A day in the mountains – Col de la Charmette & Charmant Som

When I was young, I lived for a long time in Quaix-en-Chartreuse, a small village in the mountain range of Chartreuse, just north of Grenoble. In autumn, my dad and I sometimes went very early to the mountains to spot Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) and Mouflons (Ovis orientalis, disputed classification). From the pass called Col de la Charmette, we climbed in the forest until we reached an alpine pasture in a glen. There, we often saw Mouflons, whereas the Chamois were higher, on the ridge overlooking the cliffs that faced the east.

We decided to visit the area last week-end. We left the pass at 6.30. The ascent turned steep pretty quickly, but we managed to reach the pasture easily. There, many birds were singing and flying, but no trace of Mouflon or Chamois, neither there nor along the ridge. Still, I spotted an Alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) in its worn summer plumage.

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We followed our plan and took the direction of the Charmant Som, a moutain easily accessed from the other side but which we never reached from there. We crossed a herd of cows for the second time. Before arriving in a small wood, I spotted two Mouflons on the edge of a wood, quite far down the slope. We left the path to get closer to them, halting when they showed signs of nervousness. We realized that there was a whole herd coming out of the forest. I counted almost twenty of them, including a few younglings.

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The last meters of the ascent to the summit were a bit rough, as we needed to help ourselves with our hands, in a rocky area. To our left, Alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) were playing in the wind.

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

I don’t know if one can call a nine-in-the-morning-meal a lunch, but we had some cheese and bread before going down. We were hungry, we had woken up at 5! A few choughs came close, hoping for something to eat, giving me the chance to shoot them with no trouble. However, like at Grand Veymont, they got nothing from me.

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

Alpine chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

From there, the view was fantastic: Chartreuse to the south and east, Vercors to the west, the plain and hills in the direction of Lyon to the north, Grenoble to the south and all the other mountain ranges further away, including Mont-Blanc, which we could imagine behind the morning haze.

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The east. In the vale, we can see the monastery of “Grand Chartreuse” (Great Chartreuse).

The south-west. Pinéa in the foreground and Vercors at the back.

The south-west. Pinéa in the foreground and Vercors at the back.

We chose another path on way down to the parking, but it was a bit hazardous. The scree was a bit tricky, but the hardest part was the one in the forest. It was steep and full of rolling stones, and a bit of climbing down was necesary. Nevertheless, we reached our previous path at the foot of the pasture, and headed down in the forest, to our car, without seeing any Chamois. Earlier, we had crossed the path of a man who said that Mouflons, which are a species introduced in the area (coming from an area ranging from Balkans to Iran, they were introduced to Corsica and Sardinia 7000 years ago, and later to continental Europe), were thriving. According to him, this had an impact on cow herds and also Chamois, because of an increased competition for grass. He claimed that he was seeing less and less Chamois in the area.

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