Last years trip to this region at the western end of the Alps proved extremely popular so a return visit was planned for this year. This time base for the trip was Ailefroide, a small village in the eastern section of the park.
Owing to various reasons, numbers were down on last time, so a small but enthusiastic group headed south from Calais and Dunkirk. It has to be said that it is a long drive as one hit, so Ruth and I split the journey spending a night at La Grave, using the campsite we operated from last year.
Next day ,a couple of hours drive found us meeting up with Nick and Kim and pitching the tent in the large campsite near the village. Ailefroide proved to be smaller than I had imagined, but two mini- supermarkets, a bar, 2 gear shops, bureau de guides and info. centre / museum were all we needed. It is a spectacular location with huge rock walls on all sides rising up to improbably pointed peaks with snow on the upper slopes. The Torrent d’Ailefroide ran alongside the campsite, emitting a constant low level roar. When it had rained hard ,as it did on most days, this became even louder.
The first couple of days were spent exploring the area, combined with a hunt for a local geo-cache, which took us 2 days to find, and an attempt to attain the Mont Pelvoux Refuge. On both occasions rain drove us back to camp. The rain in one case, was accompanied by bolts of lightening and thunder, so on a previous trip having had a too close experience of an electrical storm, plus this time, reports of rock-falls, retreat was judged the sensible option.
The plant-life was amazing, and different to that we had seen at La Grave, the previous year. There were lilies, both Turk’s Cap and a bright orange variety, also yellow gentians, alpine anemones and St. Bruno’s lilies, to name but a few. There were raspberry, bilberry, strawberry and juniper, though sadly not ready to be picked. Larch was the main type of tree.
On other days, activities included a Via Ferrata around a wild river gorge at Les Claux, (raining again), and rock climbing on one of the numerous low level crags at Ailefroide (very smooth granite). Multipitch mountain routes led straight out of the campsite, but were too wet to consider.
Most returns to camp involved the collection of wood for the fire bowl which was lit in the evening, boosting the, by then, chilly temperatures, and provided a barbeque for an evening meal. The campsite was generally bereft of twigs, as everyone had the same idea.
Overall the weather could have been kinder, so we decided to leave a day early and split the journey at Vitteaux in Burgundy, a place we had visited on a previous Continental trip. The campsite, in a converted railway station, only seemed to have a couple of other visitors so there was no lack of space. A meal out that night in the only restaurant open in town was very pleasant but next morning grey overcast sky indicated that a visit to a Gauls versus Romans museum and an old chateaux would replace the idea of climbing or a long walk.
The following day we had to decamp and head for home although Nick and Kim had one more days holiday. An enjoyable trip but a little less rain would have been welcome however we and the gear stayed reasonably dry with only the tent needing airing out at home.