The sensation of dry feet feels like a distant memory after four rainy days on the GR 738. But on day five, I can pat myself on the back for making it through the solo part of my adventure.
At the popular lodge La Martinette, a Belgian companion is waiting for me. In addition to good morale, Stefaan is bringing four days worth of food – a welcome resupply on a trail that does not pass through many towns.
Sleepover parties with Pierre, Pierre and the 1970s Larousse
After a warm night at La Martinette, we put on our rain gear to defy the showers coming at us from all sides on our 1.200 metre ascent towards the Refuge des Sept Laux. Above the treeline, the trail has transformed into an icy stream reaching up to our ankles.
Soaked to the bone and shivering, we knock on the door of the fully booked refuge three hours later, but the grumpy staff show no remorse. Commanding us to wait outside, they collect our money and hand over the key to a dilapidated shed ten minutes away. “At least we’ll have a roof over our heads,” I cautiously try to salvage the situation.
With red, swollen hands, I frantically peel off my wet clothes when we stumble inside. Stefaan picks a battle with the fire stove, while I crawl into my sleeping bag and wait for my extremities to regain some sensation. My feet finally start to tingle when we are joined by butcher Pierre and teacher Pierre, our new housemates.
Pages ripped from a 1970s Larousse help keep the fire alive all evening. With the remainder of the encyclopedia, Pierre and Pierre subject us to a challenging game of guessing which word they read the description aloud to. Malheureusement, our grasp of the French language is not quite up to par.
What could have been a miserable night in our tents, turns into a candle-lit sleepover party instead, with a three-course meal followed by a couple of beers – I did learn how to hike like the French just two days ago. The cherry on top of the cake is the starry 4 AM sky that heralds a better weather window for the coming days.
Un pierrier de merde
A humble rainbow brightens up the chilly morning, as we hike past several lakes. Though we only have one outfit on us, we manage to change multiple times an hour by putting on and taking off layers. I wonder what the birds must think of our constant metamorphosis, knowing all too well the answer is probably nothing at all. Nature couldn’t care less, which is one of the things I love about it.
To avoid the remaining snow patches, we take a little detour and hop from one rock to the next all the way up to the Col de la Vache, where a griffon vulture circles overhead in search of carrion. A middle-aged hiker approaches from the opposite valley: “Good luck with your descent,” he snorts, “a pierrier de merde awaits you on the other side.”
A serious scramble does require our utmost attention going down, but spotting a sunbathing chamois and a furry marmot family makes the effort worthwhile. Under the setting sun, we set up camp on a patch of grass by a little stream and enjoy our bivouac’s stillness with Grenoble’s gentle glow in the valley behind.
For the love of crackers
We take our time getting ready in the morning, while the sun dries our tents. Descending past the Refuge Jean-Collet, we admire the extensive views over the Chartreuse before toiling up a steep hill to the Col de la Sitre. With two gorgeous valleys stretching out on either side of the rim, I feel on top of the world both physically and mentally.
By the Lac du Crozet, we run into our new pal Robert and his friends once again. “Are you excited to have tarte aux myrtilles at the Refuge de la Pra soon?” Thibaut beams. Unaware that blueberry pie was even an option, we are indeed thrilled by the prospect. Eventually, it is the fresh crepes on the sugar-ridden menu that manage to seduce us.
We team up for a group bivouac by the Lacs Robert, trading our parmesan and olive oil for sips of beer. As the crackers and Nutella jar make their way around the circle, eyes close in pure delight at so much goodness. A spirited round of “Zhe Game” and some star gazing top off the night.
All that separates us from society is a short descent to ski resort Chamrousse, where pop music blasts through giant speakers. Tourists stroll past market stalls selling regional produce, while their shrieking offspring go nuts on a Spongebob-shaped bouncy castle. A minute ago, we were tracing our way through a herd of goats. Now, days’ worth of unanswered texts light up our phones and I cannot help but stare at waitress' fake eyelashes as she takes our order.
“Life in the mountains has its own pace,” I sigh. But my melancholy is short-lived, evaporating the minute our crepes and cappuccinos are served. Before we hop on the bus to Grenoble, I make sure to pick up a bottle of génépi from the market – a little something to ease the mountain nostalgia back home, just in case ...