Jo decided to treat us to a night in one of the mountain refuges near la Plagne, so we headed off to the Refuge de Mont Jovet (2348m) just below the summit of Mont Jovet.
We crossed up through the high meadows (alpages) where alpine cows were grazing, producing milk for the local cheese co-operative just above la Plagne. Here they produce a wide variety of dairy products, but the staple being Beaufort cheese, of which they produce up to 24 a day. We bought some from the little shop on the way back; fresh, local and tasty!
When we crested the Col de la Lovatiere (2417m), the views over the Alps were fantastic. From this vantage point the sheer scale of Mont Blanc compared to its neighbours could really be appreciated. To the south the Grande Casse, (3852m) looked just as imposing, and we were even able to make out one of the ski lift stanchions above Tignes. It’s surprising just how close the ski areas are to each other. When driving between them it seems they are worlds apart due to having to drive round the foot of the mountains, yet up here they are within sight of each other.
We traversed the ridge line, summiting the Roc du Becoin (2594m) before dropping down the Champagny en Vanoise side of the mountain. Here there is no infrastructure for the ski industry and it made a welcome change. I’m an occasional snowboarder so cannot hold any moral high ground, but I can’t get past the feeling that the ski industry does have a lot to answer for in the conservation on these fine mountains. Aside from the existing ski infrastructure, I’ve appreciated this summer the scale and amount of work taking place when the snow has gone to make annual improvements.
We reached the refuge at around 5.30pm and, after finding out the wash facilities were a basin (basically a trough with water running into it, common in French mountain towns and villages) we treated ourselves to beer and wine with an exceedingly fine view over the Southern Alps.
We had a terrible sleep as the room we were in got hotter and stuffier as the night went on. At around 4am I headed out for air only to be met with the refuge cat and the best night’s stargazing I’ve had in years. It had been far too long since I’d properly seen the Milky Way and I was treated to a special show of shooting stars and occasional satellite.
It was so mild and bright, due to the Moon, that I was tempted to head out walking. If we weren’t sharing a dorm with some others I would have got my gear and struck out walking. We wouldn’t even have needed a headtorch it was so bright.
We’d planned before we went to bed to get up early to watch the sunrise from the top of Mont Jovet (2558m). By the time 6am came I was only just starting to get my first sleep of the night!
Feeling might groggy we walked up to the summit as the sky gradually grew lighter. Being up there at that time of day was special, as it felt like we were the only ones witnessing the Alps waking up.
Slowly the orange glow of the sun grew up around the silhouette of Mont Pourri (3779m) until it finally peaked over the ridge around 7am. Instantly we could feel some warmth coming from it, and it was truly magical to watch it rise above the glaciated Mont Pourri.
Being an incidental observer to this spectacle that happens each day (cloud base permitting) gave us some perspective on our place in the world, and it really felt like we were being admitted to a special club by being there – for the Chosen Few Only.
By the time our dormitory warmth had been used up, we decided to swap chilly breeze for breakfast on the veranda of the refuge. Here, while sipping coffee, we watched the morning really come into its own. Finally we dragged ourselves away from the serenity and beauty around us and headed back to la Plagne via a different route, bringing us out above Aime 2000.
We spotted a nice looking lochan (as I would call it), but we were stretched for time in getting back as Jo needed to get into the office, so we had to knock the idea on its head. Still, the spot was noted for a future adventure.
That evening, after buying our Beaufort cheese, we reflected on what a super little adventure it had been, the highlight being stood on a mountain top in the French Alps watching the sun rise without a cloud in the sky. Magic.