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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Tomies and Purple and the Magical Gap of Dunloe

It has been chilly the past few days and I had been hopeful that there would be a dusting of snow on the Kerry mountains so I decided to head to The Reeks for a taste of winter walking. Alas as I neared Killarney it was apparent that there was no snow to be seen (the cloud was hovering over the tops of The Reeks) on the hills so I decided to turn instead for the Gap of Dunloe and climb Tomies and Purple. Here at least everything was below the cloud and I would be able to get some views. I had briefly considered joining the Killarney club of their walk on the East Reeks but, since the dog and cats would be inside all day I thought a shorter outing which would enable me to be home early might be best. Anyway my disappointment at the lack of snow soon disappeared as I got into the meat of the outing as I rose up towards the chimneys and Tomies Rock. I was moving well and was soon at the top and the strong chill wind ensured I didn't stop too long anywhere to admire the lovely views. Onwards to the top of Tomies and next to Shehy and finally Purple. I opted to continue from the summit to the head of the "Gap" and walked the few miles back to the car on the narrow little road. This time of year it was very quiet and it was a true pleasure and privilege to walk in such stunning scenery. It was just a 3.5 hour outing but I really enjoyed it. Next time I must do the full circuit of the Gap which would include Strickeen as well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Horses Glen Circuit....Back To Normality

I went for a walk around the Horses Glen today which goes up over Stoompa and Mangerton. It is a stress free round on easy ground all the way that stretches out to around 14 kilometers and about 1000 meters of climbing and affords some of the best views in Kerry. After the storms of the last few days it was nice to wake up to calmer conditions even if the skies were still a bit leaden. I was enduring a bout of "the snuffles" in the morning so a day out on the hills was just the ticket. The track at the start of the route is now terribly worn away and it will be interesting to see if there is any repair work done, it is certainly needed. Anyway it is fair to say that on the tops there was more than a hint of winter in the air and if the forecast is to be believed there is a chance of wintry showers this weekend. After the fantastic weather of last week it was back to the wet boggy ground and chilly mists that characteristic walking on these mountains. It was interesting to look around from the summit of Stoompa and look down on Lough Leane some 2000 ft below and also at the wild boggy mountains all around and to compare and contrast with the mountains I was on last week. Both are very different but both are very beautiful. Each place has its own charms and challenges. I look forwards to the mountains being transformed when (hopefully) we get some good dumps of snow.
Starting off. Torc with the Reeks in the distance

Looking into "The Glen"

The View from Stoompa


A moody "Devils Punchbowl"

The Black Valley

Lough Guitane

The path washed away

Monday, November 16, 2015

A November Hike Between Lake Geneva And Mont Blanc

Saturday November 7th;

Taking advantage of cheap flights to Geneva I decided to head off on my travels again for a short trip. I had booked to come back on Thursday so all going well I would have four full days on the mountains. My first dilemma was where to go. I was in contact with Andy Griffiths and he was tentatively up for a few days hiking but would have to work on the fourth day. I was thinking of doing a section of the Tour de Mont Blanc but I have been to that area quite often by now and I was keen to visit somewhere new so I decided to give the Chamonix area a miss. I looked at the possibility of exploring the mountains around Aigle but one of my biggest headaches was trying to get gas when I arrived so I could travel and wildcamp and be self sufficient for the duration. Camping is always my preferred option and I didn't have much choice anyway as everything would be closed at this time of year. I had sussed out where to get gas in Geneva before I headed to Aigle but at the last minute I checked out the southern side of the lake and the Chablais Alps area and another plan fell into place. I could get to a town called Thonon les Bains fairly quickly and there was a Decathlon store about a kilometer from the hotel I booked into which was open until eight pm so I should be able to get the gas there as I was arriving in Geneva at 15.20 and all going well I could be in Thonon by 17.30.

Everything worked out beautifully until I reached the bus stop in Geneva where I had to wait over half an hour for the bus which was then caught in rush hour traffic and arrived too late for the  train connection to Thonon. I then had to wait for 65 minutes for the next connection which was unfortunately a replacement bus which was also caught in heavy traffic which meant I didn't arrive in Thonon until 19.15. No major panic yet as the shop was open until eight so I reasoned that a short hop on a taxi and I would be easily sorted. Alas there wasn't a taxi to be seen when I left the station so I set off on foot and still reckoned I had enough time to cover the three kilometers or so before the store closed. I was quickly out of the town centre and found myself in that urban otherworld that is a mix of busy roads and industrial parks and occasional retail outlets. I found my way as far as the hotel okay but the final section was vague in my memory and the one person I saw to ask directions was equally vague and I ended up taking a wrong turn and getting lost. Balls and bugger to it my time was suddenly up and I had no gas. As tomorrow was Sunday all the shops would be closed so I had no option but to put my plan to start my hike the following morning on hold. I returned to find my hotel again and checked in and tried to figure out how I would fill the next day.

Sunday November 8th;

A leisurely start and the benefit of wifi and free train travel meant I at least could pass the day on the trains and after a good breakfast and checking in for another night I went back to the centre of Thonon and caught several trains that saw me strolling around the city of Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva. I had hoped to stumble across an outdoor store there but the same applied to this town and all seemed to be closed up for the day. I went down to the lake shore and enjoyed the busy buzz of the place and soaked in the warm sunshine. I couldn't help but look longingly across the water to the mountains beyond and feel that it was a day wasted, especially in such glorious weather. The views were wonderful and I was looking forward all the more to starting my trip properly tomorrow.
Down by the lake in Lausanne
Monday November 9th;

Since the shop wouldn't be open until 9am I had a leisurely start before going and getting my precious canister of gas. I then got a taxi to the village of Vinzier which was about 6 miles away (which was quite expensive) and finally at 9.40 I was setting off on my route. Even at this stage I didn't have a definite plan for the three days now left available to me but for today I was going to go as far as the CAF refuge on Dent d'Oche 2222mtrs. I had spotted this peak online and it looked like a worthy place to spend my first night. I had my Alpkit Delta tent with me and food for the duration of the journey so the bag way fairly heavy but I was delighted to finally be leaving urban sprawl behind and setting off into the beautiful landscape. The weather was once again wonderful and it was quite warm sunny. It was hard to believe that it was November and the mainly leafless trees were the only indication that winter was almost upon us. After passing the sleepy hamlet of Le Cret I finally left tarred roads and started up a forest track that gained me a lovely upland alpine pasture that led to the first top of the day Mont Baron 1566 mtrs. Even here the views were great and almost the whole expanse of Lake Geneva was laid out below. That of course wasn't the only attraction. Everywhere all about the mountains swept away. In the south the giants of Chamonix could be seen and the wall continued east to the Valais. Nearer to hand the pleasant peak of Dent d'Oche and its near neighbour Chateau d'Oche were spectacular and only became more so as I got nearer.
Visnier from Le Cret

My target for today,, Dent d'Oche on the left and Chateau d'Oche on the right

Les Cornettes des Bise
From Mont Baron I dropped a hundred meters or so before climbing to Tete des Fieux 1776 mtrs and then on to Pointe des Pelluaz which was the top of the ski area that rose from Bernex. Now I was getting close to finally reaching the stage where the mountains took on a higher alpine feel. I had been on the go now for several hours and the one liter of water I had brought with me was long gone and I was looking forward to reaching the small Lac de la Case where I could re-hydrate. I was a little dismayed at first by the sight of the little lake ( more like a big pond really) as the surface looked to have a coating of scum and the entire edge of the lake was muddy and was obviously used as a watering hole by cattle. It was more heartening to discover that the layer of "scum" was in fact ice and the water was crystal clear and sweet. I drank a fair bit of the cold water (which resulted in a resounding "brainfreeze") and filled up my two 1 liter bottles before setting off to climb Dent dOche. From the lake the path diverged and  one headed for my main target and the other headed up steeply to up towards Chateau d'Oche. At the last minute I decided to include this peak in my day as well as off I went. Climbing fairly steeply with the big bad was tough but I plodded on and eventually gained the eastern shoulder of the mountain where the summit ridge became quite narrow with particularly big drops on the right hand side. It also became clear that my initial thought that I could easily combine the two tops was very much mistaken and the only place to go from the summit was back down almost to the lake again.

The Dents du Midi... a constant pleasure to the eye.

The Grand Combin looking stunning
From the summit of Chateau towards Dent d'Oche

Sunset in the misty cloud as I neared the refuge
Oh dear but I was getting tired by now. I reached the ridge and enjoyed the views but I wasn't looking forward to the climb I still had to do to reach the refuge (situated only 100 mtrs below the summit of Dent d'Oche). I returned carefully to the path and crossed the valley and set off up for the refuge. Tired legs protested but the time was moving on and I would be doing well to reach the sanctuary before dark. I slowly gained height and eventually the way became steeper on the final stretches where some chains and ironware provided some assistance to negotiate the rocky gullies that led to the hut. Finally just after the sun had set in a hazy firestorm I arrived at the wonderfully situated hut. I went in search of the winter room but I was disappointed to find that the whole complex was closed tight. Here at over 2100 mtrs on a narrow rocky section of the mountain there was precious little space where a tent such as mine could be put up. A stiff breeze was also in evidence and to top it all I had separated the inner section from the flysheet before packing it away and now in the breeze and gathering dark I had to try and re-assemble it correctly (a bit fiddly at the best of times) and find a spot to pitch it. I decided to place it on the concrete deck alongside the hut and "peg" it out with stones. It worked well and I actually enjoyed a pleasant warm evening and night in this spectacular place. It felt great to be back in the mountains.
Towards Lausanne

Thonon and Evian nearest with Geneva on the left

Tuesday November 10th;

I rose just after first light and watched the beautiful red sky fade over Mont Blanc. Yet again the weather promised to be great. I was certainly feeling the effects of the 2000 mtrs plus of climbing from yesterday but I only had 100 mtrs to go to reach the summit of Dent d'Oche. I was entertained by a couple of Ibex near the top and once I reached the I delighted in the stunning views. It is seldom that I have found myself on any top anywhere when there has not been a puff of breeze but today was such a day. As you can imagine the vistas were wide ranging but I guess the view down to Lake Geneva and then across to the Mont Blanc massif were the stars of the show. It was nice to sit and relax so soon after starting off but I had a fair ways to go and traversed over the mountain and down to Col de Pianchamp and drop back down to near the lake and then rejoin the Gr5. My destination for today was Lac de Taney in Switzerland, from where I had several options to finish my trip on Wednesday and I would also have the opportunity to climb the Cornettes de Bise if I so chose. Down into the shade I went and the chill was noticeable but later I was again in the sun as I headed down towards the picturesque Chalets de Neuteu. The trail drops down to around 1300 mtrs before then crossing into Switzerland and climbing steeply up to Col de la Croix 1757mtrs from where I had further options.
Dawn light and Mont Blanc

On the summit looking down at the refuge and beyond

The Grand Combin-Dents du Midi and the Mont Blanc massif

 My legs were shot today. Climbing with the big bag was tough and it was clear that I still hadn't recovered from yesterday. From the col I could take the difficult trail on the northern side of Lac de Lovenax or the normal route that followed Route 6 of the Swiss national trails. I opted for Route 6 and followed the trail easily (almost entirely downhill) to the beautifully situated Lac de Taney 1408mtrs. There was a public camping area here but the facilities were closed but I pitched my tent anyway and settled in for the evening. The area was a real frost pocket and I guess this time of year it didn't receive any sun at all during the day. Several spots on the way down to the lake were still coated in frost and this came as something of a surprise as up at the refuge it had been really quite mild but I guess at this height when there isn't any sun the temperatures would seldom be above freezing during the night. It was just 14.30 when I arrived at the lake and it didn't feel too warm then either. I set about doing the usual camping stuff-like feeding myself etc and settled in to the tent soon after it got dark. I had dinner early and just after my headlight decided to pack in but thankfully I had brought a battery charging pack and this saved the day. I settled in for the night early and slept very well.

First view of Lac de taney

Camping heaven :)

Wednesday November 11th;
Chillier in the morning.

I knew it had been colder last night than the night before so it wasn't really any great surprise to emerge to a frosted campsite this morning. I had left one water bottle outside and one inside the tent and the one outside was frozen solid. The one in the tent was fine but it was a surprise to find that it froze in the time I was cooking breakfast, so it must have been a bit chillier than I had thought. Anyway I had decided to go as far as the town of Bouverey today which was down by the shores of Lake Geneva and had public transport links that would see me able to reach Geneva the following morning for my flight. A lovely walk along the northern side of Lac de Taney through the woods quickly gave way to a wonderful hillocky pastureland and I was once again basking in the morning sun. Down then easily until you reach a forest road and here the trail divides. I wanted to gain a viewpoint one more time and I turned left and headed for Croix de la Le at 1873 mtrs which promised to give great views down to Lake Geneva and beyond. I followed the trail until point 1669 mtrs and here I diverged and headed straight up to the col directly above at 1913 mtrs. Here I dropped my bad and walked easily to the nearby summit at 1993 mtrs. Wow what a wonderful place to be. The views were so much better than I had anticipated. Everything from the Mont Blanc massif to the Valais and the Bernese Oberland could be seen on the horizon and of course the ranges that bounded the huge lake below were wonderful to behold as well. Warm sun and no wind meant that a layer of pollution could be seen hovering above the Rhone valley far below. I relaxed a while and it was some reluctance that I turned and set off for the long descent all the way to the valley floor over 1600 mtrs lower. Once I got back as far as the forest road I was from there to the bottom walking in the shade and in the woods which had a charm all of its own.

The Rhone valley with a layer of pollution clearly seen

The end of Lake Geneva with Bouverey on the bottom and Villeneuve on top

Mont Blanc

The Tashhorn and the Dom
Bouverey seemed to hover far below and never seemed to get nearer but eventually I emerged from the woods and set foot on the smooth tarmacked streets. I made my way as far as the train station and I found that the first train didn't leave early enough for me to make the airport in time and the campsite was closed as well so I opted to walk across the valley to the town of Villeneuve which had another campsite and was on the main rail route to Geneva. This proved to be a very enjoyable walk on a mixture of tarmac walking/ bike trail and lovely forest trails that made foe easy walking. The campsite in Villeneuve was open so I enjoyed a comfortable evening and a great shower. The connections to Geneva were superb so the return home was stress free. As a place to launch similar outings in future this town would be ideal. I had been unlucky with the gas situation and I must consider getting a multi fuel stove for future international trips but I had been so so lucky with the weather. It would have been great to get such weather in the summer not to mind on the cusp of winter. I enjoyed visiting somewhere new and regretted that I didn't have more time to delve deeper into the area. The Dents de Midi were so beautiful and the mountains behind Aigle are definitely worth exploring as well. As I left I couldn't help but feel as well that perhaps I had missed an opportunity to perhaps climb Mont Blanc or indeed traverse from Bionnasay but who was to know that the weather would be quite as good as it turned out to be. One thing for sure is that I will return to the area.

Where the Rhone enters the lake

Journeys end looking at Montreux