Refuge de Chésery to Samöens – D4

What a day! Where to begin?

The evening meal last night in the cosy Refuge de Chésery was some sort of soup (you never ask what’s in it), a meat stew and pasta (ideal) with grated carrot (ideal for me, not for Richard, so I had his) and some kind of Bird’s Angel Delight chocolate thing made from powder and water.

The sleeping arrangements were extra cosy – sardine bunks, four people along the bottom and four along the top. Richard and I were the only ones on top and slept at opposite ends of the bunk. Neither of us was in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines, or 3 PARA Mortars for that matter, so no nasty habits!

Thunder and lightening all night long, which increased the cosy effect of the refuge but left us wondering whether we’d be emerging into lashing rain in the morning.

Those fears were unfounded. Bright sunshine and completely cloudless skies. Rain was forecast to hit around 1530 so we planned to leave after breakfast at 0730 and hopefully beat the rain to Samöens, our next destination some 26 miles down range back in France. The following graphics are taken from Paddy Dillon’s Trekking the GR5 Trail by Cicerone:

An editor’s note is required here. Having lead everyone yesterday to believe that French mapping using the Gaia GPS app ends at the Swiss border and you just get lost in a sea of white nothingness, I should qualify that by saying it’s only half true. If you scale up to 1;25,000 from 1:12,000, Switzerland appears as if by magic. As this trip progresses I am more and more sold on the Gaia GPS app. It’s kept us on the straight and narrow (more or less – the less being human error and inattentiveness…we took a little unintended detour today which we have called the Tatiana Variant).

Back to breakfast. A little disappointing. Coffee, bread, butter and a choice of three jams. During Julian’s Gambol in Slovenia last year we were spoiled rotten (I realise now) with ham and eggs and ‘how would you like your eggs done?’ None of that in France (or Switzerland, let’s not forget we’re still in Switzerland, just). Richard is nonplussed, ‘I didn’t expect much more than this’. The upside is I’ll lose my Moscow girth rather faster than anticipated. In fact the belt has already come in a notch. Richard has plans to accelerate the weight loss regime in a rather novel alpine scientific experiment, of which I am the subject. More of that below.

So, we set off round le lac vert just below the refuge. It’s neither a lake (more a large pond) nor is it green. In fact everything around looks green rendering the lake black-looking.

After twenty-five minutes of plodding up a col in blazing sunshine we come across three guys setting off down to the lake. The lead fellow has a rod in hand. <добрый день. Рыбы есть в озере?> I ask. He looks at me as though I’m crazy before I realise what I’ve said. ‘Bon jour. Est-ce qu’il y a des poissons dans le lac?’ He smiles and says, ‘Bien sûr’. And then I spot he’s wearing a pair of British airborne wings on his fishing jacket, oddly above the right pocket. ‘Ah, le brevet de parachutist Britannique!’ Richard is amazed how quickly my French has come on. ‘Non. C’est le brevet de parachutist Belgique!’ he replied. Which accounts for them being above the right pocket. The blood clot now has three cells and an international flavour.

But, they had to go fishing and we had to press on. The signage in Switzerland along this part of the GR 5 is different to that in France. Yellow.

And the prohibitions are pretty clearly marked too. No Motorbikes and No Goose-Stepping.

The No Goose-Stepping one reminds me of army recruits when they are learning to march. Instead of simply exaggerating a normal stride, i.e. opposite arms and legs forward or back, they get confused and flustered and start to walk with the same leg and arm going forward or back. Clearly this is how they walk in Switzerland. Odd that.

As with the previous couple of days, each route seems to involve getting up to and across two high cols. The first, the Col de Coux took us back into France. This is where Richard’s scientific weight loss programme started. The sign at the bottom indicted 45 minutes to the top. Richard is so loaded down that he dials in a certain pace and without stopping gets to the top. He had no objections to me going ahead to see how much of the 45 minutes I could shave off. It was tough going pumping up on both sticks but I summited (if you can say that about a col) in 27 minutes, or 50% of the recommended.

When he finally caught up he said that he’d launch a scientific experiment to see if I could better 50% on all subsequent cold, which he declared would be the baseline for the weight loss experiment. Tatiana thought this was great and got in a bit of hiking pole practise as well.

A couple of hours later the opportunity presented itself again to put this to the test. The Col de la Colèse – 1 hour 5 minutes. ‘Okay’, said Richard, ‘you have to do this in 32.5 minutes or better.’ Off I went and staggered to the top with that blood-gurgling-in-the-lungs taste in exactly 30 minutes dead (that would be me!) – 47% of the recommended time.

I had a while to wait before Richard appeared. It started to rain. Some horses and cattle co-mingled in the saddle of the col. One of the geldings came straight over to me and started nuzzling me and then licking the salt off my hands. Then it grabbed the loop of one of my Leki poles and started to back away. Realising that it wanted my pole and not me I resisted. It pulled even harder and I realised that I had a tug-of-war on my hands to keep the pole in my possession. I won. Just. Which some choice words directed at the gelding. Here it is. It’s the one with the white spot on its forehead, just before it came for my pole. You cam see it eying it up.

Richard then appeared. I told him the time and percentage. ‘Well done. You’ve passed. But you do realise that next time you have to aim to better 47%, and so on. I will monitor the experiment and record the results. By the time we get down to Ceillac I’ll have reduced you to nothing and will hand you over to Godfrey in a vacuum packed bag with instructions: just add water and rejuvenate!’

And then we took shelter in the Refuge de la Colèse just as the rain hardened and thick clouds blew in. After a quick coffee we began the 9km descent into Samöens, which was completely unremarkable as we trundled down a track, except for two events.

The first. Richard to me, ‘When you’re walking along a track like this with someone do you ever look at your companion and feel that he’s getting an easier ride than you?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You know, they’re getting smoother places to put their feet and you’re not.’

‘What! You mean, like, track-envy?’


‘No! Never!’

‘I do. Constantly.’

And so Richard has just added a new term to the lexicon of hiking. Track Envy.

The second. Much further down the mountain the track turned into a full blown metalled road. This really exacerbated the Achilles’ tendonitis in my left tendon (see my third blog). Richard must have noticed that my gait had changed and asked, ‘Is your tendon giving you trouble?’

Mistaking this for sympathy I failed to spot the trap and foolishly said, ‘Yes.’

‘Good!’ he said, cruelly and with glee, ‘That’ll slow you down!’

We got to the Hotel Gai Soleil in Samöens at 1635 after just a shade over seven hours of walking and stopping – Dillon claims it can be done in six hours and forty-five minutes. Certainly, it can. We weren’t that far off – we did it in six hours and twenty-eight minutes total moving time. Richard is 65 and carrying a seriously heavy pack. A good day.

But tomorrow promises to be even meatier. Samöens to Refuge de Moëde Anterne. Slightly shorter at 23km, it involves the most height gain on the whole of the GR5 – 1800m or 5,905′, some climbing up vertical metal ladders (I bet you’ll be glad to be missing that, Godfrey) and one of Richard’s surgeon colleagues from London is joining us for a couple of days. Should be fun.

Stay tuned!