Author’s note: This is a continuation on my series of trekking La Vanoise National Park in the high Alps of France. To see all posts in this series, click here.
“There is pleasure in the pathless woods; There is rapture on the lonely shore; There is society, where none intrudes, by the deep sea and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more.” -Lord Byron
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
I read this quote and couldn’t think of a more fitting way to begin my journey inside the heart and soul of Vanoise National Park. If you haven’t guessed by now, my preferred method of seeing and exploring a new place is on foot. Many of my recent travels abroad have involved hiking. I experienced the highs and lows of rural village life in the Himalayas of Nepal on foot. I explored the wild wind and crazy weather of the southern tip of Patagonia on foot. I followed the ancient Incan trail of knee-busting stone steps on foot. And, I explored glaciers, mountains and volcanoes of Peru, Guatemala, Iceland and New Zealand all on foot.
If I’m not moving, I’m not really there. I like to feel where I am. I like to see with my eyes wide open, the amazing beauty of this incredibly diverse and sensational earth and its people. I like to smell the flowers and feel the rough earth below my weary feet. There is no better way to travel the world than on foot.
After reaching the official entrance to the Vanoise National Park, we had an hour or so more to walk until we took a break for lunch. The terrain changed dramatically, getting steeper and more spectacular as we climbed higher up. Although it was a bit warm for hiking, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. A brilliant blue sky left my sun-skissed soul feeling more alive than I had for weeks. For this is what I love to do most.
We talked along the way with our newly formed friends, Christine and her young teenage son Jonty and our charismatic, knowledgeable guide Mark. I felt so fortunate to be in good company with no rotten eggs. Everyone was lovely and quite the conversationalist. It made for easy walking despite the high heat and heavy weight of my pack.
“In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia.” -Charles A. Lindbergh
Finally around noon it was time to stop for our picnic lunch. One of the perks of having your very own trekking guide is that if he is good, he knows the perfect place to stop. And that he did.
After stuffing our bellies with lots of calories and fat, I felt happy and refreshed. Nothing beats a royal pig out after a nice long hike! You know you’ve burned the calories thus a rich, savory caloric lunch is well deserved and guilt-free. If only I could eat like this forever.
The next leg of the hike to Col de la Vanoise brought us through old glacial valleys filled with aquamarine lakes and fields blanketed in alpine flowers. It was so incredibly beautiful that all the stress, fatigue and jet lag of making such a long journey for only a week’s vacation made sense. Most people (especially Europeans who have way more holiday time than us Americans) think I am absolutely crazy for coming so far to hike. But for me, the further away the better. For hiking and connecting with pure nature is one of the only things that makes me feel whole.
The wildflowers along the way brightened the rocky landscape with splash of color. I could only imagine what they had looked like a month ago at their prime. I’m certain it looked like Heaven.
A little past two, we reached our evening’s destination: The Col de la Vanoise. It would be the shortest hike of our six-day tour and the accommodations would be the most basic. We would be spending the night in a refuge or mountain hut, along with a hundred or so fellow trekkers. I was exhausted given the fact that it was only my second day in the country and I was still fighting a seven hour time difference. But as I’ve learned in life, sometimes there is a surprising reward in the sacrifices we make.
Since we arrived relatively early, we decided to take a nature walk in search of some of the areas elusive wildlife. Vanoise National Park is known for its ibis, chamois, and mountain goats which roam the remote, steep slopes of the mountains. However, it is not guaranteed that you will see them. There are also many different kinds of large birds as well as the easily spotted, fat marmot, sheep and cows.
One of the wonderful benefits of having a guide is that they usually know where to find the animals. They know the park and know where to look. We wandered back into the depths of the steep side of the Col de la Vanoise, silently. We took each step slowly and gingerly trying not to make too much noise in case any wildlife was near. It didn’t take long and Mark spotted some grazing Chamois up along the Col.
We watched in silence marveling at their apt ability to effortlessly run straight up the steep incline of the rocky mountainside, a route that would have taken us humans hours to painstakingly climb. Satisfied with our first wildlife encounter, we headed back to our refuge. By that point, I was feeling the effects of utter fatigue and was ready for a meal and good night sleep.
My dad was already there waiting, with a freshly opened bottle of Vin de Savoie breathing for our thirsty mouths. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to end a great day. Little did I realize, this would be the first of many…
Stay tuned….How did I sleep in a room with forty strangers, side by side, in twin-sized mats? Did the ear plugs work? You’ll have to wait and see!