Monday, December 31, 2012

Le Noirmont (No 23)

Le Noirmont (1567m) turned-out to be a great choice for the last Jura peak of 2012. It proved to be somewhat challenging ... yet incredibly satisfying; while providing some of the best views of the year, and one of the very best lunchtime picnic spots imaginable. It was a great way to spend the last day of 2012, and to generate the content for the last instalment of my "Jura Mountain Rambling" blog for the year.

If you've been following my blog, you'll know that my ("tongue-in-cheek") 2011 New Year's eve "project" was to check-out the view of the planet from the seven highest peaks in the Jura. By year's end, with La Noirmont added to the register, the tally is:
  • All of the highest 23 (named) peaks in the Jura; 
  • 27 of the top 30; 
  • 32 of the top 40; 
  • 39 of the 60 highest. 
In all, I stood on the top of 41 Jura peaks in 2012. That was one heck of a new year's eve resolution.

The trek to the top of Number 23 on the list, but number 41 for the year, commenced near a level crossing on the railway line that cuts over the main ridge of the Jura Mountains - along the Col de la Givrine - about a kilometre west of La Givrine. We parked the car in a small parking area ( at 1211m) that appears every winter when the road heading north to Les Coppettes is blocked-off by the annual snowfall, pulled on our backpacks and snowshoes, and headed north up the trail. It was about 10.30am.

 Lis at the level crossing where we commenced our last walk for 2012.

 Looking east towards La Givrine.

Just after the start of our walk. Looking back to where we'd parked the car, with La Dole on the horizon in the background.

After a few hundred metres, the trail turned northwest, and plunged into the Bois de la Givrine, so we followed suit, skirting along the edge of a neatly-groomed ski de fond (cross-country skiing) track. It was lovely in the forest ... and I was hoping to see a lynx or something exotic, but all was quiet.

 The trail through the Bois de la Givrine forest.

About a kilometre along the trail we passed the Le Sollier farmhouse (1290m) - abandoned for winter of course. It provide a good landmark for our hike, so we checked our topographic map, and headed further northeast along our route.

 Le Sollier farmhouse - 1290m.

We stuck to the western edge of the Bois de la Givrine forest block, heading along a long, narrow, typically Jura valley (combe) marked "Le Sollier" on our topo map. We passed a sign telling us we were in (entering?) the Parc Jurassien Vaudois protected area. Still no lynx in sight ... In fact, other than a few birds, we didn't see any wildlife all day. But we did see more small animal tracks in the snow than anywhere else that we'd walked in the Jura. The protected area status must be working.

 Entering the protected area within the Parc Jurassien Vaudois. 
Le Noirmont is in the commune of Arziers, in the Canton of Vaud.

At a fork in the trail, a few hundred metres after the Le Sollier farmhouse we got our first real glimpse of the Le Noirmont anticline - about two kilometres to the north. Its name means "Black Mountain" (probably because of its heavily-forested flanks) ... but it looked very white today. Rather than heading straight for it, we decided to keep going northeast - further up the Le Sollier valley. This route took us over a couple of old dry-stone rock walls and, as soon as we'd passed over the second, a track leading up to the Pré du Four farmhouse (1394m). Judging from an inscription on the front wall, it was built in 1951.

 First glimpse of the two peaks of Le Noirmont, with the principal (highest) peak on the right.

 Lis approaching Pré du Four - 1394m.

Like all of the farmhouses in the high Jura at this time of the year, it was half-buried in snow and shut-down/shuttered-up for the winter. We stopped just long enough to take a couple of photographs, admire the spectacular views back towards La Dole and Pointe de Poele Chaud, then continued on our way.

 Pré du Four mostly covered in snow, with La Dole in the background.

We headed cross-country more or less due west, through a couple of tree lines, before breaking-out onto the upper slopes of the beautiful, blanketed Les Coppettes valley - just northeast of the Les Coppettes farmhouse. We had great views down the valley, with the frontier town (on the France-Switzerland border) of La Cure in the middle distance. La Cure is a popular alternative starting point for many Le Noirmont trekkers.

 Looking down on Les Coppettes farmhouse (1323m), with La Cure in the background.

We "sloshed" our way down the hillside through lovely powdery snow, cutting virgin tracks across the pristine landscape. Always up for a challenge, we decided to head straight-up the steep eastern face of Le Noirmont ... which got a bit tricky in a couple of places where the slopes were particularly steep. At a couple of points we had to rope up, and cut steps into the snow to be able to get up the cliffs. Lis broke through the snow on one of these "steps" when the snow underneath her collapsed - probably due to a small sinkhole or something in the jumbled mass of gnarly Jurassic limestone rock hidden under the snow. The Le Noirmont part of the Jura is renowned for its plethora of dangerous sinkholes - especially closer to Mont Pelé. It also used to be dangerous for other reasons - having once been an old army firing range. Summer walkers would often come across fragments of old mortars and missiles, and occasionally the shards of a mine or other explosives. Fortunately we didn't come across anything like that.

 Looking across the valley of Coppettes towards the eastern slope of Le Noirmont.

 Lis starting the ascent up the east face of Le Noirmont.

 Gaining altitude (and steepness) on the east face, with the Alps on the far horizon.

 Looking northeast, over L' Arxiere farmhouse.

After a few anxious moments, we finally reached the top of the Le Noirmont ridgeline, and located the main trail that follows the ridgeline all the way up from La Cure. The climb was worth it in many ways, not least because of the amazing views we had of the Alps on the eastern horizon. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day; not long after mid-day; and the panorama was possibly the best we'd had all year. Mont Blanc looked stunning. The spruce (Picea abies) and fir (Abies alba) trees all looked lovely with a "gentle" smattering of snow. Down below us was the L'Arxiere farmhouse (1445m), and just south of there, the Cabane du Carrox (1508m) - a mountain hut operated by the Geneva branch of the CAS (Club Alpine Suisse). We took-in the views for awhile, then headed for the day's main destination.

Just near where we reached the top of the ridgeline, we came across an old ski lift (telesiege) - which comes up the Côte du Noirmont hillside from the Valley of the Orb (on the western side of the ridgeline), near the tiny little French "settlement" of Les Plans. The ski lift wasn't operating, and in fact looked disused and abandoned, although we saw a few skiers nearby, who were obviously about to head down the well-used adjacent ski run.

 The apparently abandoned ski lift apparatus near the lower Le Noirmont summit.

We found the crest of the lesser of the two Le Noirmont peaks (1547m), then headed along the ridgeline towards the highest point (1567 metres) - which is about 300 metres to the northeast. We cut our own course through the soft, powdery, fluffy snow, on an undulating trail that took us through a patch of coniferous forest before eventually reaching the summit of Le Noirmont. It was about 12.30pm, two hours after we'd set-out from the Col de la Givrine. We dropped our packs, pulled on our beanies, wind-stoppers and heavier-duty gloves (the typical Jura summit wind was threatening to snap-freeze us if we didn't), and then wandered around checking-out the amazing views, and taking lots of photographs.

 Flying the flag at the top of Le Noirmont - 1567m.

 Checking-out the views of the Alps from the top of Le Noirmont.

 Pointing-out landmarks in the Alps and Jura, with Mont Blanc in the background.

 Lis at the top of Le Noirmont.

 Tempted by Mont Sâla ... but that will have to wait.

 Faded sign atop Le Noirmont.

Sufficiently satiated by the views, we turned our attention to our stomachs (also in need of satiation), and found a hollow just below the summit where we could shelter out of the wind. We found a great spot that was well sheltered, yet still provided amazing views out across the eastern Jura, the Swiss plateau and the Alps in the distance. We slowly drank our thermoses of hot tea and munched our way through fresh bread, cheese, home-made chutney ... and Toblerone chocolate. All of this was washed-down with a final nip of French brandy ... to "warm the heart". It was heaven: A beautiful day, with beautiful weather, on a beautiful Jura Mountain hike, at a beautiful picnic spot, with a beautiful view ... Could life get any better than this?

 One of the best picnic spots in the world, with a classic view of Mont Blanc.

After lunch, I wandered around the summit one last time to take a few more photographs of the amazing views in every direction, then we repacked our backpacks and got ready to head down the mountainside. Off to the northwest lay the nearby peaks of Mont Pelé (1532) , Mont Sâla (1511) and Crêt des Danses (1534) ... but they'll all have to wait for another day.

 Looking south from our picnic spot - at the ubiquitous cross at the summit of Le Noirmont.

Pointe de Poele Chaud and La Dole from Le Noirmont.

 One last look at Mont Blanc.

 Looking northeast from La Noirmont, with Mont Tendre on the far left horizon.

At about 1.30pm, we quit the mountain-top and headed southwest, back down the ridgeline to just below the old ski-lift apparatus. Of interest there, we came across an old stone marker, inscribed with a date of 1732, which probably once marked the border between France and Switzerland before it was moved west into the valley from the Le Noirmont ridgeline. With the crest of the Canton of Vaud on the Swiss side, and the French Fleur de Lys on the other, the stone apparently commemorates the signing of a treaty between Vaud and France in the early 18th century demarcating their respective sovereign territories.

 Marker stone near the lower La Noirmont peak. With "1732" inscribed on the plinth.

There was also an information panel above the main Le Noirmont ski piste. Off to the west we could see the French town of Les Rousses and the Lac des Rousses, and beyond that, the rolling ridges of the French Jura and Franche-Comte. Les Rousses, which is about four kilometres to the west of the summit, is another popular set-off point for hikers heading for the top of Le Noirmont - although mostly summer walkers.

The Lac des Rousses is of interest in that it has no single visible origin, gathering its source waters from numerous springs and small streams that gush from the valley and hillsides above it. Out of the lake flows the Orb River (L'Orbe) which flows into the Lac de Joux ... from where it disappears underground, into subterranean channels, only to reappear many kilometres downstream, near Vallorbe.
 Ski run information panel near the top of the lower La Noirmont peak.

 The French town of Les Rousses from the lesser La Noirmont peak.

Looking down on Les Rousses, and La Cure and the mountain pass road winding over the Col de la Givrine reminded me of the account written by the English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who passed through here en route from Paris to Geneva about 200 years earlier. On the 17th of May 1816, he wrote, in "A letter from Geneva":

"The next morning we proceeded, still ascending among the ravines and valleys of the mountain. The scenery perpetually grows more wonderful and sublime: pine forests of impenetrable thickness and untrodden, nay inaccessible expanse, spread on every side. Sometimes the dark woods descending, follow the route into the valleys, the distorted trees struggling with knotted roots between the most barren clefts; sometimes the road winds high into the regions of the frost, and then the forests become scattered, and the branches of the trees are loaded with snow, and half of the enormous pines themselves buried in the wavy drifts. The spring, as the inhabitants informed us, was unusually late, and indeed the cold was excessive; as we ascended the mountains, the same clouds which rained on us in the valleys poured forth large flakes of snow thick and fast. The sun occasionally shone through these showers, and illuminated the magnificent ravines of the mountains, whose gigantic pipes were laden with snow, some wreathed round by the lines of scattered and lingering vapour; others darting their spires into the sunny sky, brilliantly clear and azure.
As the evening advanced, and we ascended higher, the snow which we had beheld whitening the overhanging rocks, now encroached upon our road, and it snowed fast as we entered the village of Les Rousses, where we were threatened with the apparent necessity of passing the night in a bad inn and dirty beds. For in that place, there are two roads to Geneva; one by Nion (Nyon), in the Swiss territory, where the mountain route is shorter, and comparatively easy at that time of the year, when the road is for several leagues covered with snow of an enormous depth; the other road lay through Gex, and was to circuitous and dangerous to be attempted at so late an hour in the day. Our passport, however, was for Gex, and we were told that we could not change its destination; but all these police laws, so severe in themselves, are to be softened by bribery, and this difficulty was at length overcome. We hired four horses, and ten men to support the carriage, and departed from Les Rousses at six in the evening, when the sun had already far descended, and the snow pelting against the windows of our carriage, assisted the coming darkness to deprive us of the view of the lake of Geneva and the far distant Alps.
The prospect around, however, was sufficiently sublime to command our attention - never was a scene more awfully desolate. The trees in these regions are incredibly large, and stand in scattered clumps over the white wilderness; the vast expanse of snow was chequered only be these gigantic pines, and the poles that marked our road; no river nor rock-encircled lawn relieved the eye, by adding the picturesque to the sublime. The natural silence of that uninhabited desert contrasted strangely with the voices of the men who conducted us, who, with animated tones and gestures, called to one another in a patois composed of French and Italian, creating disturbance where, but for them, there was none."

Fortunately, we had a lovely sunny day, and plenty of hours of sunlight to get back to our destination.

After snapping-off a few more photographs, and taking-in our last, long, lingering views of the Alps panorama, we headed back down the eastern side of the range. We came across a group of about eight or nine young Swiss snow-shoers who decided the best way to get down one particularly steep, slippery and unstable slope ... was to toboggan down on their bums and backs, or bellies - like penguins skating across the ice. We watched them sliding down the hillside, occasionally tumbling head-over-heels if their snowshoes dug into the snow - sending their smooth slides into rather ungracious, messy endings. They were having fun, and laughing all the way down the slope.

 Heading down the east face, with the Alps on the horizon.

We took a more restrained option, and slowly zig-zagged our way down the slope - heading into the valley in a southerly direction towards the "Les Coppettes" farmhouse (1323m). We more or less headed straight past the mostly-buried Les Coppettes, stopping just long enough to take a few photos, and soon after picked-up a marked snowshoe trail that headed towards La Givrine.

 Passing-by the mostly buried Les Coppettes.

 Snowshoe trail sign near Les Coppettes.

"Late" afternoon view of La Dole from Les Coppettes.

 Looking south towards Petit Montrond, Montrond and Colomby de Gex.

About a kilometre down the trail, we intersected the route we'd followed on our way up the Le Sollier valley earlier in the day. There were ski de fond trails going in all directions. The Jura is truly a winter wonderland for anyone who's into outdoor winter pursuits. On this beautiful sunny day, the whole of the Col de la Givrine was filled with cross-country skiers, snowshoers, day-walkers and "tabogganists". The entire area is renowned as a "cross-country skiing paradise".

 Trail sign near Le Sollier farmhouse.

 Le Sollier farmhouse again.

Once again, we passed by the Le Sollier farmhouse, then headed through the Bios de la Givrine, and were soon back out in the broad flat valley just west of La Givrine. Right on cue, one of the small red trains that run between Nyon and La Cure choofed its way across the landscape.

 Back in the Col de la Givrine, with the tiny "red train" that shuttles between Nyon and La Cure.

We arrived back at the car at about 3pm - about one and a half hours after we'd left the summit. In all we'd been out for about four and a half hours - a very comfortable, but incredibly enjoyable hike. And I ticked-off my 41st Jura peak for the year. Time to celebrate with some new year's eve champagne!

Jura peaks bagged:
  • Le Noirmont (No. 23) 1567m
  • The famous German traveller, writer, poet, naturalist and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe climbed to the top of Le Noirmont on the 25th of October 1779. That same day, he also climbed to the summit of Dent de Vaulion, and stayed for a couple of nights in a house "at the foot of the eastern side of Noir Mont" (Les Coppettes? L'Arxière?). He climbed to the top of La Dôle on the 26th of October 1779.
  • The account from Percy Shelley above was published in his book "Essays, letters from Abroad: Translations and fragments". He was travelling with his wife (Mary Shelley - the author of "Frankenstein"), and Mary's step-sister Clara Clairmont. They were all on their way to Geneva to stay with (another famous English poet) Lord Byron. No doubt, Shelley's stormy night-crossing of la Givrine reminded him of his previously penned poem "On the Dark Height of Jura" - which featured in my blog about Le Suchet.
  • According to the folks at, Le Noirmont is the 6,297th highest mountain in Switzerland.

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