montoiseau.

Our next destination, just 700 metres to the west was Montoisey (No 8, 1669m). After a short push - up the "gravel" access road - we were soon standing alongside the cloud-shrouded Montoisey cable car station - which linked the summit with the town of Lelex, to the northwest in the Valserine valley, in France. We scrambled up the nearby hill-top to the summit of the mountain, and took another couple of commemorative photos ... just as the rain started to put a dampener on our summer's day stroll in the park. Montoisey, which used to be called Mont Oysel (in 1176), gets its name (as does Montoiseau) from mons or mont - meaning a mountain or summit, and oiseau, the French word for "bird".

Ricardo getting wet at the top of Montoisey.

We dashed back down to the cable car station, thinking we might find some shelter in its lee, but were discouraged from hanging around by the sudden appearance of one of those huge Russian mountain sheep dogs that was guarding his flock of sheep. He ran towards us barking like crazy, so we backed-off .... and headed back down the mountain. Our highest destination for the day provided zero visibility, no scenic panoramas to photograph, and no comfortable place to sit down for a trail snack. It was about 11.30 when we got there, and about 11.40 when we left, now wrapped-up in our Mammut windbreakers, with droplets of rain bouncing off our packs and shoulders.

We scurried-off the mountaintop, retracing our steps back to the Col de Crozet (1485m), where we had a brief "war council" to decide if we would push-on to the other two peaks, or beat a retreat off the mountain-top. At least the rain had stopped by now, so we decided to head-on - towards Treumont.

 Sign at Col de Crozet.

Treumont is not on the regular walk trail, so we had to head "cross country" through the lush, but lumpy alpine meadows. Between the millions of years of erosion, the umpteen many years of cow traffic, and the two-day-old rooting-around by wild boars; the terrain was rough and rugged. We had to watch carefully where we put our feet, as it would have been easy to twist, sprain or break an ankle. Still wet from our Montoisey soaking, we weren't in the best humour as we cut across the hilltops searching for the unmarked summit of Treumont amidst the blanketing clouds. Fortunately, once again, the GPS led us straight to the summit (at 1530m, and No 36 on the list of highest Jura summits), where we again stopped for just as long as it took us to take a couple of photos.

 Getting blown away at the summit of Treumont.

The summit of Treumont.

With hunger bells ringing in our stomachs, we found a sheltered hollow out of the wind - just over the crest of the peak - where we settled-down on some rocks and shared a hearty mountain lunch. While we were there, the sun began to occasionally break through the clouds, providing glimpses of the adjacent escarpment, and the plains of Gex and Geneva far below us.

 Looking through the clouds for views down below.

 Finally, a bit of landscape further down the escarpment.

Refuelled and refreshed from our lovely sheltered lunch stop, we decided to head-on to bag the fourth peak for the day - Les Voyrieres. Once again we headed back, cross-country, in a north-westerly direction, until we intersected the main Jura ridgeline walking trail between Crêt de la Neige (to the southwest) and Colomby de Gex (to the northeast).

 Heading cross country through the alpine meadows.

We headed northeast for about a kilometre, then left the trail once again to find the summit of Les Voyrieres. As it is another unmarked, off-the-beaten-track summit, we again relied on the GPS to lead us straight to its many-headed summit. Before long we'd located the trig station survey point among the swirling grass and found ourselves at the summit of les Voyrieres (No 12, and 1614m).

 A nip of rum to celebrate the fourth summit of the day - les Voyrieres.

Once again, Ra the sun god smiled on us and provided enough breaks in the cloud layer to provide some great views out towards Lac Léman and Geneva, and along the edge of the Jura escarpment above which we were perched. The summit is right at the top of le Creux de Praffion - an arc of cliffs that dropped away precipitously to the valley floor 300 metres below us. Not surprisingly, with the wind trying its hardest to blow us right off the top of the mountain, we kept well back from the edge of the cliffs.

Lis looking out from les Voyrieres over Creux de Praffion.

 Looking down over Creux de Praffion.

With mission accomplished - four Jura peaks bagged on the one walk - we shouldered our packs and headed back down the trail. We stopped from time to time to photograph some of the beautiful alpine flowers, geological features - like the sinkholes, and more interesting signage.

Oops, should have read this one before we went cross-country.

Of course I kept clicking-away at the incredible peaks and troughs all around us.

 Last glance at Montoiseau.

 Treumont - temporarily clear of clouds now.

We were soon back at the Cole de Crozet, and then past the gap between Montoiseau and Treumont, and down the mountainside to Le Fierney - where we bought a couple of tickets and jumped into the first available gondola that was heading down to Crozet.

Heading into the Le Fierney cable car station.

 Down the mountain in record time - by cable car.

We arrived back down at the Crozet cable car station after a rapid descent, at about 3.30pm - six hours after we'd first started our walk that morning. We often say that our walks are about an hour, or half an hour, too long, so it was good to have the cable car option to finish off today's walk.

Looking back towards the ridgeline, the top of the Jura was still blanketed with clouds, although not as bad as when we'd got to the top of Montoisey around noon. It was good to be back where we started, and good to think we'd soon be home with a hot bath and glass of red wine to celebrate having climbed to the top of Montoisey - that tenth peak in our list of the top ten summits of the Jura.

Jura peaks bagged:
  • Montoisey (No. 8) 1669m
  • Les Voyrieres (No. 12) 1614m
  • Montoiseau (No. 16) 1660m
  • Treumont (No. 36) 1530m

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