Posts Tagged ‘Vosges’

This is what friends do on a Sunday afternoon…


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I run. It started innocently enough this summer with the goal of getting fit for another go at the GR 10 in the Pyrenees. Sadly, a bad case of shingles and a few other setbacks forced me to set that plan aside for another time. But the running continued. It felt good. It feels good. As a flatlander, I’d never really thought much about the purpose of a hill. Here in the city there may not be a single hill more than 10m high. Before my introduction to the world of trail running this would never have posed a problem…now it does. I want to fight gravity to get to higher ground with my heart pounding and gallons of sweat pouring down my back. With each breath I want to smell the seasons changing instead of car exhaust. I want the ground below me to change with each step.

A wise person once said, “Hills are made for running up.” And that same wise person then made me watch this video.

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Hiking is nice, but so is napping.

selfie, napping, Vosges

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It was an early Saturday morning – by 6:30 am I was up and ready to go. In fact, I had woken up more than once during the night because I was especially excited to meander in the Vosges that afternoon with some friends.

By ten past seven, the four of us (Jonathan, Anne, John and I) were packed in the car and en route for “Monument Brun”. Finding the monument wasn’t easy – it was literally a tiny monument raised for a soldier killed during the first World War about 15 meters above the road on a trail. We parked and thus began our adventure.

Before long we were gaining a bit of altitude, admiring the forest and looking for our turnoff for the steep ascent off the forestry path towards the Lac du Ballon. We eventually found it, but there was a sign that said “SENTIER FERME” or “TRAIL CLOSED”. I really didn’t want to spend the next 12 km on a gravel and packed dirt forestry path, so I suggested that we take the closed trail. No one objected (or if they did they didn’t speak up…I think), so off we went. The switchbacks were steep and the forest carpet was dense with ferns and nettles.

After about an hour of traipsing on squelchy ground and bushwhacking our way through the ferns and nettles, we found ourselves on a trail-ish route, which ceased to be a trail at some point that wasn’t so clear. It led to blackberry brambles (not yet ripe) and wild strawberry patches (yum). Below us about 100 m in the valley was a fast flowing stream. We encountered puddles that were ankle high and brush so thick you couldn’t see the ground. The trail had obviously been closed for over a year and nature again reigned supreme – two hawks soared just above our heads and squawked as if we were threatening intruders.

There was a point when I thought – we’ve come this far (no longer on a trail, but bushwhacking) and it will be just as rough to continue on and find the cleared trail as it would be if we turned around and went back to where we started.

Finally, we reached a series of waterfalls at the bottom of the valley and then were forced to go up out of the ravine (back wasn’t really and option). John forged ahead and found the easiest route up the scree and thick layer of leaf rot. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but we all worked together. There were moments where I felt very Lewis-and-Clark-like – scrambling up rock formations and looking out across the tree tops – though we didn’t have an indigenous guide. There were moments during the over-hour-long scramble when I thought that it may be near impossible to get all four of us up and over. I managed a controlled fall and slid down the steep slope  about 2 m without any injury about halfway up.

Once we made it to the trail, we celebrated with a few high fives, but I think I preferred bushwhacking to to the actual open trail.

We walked about thirty more minutes before we reached a clearing where we could see the weather station at the top of the Grand Ballon and just below a ferme-auberge (where we stuffed our faces!).

After lunch we began our (30 minute) ascent of the Grand Ballon. The weather seemed perfect – the sun was out and to the south and east everything was clear. What we didn’t see was the weather system coming up the west side. It blew in and dropped buckets of hard, cold rain on us just as we reached the shelter of the weather station. Underneath the awning were about fifty other people all trying to keep dry. The rain lasted for about 10 minutes and then moved on to the valley below.

We thought after our ascent on the closed trail and after the cold rain had passed – the descent would be simple. It wasn’t. The leaf rot and wet sandstone made the steep walk down difficult. Each step had to be sure. About 4 km out from the car and exactly 1 km between mountain auberge, Anne fell! Her ankle was twisted. Her ankle swelled instantly.

Luckily, John carried an Ace bandage with him. I wrapped her ankle and gave her some anti-inflammatory meds. The unlucky part was that we had to figure out how to get Anne off the trail and to a car – and without someone else getting hurt. John suggested we continue down to the next auberge and then he and Jonathan would pick up the car. I sent them straight off to fetch the car and stayed with Anne to make the 1 km trek. She used two walking sticks to take the pressure off of her foot. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the auberge.

The farmer/aubergiste gave us directions for Jonathan to follow on his drive up – followed by a glass of wine and a cup tea. We waited for about an hour and a half for the car. Apparently it was an “off-road” experience with fallen trees and deep puddles. Our ride down was (according to Jonathan) much smoother than their ride up, though it caused some stress for Anne (despite her stoicism).

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Rosheim to Lutzelhouse: 22 km

I couldn’t feel better or more ready for bed…

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Headed to Gare Centrale at 8 a.m. to catch a train to Saales for a walk to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges.

Stefanie met up with me on the platform just in time to catch the train. It was a 1.5 hour journey through some beautiful green countryside. We arrived in Saales and quickly found our way to the trail head. This task wasn’t so difficult since there were only three streets (I may be exaggerating).

Both Stefanie and myself were suffering from Saturday morning lag and Stefanie had a cold…the previous weekend she stayed in in order to recover, but didn’t. I guess this was her attempt at curing her cold…with an extended aerobic activity – climbing the Vosges. She says it worked!

This walk was particularly difficult because of its steep inclines and descents that were never-ending (for nearly 6.5 hours). It was also a pretty long walk at 21 km. The views were beautiful – nearly half of the walk was along the ridge of three separate “mountains” (actually 870 m high hills) from there you could see the valleys on either side. The pine forest was magical – the only thing missing was a forest sprite to play a trick on us or a wild boar to come charging.

We passed several enormous ant hills along the way – just outside one was the half consumed carcass of a tiny grey mouse. It was gross, but I was fascinated with the cycle of life at that moment (and had to take a picture). Near the end, the trail joined up with a historical way-marked trail for World War I structures still standing in that area. There were old air raid shelters, observation towers and bunkers for the soldiers.

Saint-Dié was a bit of a disappointment – it could have been the treeless lots with high rise public housing or empty streets with an occasional lazy cat on the porch (I’m not sure what I was expecting, but at least the people at the café I spoke to were nice). On the train home we ate a box of brownies, a sandwich each, Powerade, carrot sticks, apple and other dried fruit…then we slept.

Here are a few highlights:

WWI iron observation tower


Post walk Coke in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges

Au revoir Lorraine

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