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.

The real beauty of realizing your true nature is in the freshness, peace and deep bodily relaxation which touches to the core of your being, flows into your everyday life and bursts forth naturally into blossoming from within itself. Without you ‘doing’ a thing about any of it.

This is a beautiful and simple change of lifestyle. A lifestyle of letting go and living openhandedly curled up in the sunlit warmth on the lap of the Divine (your heart). – Julie Sarah Powell

After another breathtaking picnic lunch in the heart of Vanoise National Park, we continued on to our accommodations for the night:  l’Arpont refuge. The terrain had become much more barren, rocky and remote.  By this point in our trek, we were at least seven or eight hours walk away from where we started back in the village of Pralognon la Vanoise.  The further away from civilization we got, the more my spirits soared.

A verdant valley far, far below.

My dad heading up…

A rocky trail across. Our guide Mark leading the way.

I found this rock really interesting with its patchy lime green dots. I didn’t have a chance to ask Mark about how they formed. I wish I had.

A glacier dipping over the the high valley above.

Another gorgeous vibrant blue glacial lake. I bet this one was really cold for swimming.

About half way through our hike we stopped at a rocky slope and Mark did an animal scan. If you are a true mountain guide, you need to have amazing eyesight and know where to look. Most people would have missed spotting anything but not Mark. High above, he spotted an elusive Ibex. The male Ibex are known for their amazing horns. I had to zoom the camera in full blast but check this guy out as he was way up hidden along the steep mountain side above.

An Ibex resting under a rock far, far above.

While we were watching the Ibex we noticed some brave souls at the end of the lake dipping in their feet. After testing the water, however, they changed their mind.

What I truly love about hiking and being outside in the mountains is the sense of freedom I feel. My mind, body and soul all forget about the daily stress of life, leaving it all behind in thousands of miles away. I give myself this week of time to forget about everything and just enjoy the simple beauty of being alive. It is one of the most liberating feelings of all.

After we left the lake, it was another few hours hike to reach the refuge. The scenery continued to amaze me and inspired me to continually stop and take more shots.  Here are some of my favorite views along the way.

My dad and I lead the pack as Christine’s fourteen-year-old son Jonty was suffering mild symptoms of altitude sickness. Although the Alps are not that high some people feel the effects of less oxygen and can develop mild annoyances such as shortness of breath, nausea and headache. Jonty was a strong hiker yet did not have much experience in the mountains. Thus he took it slow and thankfully the symptoms passed by the end of the day.

Meanwhile we were warned by our guide Mark to always be in his sight line. He informed us that the french laws were quite strict and if anything ever happened to us along the way it would jeopardize his future as a guide.  We were also told to be aware of les patous (sheep dogs which are usually large breeds such as the Great  Pyrenean Mountain Dog which protected the sheep against wolves. If we were ever to approach a flock of sheep and he wasn’t with us, we had to wait for him so we could safely pass without angering the patou.

As we rounded the corner, we saw our first flock of sheep. We waited for Mark and the others to catch up and thankfully there wasn’t a patou. I love dogs yet  patous can be very aggressive if they are faced with a possible threat to their flock. Patous are raised since birth alongside the sheep they will grow up to protect.  Thus they take their jobs seriously and will attack people when they feel a threat to the flock.

Hey, there was even a black sheep among the group! Had to capture this shot.

We were tiring out after a long, grueling day of hiking and were relieved to know there was only another hour of so left until we’d reach l’Arpont refuge. I secretly began to fantasize about the accommodations, hoping it would be better and there wouldn’t be so many beds to a room. After a miserable night’s sleep with forty strangers I was dreaming of a little less chaos and noise. More than three hours of sleep would be nice too.

As we rounded the corner, I saw a village far, far below in the valley. It was like seeing an oasis in a desert. It was playing tricks on my mind as I visualized the fluffy white duvets covering your own personal bed in a cozy, quaint french hotel. The delightful aroma of french cuisine floating in the air. A nice hot shower with soap and shampoo and a hairdryer to dry my long cold hair….ahhhh….if only I could take a detour and spend the night down there!

But as Mark said “What goes down must always come up“. An hour and a half walk down to spend the night in the valley would mean a two and a half hour steep hike up the next morning. Would it really be worth all the pain and effort? Plus you would loose the tranquility and real appeal of being in the mountains. Despite the ruggedness of the refuges, there was something magical about being away from it all.

Yet, it was still very tempting….

A little further on, using his eagle eyes, Mark spotted a chamois high above us. We watched the chamois for a few moments, zooming the camera in to get a good shot. Then it noticed our presence and ran straight up the vertical, rocky slope, disappearing behind the rock.

Finally, the refuge was getting closer. My body wasn’t really tired as six hours of hiking is usually no problem. Yet I was tired. I still was trapped in a seven-hour time difference and huge lack of sleep. I desperately wanted a hot shower, glass of vin de savoie and a nice, spacious bed for the night. Would that be grand?

The l’Arpont refuge in the distance. Would it be what I hoped for?

And there it was…l’Arpont refuge. I was glad to be there or so I hoped.

Stay tuned….more stories to come on the Tour de la Vanoise!


    1. Thanks Giana! It was really spectacular and brought back all my old love of La Belle France (I lived and studied there back in college but this was in 1993-19940. I’d visited since then a few times but really getting into the mountains and connecting with the people and culture was fantastic. Ah, so much to explore and see! 🙂

    1. Thanks! Yes Ibex are relatively elusive and hard to find. We lucked out and got really close one afternoon (still a few posts out). They are amazing as they can run literally straight up the edge of the cliff!

    1. Thanks Amy! It feels so long ago now yet it was only about five week ago! Life is so crazy that way. That is why I love blogging as I can relive a trip or a memory in a sense. Thanks for all your wonderful comments! 🙂

  1. What an incredible place, Nicole! It looks like a perfect place to release all the tensions and stresses from the challenges of daily life.

  2. Hiking is something which makes me feel alive as it involves lots of fun and adventure. You have given, the minute details in your post which is interesting indeed! This is highly inspiring and triggered my conscience for having a hiking trip very soon.

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