Friday, 5 July 2013
We left Abreschviller having met two wonderfully benevolent couples, Don and Hazel, and Dick and Anneka, whom we talked fondly of as we climbed for seven hundred metres in 30 degrees centigrade heat, with water rations of just four litres between us for two days on the path. Through eyes stinging with sweat, I noticed the welcome injection of purple foxgloves and small white butterflies. The viewpoint at Belle Roche revealed the vastness of the Vosges mountains, as the tree-blanketed peaks staggered on to the horizon. That night we camped at the foot of La Donan, a distinctive summit that had been in our sights for over a week. The following day we woke at 4.00 a.m. to catch the sunrise, but on reaching the temples at the top of La Donan we received views of just a few metres as we were swamped with thick mist. Walking east for three days, Jake found himself at the wrong end of several unfortunate events, including the resurfacing of a back problem, a head first tumble into a ditch, and a punch in the face from his own fist as he tried to pull his pack on at speed. The trail mix, or sproggin, had gradually transitioned away from a healthy nut, raisin and banana chip mix to a high energy bag of jellies and boiled sweets. The sugar had clearly gone to Jake’s head; as I crunched into a sherbet grenadine (like sherbet lemon but grenadine flavoured) he shook his head, stating, “You know something is wrong with the world when people are biting sherbet grenadines and not sucking them”. Our woes are all relative, as they say.
We emerged from the Vosges forest to the east looking out over the staggering expanse of the Alsace plains, scarred by the Rhine which meandered through a dappling of towns and villages. We dropped rapidly into the pleasant town of Barr whose surroundings were combed with vineyards. Hiking south once more, we were gifted with two more trail angel generosities. The first, a bowl of salade vert, offered to us by Piret, a French lady who seemed keen to keep our vitamin levels up. The second, a bout of delightful conversation, coffee and cake, courtesy of Peter and Barb, a Canadian couple that we met as we were leaving Andlau.
Ascending back into the heart of the mountains, we spent the day bypassing castles and cyclists whose attire left little to the imagination. Appropriately, we spent the night next to Chateau de L’Ordenbourg, whose crumbled walls overlooked a mesmerising nightscape of village lights.
As Mid Summer’s Day faded into the past, we followed a rising and dipping path, studded with wartime relics - rusted wire and metal prongs jutted from the tussocks that bounced with orchids, purple and yellow.
From Le Hanneck, we saw snow on the nearby mountains, the same moment as a conversation with a pair of French ladies spurred the one with the twig in her hair to describe our French as ‘tres bien’. This most certainly, a gross overstatement. A steep descent saw us step out at Lac Fischboedle. From its mysterious waters, one hundred-metre valley walls shot skywards. On one flank a waterfall spilt from the crest in slow motion, its waters absorbed by the conifers below. On the opposite wall a boulder slide toppled into the lake. I clambered upon it whilst watching fish leap and swifts swoop. Ted the tent was propped up at the base of the falls. Waking early, our legs took us down nature’s own cobbled street and into Mitlach. With next to no food in our packs, our hopes of finding a small shop had added emphasis. Alas, a shop there wasn’t and so began the boulangerie ambush. We bought five baguettes, eight pain au chocolat, a loaf of bread and six pastries to last us the two days that would see us into Thann. We lugged the carbohydrates out of town, stopping at a viewpoint to catch our breath. As I photographed Jake looking down at Mitlach de Haut, my bag slowly rolled from the bench I had placed it on and continued on down the hill. Panic went to my head. I flung the camera to the floor and darted down the slope after the bag, finally leaping on the orange ball before it disappeared over the edge. Despite my sodden clothes, I was relieved to escape without becoming an entrant of the Darwin Awards.
The weather was dynamic, to say the least. One minute a lashing of cold wind and rain swung in from the west, next, the sun would poke its guilty face out from behind monstrous looking cumulus nimbus, causing the grass to steam. As mid afternoon came, the mist cleared once more to unveil Le Grand Ballon, the tallest mountain in the Vosges. After winding up the northern flank, we summited at 1,424 metres as another tranche of weather came in. Having camped just down from the peak, we rose the following morning to the most anticipated view of the walk so far. On the horizon stood the Alps and Mont Blanc. A sea of cloud, tinted orange by the low sun, immersed the Alsace Plains. In three weeks time we would be at the foothills of the Alps. Suddenly our venture had a purpose that could be seen, and with each day that passed, our purpose would become increasingly vivid.
Yanik and Gabrielle, our pace makers
In the Abri
Lea, mauricette and the family at La Grande Oye
La Dent de Volion