söndag 18 september 2011

Major highs and minor lows in the Haut-Verdon

This year we spent a large part of the family holiday in southern France. Most of it on the overcrowded riviera, but also a splendid week in the southern alps. The Haut Verdon valley around Colmar to be exact.
This was the first time I spent any longer time in the alps in summertime and I must say the surroundings exceeded my high expectations. Beautiful weather, almost no mosquitoes and excellent paths for family hiking.

Little M on the way to Lac d'Allos
 The day after arriving at our "Gîte" (house or apartment for rent), very conveniently booked on the Gites de France site, we went for a day-trip to the fantastic Lac d'Allos not far from the ski resort Val d'Allos. This is an easy walk with a lot of scenic bang for your efforts. The trail is wide and marmots are commonly seen. 6 year old F and 4 year old S had no problems whatsoever in keeping pace with the adults during the 200 vertical meter ascent. Little M traveled comfortably in the new Toddler Patapum Baby carrier (He had outgrown the baby edition). This baby carrier proved to be a big hit. In my view it is a lot more comfortable than the backpack style baby carriers we've used before. This is probably due to the fact that the child sits so close to your back. A major disadvantage though is that you cannot really put the carrier on yourself alone, but you need someone to help you put the child in it.

To get the most out of our holiday and get inspiration for walks we bought a guide book from Edisud: "Haut-Verdon - Val d'Allos". This book contained a lot of good advice and complemented with a visit to Colmars excellent Tourist Office we had no trouble finding interesting activities.

Sheep grazing on the slopes near Col d'Allos
One of the better walks suggested was to take the car to the Col d'Allos and then walk along the ridge towards La Grande Séolane. The walking was super easy and the views superb all along the way. Cows and sheep grazed on the hillside, the ground was full of flowers, and the marmots greeted us with their alarm chirping. Things couldn't have been much more idyllic (well, perhaps the ski-lift pylons detracted slightly from the beauty.). It was one of the major highs during the trip.

Full speed ahead close to Col d'Allos

Towards the Tete de Vescal - There is something about kids walking with backpacks that makes me profoundly happy 

F with the Val d'Allos in the background

Little M fell asleep in the Patapum near Tete de Vescal
We tried to keep an easy tempo during our holiday so we would only go for more exhaustive walks every other day or so. One of the rest days was spent around the river in the village where we lived. An excellent place to practice river crossings.

S practicing stream crossing in Villars-Colmars
Another day the idea was that we would just do a short walk close to the house up "a small hill". 250m up is no small hill however and what looked like a kilometer from the house was more like a two hour walk. No harm done though, and we were rewarded with magnificent views of the valley. 

View to the north of the Verdon valley from Croix de Puy, Villars-Colmars
The week passed quickly and soon the last day was approaching and with it our greatest planned adventure: The overnight wild-camping hike to Lac d'Allos. We had already hiked up to the lake in the beginning, but it is such a beautiful site that it was worth visiting again. The fact that you are allowed to put up your tent in the Mercantour national park was also a factor.

Gathering all the stuff needed for night in the tent with all three kids took some time. The main problem is bulk, since the kids cannot carry too much in their small backpacks and the one carrying our youngest, little M, aged 1,5 years, cannot carry that much. My main anxiety however focused around if we would be cold in our sleeping bags at 2200m altitude. I got quite mixed answers, but most seemed to think that we would be ok with 10C sleeping bags provided we had good sleeping mats and some extra clothes on. To be on the safe side however I decided to buy a new 0C comfort temperature down sleeping bag for my wife. A cold wife is an unhappy wife and women tend to sleep colder. The price at Decathlon for the S0 Ultralight down bag was very competitive, around 100€, but 1kg for a 0C bag does not really merit the label "Ultralight" in my view.

A Decathlon S0 "Ultralight" 0-degree sleeping bag strapped to the Patapum
A family of 5 also require a bit of space so we had to bring two tents. Cooking gear was skipped however since we could eat dinner at the Lac d'Allos mountain hut. Anyway my Mariposa pack was stuffed like a sausage.

Wild camping with small kids causes bulky loads
Since I knew from the start the kids backpacks were too small I had adjusted the shoulder straps of my homemade silnylon pack to fit S. This allowed for some more space. But unfortunately the fit was not excellent and we had to carry his pack for awhile.
S in front of Lac d'Allos with a modified MYOG 150g silnylon pack

Although modified the bag was too large to fit properly
Having climbed the 200m from the parking the views opened up. Lac d'Allos sits beautifully inside a kettle of mountains. If I remember correctly it was formed by an ancient glacier. The water looks very inviting for a swim, but it is forbidden by park rules. Well, it is probably too cold anyway.

Lac d'Allos with the Towers of Allos in the background

A marmot just a few meters from the trail
View to the west of Lac d'Allos - I probably heard mountain goats battling on this slope
Having arrived at the mountain hut we just had to wait for our pre-booked dinner. The hut proved to be quite well equipped and even had a bar so I could try to relax with the vacations first and only Pastis before supper and enjoy the view. Dinner didn't disappoint either, it proved to be the best dinner we had during our stay. The service was great too. It might not be real wilderness, but the luxurious huts in the alps definitely have their advantages too. I must be careful so I don't get accustomed. Repeat after me: "Freeze-dried food, spiced with mosquitoes devoured in pouring rain IS better than beef casserole washed down with red wine and hot blueberry pie"

The Lac d'Allos mountain hut - a most pleasant establishment
Well fed and happy we sat out to find ourselves a good camping spot for our two tents. My initial plan was to hike one or two kilometers to Plan de Méouille north of the lake, but a nice supper takes it's time so it was already getting dark when we rolled out of the dining room. Luckily there was no shortage of good grassy spots close by with splendid views of the lake as well. I chose a nice clearing somewhat sheltered by big larch trees. My hope was that this would be a warmer spot.

M beams with joy after having "helped" with the tent by removing the front pegs
We split ourselves up between the tents so I would sleep with the older seasoned campers F and S in the Lunar Duo and my wife would sleep with little M in the Cloudburst. "Don't worry", I said, "He will sleep like a log with all the fresh air". In the beginning everything worked according to plan. F and S soon fell asleep after a long and exciting day and M eventually dozed off in his mothers arms.

F and S enjoy the view while winding down before bedtime

SMD Lunar Duo and Tarptent Cloudburst - Having two tents proved to be a great idea
Sleep doesn't come so easily for me in a tent however and after an hour or so I was just starting to fall asleep when M started crying. After a few minutes M was handed to me with the short words: "You take him". The tone hinted that there was no room for arguing. The wild camping was my idea after all. After a few minutes of cradling him in my arms and rocking him gently he fell asleep, but as soon as I tried to put him down on the mattress he started crying again and the delicate procedure of creeping out of the tent, baby in arms, slowly rise up and walk around had to be repeated again. At first there was something very romantic about calming him in the moonlight surrounded by the beautiful landscape, but at 2am after two failed attempts, that feeling faded somewhat. It did not end there either, he would wake up every two hours or so, just when I had found a good position around the annoying rock under my Thermarest. At 6am he was full awake and wanted breakfast. It was starting to remind me of "Strapatz-exercises" in the military, the ones where you could fall asleep while walking. By some miracle however he fell asleep again at 7am and then slept like a proper baby until 9am when we all had to wake up to take down the tents. I've had better camping experiences.

A quite camp in the moonlight
To further enhance the experience it also started to rain during the night. Not that it was a big problem, but it took away the reward of a beautiful morning with a calm breakfast in a stunning environment. Luckily the rest of the family had slept very well in the other tent. No one had been cold. Slowly we gathered all our stuff and set out downhill towards the car one more experience richer. In hindsight I should have trained little M in camping before the trip to make him accustomed to the new surroundings. As I write these lines however, the memories of sleep deprivation have mostly faded away, and despite this minor low, the main recollection remains one of adventure, moonlight over alps and a sense of accomplishment. However, the temptation of good life in the form of hot mountain hut beds, three-course dinners and wine, is luring in the background. After all, there is a time and place for everything.

5 kommentarer:

  1. Great stuff Gustav! What a fantastic way to spend the family holidays. Lovely photos and adventures for the kids, going to return to the Alps again ;) ?!

    The Patapum looks a bit like the Manduca (http://manduca.de/).

  2. congratulations!!!!great experience no doubt despite the minor difficulties.i wish i had spot the same location with you as i was near colmar last month...beautiful beautiful place!!keep on

  3. Hendrik,
    We will most certainly go back, although Corsica is probably next on the list.

    George, sorry for my late post. I'm not so fast in writing up my experiences right now.

  4. Great post. Your kids are lucky to be going on adventures like that at such a young age. I found hiking when I was well into my twenties.


  5. Amazing set of photos, totally different from the world I live, but still so beautiful.tks for sharing.