A walk in the mountains: Lac de Crop

The A Walk in the mountains series

Once more, my father brought me to a walk in the mountains. My only demand? Being back home on time to see the final mountain stage of the Tour de France, with the climb to l’Alpe d’Huez. We decided to visit Lac de Crop (“Crop Lake”), a small mountain lake lost in a rocky desert, surrounded by steep summits.

The map

A huge thunderstorm had struck Grenoble the evening before, and the atmosphere had seriously cooled down compared to previous days. As a consequence, the weather promised to be a bit cloudy, but we still hoped to see the light of sun. The clouds were not far above us when we started the steep ascent, but some blue patches were visible there and then. Anyway, we enjoyed the coolness.

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The first part of the walk was in the forest, but we soon reached a pasture field. The last part was also in a forest, but the trees were much lower than downhill. The clouds were pushing us upwards, hidding the valley of Grésivaudan from sight. During the ascent, a few birds sung around us, including Common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) and Coal tit (Periparus ater), but they were shy and did not greet us.

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Suddenly, the path turned flat. We tried to see the lake, but it was hidden behind a foggy veil. The wind was blowing, carrying layers of clouds to and from the valley. Sometimes we could see the peaks above us, a moment after nothing was left but the shore of the lake, five meters from us.

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In this desolate scenery, a bird song caught my attention. In a massive scree, a Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros) was hunting. Changing my lens, I sat on a boulder. I spotted at least three or four redstarts, male and female, but they were a bit far for a good picture, especially since the clouds were having a lot of fun shrouding the whole area, including me and my target.

Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

Black redstart (Phoenicurus ochruros)

After a moment, the birds disappeared, and without the excitement, I started to suffer from the cold. By any means, it was time to go back and witness a fantastic ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez… from my sofa. In the descent, the fog created a mysterious atmosphere around cairns and fallen trees.

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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.

chartreuse

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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A walk in the mountains – Lake Luitel

The A Walk in the mountains series

The Lake Luitel nature reserve, situated at 1600 meters of altitude, consists of two mires, one completely closed while the other is still a small lake (the so-called Lake Luitel, which looks more like a pond in my opinion). Some ten thousand years ago, a glacier was covering the area, digging depressions in the rock. When the climate warmed up, these depression were filled with water, and conquered by vegetation. Peat mosses accumulated there, forming evergrowing rafts which tended to cover the whole water area.

The two mires appeared at the same time, but they evolved at different speeds because of their difference in depth. The “pass mire” is a bog, which means that it receives water only from precipitation. It is higher than the surrounding landscape (although it’s not obvious when you are on site) and hosts mountain pines. Lake Luitel is a fen, as it resides in a depression and also receives groundwater.

Lake Luitel

Lake Luitel

This kind of mire is quite rare so far to the south. Because it is situated next to a road leading to a major ski resort (Chamrousse), the area is threatened by the huge amount of salt used during winter.

Willow tit (Poecile montanus)

Willow tit (Poecile montanus)

I was there at around 9.30 in the morning. Fortunately, it was not so hot, thanks to the altitude. I was greeted by a flock of Coal tits (Periparus ater) and a Goldcrest (Regulus regulus). As I walked on duckboards in the bog, I was suddenly surrounded by Long-tailed tits (Aegithalos caudatus) feeding in the pines. There were a few fluffy younglings, and also a Willow tit (Poecile montanus). Later, as I was going around the lake, I observed several young Coal tits in the woods and reeds. They were not really afraid of me, so I managed a few nice shots. Overall, it was quite difficult to take pictures of the birds: the autofocus was a bit lost because of the numerous branches and leaves, and the birds were often too far to use manual autofocus, for I could not tell with the eye whether the pic was going to be blurred or sharp. I also spotted a Crested tit (Lophophanes cristatus), high in the pines.

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Long-tailed tit (Aegithalos caudatus)

Coal tit (Periparus ater)

Coal tit (Periparus ater)

I went back to the bog, and noticed a colorful bird on top of a pine. It was a male Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus). I observed it hunting insects in the loose wood of pines, then it entered a cavity in a dead tree. I waited to see if it was to come back, and after a long time, it did! I think the bird had a nest there.

Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) in front of its nest

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This happened two days ago. Today I went to “Bois de la Bâtie”, a wooded area surrounding an oxbow lake, an old meander that got cut off the river. The reserve is near Grenoble, in the valley. Even though I was there at 7.30 in the morning, the sun was already ardent, and the heat was barely bearable out of the shade. Next time, I’m going to the mountain again!

A walk in the mountains – Grand Veymont

The A Walk in the mountains series

Now that I am surrounded by mountains again, it is time to pay them a visit. This week-end, I went to Grand Veymont with my dad. This summit is the highest mountain in the Vercors range, which lies to the west of Grenoble.

I have made a map showing the path we took.

Gresse-en-Vercors

Gresse-en-Vercors

The walk started in Gresse-en-Vercors, down the slopes of the ski resort. The village resided down high cliffs created by erosion. It was intimidating, especially since I knew we had to go up these very cliffs. In the beginning, we were sheltered from the sun by the forest, but we were assailed by hords of flying insects. This, and the quite warm atmosphere, made it an unpleasant walk. Oh, and it was steep. Very steep.

Grand Veymont

Grand Veymont

We left the flies behind us when we reached the line between forest and pastures. The path zigzaged on the mountainside, between some scattered fir trees. Soon, as we approached the pass named Pas de la ville, it turned abrupt again, but it was nothing compared to what awaited us after the pass. We turned left and followed a rocky path wandering not far from the ridge. It was steep, and I often needed to grasp rocks with my hands to secure my ascent. The wind turned nasty, especially in some kind of natural corridor that preceded a flat area from which I got nice shots of other mountain ranges, including Ecrins, Belledone and Chartreuse in the distance.

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The last ascent was much easier, as we were on the side of a slope. Our efforts were rewarded by a band of Alpine ibexes (Capra ibex), youngs and females altogether, grazing in the fields a few meters from the path. They were obviously used to human presence, as two of them crossed the path right behind us. It was not too hard to take pictures!

Alpine ibex

Alpine ibex

Even ibexes use paths

Even ibexes use paths

Griffon vulture

Griffon vulture

At some point, I saw a bird of prey high in the sky, gliding in the warm air above the cliffs. Another one then many others followed it, flying north in quest of a carrion. These were obviously Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus). It had been a long time I had not spotted this species, probably one year, so that was an appreciated sight. No Golden eagle (Aquile chrysaetos) this time, unfortunately.

Alpine chough

Alpine chough

The summit of Grand Veymont was chilly, because of the wind, but we ate our pic-nic nonetheless, enchanted by the vista and by the aerial ballet of Alpine choughs (Pyrrhocorax graculus) and Alpine swifts (Tachymarptis melba). The former were playing in the wind, folding up their wings to go against it and unfolding them when it was blowing from behind. They were no wilder than the ibexes, and clearly expected some food from the hikers. They got none from us, food is too precious!

We did not linger too much in the descent. It was steep and rocky, therefore very hard on knees and ankles. We crossed path with another ibex at the pass, where it was grazing next to the path, standing on it. It barely moved when walkers passed by; had I extended my hand, I could have touched it.

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Click here to see the full photo album.

BONUS

The Mont Aiguille is a mesa separated from Vercors situated in the area. It is quite unusual to see the meadows topping it, but from the summit of Grand Veymont, we were above.

Mont Aiguille

Mont Aiguille