Autumnal Adventures: Hiking in Les Portes du Soleil
Autumn is a magical time of year here in the Alps. The mountains are once again calm from the hectic summer season, the weather is on the turn from the scorching heat of the summer, and little hints that winter is just around the corner are popping up all over the place. We particularly love this time of year as it allows us to get out and explore our local mountains and hike to places that are usually either over-run with tourists (we have nothing against tourists by the way), or buried under 5 feet of snow. Its also generally too hot in the summer to go for epic high altitude hikes making the autumn pretty much the perfect time of year for a ramble in the mountains.
Willow (our Spaniel) also loves this time of year as it means shes getting a much greater amount of variety on her doggy walks. The only downside (that we can see) is that right across France, it is also the season for the 'Chasse'...The hunt. This does pose a few safety issues that we would quite frankly prefer not have to spell out, but with the correct precautions taken it shouldn't impact on the enjoyment of our incredible area for everyone else.
First and foremost we check all the hunt signs in the areas that we want to explore, as they clearly state which days hunting is permitted in that particular region. This same information is also available on the official french hunt app 'Chassecco'.
As a general rule of thumb, if the sign says that people are allowed to hunt on the day of the week that you have chosen to go hiking, its probably a good idea to re-think your route and head to another part of the valley where the permitted days may be different.
We also make sure that both Willow and ourselves are dressed in brightly coloured clothes (Willow has a special hi-vis orange jacket to wear) to make us all as visible as possible.
We have quite a few 'favourite' hikes in the area, here are just some of our regular haunts:
Jouran Loup in St Jean - a 4-5 hour route circling from St Jean Village, around the left hand side of the Grande Terche mountain, along the ridge and back down through Le Moussiere d'en Haut
Pointe de Nyon/Nantaux - 2 of the 3 main peaks surrounding Morzine, both hard work with over 1000m of vertical climbing each!!!
The Dereche from Morzine to St Jean - Again a 4 hour round trip, but much more easy going as it follows La Dranse River down the valley.
Mont d'Evian to Lac de Damoz du Moulin - a fantastically scenic, yet incredibly steep hike to a beautiful peat lake, set above a beautiful mountain Alpage where you can frequently see the farmers herd of cows grazing, all on the sunny side of the valley, above St Jean.
Les Linderets to Brochaux Waterfall - a stunningly beautiful but relatively short walk from Linderet Bowl to Brochaux Waterfall next to the Mosettes chairlift.
Col de Coux and Valley de la Manche - There are so many stunning hikes at the far end of this valley its difficult to talk about them all, so i'm just going to concentrate on the hike I attempted today...Lac de mines d'or to Col de Coux...
Willow and I (Joe) arrived at Le Lac des Mines D'or at around midday today, eager to get out in the mountains and make the most of what was both a stunning day weather wise, and a no-hunting day across the valley. From previous experience, Valley de la Manche is always cold and so I had taken all the correct precautions and worn about 10 layers...just in case.
As i stepped out of the car however, I realised that the quantity of layers that I had decided to wear was nothing sort of ridiculous overkill, and promptly began shedding layers back in to the car, much to Willows annoyance as a wave of excitement/frustration overcame her, manifesting itself in the most ridiculous set of whines and squealing noises i've ever heard.
Once I had managed to regulate my temperature back to as close to normal as I could get it (black jeans were a silly idea), I set my Suunto watch up to record our hike, and set off. The first part of the walk we have all done many times. You set off from the top of the car park up a fire road that snakes its way through the pine forests surrounding the lake, and after around 10 mins or walking up (there's a fair amount of walking UP on this hike...around 500m vertically to be precise) the forests give way to an incredible vista of rolling alpine fields with high cliffs all around. The walk continues along the fire road, up into the alpage and towards les Chalets du Freterolles. Once you reach the chalet the gravel track finishes and you set off on the track leading across the fields towards more forest.
Before we took this turn however, Willow decided it was a good idea to go for a swim in the cows drinking trough, much to my horror, right in front of the farmer that owns it. After a small amount of apologising in french we set off into the mountains. Not far from this trough you get to a fork in the route, where we hung a left and started up the almost instantly mega-steep trail leading to the top.
We followed this trail for around 30 minutes or so, occasionally having to pause to either take another layer off, catch my breath, take in the view back down toward Morzine or to work out exactly which way the path went.
Having crossed many springs, bogs, open fields and rocky outcrops, the trail all of a sudden met with another fire road, heading straight up the mountain towards the Col. Another 15 minutes or so of trudging up the fire road brought us within sight of the prize: Col de Coux.
The view that met us at the Col is one that is almost unsurpassed within the Portes du Soleil, with far reaching views into Switzerland and snow capped mountains within a stones throw of the top of the col.
There were rolling Alpages stretching out below us, Les Dent Blanches mountains to our right, and centre stage was Les Dent du Midi Mountains at over 3000m high. WHAT A VIEW!!!
As I was still catching my breath and trying to cool down from the climb up, i decided to sit straight down and tuck in to some food - chicken noodle soup in a flask and a tin of tuna salad from Carrefour. No sooner had I sat down, my t-shirt still damp with perspiration, the wind picked up, sending a shiver down my spine. Out came all of the clothes that I had removed on the way up, and soon I was dressed well enough to summit Mont Blanc! We found a spot slightly over the ridge that was a bit more sheltered, to sit and eat, whilst marveling at the scene stretched out in front of us, and occasionally seeing what the guy manning the border station was up to; mostly not a lot!
After about 20 minutes or so, the wind picked up to such an extent that even with my many layers on, and a healthy amount of hot chicken soup in my belly, i was bloody freezing. I decided that it was a good time to head back down the mountain. We took one last look at the view and set of on the other half of the alpage loop.
Within 100m I was out of the wind, and far too hot again. I therefore removed all the layers for the second time in only a couple of hours and set about heading back. I think that when i next do this route, I will probably ascend via this route and make more of a loop out of the whole trip, heading back down the fire road I came up, but following it further to come out at the foot of the Tete du Bostan.
We came across a couple of herds of cows on the way down which was a welcome distraction to the dull ache developing in both of my knees. This particular cow seemed very interested in us, and came right over to us to say hello.
The scenery changes very quickly as you head back down the alpage back towards the lake, with trees becoming less sparce and the grass seeming almost greener than at the top.
This trail took us back down a few hundred metres to the right of the trail we had taken on the way up, and although it seemed steeper, I had no problem following it and at no point did it disappear like the trail on the way up did.
We also came across a herd of horses, which were equally interested in Willow and I, although i feel this was probably because they couldn't actually see us due to their fringes being slightly too long.
After chatting to the horses for a few minutes we continued down the alpage with the lake and the car park now in sight. This was also the first time that we came across anyone on the entire walk (except the guy in the border hut), wishing a couple 'bon appetite' as we walked past their mid afternoon picnic.
The trail eventually meandered its way down towards the farm where Willow had embarrassed me earlier, passing a giant wooden cross overlooking the entire valley.
It then joined up with the fire road that we started out on, around 2 and a half hours earlier, which was welcome relief as my knees were pretty much ruined by this point! We ambled back to the car, Willow still not showing any signs of fatigue, checking the hedges for any signs of mushrooms (see my previous blog), feeling completely content with our afternoons activities.
What a place we live in, and how lucky are we to be able to head out to the top of a mountain (1920m above sea level) and have all the trails not only marked, but relatively well maintained! I absolutely love living in Les Portes du Soleil, and whilst I sit here with a glass of french red, typing this, I am struggling to think of anywhere I'd rather be. #lovemorzine