Mont de Bière Devant isn't one of the seven highest peaks in the Jura (it's ranked number 37), but it's about the closest one to home, and thus an easy peak to get to from our house on Les Coteaux. Plus I needed to get out for a walk after a couple of weeks working out of the country - firstly in the Netherlands, and then the US. The Netherlands is no place for summit training, especially as I was working in the one-fifth of the country that is reclaimed from the ocean (and mostly below sea level) - which is hardly ideal for gaining walking-at-altitude experience. Washington is also flat, however at least I was able to get out for a walk while I was there - doing a lap of the famous "mall" and squeezing-in a visit to the Natural History Museum and its fantastic display of wildlife. I love the huge elephant they've got in the entrance hall.
Today, I'm a long way from Washington, back in the magnificent Jura Mountains ... where I might have stumbled across that elephant's long lost relation if I'd been here a few millennia ago.
But I was most unlikely to stumble across any mammoths today (I photographed this one rampaging through a park in Barcelona a couple of years ago), nor any of their traces, nor any other famous Jura fossils, 'cos the entire landscape today was covered with a beautiful, deep layer of snow. When I hit the trail at 11am, everything was under a lovely fresh covering of soft, powdery snow after an overnight sprinkling. It was just perfect for snowshoeing.
I set-out at about 11am - from the car-park alongside the Col du Marchairuz road at Sapin à Siméon, which is at about 1540m. It was minus five degrees when I got out of the car, and a total white-out. Not the best for photography, but perfect for getting lost in the mountains ... which I proceeded to do.
Although impossible to see, the trail was just beautiful and my snowshoes left fresh marks as they ploughed into the powder snow as I headed off - first along an initial gentle traverse before working my way higher up the mountainside. The first landmark that I passed was the Refuge du Pre d'Aubonne (at 1570m), which had one of those beautifully stacked wood-heaps: stacked as neatly and tidily as only the Swiss can stack wood.
The people who live in this part of the Jura have a long heritage of forestry. They love their wood, their woods, their forests. It's no wonder we love it here too. The refuge had a cool sign nailed to the front wall ...
I think that's very cool.
Suitably inspired, I headed deeper into the forest, slowly gaining altitude and heading for the top of Mont de Bière Devant, not too far into the distance. It took me about an hour and a half to get there, although (mainly due to the white-out) it proved to be somewhat more difficult than I would have hoped. Despite being armed with a topo map and compass, it was still bloody hard going knowing exactly where I was the entire time, especially once I left the usual route and plunged cross-country in the general direction of the summit. I had a few moments when, although not exactly lost, I was "temporarily uncertain of my position" ... as I prefer to say under such circumstances.
At one stage I came across two other Homo sapiens ssp snowshoensis who were also wandering around looking a bit lost. I pulled out my map and showed them how to get back to the car-park ... and yet I still came across them about half an hour later - at the summit of Mont de Bière Devant (where they had no intention of going!) Fortunately there were two other very experienced Jura trekkers there (both fully-equipped women in their sixties), and who knew exactly where they were and where they were going. They also had a GPS, a good topo map and compass, and gave the two guys solid directions for how to get back to where they'd parked their car. I joined the topo map meeting and discussion for awhile, but then left them so I could take some photos of the summit's landmarks before they disappeared into the gathering mist.
Mont de Bière Devant means the summit or mountain in front of Bière - referring to the town just at its feet. Bière, which looks and sounds like it means "beer", actually comes from the Latin word berria which means "prairie, barren and uncultivated, or little cultivated". Its origins may also relate to the Gallo-Roman people referred to as the "Berria" or "Beria"
Although encrusted in ice, the information panel at the summit at least provided proof that I was in the right place. The panel was erected in 2009 by the "Team of the Flag" ... whom I assume also erected the flagpole. The only flags "flying" today (actually wrapped-around and frozen to the pole) was a string of multi-coloured prayer flags from Nepal. (Like these ones below - which I photographed when Lis and I were trekking in the Himalayas near Mount Everest Base Camp in 2004 - although that's not Everest in the background!).
Today, I was on another continent, and not nearly so high into the clouds ... but still in the clouds nonetheless. I took one last pic - of me squatting on top of the park bench that normally provides a good resting spot for those lucky enough to be here when the countryside isn't quite so blanketed in snow - then started on my return journey.
Before I left the hilltop, I took a few more photographs - mainly of the icicles hanging off the roof of the nearby, mostly-buried, Mont de Bière Devant farmhouse. The snow was so deep up against the side of the building that I could have just snowshoed right over the top, had I wanted to.
Mission accomplished, I retraced my steps through the snow, back-up over the "true summit" ridgeline further to the northwest, then turned southwest back down the mountainside towards the Col road. The walk back was beautiful, and mostly uneventful, and before I knew it (about two-and-a-half-hours after I'd left), I was back at the car-park at Sapin à Siméon. As I said, not one of the "seven highest summits in the Jura", but still a great walk, and a great excuse to get out into the forests of the Jura on a snowy winter's day. Good for the soul.
As the sign said: "Deepest in the woods, the country has its heart".
Jura peaks bagged:
- Mont de Bière Devant (No. 37) 1529m
- Keeping things in perspective, Mont de Bière Devant is the 6,281st highest mountain in Switzerland :)
- Mont de Bière Devant is a "twin peak", with its twin - Mont de Bière Derrière (No. 50) - some 500 metres to the northwest. Together they are often referred to (even on some maps) as a collective "Monts de Bière (although this doesn't make much sense in my humble opinion, given their separation).