Up at 8, breakfast as usual, Arne searches for the name of the birds we saw yesterday on the higher snowy slopes, turns out they were bullfinches. They were too quick to photograph, but we remember the distinct coloration. Some doubt about what to do today.. we could go to one of the official winter hikes further south, but decide to stay close to Gérardmer and do a longer hike from the French Visorando website. There’s a very clear sky, though the sun is still pretty low when we park at La Chaume de Balveurche. We’re above the 1000 m line and there’s still snow here, but the sun is warm and the wind too, bit weird for the time of year. We follow wide forestry roads over the south slope overlooking the Retournemer lake, there’s a great lookout point and we can see several spots we walked past a few days ago. Behind that we can even see the ski slopes we hiked around yesterday. We chat with another hiker and nod hello to a runner, busy busy here. We cross several passes, one is called the Col des Hareng Marinés: pass of the marinated herrings, you have to wonder where that comes from..
It becomes a lot cooler when we start descending the north slope of this mountain towards the Etang de Belbriette, so we decide to share a nut snack and walk on towards sunnier woods for lunch. The route follows small roads, sometimes rocky gravel (pink granite, again!), sometimes old asphalt or plain grass. The descent is slow but steady, basically 8 km of downhill towards the lake. In other words there’s 8 km of steady uphill waiting for us to get back to the car. Lunch just after 13h in the first sunny spot we encounter: the grassy roadside is soft and comfortable, it’s so warm we can take off our outer layers.
After lunch there is more climbing to do. We stop to have a look at a war monument to Irenée Dubois and wonder what happened to him (or her? I looked it up later and Google does not know who this person is or why they have a monument), before continuing on and on and on. Another hiker catches up to us, a chatty older man with a small enthusiastic dog. We learn how to pronounce Bas-Rupts (you drop all the last consonants) and what a chaume actually is (an open area cleared of trees). Lots of trees around here, but after a while they all start looking the same. There is a lot of logging in this area as well, so the last bit is not as charming as the first. We see no wildlife whatsoever, except one bright yellow butterfly. There must be heaps of large animals around, judging by the tracks and scat. Back at the car around 15h30, down to Gérardmer with a brief stop for petrol and fruit. Tonight we’re planning a gastronomical dinner in one of the restaurants close by, so we have to stay awake until 19h..