"Expect the unexpected" is our motto for the Jura, and today's hike lived-up to this reputation. What started with a mixed weather forecast ... and bright sunshine, ended-up with ... bright sunshine. But in between we had lots of rain, clouds, wind and white-out conditions. Luckily we do now always expect the unexpected and have every kind of weather condition covered by what we stuff into our packs before leaving home.
We parked the car at La Givrine (1236m), which is really only a restaurant and ski facility on the side of the road that runs over the Jura between St Cergue and La Cure, on the Col de la Givrine. It's also a rail stop for the "little red train" that chugs its way up the mountainside from Nyon, way down on the shores of Lac Leman, to La Cure (the French-Swiss border town). The railway dates back to 1916, when the first trains began to run between Nyon and St Cergue. The line was extended to La Givrine, and then to La Cure, in the following year (1917), and four years later (1921) was further extended, into France, to the towns of Les Rousses and Morez. (Unfortunately, the French extension was closed again in 1958). Today the rail line, with its characteristic "little red train" provides an essential daily service along the Col, bringing day-trippers (summer walkers, winter skiers and year-round pic-nickers and restaurant diners) to the heartland of the southern Swiss Jura.
The Col de la Givrine is historically one of the main east-west passes through the Jura - connecting the old Roman town of Nyon (in the east) with Les Rousses (in the west) - the first town you come to across the border in the French Jura, just north of La Cure (which is half-Swiss and half-French). The Col is sometimes (incorrectly) called the Col de Saint-Cergue. This beautiful mountain pass is part of an ancient route that connected Burgundy and Franche-Comté in eastern France with Nyon, Lac Leman, Geneva and its hinterlands, and, eventually, Italy.
The importance of the Col de la Givrine pass diminished in the 18th century - when a new road was built over the Col de la Faucille - which is further to the south and much closer to Geneva. As a consequence, the Col de la Givrine reverted to being of more of a regional road, mainly servicing local forestry activities and transporting timber. The road was upgraded and re-routed through flatter ground between 1763 and 1769 (paving stones from that era are apparently still visible in some places along the route), and was reconstructed as a much more modern thoroughfare in 1828-52, following which it regained its status as a significant international trading route.
Unfortunately, most of this history was lost on us today, as we just wanted to go walking in the mountains. So we soon left the Col, and headed southwest across the pastures towards the La Trélasse farmhouse. This farmhouse doubles-up as a restaurant in peak summer and winter seasons, and also has a ski-lift that operates throughout winter. It was closed for the inter-season today, with just a Bernese mountain dog lining-up for a feed outside the front door.
It's only a short walk from La Givrine to the France-Switzerland border - at La Cure to the west and Les Dappes - where we were headed - to the southwest. The Franco-Suisse border zig-zags quite a bit throughout its course through the Jura, and no more so than in this neck of the woods. The border is quite settled now, but it has been the subject of quite a few disputes over the years, especially following the Reformation when there were open border turf wars between the rulers of Berne and Burgundy. At the time, the Franco-Swiss boundary marked the historical limits of Burgundy and Savoy on the French side and (on the Swiss side) the (medieval) Bishopric of Basle and the principalities of Neuchatel, Vaud, Geneva and Valais.
The border was first "properly" delineated between the two neighbouring countries under the Treaty of Paris, which was signed on the 30th of May, 1814 and declared in the following year (1815). The Paris Treaty established definitively the alignment of the boundary (which is mostly still current) between France and the newly neutralized and constituted Swiss Confederation. In the vicinity of the Col de la Givrine, the border ran right through the Vallée des Dappes, however it was realigned in 1862, when it was repositioned under the Treaty of Dappes. Apparently some of the residents of the Vallée des Dappes preferred to be in France than Switzerland and petitioned for the realignment.
The new alignment was mapped by French cartographer Alexandre Vuillemin in 1843, however it took some years for the treaty to be organized to effect the border change. One of the interesting stories resulting from this delay, was the extension of the hotel in La Cure - now the Franco-Swiss Arbez hotel - by the local La Cure publican, to ensure it would be cut in half by, and straddle the new border. This meant guests and patrons could dine in France and sleep in Switzerland, or vice versa ... all at the same multinational pub.
The Treaty of Dappes was signed on behalf of Switzerland and France by General Guilliame-Henri Dufour (a Swiss army hero, and co-founder, in 1863 with Henri Durant, of the International Red Cross) and Louis-Napoloeon Bonaparte, the future Napoleon III (France) - on the 8th of December 1862, It resulted in the Vallée des Dappes (now in France) being exchanged by Switzerland for an area of land in the Col de la Givrine of equivalent size: 747 acres.
Somewhere along the dry stone wall we were following (along the former border in the map above) there is a stone post with "1807" carved into its side, commemorating the date when the border coincided with the construction of the wall. Today, this boundary-marker is well inside Switzerland. Just before we reached Les Dappes, we turned southeast, past the Couvaloup de Crans restaurant and ski cable station, and headed straight up the mountain. We decided not to take the usual "Pedestrian Tourism" path, opting instead for the more direct, but steeper and more rugged access route under the cable car pylons.
We hadn't gained much altitude before the Jura decided to turn-on "the unexpected", and we soon found ourselves scrambling for our rain jackets, and then for shelter in the nearby forest under a fir tree. We sat-out the passing rain shower, drinking hot tea and wondering if this was going to be the pattern for the day.
After awhile, the rain let up and we were able to progress further uphill, to as far as the Poele Chaud farmhouse ... when it started to rain again in earnest. We sheltered for awhile in the doorway to the winter-abandoned farmhouse, until I leaned against the old wooden door and it creaked open, after which we sheltered out of the rain in the dark, but dry interior. For awhile it fairly belted down ... then suddenly stopped. We made a break for the top, and were soon standing on the Col de Porte (1558m), along with a bunch of other mountain walkers in their variety of multi-coloured rain-capes and jackets.
As I suspected, they all went one way, probably towards La Dole, while Lis and I went the other - uphill towards the summit of Pointe de Poele Chaud. Point de Poele Chaud means the "tip, or top (more or less pointed), of the hot stove (or hot frying pan)", and it is thought that the name figuratively refers to the fact that it can get relatively hot up here in mid-summer and that throughout summer it can be a warm and sunny place. While the true origin of the name is not widely known, calling it a "pointe" is considered a little too grand by some who venture to the tip/top, given that it is more of a rounded hill than a sharp peak.
Whatever its origin and pointiness, we were soon standing on that rounded hilltop (1628m), where I unfurled my trusty Swiss flag, and Lis took the commemorative pix to mark the occasion.
The most distinctive feature about the summit is an old radio shack that is located there, called "La Glutte". Often mistaken for a weather station, due to its aerials, wind vane and webcam, the shack serves as the principal Franco-Swiss relay station for amateur radio hacks (members of the amateur radio club HB9G) in this part of the world. We wandered around the hilltop for awhile, taking photos, and watching the clouds scudding-in from the valley below us and obliterating everything around.
During an occasional break, we saw the summits of La Dole, La Barillette and Point de Fin Château around us, and down below a mob of about 20 chamois. This was the biggest (and closest) mob of chamois we'd ever seen. (One even ran right past us, passing within about 20 metres.)
The chamois, surrounding peaks, and just about everything else soon disappeared into a total white-out that enveloped the mountain top, so we hunkered-down under the eaves of the radio shack and dragged-out our standard mountain-trekking fare of bread, cheese, nuts and raisins, and hot tea. To cap it off, it began to rain again, but once again we were in the best possible situation, and happily munched away until the shower passed over us on its way into France.
As luck would have it, the clouds soon lifted for long enough for us to see our next peak, so we quickly re-hoisted our packs and headed northeast further along the Jura crest-line. We navigated our way through some of the last vestiges of snow still on the ground along the crêts in this part of the Jura and, after one false assumption, were soon standing on the second Jura peak on today's target list - Point de Fin Château (1556m). This is the last peak at the northern end of the La Dole massif, and thus has appropriately been called the "End of Castle Point" - which aptly describes the last high point in the La Dole line of peaks.
Once again, my Swiss flag fluttered in the breeze for another Jura summit commemorative photo. We wandered around to take-in the occasional glimpses of St Cergue directly below us; and Lac Leman, Geneva and bits of the Alps far away through the clouds, then "headed outta Dodge". My plan was to follow a dry stone wall that ran northwest down the hillside from just north of the summit, but we soon found that it intersected a marked, but little-used trail, which we decided to follow the rest of the way down the mountainside.
This took us along a magnificent, little-used forest trail - over patches of snow, fallen trees, slippery slopes, rocky knolls and dense forest. It was a lovely track, and a fab way to finish our walk.
The trail eventually popped-out of the forest - called the Bois de Couvaloup - just south of La Trélasse, which we soon strolled past on our way back to the car. The road we found ourselves on was called "Couvaloup de Crans", the same name as the restaurant and ski station to the southeast, whilst further around the road was the "Couvaloup de St Cergue". All of these names apparently relate back to a dreadful and catastrophic storm in 1960 - after which a bunch of wolves were found frozen to death in caves and crevasses along the north side of the La Dole massif.
Fortunately, our "storm" had proven to be nowhere near as dramatic or drastic and, not surprisingly, the day was beginning to clear-up again. With impossibly blue-violet gentians and yellow daisies sparkling in the sunshine all around us, we were already wondering if we'd really spent the past five hours in rain and mist and white-outs at the top of the ridgeline.
You've gotta love the Jura. (but don't forget to pack your rain-jackets, gloves and beanies :)
Jura peaks bagged:
- Point de Poele Chaud (No. 10) 1628m
- Pointe de Fin Château (No. 25) 1556m
Pointe de Poele Chaud is the 6,162nd highest peak in Switzerland (Peakery)