Well, what can I say! It was a fantastic week for the variety of snowshoeing and absolutely stunning scenery. With a forecast of light winds and sunshine we decided to head for the Col de Mont Cenis.
Col de Mont Cenis
We took the chairlift, ?La Ramasse?, and then put on our snowshoes. The weather was ideal, clear blue skies and not a drop of wind. Quickly leaving the downhill skiers we stopped to take photographs at the Col itself where Hannibal is supposed to have crossed the Alps. The French-Italian border prior to World War II was located here but at the end of the war it was moved to the far side of the lake. We enjoyed a coffee break overlooking the lake admiring the view. On the way back we practised using avalanche transceivers bore having lunch, and a traditional ?Tarte au Beaufort? at the Relais du Col.
Day two took us from our hotel in Lanslevillard to the village of Bonneval-sur-Arc. Parking up at the end of the village we headed off. The path wended its way through sparse larch and ash alongside the river Arc with deep pools carved into the rock by the power of the water. Soon we could see the hamlet of L’Ecot perched above the river gorge. Only accessible on foot or ski in winter we explored the delightful hamlet, the smell of woodsmoke mingle in the clear, fresh mountain air. We stopped to take innumberable photographs and ate our picnic in front of a closed chalet. We moved on beyond the village to a large flattening in the valley in the direction of the Refuge du Carro perched high up under the Italian frontier. Stopping by a small shepherds hut we spotted ibex above and a lone chamois. An idyllic day in surroundings to take your breath away.
The Chemin de Petit Bonheur
We woke up to snow falling steadily so decided it was a good day to set off from the hotel itself. A short walk had us ?hand-railing? the side of the valley, climbing steadily to the Chapelle St Laurent. A sign indicated the direction for the Refuge du Vallonbrun high above on the southern flanks of the Vanoise. We made fresh tracks past the Col de la Madeleine (not the one known by cyclists) passing by beautiful pine trees to reach the hamlet of le Collet. We carried on in the steadily falling snow along the line of an ancient dyke to eventually reach the Chapelle St Maurice. Here we made for the main bridge across the River Arc. We followed the river bank watching dippers skim along the crystal clear waters of the river. We now picked up the ?Chemin du Petit Bonheur? as we strolled through towering larch trees, the deep carpet of snow creating a wonderful silence. It was therapeutic to be the only people on this magical route with no tracks to indicated the passage of others this day. Rounding the head of a deep cutting gully we started a gentle descent to the alpine chalets at Chantelouvre and then past the Chapelle St Etienne. Our snowshoe walk ended back in the village of Lanslevillard.
Today the wind was blowing so the plan was to head for the forests near the villages of Sollieres and Sardieres. The snow-covered road wound up from the valley bottom and the River Arc. Parking at the start of the cross-country ski tracks we gained a path threading its way through the pine woods. Decision time! It was left and we worked our way up through the forest in the deep fresh snow that had fallen overnight. Along the onward track wood sculptures draped in snow appeared surreal in the surroundings. A sharp change in direction and on to a narrower path gave us tantalising views of the Monolithe, a 90 metre high pinnacle of rock rising out of the woods. A ?belvedere? gave us even in better views of this dramatic geological oddity. Descending now in soft powder snow, absorbing each step like going down a summer sand dune.
A deep valley starts just outside the village of Bessans and opposite La Bessannaise Nordic ski centre. Leaving the cross-country ski pistes behind the mountains soon impose themselves. High above the hanging glacier below the summit of the Pointe de Charbonnel (3752m). A hanging glacier broods, damocles like, high above. Huge slopes plunge valley-wards and the Torrent d’Averole. On the left somewhat gentler slopes, covered, low-down by larch provide a home to chamois sheltering from winter’s grip. Enormous avalanche tips reach down to the river like lava flows, the result of earlier rises in temperature purging the slopes. Soon our path started to gain height gently and soon we came to the hamlet of Vincendieres, deserted, frozen in time. Onward, impercetibly gaining height, with beyond the imposing summit of La Bessannaise (3592m) guarding the Italian frontier. The hamlet of Averole revealed itself with it’s church spire standing sentinel in this wild, remote valley like a lighthouse. It was yet another unforgettable day. We only crossed the paths of three people all day. So, if you are yearning for space, peace and solitude come here in winter!
Our final day and we made a short drive down the valley. The road took us through the village of Termignon and on to the village of Bramans. In winter the road leading to the Vallee d’Ambin is barred not long after the village. The path ascended in zig-zags through larch and spruce to a small plateau area with views across the valley to the Grand Parrachee and the Vanoise. Across a small valley we could make out the Chapelle d’Extravache.