June 25—Day 8: Charquemont
I started the day with the leftovers from last night’s diner: a few pieces of chicken kebab and some tabbouleh. Not a typical breakfast, but quite good all the same. The storm had kept on through the night, thunder and lightning and heavy rain. It’d woken me up a few times and I slept in till past 9. The rain was only just stopping.
I packed up and headed back down the steep climb I’d done with the group the night before, now carrying my pack instead of a cup of wine. The view at the side of the river was just as beautiful. In the daylight the cliffs on the opposite bank were visible, standing tall and broken upon by fallen trees.
The trail was similar to the day before, rocky and through a forest laden with moss. It was beautiful, but I moved through it at a good pace. After a little more than an hour I came to Les Echelles du Mort, a cliff face with a half rock climbing, half high rope/wire course. It looked intimidating. The alternative to the ladder-bolts was a set of very steep staircases, one of which passed open-air over a drop of some 15m. I took my time, as much for strength as for caution. Some four of more long staircases brought me to the top, and from there I had a panoramic view of the river, surrounded by cliffs and pine covered mountains.
Leaving the viewpoint, I followed the path a half hour before sensing that I was headed north when I should be headed south. My compass confirmed it, and after consulting the map I realized that there was a loop in the trail formed by two variants. Instead of just one, I’d walked both sides of the split, following blazes in the wrong direction. Frustrated, I turned around, walked back the half hour on the trail, back down the Echelles du Mort down the climb to reach the cliff, and into a shelter to have some lunch and reset. The past hour had been a waste of time, but at least I’d been walking in such a scenic place.
I picked up the trail again after motivating myself to continue and walked a few hours, stopping to watch some fisherman standing in the river casting lines, before reaching the next challenge.
The storm had been a strong one, and there were now several whole trees down across and blocking the trail. I walked uphill around the first, then came to the second and figured it impassable. Surely I must be on the wrong trail, I thought, expecting the GR 5 to be maintained. I retreated back to the most recent marking. No, this was in fact the trail, and I was just the first hiker to come across these downed trees. With no alternative, I made my way past one, two, three… finally ten or more fallen trees, climbing over and ducking under limbs and trunks, straddling one tree to reach another, balancing on branches and sticks and testing the next step with my poles to check whether it was ground or just tree. I pushed through the branches of a pine and emerged with sap on my hands. I squished myself and my pack between two trunks that had fallen beside one another. It wasn’t so dangerous as terribly slow. A labyrinth.
Finally I reached a good shelter near Grand’Combe-des-Bois where I could unwind. It had been a long day, though I hadn’t made much progress to show for it. I lit a few candles and cooked my rice for dinner, soaking up the sauce with a few pieces torn off a dark crusted bread.
My sleeping pad had a hole in the seam but I didn’t have anything to patch it with. Slept on the table looking out the window, thinking of home. I hadn’t seen anyone on the trail all day.