Photographer

La Chapelle-d’Abondance

I love the shutters on the windows, they make the room so dark it completely messes with my body clock. Getting up at 7 was difficult this morning but I thought I had better make an effort as I had asked especially for an early breakfast and the lady that runs the Hotel National in Saint Gingolph said she would come in earlier than usual.

There are a number of hotels in the town and I would recommend staying at one of those rather than the National. It was overpriced and smelled musty. At €80 for bed and breakfast it is way overpriced. As only bread and jam was on offer for breakfast I think that €35 would be a fair price. Look elsewhere unless, like me, you found this the cheapest option in town. Oh, and the television only showed a blue screen.

When I finally got out of bed and put the shutters up, it was raining and the cloud were well down the mountain.

I fussed with my backpack until 9:20 and then set off, expecting to get wet. The rain stopped as I walked out of the door and didn’t start again until I got to La Chapelle d’Abondance.

The guidebook suggests that walking from Saint Gingolph to La Chapelle d’Abondacne in one day at the start of the GR5 is not for the faint hearted, with two steep passes and big descents to deal with. It estimates 8 hours plus if you are fit. I think I am and so I set off, but decided to walk the first hill rather than run it; no point in setting out too fast.

As I climbed from Lac Leman (390m) to Col de Bise (1916m) I was struck by how different the experience of trekking in the Alps is to trekking in the Himalayas. Climbing 1560m in one go, on your first day in the Himalayas could kill you. As Himalayan treks often start at over 2500m, it is necessary to climb slowly to aclimatise, with 300m a day being the usual safe daily ascent recommended. No acclimatisation problems in the Alps of course. Mind you, I didn’t get much running in on the ascent, just a few low gradient sections.

The rain held off as I climbed through the forest, sweat dripping from the end of my nose, the low cloud creating 100% humidity. Eventually I pulled out of the tree line and a break in the clouds encouraged me to take out my camera. It was like magic. Suddenly there were small patches of blue sky and sunshine.

Rounding the next corner I found the source of all te footprints in the mud. There were about a dozen hikers in front of me. Up until then I had had the trail to myself. They were moving very slowly and I soon past them, to once more claim a deserted trail.

From the Col de Bise I was able to run easily downhill to Bise, about 500m lower. The scenery was rather splendid and I should have stopped to take a photo whilst the weather wa clear, but I was enjoying the descent too much. Approaching Bise, the path levelled out and the cattle had made the path into a quagmire. I plunged up to my calves in a mixture of liquid clay and cow shit, almost losing a shoe. There are definite advantages to wearing hiking boots and gaiters. My blue Salomon running shoes came out transformed. (They are now lying on my hotel balcony drying, hopefully, after I washed them in the sink. The sink is now blocked, something I am a little embarrassed about.)

From Bise there was another pass to climb and a sign said it would take an hour. It took me thirty minutes, and I stopped for lunch and to admire the cattle sitting on the coll. They didn’t look impressed. Nor was I, they had made a real mess of the path on the other side, churning up the clay into the sloppiest, sloppiest travesty imaginable.

Descents are easy, right? Maybe if you don’t train on the flat most of the time. Still I ran well and the second big descent of the day was a blast. Reaching La Chapelle d’Abundance I stopped on the first piece of flat ground to check which hotel I was staying in. My legs didn’t like the change of gradient and my left leg went into an impressive cramp that had me dancing around on one foot for about five minutes. It must have been quite amusing. Hopefully my legs will improve over the next few days. In the meantime I am drinking tonic water!

I’m staying in the rather spendid Esprit Montagne, just up the road from La Chapelle d’Aabundance in La Pantiaz. The menu du jour was fascinating; I didn’t know that your could roast watermellon as a vegetable or make a desert out of Jerusalem artichoke and parsnip. Oh and try pureeing kiwi fruit as a sauce. All delicious.

264m 35s 12.62 miles
20m 58s/mile
1836 ascent, 1202 descent

Book suggested 8 hours

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