Up at seven, it’s still dark but we can tell it’s no longer raining. The weather is supposed to be mild and dry, not very promising for snow.. One of the reasons we took a studio this year is to have better food. Not better as in more tasty, but as in healthy and in decent amounts. The last few years we did our snow holidays in half-board, meaning nice food but waaaaaaaaay too much of it. So we start of our morning with a bowl of oatmeal or cottage cheese, fruit and stuff like chia, honey, cinnamon or chocolate. We also prepare our lunch bag: a thermos of ginger tea and two sandwiches each with ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. Once made, you stack them carefully back into the bag the sandwiches were packaged in, this keeps them from falling apart. Also, put the mayonnaise and tomato in between the ham and cheese, keeps the sandwiches from getting soggy. I’ve perfected this procedure over the last ten years!
Turns out I forgot the new book with hikes in the area, so we have to rely on the newfangled internet. First we drive up to La Mauselaine, the ski slopes are closed but we’re hoping for an information center with some info about which hikes are closed due to snow. The info center is closed as well, but looking around at the melting patches of soggy snow, we don’t think we should be too worried about anyway. A local tells us that most of the snow was swept away by a storm yesterday, so while the high slopes might still have a few tens of cm, the lower areas seem to be mostly snow-free. We decide to just go for it and set off to the cross country skiing center of Bas-Rupt, which should have several trails suitable for snow shoes as well as hikers. Everything is closed here as well and the parking lot is empty, but we have a map and a smart phone with GPS, so we feel confident we’ll make it back, even if nobody is seems to be out and about. We decide to follow the aptly named La Deux trail (Trail Two), should be about 3 km.
It’s 9°C / 48°F and immediately we can tell it will be a soggy walk. I suppose the combination of rain due to the storm and the melting snow has caused a huge amount of water to come down: most paths are now shallow streams and most meadows are completely waterlogged. Fortunately we’re both wearing snow hiking boots and should be waterproof even in 10 cm of puddle/stream/bog. The start of the hike is extremely boring: the area around the ski station is mostly cleared, with holiday rental cottages, ski rental businesses and restaurants. Once we get up into the woods though, we seem to be completely by ourselves with nothing but trees, rocky slopes and lots of water to keep us company.
There is some snow on the higher slopes, but it too is very wet and soggy. Mostly everything is very green: evergreen trees, moss and grasses everywhere. At the point where the trail turns back, we decide it’s just getting fun and decide to make a bigger loop following La Trois (The Three), going up to Les Hautes Vannes at 993 m, before going back down and following the river all the way back. We make a small navigational error and end up following a cross country track for half a kilometer before finding our hiking path again, but we figure the snow is melting anyway and nobody will mind our messing up the already patchy track. We have our pick-nick just after noon sitting on some mossy rocks, still completely alone and without having seen another soul. We do encounter some trace of souls: deer scat, squirrel tracks in the snow. Even an actual squirrel near the end of the walk.
It’s only 1 o’clock, so we decide to do another short hike. We stop by the tourist office to get some flyers about hikes around Gérardmer, find out it’s pronounced [ʒeʁaʁme], whereas Longemer is pronounced [lɔ̃ʒmɛʁ] can you believe it, then drive to aforementioned Longemer. We do a quick stop on the way to get more lunch ingredients for tomorrow and park the car near the camping by the lake. We follow the wide road to Retournemer, again surrounded by the sound of water rushing down from the slopes to join the swollen river below. The road is easy, but has a continuous slight slope upwards so I’m continuously slightly out of breath. On the way, we admire both the view and the sound of the Cascade de Retournemer – Notre Dame des Neiges, the large waterfall leading from the Retournemer lake. We skirt the lake and continue upwards towards the Cascade Charlemagne on the same Vologne river.
On the way back, while chatting with an older gentleman and his older tiny dog, we see a small furry animal scurrying about, it looks like a polecat (honestly I had to look up the name later), unhurriedly following the ditch and disappearing near an uninhabited house, might live in the basement. The gentleman explains the shape of the valley to us, an invisible (tree covered) wall of pink granite stops the water from carving a way through it, creating the lake on one side and the big waterfalls on the other. We splash our way back down the path, only now noticing that indeed the rocks forming the path have a distinct pink color.
Car back home, cheese crackers and a glass of champagne, shower, out for dinner at the Grand Hôtel (meh) and then YouTube and blog writing. No dessert..