Saturday 28 October 2023

France 2023: part one: GR54 Bourg d'Oisans to Vallouise

bdo-to-v Ref: France 2023. I have August to look around the Ecrins, loosely based around the GR54. I've been here before of course; see for a token this from 2016 or this from 2017. This time I'm going lightweight; see kit list; no stove, crampons, axes. "Light" turned out to mean a nominal 7.5 kg pack that was actually more like 8.5 with water and food. The text here is from contemporaneous notes, lightly tarted up. I've split it into logical sections; this first is from the start, to Vallouise. My pic shows the combined GPS trace. You can see all 1,400 pix from the Ecrins and Belledonne.

Monday July 31st: [pix]: up shower b'fast finish pack fond farewell off 4:10 am. To station 4:40 and… 4:53 is canned too. Could risk 5:26 but the KC line is clearly hoodooed; 4:48 to Liverpool Street is shiny and on time and quick tube to St P. Almost get 7:01 but instead 6:30 cafe (Paul) and croissant and wait for my 8:01. Zonked on train down but recovering somewhat now.

I do miss ye goode olde dayes of just turning up at the port and cycling onto the ferry.

15 mins security + passport to holding area to boarding; on 7:50. Sleep most of trip. Decide to walk Gare du Nord to Lyon. Outside: grey. Paris: walk out, down to river, over Iles, past Notre Dame (a sad mess of scaffolding), over St L past D's shirt shop still open. Hotel de Lutece being gutted, les Deux Iles thriving. Wx: grey with some rain. Not the most attractive view of Paris. Gare du Lyon 1:30 Cafe Roberta. All this has been well ponced up since I was last here. Warning: Grenoble is from Hall 2. TGV. An hour in and the northern grey is gone. Sun, windmills, woods. Lyon 4:10. Not centre, St Euxpery, so I don't know what the centre is like. Grenoble 5:10, preceded by mountains of limestone. Hot. Where am I? Gare routiere round the corner I have ten mins to get bus €6.90. Slight shame not to look around. But, on!


And so to Bourg d'Oisans, about 7. The familiar blue high up but shade below. Time to stop. At… l'hotel de Milan. A little pricey but really. My Room. And I get dinner from supermarche. Beautiful still evening, sit out with coffee as the light fades. Down the road l'hotel des Alpes which maybe M and I stayed at before, but they're full. Realise I don't really know where the GR54 goes, so take a pic of a wall map in the hotel. This turns out to be a bit of a theme.

Tuesday August 1st: [pix]: alarm 6:30 in time for brief poke around before b'fast at 7. Sun/cloud cool before sun arrives; in down jacket. Slept well v quiet. B'fast buffet good: cafe croissant honey fresh bread fresh oj yoghurt pear another cafe more juice; read (DLS: Unnatural Death) and about time to go. Pack, boots inside so wear trainers for longish valley start. I have too much stuff, and I was so pleased by how little I'd brought. 

[GPS: Bourg d'Oisans to lac Lauvitel; 14k +900m] Experts will notice that I'm going round "backwards". If you do this on the TMB you'll end up bonjouring people all day, but the Ecrins are quieter and I don't think, in retrospect, that their are any disadvantages, other than it making the guidebooks a bit more confusing. Fortunately, I didn't have one :-). I started off this way because I wanted to see la Roche de la Muzelle early.

Off 8:15 after chat with hotel bloke who it turns out is from Toft and has been out here for 7 years. Sun around mountain as I start off but soon in forest then clouds. All very charming and green inc lac Buclet.


Plenty of space for rough camping - with views of impending rock walls. Sadly les Gauchoirs has no cafe and then I start to head up. 11: 1010 m at stream crossing food break then lac Lauvitel.

12:40 Lauvitel. Good. Not good camping though: stony. No cafe; private chalets. Some rain. Recharge watch.


2: off. 3: rest 1740. 5:15: 2300 m. What would be a nice camping spot maybe 100 m under col. Slow going.

[GPS: Lac Lauvitel to col du Vallon; 6k +1000 m]: Col: 2540. Hmm wasn't quite expecting that much. About 6? Rest and recharge watch. Views of lake & cloudy Muzelle. Then down. [GPS: Col du Vallon to ref M to bivvi]: Many zigs. Refuge about 7. Dinner is of course in progress, sit outside. Sheep baa. Other side of lake is permitted camping and... 14 well spaced tents. Can see up across to tomorrow's col.

Get a glass of red wine and am lighter by 4€, literally, which is good. A jewish fam turns up: girls long skirts boys skullcaps ma+pa similar. Around 8:30 go across - its about 10 min - and easily find a nice pitch so setup. I need to work this out properly, this time I've made it a bit low. Snooze, then brush teeth and settle for the night. Stars and clouds. Note tarp held up by ski stick: I don't have a proper tent.


Wed 2nd: [pix]: sleep well snooze and when I finally get up it is nearly 8. View: bivvi towards col. Wx: dry, half cloud, shaded here. Pack up, all is dry, and across to refuge because I intend to stash pack and climb up to the Roche Percee [GPS]. Eat a couple of oatcakes - that seems to be all for b'fast - and up. Same path as for Glacier de la Muzelle which I consider but reject: I'm feeling slow today and my walk up shows it. RP is worth seeing but hard to photo. Mtn opp (Tete de la Muraillette) reflects beautifully in still blue lake.


10 ish: back to ref, cafe 2€ which regrettably recovers some change. Sun. Look inside. There are 6 beds in the main salle.


[GPS: Refuge de la Muzelle to col of the same, 3k +500 m]: 10:30 off. Skirt lake head up, slowly. 11:30: 2400 m rest. There is signal :-). Grind up.

Col 2600 m 12:10 just outside book time. Sun but windy. Fine views back and ahead. Have some cheese (Tesco finest Comte) and some oatcakes. Off 12:40.

[GPS: Col de la Muzelle to Valsenestre, 7k]: Well, its a long way down and looks a bit of a slag heap (pic, from gite, from which lacets are more obvious). End in Gite Valsenestre 1296 m so 1300+ down. Left knee slightly feeling it but better after rest. Became hot descending in sun in dry valley but at bottom into shade. GR heads straight up again but Valsenestre is only half hour away and I'd like to visit. Small place - hameau - but nice gite with shady courtyard so arrive 3 and sit there all afternoon with biere then cafe then red wine. Skip dinner but have shower v nice. Bed in 6 person dortoir.


Note: 20 min down from GR and 10 min up from hameau is a "bivouac permis" area; shade and sun under pines but no facilities, but there's public loos and water in Valsenestre. Which is a small place, well cared for but very quiet outside the gite.

Tomorrow: could follow GR 1000 m up over col or could follow road / path to La Chapelle en Valjouffrey which I'd quite like to see. But its 10 k, and then 10 k more in the main valley. Ah, choices. And then… ref Font Turbat?

Oh tedious power news: I was down to 30% phone and 50% power pack but now recharged. Note: watch charging is less than 1% for charge but doesn't want to go to 100%.

And so to bed at 9. Dortoir pleasant with 3 sets of bunk beds all clean tidy and well cared for. 

Thurs 3rd: [pix] sleep well bar a "snorrer" late on. Alarm 5:50 and am technically first to b'fast but not first to leave. Remember to pay! Should have last night. €37 for bed, b'fast biere cafe vin. Bowl muesli slice bread+honey bol cafe oj yoghurt. Overnight rain, I think I heard it as falling asleep but not heavy. Time to go… on the way out, chapel; inside. Pic: distant view of Valsenestre on the way up to the col.


[GPS: to col] Off 7 col du Cote Belle 9:40. Book time 3h so good: also feeling fresher. Path is good all the way. Near the top 2160 ish are weird slate seams. To the R a giant slatey scar has been mined


Top is level soft grass. Wx: ¾ cloud, and some clouds below in valleys. 


Views across S side to… Tete du Clotonnet 2835 and below hidden the val Bonne. Cloud fills valley, blows up to me and covers me, blows away, and ten mins later the valley is mostly clear. Chill though. 10:10 gps recharged and off. [GPS: Col to le Desert] Views across, good, not sure if I'm going that way (I'm not: due S is col de Vaurze; I turn left (east) at the bottom to Font Turbat).


11:50: brief pause by stream at 1400 m. Path down not quite as nice as up. Butterflies. Flowers. I'm in trainers for all this good except must not bash toes on rocks. High up above: grassy col and its rock tower.

12:05: down. Le Desert is small but bigger than VS, stop in Resto to… wait out the noonday heat likely: sky is now clear blue.


I'm looking at a roof, which like so many around here has bars across to stop the snow just sliding off. And I recall Pugin's justification for roof pitch in England - i.e. steep, steeper than Italy - is because it is steep enough to avoid snow build up.

Several groups outside cafe in shade. I look at map and "confirm" that I'll go to Font Turbat but sigh. Frenchman next to me takes the conversational opening with "trop de choix" or somesuch and we talk for a while in F before sliding into English on the word "waterproof". 2:45: pay €6 - carte i.e. phone, since the mysterious shortage of monnaie continues - and off. On the way out: public lavoir with little bookshelf, ncie. Signpost. But only a little way to the national park entrance and shade, to while away an hour and let the sun decline a little. Its actually slightly on the cool side in shade. 3h up, apparently. Very quiet: only two cars at le parking. View: dry grass silver birch and through them skyline of distant Olan. Sign for FT (more). Another view upwards.


I read M's metta poem / hymn at lunch. I have opinions (no!). Principally that the care-for-all is not possible, and is not desirable as a goal. In the struggle of Capitalism and Socialism I'm with C, to simplify perhaps too far.

In half an hour several groups pass, probably light walkers for the cascade de la Pisse. Glance to left: oh, an apiary. Lots of hives in the hot hot sun.


[GPS: to Font Turbat] To ref Font Turbat just after 7, 3:15 total, book time. Nice walk up: see pix. Initially flatish in deep valley in trees; grass cut to hay then wilder at the end. Some huge boulders. Starting to slow a little towards the end. 


Wx changed from sun to cloud around 6. Ref is the same small homely place I recall though Mme is somewhat sharp; chickens still. Outside, as I arrive, music: a six piece local folk band (2 accod, 2 flute (traverse), bass, lute ("bazouk"?) leading) "pour guincher". They're ok. They are just outnumbered by the audience. Pic with mountain background. 10-15 mins and in for dinner (them) and register and sit quietly in a corner and stroke the cat (me).


Mme is very concerned to be sure that I have a "sac a viande" which I finally remember is a sleeping bag liner. Dortoir 2 has space; pick one by window. Post dinner the tables are pulled back and they play inside, a Greek theme this time including singing. See pix. I was prepared for horrors but actually it's quite a pleasant way to spend an evening. Though I feel their voice tuning is somewhere on the Greek peasant side. Possibly the flutes too. Lastly (vid fragment) what might be an English song: rose?

Post dinner: shower. €4 but worth it once I work out how to turn on the hot.

Finish book: DLS: Clouds of Witness. Sort-of a crime-writer's suicide note. Rigourously implausible in every respect, new matter thrown in from nowhere, a bizarre trans-atlantic flight (pub 1927), and the tween-the-wars aristocracy losing out to American millionaire. Incidentally: that Mary would elope on same night as Cathcart dies is only about 1:20 so not wildly improbable; but exact timing is; as well as that two such incidents would happen. But her chapter-head mottoes are interesting and speak of breeding.

Hymn: reste avec nous seigneur.

Fri 4th: [pix] b'fast is set for 7:30 which was fine by me so no alarm and wake 7:45 after odd dream that ended with me climbing a tree-sculpture with fish in it that flopped down (I was worried about them) and then a wide-mouthed fish (with those inward pointing teeth) that had caught a wide metal box.

Anyway: b'fast: 2x bol cafe slice rough bread butter homemade jam 2x slice hard cheese ceral yoghurt. Wx: cleared last night to nice sunset (I went out to look for signal no luck). Now in cloud but likely valley cloud so may clear. Brief convo with one of the musiciennes: beginning with language-negotiation in Fr settling on Fr. Cute little book: "Refuge: on vous donne les cles" about refs, etiquette, and so on for those who have never been. Source of the pedalling marmottes cartoon.

9:10: off to lac de Pissous [GPS] "hors sentier". Can see. Sometimes. 9:45 cross stream 2320 path vague orange arrow far side. Lac 10:40. Smaller than I remember. Nearly dry and on this day, deeply unexciting, just a waypoint. Also 20m down so don't. Some clearings of cloud show Breche d'Olan but this late on it isn't appealling; needs more snow. Chill; descend. More tantalising clearings show back to Souffles and down to Ref but not at same time. Harebells.


Back 11:50. Sun. Passed two guys who had yesterday done ?Col Turbat? which was "somewhat harder" than lac. GPS height goes mad. Looking, from Ref, it looks errm tricky but doubtless rock not as steep as it appears. Cafe+tarte citron. Refuge pix: reception; dortoir; chickens; d'hiver.


[GPS: down to le Desert] Off 1 (ref from just below). Faint rain. 


Stare at Col T but can't see it. Looking back upvalley. Down 3:20 pleasant but long. To bar Ecrins to ponder.

[GPS: almost to Souffles, last bit] Village has aire-de-bivouac but decide to go up, 4:20. Wx looks ok. Down over river then up, initially between "walls" of stone cleared from fields. Path is irritatingly steep, so I'm on my toes. Then it flattens a little, we head L away from "narrow" and somewhat evil looking valley which is nice as I'm wondering about some kind of bivvi place. 1h and I'm at 1700 so good progress but rain starts put on coat. A few latecomers descending. Push on up. Pass quasi-good spot: corner between boulders at 2100 but… its too early, it is raining, the valley feels off. Up. Pass Shepherdess fully wrapped up slowly leading her flock down; dogs not of Eng type bulkier. Put on thin gloves. Gets inc windy near top, intermittent rain, path is tiny slate flakes just on the edge of slippery but actually ok. Pass rapidly over, wind vanishes on far side whew. Stop to put on fleece gloves on top and down jacket under coat cos was feeling distinctly cold. Rough stone bivvi circles half hour down but no stream. On.

3h 7:15 to Col Vaurze, 2500m. V windy coming to top, but still on far side whew. Souffles is somewhere down there leftwards...


To Souffles just before 9, which is later than I expected. I swear the col said 1:30 and I didn't dawdle. Path is good. Was getting a bit grim... rain, admittedly light but still gets in the way. Light slowly fading. Feet getting wet because I'm in trainers and they are nothing proof rsp in grass.

They give me a mattress-on-floor in dortoir because they're full. There is an aire de bivouac 50 m away but being inside is nice. I set out to be a fair-weather camper; tonight is marginal and I would if obliged. Wine-cheese-shower.

Sat 5th: [pix] b'fast 7. Outside clear skies above and cloud below, promising. I need to work out where to go... Slept ok, some late noise and some snoring. Souffles is a small hut, friendly, just under 2000m, expects bivouacers who use loos etc freely; and has a poor taste in gnomes.


8: charging phone, looking out of window as upflowing cloud battles descending sun. Maybe I go to Ref Olan (4:30 sez sign). 10 mins later: cloud winning. When does the sun come to the hut? I ask Monsieur. He guesses 9:30. Hmm. Would be nice to set off in sun and I am not in a hurry.

8:30: sun now beating cloud. Difference in feel: if sun, I could lounge in deckchair but without it is cold and damp. M. is wrong: sun arrives 8:45 so sit in it, having wiped chair and found towel.

[GPS: Ref S to Ref Olan] Off… 9:40? To lac Lautier 2360. 10:50. Lovely. Tiny faint tendrils of cloud blow across. Would be fine bivvy spot. Prev: views back over today and yesterday: col in far distance. View down to val of Gaudemar. Swim? No, its cold and the day is not yet hot. Off 11:15.


My shoes, being made of tissue paper, wet easily but also dry quickly. They also let in fine sand. 11:30 col de Colombes 2410 m. Fine viewpoint. The track on, l'Olan and I think les Rouies with fresh snow.


Pas de l'Olan 2680 1:10. A stiff pull up after all the lovely traversing. GPS jitters at 2300. Just past the col: 2 alpinists, abbing off.

Down. Soon see Ref below. And la Chapelle. And valley S. Plateau crossed by streams just above Ref is lovely. Behind is cirque of Cime du Vallon not very prominent 3406.

Ref 2:20. Inside. Browse Oisans Nouveau Oisans Sauvage. Quiet. Flop in deckchair in sun and ponder. Will probably descend but could bivvy on plateau; it is even marked for it. Views down and across superb: la Chapelle, the little valley up to Vieux Chaillol 31ish. This seems to be a more "serious" hut: actual ropes, piolets and rock shoes are seen. Also somewhat bigger. Recharge power pack a bit. Outside, appreciate views across some more.

[GPS: Ref O to la Chapelle in Valgaudemar] Snooze. Watch bods trogging up. Decide to descend. Its a close one but seems a shame not to use so lovely a pm. And so down, 6:40. Pic of village from above. The path is good but its 1250m descent so does get a little wearysome towards the end. And then 500m into the village. Find… camping; resto; another resto; alimentation! and another camping but more expensive. Wait outside ali for queue to go down.


On way down: at 1860 path crosses stream with plunge-pool so I plunge. With trepidation: it is cold; and then again for the camera.


Buy: melon, yoghurt, nectarine, abricot x 2, oj, comte, and spinach parcels de champsaur. Make half hearted effort at cafe but bars are doing dinner. So to first - cheaper - campsite, register €7, sit at picnic table and eat. Yum. Charge up stuff. Shower. Read. Setup 9:30 with new A-frame theory and so to bed 9:50 facing last of sunset.

Sun 6th: [pix] air mattress comfy again so sleep well. No snorrers! Night still, starry, moon. Neighbours stir - car door - before me. Up 7:30, light on hills but not here, then a moment later there is. My tarp is at the back, just behind and R or the woamn in red.


To town for cafe, on whim get bread - small baguette - and croissant. "Les Glaciers" for cafe. Opposite the boulodrome. There's a navette estival up valley but I shall walk. Once I've worked out where to, um. Quick DuoL boost now I have signal but I fear for my diamond status.

LCeV: nice place. Best hotel looks like Mont Olan. My nice camping was les Marines.

[GPS: lCeVG to Ref du Clot] Leave 9:20 I think, would have been better earlier but ah well a choice of pleasures. Path pleasantly shaded between hot harvested fields.


10: le Casset over olde bridge slightly off route for cafe. Leaving laC slightly tricky but got there 2nd try. Find gite second try after going into someone's net curtain… "ce n'est pas grave"; although even now I'm not entirely sure I didn't end up in some nice old lady's back garden, and she decided to humour me.

A swallowtail. Beehives dream in the sun. Path shadowed. Le Bourg camping; perhaps a bit rough. Opposite: interesting towers.

12: Ref du Clot / Xavier Blanc 1397m. I think I go on to Gioberney then Pigeonnier 24xx. Coffee. Browse leaflet to remind myself where the GR goes and what the options are. Having no fixed path is all very well but it does need choices.


Metta: him: happiness. Me: no: flourishing, freedom. But he is thinking personally, me of govt. 2nd cause: desire-for-things-to-be-other. Him: let go, accept. Me: world would be poor place if we all did that. Wisdom-beyond-words: what does this mean? No-exact-trans: does this mean anything? Desire to brighten whole world: really? Back to prev: to whom does it extend: people you pass in the street, shop assistants? MacMurray dist int & reason, R is higher, I is wot? Not in his wiki. Appears to assert that fear is never rational.

[GPS: le Clot to Gioberney] Off 1:30: have to be reminded to pay! On far side of Ref little camping places. Path lovely by river through trees. I chase a swallowtail for a bit trying to photo it but fail. Colchique. Looking upvalley; I'm not going that way yet. Pic: looking back at a turn of the road at about 1520m; le Clot is not-quite-visible mid-right, behind the being-colonised-by-trees scree.


To C-H Gioberney. Big, popular for lunch. They have a famous waterfall. Biere. Signal: check Rowbridge :-). Windy. 3: off. Am astonished by how much people can eat. Pic: looking back to Gioberney; across and distant is le Sirac, but that's a few days away.


4: path split 2022 (from map; gps being fickle). To E is les Bans, it seems. Sun but cool wind. Path split is to lac du Lauzon so should be quieter now. Pic: enticing; from just above Gioberney; I'm heading up slightly leftish near the stream.


[GPS: Gioberney to Pigeonnier] Ref 5 (can be seen from ~200 m below) passing slow laden woman a bit before, who turns out to be German I saw at Marines camping. Guardian is shocked, I tell you shocked, that I haven't reserved on a Sunday night so I offer to bivvi but it's fine: I somewhat impulsively assert alpinist type intent so am in the A dortoir with two others, b'fast at 4, joy. Meantime a petit pichet of rouge.

Nice refuge (with little lake; vue generale). Renouvellé with big picture windows and spacious salle, salle a rechaude with gas cooker provided (leaflet). Outside, oddly, is a small tent (not bivvi, there's an area for that a little below) with a note saying the parc permits it. Guardian shows me round! Make use of outside solar charger for watch. Another disappointing just-not-cold shower :-).

Metta: it-*is*-what-Confucius-calls-jen: a central point: is it something Bhuddist, or is it a thing in all humans that some cultures choose to take more notice of? It must be the latter, so we return to the special-nanes stuff. Transcend subj-obj duality: does this have a meaning?

Slightly woozy from two whole glasses of red. Sit & read in A dortoir a bit. Pick my window bed. Come back to put empty glass away, and nice chat to the young German. Poor thing she has lugged a tent all the way up here; its her first time in a refuge. Try "The curse of Yig" as light bedtime reading. A mistake.

Mon 7th: [pix] up 6:30 ( there was some confusion about 4 am) b'fast off 7:35 sun 8:15 2660 sez gps. In big boots for this bit. Back 10. I went too high… after a bit the paths are hard to follow. Need to traverse further across, and probably better earlier with more snow. But also, need axe/cramp & rope. High point ~28xx [GPS: above Pigeonnier] around the lower snow patches.


Heading S next will be hors carte. Chabourneou then Vallonpierre I think. Clear blue, but cool: there was fresh ice close above my high point in stream. Off 10:55 just as first ascendeur arrives.

[GPS: P to abri to shepherd's shelter] 11:45: abri Vaccivier 2118 in a big cirque. Under a huge rock a la Shelter Stone but tall and thin. 12:20 ish Cab de Gioberney - a berger's private cottage - just nearby plle. over stream and sit against rock on far bank for lunch - last of VG baguette - and rest.

Tiriere, 2240, ruined, 3:20; pic from nearby looking back towards Rouies. Now down. Fine views of le Sirac; of the Pigeonnier cirque; of back down VG.


[GPS: to Vallonpierre, nearly; and last bit] 4:30: rest by river. 2h to Vallonpierre says a sign. I think I missed the path to Chabourneou, somewhere up above, possibly when I was talking to that chap who was looking for it... but I'm not entirely sure I intended to go there. Possibly a shame as it might have been possible to "traverse" to it. Indeed this was a somewhat confusing day, without a map. At some point I saw another swallowtail and managed to get a pic this time.


7: ref Vallonpierre, just as well I skipped Chab. Getting there, while a good path with views, is slow and frustrating: can't see it till within 50 level m, since it is over a lip, don't know how high it is (2271) and gps is out anyway. And its not the goatshed. Anyway, all v nice but its full and since wx is lovely I don't push.

Lurk a bit and recharge, then explore and find douche solaire! Not warm but does lower half. Read in boot room a bit while convivial dinner is ongoing then head out and on little eminence find spot setup by 9. Still exploring how to setup tarp. Rock at foot end raises it v usefully. Could do same with ski stick?

On plain is large flock of sheep, I hear them quietly baaing and bell-tinkling; and sometimes their dogs.

Tues 8th: [pix]  Slept well, lay abed a bit hoping for sun but no. The light comes earlier to the other side of the hut where the other tents were. But all is dry, no dew, so pack quickly, brief morsel of cheese, and off via hut since path goes over its terasse. Pic: refl in lake. 


[GPS to Chaumette, part 1 and part 2] Off 8 (view back) col 9 (pano below) second col Gouiran 2597 10. Rest. Third col to go… Far side is quite wastelandy, as is for second col. I hadn't quite realised I'd be climbing so much.


3rd: col de la Valette 2669. Whew. 11. Coming down, not far above Chaumette:


12:50: Ref du Pre la Chaumette. 1805. Biere, and tarte au myrtilles inside cos its hot out but maybe too cool in. Wx remains cloudless. "Espresso" which isn't really but comes with sugar cubes. More distant view.


What to do… having sat out noon, obvs? Can push on up over Cavalles to Vallouise… 3h to col 3h far side perhaps. Or stroll down valley to… les Fermonds. I'm about out of food so a shop would be nice. I've lost my thin black fleecy gloves sometime this morning. Stuffing them into a trouser pocket was silly.

[GPS: to Borels and back] Off 2, having decided on "stroll". Les Auberts (the head of road parking) 3:15. 6k to les Fermonds, which is a long way for a "stroll". Quite hot, fine in shade, lets hope for it, and a shame I forgot I have a parasol. Beehives and more. 3:45 les Clots just a few houses and a water grough. Disappointment in Les Borels 4:35 just a not v sympa gite no epicerie; and on the way back at les Gondoulins too. But! Just above les G nice chap gives me lift all the way to parking, going past his point; v kind. 5:15. Then about 1:30 trudge (up the "track"side this time) gets me back. All in all rather disappointing - not even any signal. I can't quite decide whether I was dumb to try, and should just have relaxed in the sun; or if it is worth it, for having explored. The nature of exploration is, after all, to be exploratory with no guarantee of success. But! Things look up a bit. Get tarte aux framboises, verre rouge, and a douche jeton. The douche is - at last - on the hot side of warm. I am refreshed.


The valley: on the whole not desperately interesting. Best feature is the wide plain of the river in places. Of the hut: fine; spacious salle; coin rechaude; comfy sofa.

8: head off to bivvi. There are quite a few tents above the refuge, pick a quiet edge. It is covered by colchique.

Wed 9th: [pix] [GPS: Chaumette to Vallouise] up 7:30 (bivvi) off 8 first col (Pas de la Cavale 2735) 10:30. Another sunny day though climb up was shaded. 11: traverse to col de l'Aup Martin slightly higher. The valley we don't go down from Cavale looks lovely (GR54A to Argentiere la Besse). Brief rest.

Note: GPS: from this point on the GPS traces are on my phone, which has the advantage of not running out and leading to multiple traces per day. Also, it uploads better. I think it drains a bit more battery, but overall is worth it. Also, it allows me to see where I am as I go along, which is rather useful.

I have several pictures of lovely but rather bleak and lonely landscapes (e.g. this) but I'd be guessing as to whether they are looking back or forward, so I'll show you the below, which is definitely looking back to the shaley slopes of the Aup Martin.


11:45: to stream after the steep descent (logs strapped in to make ledges on the greasy slatey scraps).  Wash socks which were really very smelly, a top since I can. 2450. 12:30: off.


1:30: 2140. Cirque to L. Passed herd of donkeys and of sheep. And several people asking how far to top. 2: abri randoneur. Small but well looked after. Table, sleeping platform, cooking stuff even gas. Tea, coffee, sugar. 3:10. Stop in one of the many "plunge pools" of the river. Screw up courage and dip. But no pic, sorry.


In years before… I came here (i.e. the Vallouise-les-Bans valley) on the way to les Bans, and looked out over the bridge that I wasn't crossing and wondered what was up that pleasant looking valley. Well now I know: its a long way. And there is no shade for most of it: if you're heading up, start early.

3:40: buvette. Pelforth. Into shade. After that its down the road for quite a while but its quiet. No attempt to hitch but someone stops anyway :-). Say politely no. Because I am determined to walk. More beehives. Mostly shade; after a bit cross to S side of river (at Pont des Places; there's a cheapo unsupervised campsite there with few visitors but it sprawls out under the pines loadsa space); on path, more shade. Horseriders! Then it really isn't much further. Go down the little lane past Trolls with the tiny eater channels still gurgling. Some well-tended plots. Nearly there!

6: les Vallois. Allongé, gather breath and strength: I really am quite tired I find now I stop. says they have no rooms so I try asking and they have, hurrah, I'd really not walk any further today. Pic: tres belle (and now pleasingly familiar) vue de ma chambre.


Room (21, 2nd floor, v good) and go for swim. Refreshing. Go under, do a few lengths, float, relax. Room, shower, wash smelly socks (the "inner" pair), down to dinner at 7 and have Saucisse de choux, which is what I had last time, though they've changed the style a bit. Still good and more food than I've had in the last two days probably literally. Creme brulee, then allongé.

Here ends part 1. Tomorrow is a rest day. Stay tuned for part 2, which at the present rate of progress will appear in a month.

Friday 27 October 2023

Book review: With a Strange Device

PXL_20231027_201546142~2 Eric Frank Russell, who I've very vaguely heard of (aah: Wasp). The story starts in a top-secret govt research lab, with a loving description of its many levels of security, and then a fade-out to "but there was a flaw...". Switch to: someone resigning, unexpectedly. Our Hero, discussing this and others who have left recently. And then... Our Hero overhears two worker-types talking, and his repressed memories of killing Arline twenty years ago are triggered. Oh noes, he must run! But he doesn't, quite. In the end (skipping over some tolerably but not very interestingly described detective-y stuff) it turns out that evil Foreigners have devised a machine able to imprint memories, and they have been doing this to knock out govt scientists, thereby crippling the national effort.

Remind you of anything? Yes: The IPCRESS file. Which is 1962. This one is 1964. TIF is also far better written and in all respects superior.

Minor: for most of the book the country it is set in (UK or US) is unclear. Gradually it becomes the US. But it would have been nice and a nod to IPCRESS's unnamed protagonist for it to have remained unclear.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Book review: Mickey 7

PXL_20231022_105936017~2This is OK; indeed, better than the modern average. Reasonably well written, decent starting idea and plot, but a bit pedestrian. This review says some other things, some of which I agree with.

The basic idea is that people can be replicated. To get round the obvious problem - rich people would use this to copy themselves - takes a bit of not terribly plausible gymnastics, and we're left with social taboos against replication, so that only low-level Expendable folk are replicated, to do dirty jobs that will kill them. For no obvious reason Our Hero is left alive between jobs - on a resource-poor colony with food in short supply why would you do that?

Due to errors, he gets re-instantiated while still alive. No-one notices, which is weird because they all have implants. Never mind. There's then some rather desultory attempts at philosophy - are they the same person? Is #7 the same as #6 the same as... but there is no solution, of course (see some prior discussion in Derek Parfit, Ex-Philosopher). We see all this from the perspective of #7, whose relations with #8 are strained (they're both on the same, short, food ration; and short of space too) but there's no hint they feel any bond to each other. In the end (spoiler) #8 dies and #7 doesn't give a toss.

The "enemy", in true Forever War style, turns out to be a hive entity which gives not a toss about the loss of individuals, and so doesn't understand the human's worry about the death of some of its individuals. Our Hero somehow can talk to them, and so ends up as a sort-of ambassador, which resolves his status. Until the inevitable sequel, obvs.

Our Hero suffers at the hands of The Boss, sometimes being literally killed. In the story, of course, we just sympathise. But if this was reality, we'd wonder if there shouldn't be some kind of checks and balances. A frontier colony needs stern discipline, obvs; but nonetheless you'd expect some constraints on power. Although that would get in the way of the story.

Food is in short supply, because their agriculture is a bit shonky. But they have a machine that can transform goo into humans. Why not transform goo into food? That would take energy, obvs, but as we discover towards the end, they have available starship-engine amounts of energy, so that's no excuse.

An oddity, which is forced upon the book by what-the-book-is-about, is that in the end we do indeed discover that the "Creepers" are sentient. And what do our characters do with this info? Nothing, other than persuade them not to attack, and to split territory. Do they converse, exchange ideas, world-views? Good grief no this isn't even thought of. FFS.

Monday 16 October 2023

Book review: The Forge of God

PXL_20231015_195317614~2Greg Bear again. Against my better judgement I bought this from Oxfam on Saturday, and read it quite quickly, but with the expected mounting frustration.

Amusing point: about 2/3 of the way through, the science journo / scifi author re-reads one of his old books, skimming through the makeweight character-building stuff he was obliged to put in, in order to get to the ideas.

The plot: Europa disappears, and then aliens arrive in America to say "I'm sorry there is bad news" and in Australia to say "we're here to help". Investigating this takes up half or more of the book. Eventually it turns out that these are decoys; that the Earth will be destroyed, by special planet-destroying aliens (distinct shades of Across the Sea of Suns), by a combo of a delayed neutronium - anti-neutronium collision in Earth's core, and a pile of fusion bombs along the mid-atlantic ridge. Meanwhile, helpful aliens turn up and rescue what they can, amidst some poorly-described war-in-the-asteroid-belt between the nice and nasty aliens.

None of this really makes any sense, and feels like multiple ideas got mashed together unfinished.

The initial crashed spacecraft, with the "I'm sorry" alien, is nicely done. The problem is that its a complete waste of time, and goes nowhere. The novel writes it off as a decoy, designed to distract us from forming an effective response; this makes no sense, as we could have no possible response to 100 million tons of neutronium / anti-neutronium. Which, also, feels like massive overkill. And there's no reason why it would be delayed. And that's without the second kill mechanism, whereby ocean water is being split into H and O, and the H being taken for H-bombs, to an extent that the atmospheric O2 level is seen to rise. Which is also massive overkill. Also the first two alien spacehips are found on Earth, having apparently just materialised there inside fake geological features, which makes no sense either: if they were decoys, they would have been seen landing, as spaceships. Other than invoking supa-speshial-tech, none of these things get any kind of how-did-they-do-it explanation.

So much for that. But the human responses don't make sense either. The first crashed space ship is barely examined. One bloke climbs up a tunnel and has a brief look around. That's it. They don't attempt to unbury it from the cinder cone it was found in, or investigate its structure in any way. Perhaps this is because the author knows it is just a fake decoy, and so can't be bothered to write it; or perhaps he has no idea what the spaceship should look like.

There's a sub-plot in which the POTUS goes a bit rogue with religious mania, but all that turns out to be totally irrelevant as the human response doesn't matter a fig, since the destroying aliens are so supa-powerful.

Oh, and Europa: was broken up by the nice aliens, so they could (a) refuel and (b) send 100-km-size chunks off to impact Mars and Venus, thus starting the terraforming process. But... I doubt that would appear as Europa disappearing suddenly; it would more naturally look like... Europa being broken up. My suspicion is that the book started with the Europa disappearing idea, he kept writing hoping to fit it in somewhere, and eventually couldn't.  Also there's not a word about the orbits of the other moons of Jupiter being minutely examined for gravitational influences of Europa fragments, which would be the obvious thing to do.

Meanwhile... the book takes the nice aliens at their word as rescuing fragments of Earth (cue now-rather-amusing stacks of CDs representing the Library of Congress; see-also October the First is Too Late). But the nice aliens' explanation that, very regrettably, they were just a little bit behind the nasty aliens is not very plausible, coincidence-wise. A more parsimonious explanation is only one set of aliens, who wish to destroy Earth and save a bit of it.

The nice aliens have a Law (with a capital letter, so you aren't allowed to question it) that aliens who destroy other alien's planets must be destroyed themselves, even if they've subsequently seen the error of their ways. This seems so desperately heavy handed that I can't wait not to read part two.

Friday 13 October 2023

Book review: the Incandescent Ones

PXL_20231013_093401150~2By Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle. Who have form; I liked Fifth Planet, though you may struggle to deduce that from my review. And I fondly recall The Black Cloud from my childhood. 

However this one is weird, and not in a good way. Perhaps reading the plot on Wiki will give you some idea of why. Goodreads doesn't like it, but has few reviews, which is also telling. It is also more novella than novel.

It is set (like 5P!) in the distant future, whose social mores and political context are, unsurprisingly, exactly those that F+G grew up with. It is weirdly obsessed with skiing, as though they've just started watching Ski Sunday or summat.

Briefly: Our Hero has been recruited to Moscow by shadowy presumed intelligence services to do something on a given trigger; that trigger occurs, as does a succession of following events. That Our Hero, a Westerner in a Cold War Moscow / Soviet Union, gets to move around so freely seems odd. He meets up with his long-presumed-dead father, but is in no way surprised, who is carrying a super-battery of alien tech, which they use to melt water for tea (faint shades of The Left Hand of Darkness). They cross a border, some skiing happens, he has brushes with intelligence, is sent off into space on a ship the book can't be bothered to describe to be at a conference on Mars, changes ship to go to Jupiter instead, arrives at an empty space station, is told he is really a robot and surfs off into Jupiter to enter a glowing ball of light (rather more than just shades of 2001).

If that plot sounds disconnected, it is: the book feels like it is missing bits. For example, on leaving Earth he is heading for Mars to take an unspecified intelligence role at an Earth-Aliens conference. For no obvious reason this plan gets cancelled (actually even that implies too much: the plan is never cancelled, its just that a new thread takes its place) and he is dragged off to Jupiter instead.

The sudden assertion that Our Hero is a robot is another: he accepts it with no thought, yet he is at the very least a biological robot: he has grown from childhood to adulthood; he eats, drinks, pisses, shits, bruises and fucks. Nor does it have any particular consequences. Mind you, before that he thought he was an Alien, and Outlander, and yet his biology differed in no visible way from human.

Hard Sci-Fi books are often written around a core of a genuine idea: Fifth Planet, of the idea that solar systems move and could intersect. Here, the skiiing (surfing?) down Jupiter's magnetic field feels like the original core, but unfortunately there's nothing built "on top of that"; instead it just trails into that at the end.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Book Review: Revolt in 2100

PXL_20231001_163007069~2 Revolt in 2100 is a charmingly jejune work, at least stylistically, I can't be bothered to check if it is so chronologically. Wiki has an article.

To be fair, the plot itself is decent enough and fairly well told in traditional RAH style, considerably better than what one might get from a number of others.

It can be read as one of his "political" works I suppose; in it we discover that theocracy is bad, who could possibly have guessed. Our Young Naive Hero is slowly disabused of his naivity by both experience and his Hard Bitten Room Mate; he joins the rebellion, which seems implausibly well-organised as well-resourced, and which eventually suceeds. The End.

There are two mini-novellas afterwards: Coventry, in which a Naive Young NotReallyAHero discovers that without the Civil Sword, no compacts and hence no civil society is possible, who could possibly have guessed, certainly not the author of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, oops. And The Misfit, which records RAH's rather tedious fascination with instantaneous calculator type folk.


Bad beekeeping, autumn 2023

PXL_20231001_142528783 A little late, but I've been away, I decide to go and wish the girls a happy over-winter.

Alas - for my ease and comfort, but happily for my honey supply - it turns out that they have had a good summer. All five supers are full. Or so I assume, I only went through the top three. I decide to compromise, and leave them the bottom three, and take the top two off. I'll return them in a few days, or next weekend, which will leave them stores for the winter and space for the spring. A closer view of the hive-after, with only the three supers on it.

And so the two full supers - in N's wheelbarrow, thankfully for the state of my back - go to the car, and back home, for processing.

There I discover that the frames are a little laden with rape residue, probably a hangover from the spring recolte, or even the year before. I compromise, and after spinning off both, melt down one of them. Or actually, half of one of them. How much can I actually be bothered to fix up?

Update: in the end I ony melted down about four frames. It is very messy and I didn't really have time for more. That left other frames outside, which neighbouring bees inevitably found. And so in the end I ended up with nines tolerable frames I could put back, so I ended up with four supers on the hive, one currently empty. And I discarded some frames I decided to call unsalvegeable. So I need to order some more frames, since breaking down the old ones is more trouble than its worth, when they get old enough; and they break.