We’ve been waiting for late autumn to hike in the Aguilles Rouges Nature Reserve. The weather is cooler, there are less people and we’re the fittest we’re going to be…
Yesterday morning, the sun was out, the sky was blue and there was frost on the lawn. Loaded up with puffy jackets, juice and sandwiches, we caught the train up to Argentierre to the start of a fantastic trail that we partially walked in 2008. In that year, we had a close encounter with ibex on the route and were keen to see them again!
The trail kicks off behind some houses and shops and climbs steeply all the way to the top at 1500m. It’s a mixture of roots and rocks and is like climbing uneven stairs for hours! After a few minutes we noticed little patches of snow at the sides of the trail which surprised us. The forecast this week was for snow down to 900m which should have meant snow in Chamonix itself but alas, we only got a couple of short snow flurries. As we got higher, the snow became more frequent until nearing the crest we were walking in it ankle deep. We’d gone from autumn to winter in the space of a couple of hours. The air was so cold, crisp and clear we couldn’t help taking big inhalations – it was intoxicating!
As the snow increased we noticed we were following ibex footprints. We followed them for hours, saw where they stopped and where they just dropped off shear cliffs but we never saw an ibex. We also noticed small paw prints in the snow which looked like they belonged to a cat – could have been a lynx but I think they were too small.
In the deep snow we came across ladders and wooden bridges to get us over gullies – great fun in the snow! We were following one other set of footprints – I’d just remarked that it’s handy to follow when they abruptly turned around and went back the way they’d come – doh!
We saw one runner (although I don’t think he could have ran much in those conditions) and 2 other hikers who were busy nattering and missing all the views by looking at their feet. Looking up at the deep blue sky we noticed two eagles soaring on thermals. They were so close to us, I think they were eyeing us up for dinner!
We reached the top, checked the map and started the descent. It’s trickier to walk over the snow covered rocks and roots going downhill and we lost our footing a couple of times. It was slow going but totally amazing to be in a winter wonderland. After a little more descending, the snow started to thin out and we were plunged back into autumn. The trail re-appeared and leaves and pine needles started to cover the patchy snow. The descent was hard on the legs – especially the knees.
Many switchbacks later we arrived in summer – with the sun still blazing in our faces, the snow disappeared and the trail became dry. We continued to drop down, losing 500m in total and 6 hours later arrived back home. Our legs and feet were so tired we could barely lift our feet into the shower!