Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Another mountain top experience

By eleven we'd confirmed that last week's snow was melting further and was now un-skiable. It was raining and the cloud was low, so we decided to go out, go up and walk, hopefully about the cloud line. We drove in the direction of Neuchâtel, then turned north into the Jura, on one of the mountain roads that leads to the Val de Travers, through Provence, the village where Brother Roger of Taizé was born, baptized and spent his first two years of life. We took the turning that leads to Creux du Van, and drove up to 1,300 metres before parking the car to make the ascent through the forest to the extraordinary mountain top which has a huge crescent shaped cliff scooped out of its north eastern face. The limestone cliffs are 500 metres high, giving way into a gorge that leads back down to lake Neuchâtel. The cliff is nearly a kilometre across! It's an extraordinary feature of the landscape, dating from the age of glaciers, and well worth a visit.

Last year, we ski trekked to the top on a bright cold day, minus five. This year, the cloud came to meet us at 1,350 metres and stayed with us. Temperatures about plus eight degrees. It was wet going because of the melting snow, and the wind blew through the mist when we rose above the tree line. In fact we couldn't see anything of the spectacular view, and simply followed the safe side of the dry stone wall that runs along the perimeter of the cliff, thankful that it was there, since the number of possible places to fall over the edge, if it wasn't there, is endless. With the wind, the mist, and complete absence of other walkers, it felt very desolate, until peep-peep, peep-peep, a text from Nathalie, announcing her arrival in Singapore, where the temperature is twenty-five degrees.

Somehow we missed the path that would take us back to the Ferme du Solliet, a refuge somewhere on the ridge above us below the summit, probably closed anyway. We continued around the cliff until we found a path which descended zig-zag fashion down into the Val de Travers near Noiraigue, then took forestry tracks, climbing back in a southerly direction up on to the mountain to the place where we'd left the car. We'd been walking energetically for just over four hours, when we found it, shrouded in mist. Our clothes were wetter on the inside than outside, despite the mist, I reckon we covered about fifteen kilometres.

We returned by the same route, and found that we left the cloud behind at 1,200 metres. The views south over Lake Neuchâtel, with the panorama of the Alps, fifty miles away, lit by evening sun, was breathtaking. There was cloud, but it was a lot higher than that shrounding the mountain, perhaps indicating another weather system on its way. Waning sun flecked the myriad of cloud formations with orange light, at times resembling waves in the sand on a beach, at others, some crazy abstract wallpaper. We stopped in a lakeside village to take photographs but didn't linger long, as we were both feeling a little chilly. In half an hour we were back in Baulmes enjoying hot showers and then a most welcome evening meal, starting with a most welcome bouillon, both of us aching every bit as much as we woould if we'd skiied up there.

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