Refuge Le Montana to Modane – D17 (FW D4)

Fun Week Day 4 – Refuge Le Montana to Modane

So, here we are in Modane a real tumbleweedy town. But, unlike Val d’Isere, the tumbleweediness is industrial not touristy. We’re in a tiny hotel just opposite the railway station. Unsurprisingly, it’s called Hotel de la Gare. Which is about as unoriginal as half the houses on the Cornish coastline calling themselves Sea View. Bizarrely, after hiking 76 miles in the last three days we are not much further south of Bessans. What a meander!

I’d been looking down at Modane earlier in the day from quite high up a mountain by a bothy. I’d stopped bimbling along to take off my boots and socks and let the air get at my feet. Dillon is pretty unflattering about Modane. He kind of describes it as functional but unlovely. From my very high OP (Observation Position) it looked like the kind of place that Allied bombers would have targeted on account of the very large railway sidings. Alas, Modane remains uncharacteristically industrial in an otherwise touristy part of the Alps. But, I like it for that!

In total contrast to two furious days of tabbing, this one has been a day of unfocused bimbling. Bimbling is the direct opposite to tabbing. You wander about in a daze and follow your nose.

The task today was to get off the mountain and down into the Arc valley. The distance was reputedly modest, a mere 21km, which turned out to be barely 19km (how does Dillon consistently overestimate the distance?). Here’s what it looked like in Dillon’s Hiking the GR5 by Cicerone:

I set off on my own. It was to be a day of complete lack of concentration and self-imposed solitude. I didn’t really even pay much attention to the route and certainly wasn’t interested in doing much more than 3kmh – a bimble.

Initially the route stayed high and skirted around a man-made hydroelectric reservoir far below. It was very pretty in yet another almost cloudless morning. So pretty that I was drawn to it having got into a conversation with some firemen who’d been out hiking and were on their way down. By the time we got down to lake level I realised that I was totally off the GR5 which loses no height at all and stays high above the lake. But, I found a small steep track that followed a stream back up about 1,000m that I’d lost. I’m glad of that as there was virtually no ‘up’ on today’s route and I manage to to get a good sweat on by the time I’d climbed back up to rejoin the GR5.

There’s not much to say about the remainder of the route except that it was another of those balcony jobs clinging to the high contours. The two highlights of the day were being buzzed by a paraglider and then watching Modane from my OP and wondering why the Allies had spared it, thinking that I’ve eventually got to put my boots on and go down there.

Some Aussies passed me by while I was daydreaming. They’d been at Le Montana the night before and we’d got talking to them. Mum and Dad had flown out from Australia to join their daughter and son-in-law (or the other way round) for a few days/weeks of hiking. The youngsters had actually started the GR5 in Holland at its true source and had somehow managed to make it down to this area sort of sane. They admitted to cycling parts of it in Holland (which is what you do there). But huge kudos to them for enduring Holland and Germany. Anyway, they passed me while I was observing Modane from above. ‘That’s where we are tonight.’ I said. They weren’t that impressed either.

And then the downhill began, gently initially then quite toe-bruisingly steep. Dillon warns about this. But, to be honest, it’s not that bad – nothing like the descent form Le Brévant to Les Houches in the Haut Savoie. In fact it was in most parts very beautiful, particularly once we’d entered the pine tree zone.

I’m not usually one for noticing flora or fauna (too busy rushing past, I suppose). But, today my eye was continually drawn to pretty little wild flowers just doing their thing. Sometimes a solo thing. ‘I’m with you there.’ I found myself talking to them in my head.

Occasionally, there’d be a break in the forest cover revealing alpine vistas (cue The Sound of Music). The track, though, got steeper and steeper. And it wasn’t smooth either – roots, boulders or that slippery treacherous talcum powdery loose yellow crap that could have you on your back in a nanosecond.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention. The guy with the beard and the girl with gazelle-like legs who’d sailed past me uphill yesterday but who’d fallen prey to old age and treachery – yes them – flashed past me doing a very fast Nordic stick thing. This was while I was lazing with my boots off imagining the railway sidings getting bombed. Anyway, they flashed past like two biathlon competitors on steroids. So, I quickly laced up and gave chase. But they were going at a helluva lick. Really motoring. And I remembered that I was supposed to be bimbling today. So, I watched as they disappeared into the distance like the Road Runner.

After a very steep descent through the woods I was suddenly in the outskirts of Modane and clomped along the tarmac until I found the Hotel de la Gare.

But, the day was really spent thinking about my mother who died this day four years ago and my niece, her granddaughter, Tatiana, who followed her almost exactly four years and four hours later. The former died at 23.22 on the 22nd and the latter died at 03.39 on the 23rd. So, the 22nd and 23rd of August are really moments of quiet reflection.

Maybe that’s why I noticed the wild flowers today more than usual.

RIP Dana Constance Stanković and Tatiana Mimi Rose Stanković Davis.