Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 01, 2011: Grenoble - Labour Day, Vercors Hike

Today is Labour Day, or May Day, in France and much of the rest of Europe. We weren't anticipating doing much, since it is one of two days in the year during which pretty much everything is closed (the other day is Christmas). We weren't even sure if the market would be on.

So it was fantastic that the phone rang after breakfast with an offer from Sheree to go hiking in the Vercors plateau. Mark too much work to do, so he stayed home, but I headed out with Sheree, her husband Bob, their friend Bernard and their dog Einzel.

As we left town we passed the market - which was just as lively as ever (there's something a bit odd about capitalism in full swing on a holiday for worker's solidarity). Many people were carrying small bouquets of lilies of the valley, which are traditionally sold on Labour Day.

Our hike started up in the hills at the village of Engins and continued up (and up and up) on a small road through the trees until we broke through to a rolling alpine meadow landscape and great views looking down on Grenoble. Not much further up was the top of the plateau, so we continued along. The changes in the landscape were fascinating; the first part of our hike was similar to a Southern Ontario woodland, with lots of deciduous trees; then we came to the rolling Alpine meadow, which reminds me of the hills near San Francisco; then on top of the plateau we came to an area of limestone rocks, moss and evergreens, very much like the Bruce Peninsula.

We had a map that noted the location of the Gouffre Berger, a French cave discovered in 1953, which held the record for the deepest cave in the world until 1963 (1,122 metres!). It has since fallen to the 28th deepest, but it's still the 4th deepest in France, so it seemed like a worthy goal. Along our way Bernard ran into a friend who told him that it's difficult to find, even with a map. So we were scanning intently for the side trail that would lead off to it. Although most French hiking trails are very well marked and maintained, this one isn't - probably because the cave was closed to exploration in recent years because of the deaths of some explorers (if it rains the almost vertical cave fills up rapidly with water, so it can be easy to be trapped and drowned). But we were fortunate to meet a few fellow hikers who were coming back from the cave who could tell us how far it was and what markers to watch out for.

The ground underfoot became very bizarre as we got closer - the limestone had regular deep, narrow fissures in it - it was like walking on a large, loosely assembled jigsaw puzzle - the pieces almost fit together but not quite. We put Einzel on her leash to keep her safe (the fissures were just the right size for a small dog to drop down into) and made our way carefully. The vegetation was starting to resemble BC coastal rainforest - very green and deeply mossy. When we reached the cave it was definitely worth the trip - although you can't see very far into it (maybe 40 feet) it drops down vertically almost immediately, and knowing how deep it is amplifies the sense of vertigo as you peer over the edge.

The view over Grenoble

This little tree isolated on the hill with the big blue sky makes me think of the illustrations in "The Little Prince"

This is listed as one of the most beautiful water sources in the area, with its basin in the shape of an olive. I'm sure it is normally, but it was under repair  - you wouldn't want to drink the water now.

The gliders overhead made a distant screaming sound, like a group of children gone wild

Interesting green flowers with burgundy edges - I haven't seen them elsewhere

Fissures in the ground as we near the Gouffre

Looking over the abyss of the Gouffre Berger - note the snow preserved in the depths

Bob carefully looks over the edge as Sheree stands back

Bernard descends into the entryway to the Gouffre
The view while standing about 10 feet deep in the entryway

The view from another angle - it's like the hole comes out of nowhere

Memorials to those who have died in the Gouffre

Many trees in the area of the Gouffre have toppled - peeled right off of the underlying limestone

Leaves on the trees have just started to come out at this high elevation

No comments:

Post a Comment