I embarked on my first official microadventure on Friday 13th, a rather ominous omen for the superstitious. This wasn’t pre-planned to ensure I’d endure a frightful night under the stars, but it just came about that way, rather like how my microadventure unfolded.
As I said in my pre-microadventure post I was going to be dropped off south of Geneva and would walk back towards Albertville for two days, sleeping in my orange survival bag under the stars. It didn’t quite go according to script, but it proved to be more enjoyable as a result, and therefore an even better microadventure than I expected.
When Jo dropped me off in Le Chable, around 10km south of Geneva, I was full of trepidation about wandering around and sleeping wild in the French countryside, or as Jo described it; “galavanting around in orange bags”.
The low, heavy cloud engulfing the Le Grand Piton on the Mount Saleve plateau was daunting, but I was too cold sitting in the middle of the park in Le Chable to stay still for too long. Once I’d acquired bread and cheese I hit the road with the sun burning its way through the cloud base that lingered above me.
My route from Le Chable to the summit of Le Grand Piton involved a thigh-burning 700metres of height gain in just a few kilometres. While my thighs and calves complained, my eyes did not as the floodplain to the south-west of Geneva unfolded below me. The sounds of the hustle and bustle of modern life had given way to a cacophony of birdsong in the tree canopy and crickets in their thousands in the long meadow grass. This was what I was seeking; to be immersed in nature.
The summit of Le Grand Piton (1379m) was covered in a limestone pavement and sitting atop the cliffs was a folly tower (Tour Bastian) which afforded amazing views down towards Geneva and across to the Jura Mountains. My original route was to descend down the south-eastern side of Le Grand Piton, but once I’d experienced the views I was in no great haste to undo the effort I’d put in to get there. My map indicated the Grotte du Diable was just nearby, so I headed off to explore it.
My French is very bad and while I knew a grotte was a cave, I did not realise this was the Devil’s cave. Had I known I may have been less keen to scurry underground, especially given my fear of tunnels and being trapped, but as I was on an adventure I felt I was obliged to investigate.
At first it seemed little more than a big hole underneath a rocky outcrop in the woods. Once inside, however, it revealed at least three separate passages of differing sizes and directions. Had I been a caver I would have been in my element, but just looking at these was raising my heart-rate. The last of the three I looked at – by this I mean I looked into the mouths of the passages, I did not think about going in them – really put the fear up me.
I’d always naively considered caves and their passageways to run virtually horizontal, yet this one seemed to drop away vertically to the point where it would be entirely possible to fall down it. Needless to say I did not venture close enough to see quite what angle it took, but it seemed deep enough and vertical enough for me to decide it was time to remove myself from the small passageway I was in and return to the safety of the outside world.
This detour proved to be the turning point on my microadventure. While I’d set out with a vague goal of getting myself somewhere towards Albertville, this showed me that there was adventure to be had by just following my nose and exploring what there was to see on the way. And so that’s how I continued.
Once I reached the trig point at Plan du Saleve (1348m) I had a near-perfect 360° panorama of floodplains, alpine meadows, tree-covered hills and rocky, snow-pocketed mountains. It was stunning and the crickets competed with the cow bells for attention. I could see a glimpse of Lake Annecy and made a new plan to try and get to Annecy before the day was out (the great thing about this type of adventure was I could keep on changing my plan without any negative consequences).
My new plan didn’t last very long as I soon found myself in one of the most beautiful dells I have ever set eyes on. An area of lush meadow was surrounded by beech and pine trees and an abandoned barn was accompanied by alpine cows grazing over the vegetation. Overhead black kites glided by with a degree of regularity. It was the place of picture postcards.
I was really tempted to stay there for the night, but it was around 4pm and I had less than half a litre of water left with no clear water source in the vicinity. I pondered for a while as it was such an amazing spot, but had to give in and head for Cruseilles so I could get some more water. All of my deliberating ended my plan to reach Annecy and I was actually glad of it. This wasn’t a race, it was an adventure and it was to be enjoyed.
After getting some provisions, including a cold beer and a cake, in Cruseilles, I carried on, feeling quite weary under the weight of my 3 litres of extra water. By now the sun was quite low and I was starting to weigh up everywhere I passed as a potential bivvy site. While I looked for a place to spend the night I took a small detour to take in the wonder of les Ponts de la Caille, just south of Cruseilles.
Here, two bridges (the original suspension bridge built in 1839 and the current road bridge built in the late 1920s) cross the ravine of the Usses River, 147m below. The drop from the suspension bridge is stomach-churning, especially as the wooden slats have rather large gaps between them, helping to remind me that there wasn’t much between my feet and a long way down.
By now the sun was beginning to set and so I set off to sort myself out with a place to sleep. Just 5 minutes from les Ponts de la Caille I crossed a recently mowed meadow to find a nice spot on the edge of some woods. It was far enough away from the road and was in a slight dip, so I knew that unless someone had the same intention as me, I’d be undisturbed – by people at least, I still had an irrational fear of being attacked by wild boar!
It wasn’t long before the wildlife began to appear around me as a red deer fawn ran across the field, followed soon after by two large hares chasing each other. After the dusk gave way to night I could see bats flying around and the hooting of owls echoed from the woods. It was fantastic and, thankfully, the cloud was broken, allowing me to see the stars from time-to-time. Eventually, despite my fear of the wild boar, I drifted off, worn out after a super day’s microadventuring.
Best bit: Following my instinct and not a strict, pre-planned route.
Worst bit: Choosing a bivvy site quite close to a main road and an abandoned, graffiti-clad building – it heightened my fear of being menaced by hoodlums.
Biggest challenge: Overcoming irrational fears
Distance: 23.3km (14.5miles)
Height gain: 770m (approx.)
Height loss: 760m (approx.)
Read Day Two: microadventure number one: cruseilles to annecy