Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Detour - Ascent of Alpe d'Huez

Detour- Ascent of Alpe d’Huez

A lovely sunny day. Woke up early 6.30am, keen to get on with the challenge. 3425’ climbing over 13k with 21 hairpins. Some say that the first bit’s hard and then it’s not too bad. Anthony said it was his annual MOT, and the first bit is hard and the rest is too! His account turned out to be much more accurate! I got into a laboured rhythm, and paused half – way for a few minutes, to allow sensation to return to my toes. Counting down the hairpins- I was now in single figures! Passing through the tiny hamlets, and finally through Huez old village. The altitude and effort were starting to make me feel dizzy, so another couple of minutes to recover, and then on up to the ski-village of Alpe d’Huez , and the finish banner. I was so chuffed to have got to the top in a reasonable time, although a good thirty minutes after Ian!

Pain going up and pain going down! What a strange past-time. You have to squeeze your brakes nearly all the way down, and only then do you understand how steep the ascent was. Had to stop a couple of times to give my hands and arms a rest. Finally back at Bourg d’Oisans, we took a few moments to look back up the mountain, and marvel at the engineering involved in building such a road. All the way down we’d passed cyclists going up, and that happens all day long throughout the Summer.

Then the long drive back through La Grave, up to Col de Lauteret, where we wild-camped for the night- a welcome change, because camp-site fees in this area are very expensive, compared to say the Aups and Burgundy area. A fantastic large car-park at the top, with room for 40 or so campervans. But as with everywhere we’ve been, it was quiet and lots of space. Campsites usually say camp where ever you want, rather than being very full in August.

Lunch overlooking the Grand Galibier and La Meige, in glorious sunshine. A couple of glasses of wine to celebrate today’s cycle and then a siesta. Just slumbering off, when I was aware of heavy duty wagons rolling up alongside, a few feet away, then the sound of hundreds of sheep, many of them wearing bells. Unable to sleep, we decided to investigate the cacophony! It turned out, I kid you not, that we’d had our first siesta disturbed by “transhumance”/ movement of sheep into the alpine meadows, or alpage, which happens once a year. The scene was a melee of campervan tourists, mainly French, chatting to the shepherd, who was enjoying the social occasion, swapping stories and informing. It turned out he was moving 1300 sheep from Briancon. I got talking to a French couple, who told me that the sheepdogs have different jobs to do. The big, golden, Pyreneen dog will stay with the troupeau all day and night, guarding the sheep against the wolf. I had noticed that he moved about amongst the sheep, and they seemed totally at ease with him. He is bred for his “paisible” temperament and is a friend of the sheep. The border collie, who was anxiously watching the sheep and the shepherd’s every move, “rassemble” the herd, rounds them up and moves them on. We stood for some time watching the dogs and the herd. They worked together so well. Once the shepherd had finished chatting everyone, he moved on. The lady explained that it was a special day for him- the first day of his Summer. She could remember, as a young girl, watching the herds being moved up from Briancon, and areas further away in Haute Provence, on foot, up to the alpine slopes. Now it was all done by HGV.

For once we got our timing right, and felt so lucky to have experienced this special occasion. The sheep will stay up here until the end of September.

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