After we left Le Pontet, it was a long, long way all uphill. The Teenager was briefly impressed when we passed a big pile of stones to mark where someone had keeled over and died.
It was grueling, and the path was packed. It seemed like everyone and their sporty girlfriend were hiking there that day. Everyone passed us because no one else had as much stuff to carry as we did, and it had started dawning on my dad that we were way overloaded. I had switched back to my pack because the frame of the other one had bruised my back.
Very, very slowly we crept up the mountain, leaving the trees behind and coming out into open alps, long gorgeous stretches of wildflowers with tricking steams and the dusty blue mountains sharp in the distance. It was beautiful, but all the crowds rushed past as fast as possible.
The general type of people who hike this trail aren’t naturalists. They are sporty types who want a competitive physical challenge with mountain views. It’s very different from the naturalists who stop to observe and explore and discover things.
I’d never realized that distinction before, as most outdoorsy sports people will think they like nature and the outdoors, but it is like Christians vs. Buddhists: the sporty folks want to get to the top as fast as possible and prove how good they are, but for naturalists it is about process and the discoveries along the way.
This was a good place for butterflies, and my dad had his camera out often. The guide book claimed it was a 7 hour hike, but by the late afternoon we had been walking for 7 hours and were so tired we stopped at a camping spot only 1/8 th of the day’s projected hike.
There was even a refuge, and I had heard people on the trail taking about good food, but when we asked at the refuge they only had very expensive drinks available, so we bought apricot juice and hot chocolate so we could charge our phones and crept back to our tents to eat what we’ve been calling the Ten Tons of Trail mix my mom mixed up for us that no one really wants to eat and no one wants to carry around, but she spent so much money on the macadamia nuts in it we can’t throw it away either. It weighs almost as much as Rose’s whole backpack.
This was an ill-fated night when Rose took pity on me for getting stuck with the inflatable Thermarest pad that our cat Tabsie had attacked while we were packing our stuff at home, and I only discovered once on the Tour that it goes completely flat in 5 minutes. She offered me her super confortable mattress for the night and took mine instead.
I slept so unbelievably well I didn’t even wake up with one of my limbs numb like the last 3 nights, but this only annoyed Rosie even more in the morning when she woke up crying that her back hurt and I tried to comiserate.
This next day was even more steeply uphill than the day before (yes, I am not exaggerating, we gained 1,000 meters in half the hike). The worst part is the way you think you can see the top, and for hours you toil towards it thinking you’re getting so close, but once you get over the top you realize there’s a whole of stretch of uphill you couldn’t see, that just disappears into the sky again.
We got up to what had seemed for hours like the top, and it stretched out into a long flattish road that became very rocky uphill paths through meadows and snow drifts. The path got tinier and more narrow. The flowers got smaller and more sparse and we ran out of water and looked for streams.
My dad was not doing well this part of the hike. He was very tired, and Rose and the Teenager went ahead to look for water and I kept close by to make sure he wouldn’t die of a heart attack and get left behind. When we caught up to the kids, they had discovered a tiny trickle in the rocks we dripped into our waterbottles and treated with a drop of iodine.
I stayed with my dad while he rested, and took his camera bag for the next part, which required free hands to grab the rocks it was so steep.I couldn’t believe how heavy it was. The strap dug into my shoulder and was exhausting just a short way up to the Col de la Croix. Why he thought it was a good idea to lug it along on a 110 mile hike up the alps is beyond me.
Down below there was a refuge and when we arrived we smelled delicious smells and people were sitting at tables finishing plates of food, so we got our hopes up for a hot meal, but when I asked at the desk they said the kitchen was closed for the day (at 4:30pm for some mystical reason) and advised us to hike (only 2 hours! ) down to the tiny town of Les Chapieux.
It was ONLY a 7km hike all downhill from there to a tiny town but downhill is tiring on the knees. We were all horribly sunburned and windburned, despite hats, and the Teenager, who looked like Lobster Boy all over because he had taken his shirt off to tan, was agonizing about his pink ears and insisting I owed him plastic surgery so they wouldn’t stick out so far in reparations for bringing him on the hike.
When we finally made it down to the bottom, we realized the “town” was just a few buildings. There was one restaurant, one small general store, a shuttered hotel, a tourist office with a public bathroom, and a field with tents and RV’s.
As I was studying the fabulous menu posted in front of the restaurant, a bell rang and people started running over from all directions. I went into the bar to ask about getting a table, and the waiter told me dinner was reservation only, and there were no extra places availible.
The Teenager almost flipped out when he heard that, so we ran to the store, which advertised sandwiches. It was about to close, and the gentleman behind the counter looked like he would rather stab us with an ice pick than sell us anything (this is actually typical in French touristy places) but we grabbed whatever foodlike supplies were on hand and shelled out euros before we stumbled off to set up tents and eat cold ravioli out of the can for dinner.