The spectacle which is Mont d'Or is a very appropriate Jurassic destination when the colours of autumn are turning all of the Jura's deciduous trees' leaves into lovely golden hues of yellow, amber, orange, brown and red. It was too bad the weather turned more winter than autumn, i.e., sans sunshine, but the reputation of Mont d'Or still provided the promise of some amazing experiences and spectacular views. Actually Mont d'Or doesn't get its name from "gold". Its name is thought to originate from either an old French variant of "Alp" (Au); or (more likely) the French word for bears "our" - and refers to it being a place frequented by bears ("once upon a time"). Given the day (the weather) and the age, we didn't expect to see either Alps or bears today.
Another version of the story is that the name owes its origins to the golden sunlight which bounces off the mountain's magnificent eastward-facing limestone cliff-faces every bright sunny morning. But that didn't seem to be right to us either - especially on the bleak, overcast day that shadowed the mountain throughout the day while we were there.
In yet another nomenclature option, there is apparently a local legend that the name originates from centuries ago after a local shepherd discovered a vein of gold somewhere on the mountainside. With his new-found wealth, he approached the nearby Lord of Joux in order to present a proposal of marriage to the Lord's beautiful daughter. Foolishly, while doing his best to present himself well during conversations, and in order to demonstrate the reality of his wealth, he revealed the location of his golden deposit. Seizing the opportunity to expand his own wealth, the rather unscrupulous lord rapidly responded by throwing the shepherd into a dungeon in the depths of the lord's famous fortress castle, and stealing the poor man's gold. The mountain was thereafter called Mont d'Or in memory of the stolen mineral wealth and the hapless shepherd.
Mont d'Or is located in the heart of folded, French, Jura Mountain dairy country, and is famous for the cheese which bears its name - Vacherin Mont d'Or - which some claim to be the best cheese in France and Switzerland. Hmmm, I'm not the best judge of warm, soft, creamy, molten Jura cheeses, so I'll decline to say anything on the grounds that I might incriminate myself. The cheese is only produced during the colder, winter months (between September and May), when the local breed of cows - called the Montbéliardes, a piebald red-and-white variety which has been bred here for more than 300 years - are holed-up in local farmers' barns. The cheese comes distinctively packaged in round wooden boxes.
We drove to the foot of the mountain and parked the car on the outskirts of a tiny village called Les Tavins - which is just over the French border about three kilometres north of Vallorbe. From Les Tavins, we drove about a kilometre south - on a mountain track that led into the foothills between Mont d'Or and the Jougnena river - where we parked the car at the bottom of a ski lift located just near the Piquemiette Chalet. The latter was closed now, but looked like it might be a pumping place when the skiers start turning up here in a couple of months.
We were only anticipating about a four hour walk, so didn't arrive there until about noon, hoping that the bleak morning's weather would lift as the day wore-on and warmed-up. Unfortunately it didn't, and by the time we set-off at 12.20pm, the conditions were still overcast and cool. A brisk wind whistled-in from the south. We stopped briefly to check-out the Refuge de Piquemiette (1058 metres), then headed into the forest on a trail called the "Le Tour du Mont d'Or". The trail is marked by distinctive yellow and blue stripes along much the way - in the (largely) French portion, (and by the distinctive red and white striped mountain trail signs in the relatively short Swiss section).
About a kilometre along the trail, in the vicinity of a patch of forest called "Source du Creux Soudet", we came upon a stone marker which marked the border between France and Switzerland. It dated back to 1649. We were heading back into the wilds of the Swiss Jura.
I read somewhere that on the Swiss side of the border, you'll find chamois, boar and other wild creatures, and on the French side: les Montbéliardes (the local cows). In another account it had the wildlife living on the cliff-faces, and the cows on the flatter mountain pasturages. Unfortunately, we didn't see any wild fauna, but did see lots of wild mushrooms - of all colours - red, white, red-and-white, orange, pink, yellow, grey ... and they all looked beautiful .... but deadly.
Suddenly we found ourselves in a clearing, on a mountain pasture that provided the first inkling of the kind of views we were going to see today. A high layer of cloud blanketed all western Switzerland (and eastern France) as far as the eye could see, under which we were able to get some surreal views of the distant Alps and a few of our favourite Alpine landmarks - including Mont Blanc and les Dent du Midi. Closer to where we were standing, we could also see the Dent de Vaulion (1483m, No. 47) across the Orbe valley to our south.
The trail then turned-off to the west, and headed back into the forest. It was lovely being in the woods in "the fall" - with leaves tumbling and cascading out of the tree tops to litter the path ahead of us. It was quite magical.
About two kilometres down the trail we encountered our first landmark - the Pralioux Dessus farmhouse and, perched above it, the Club Alpine Suisse (CAS) mountain refuge hut peculiarly called Cabane Gym.
From there, the route turned to the north, taking us uphill on a (at times) hard-to-distinguish trail through the forest, that suddenly opened-up onto alpine pastures near the top of the Mont d'Or cliffs. Along the way, we skirted past another CAS mountain refuge - the Cabane du Mont d'Or (1373m), then wandered over towards the top of the cliffs. A fierce wind blasted against our backs, threatening to blow us off the mountain.
We now found ourselves on a section of the tour called the "Sentier des crêtes" - marked by gentle alpine pasturage on the one side (on our left, the west while heading north), and precipitous 200 metre cliffs on the other. It was a time for paying attention to where one put one's feet.
That was a hard ask, considering the amazing views that now lay before us. For the first time we could really see where our forest trail had taken us - close now to the top of the mountain, as well as the valley floor from where we had started the walk, and an amazing Jura panorama beyond.
We were soon at the highest point of Mont d'Or (1463m). It was now about 2pm - an hour and 40 minutes after when we'd first hit the trail. The wind was turbulent and blisteringly cold, and doing its best to blow us off the mountain-top, so we scampered down just over the edge of the cliff-face, found a ledge, and hunkered down behind the rocks to break-out our trail lunch. Our tried-and-true trail mix was just the tonic to battle the near-Arctic winds that were howling through the skies above us - as we downed our "traditional" fare of bread and cheese, which we washed-down with two thermoses of hot tea, and capped-off with a bar of dark Toblerone chocolate and nip of French brandy to celebrate the summit.
Suitably refuelled, and now wrapped-up in our polar fleeces and windbreakers, we continued north along the Sentiers des Crêtes totally "gobsmacked" (there's no better term) by the views that continually unfolded in front of us.
It took us ages to traverse the last kilometre or so of the total 2.5 kilometre clifftop - as we kept on stopping to take photos or to just sit and take-in the incredible panorama in front of us. Not surprisingly, it's a popular launching pad for paragliders (from the cliff-face - when the weather conditions are right), and for skiers (on the more gentile slopes - when the landscape is blanketed in snow in mid-winter). There are ski lifts all over the slopes from the east and the west - with quite a few converging on the summit of le Morond (1419m), about a kilometre to our north.
It's mid-October, the days are getting shorter, and the sun was starting to drop out of the skies, so we decided to make our way back down the mountain. We headed to the northern end of the cliffs, then further on to the end of the Sentier des Crêtes trail - just below Le Morond (1419m). From there we made our own way down a ski piste (at this time of the year, a long, thin and sinewy mountain pasture) that zig-zagged its way down the mountain, around an escarpment called "le Troupezy", and through a magnificent multi-coloured autumn forest. It wasn't hard to work out why this neck of the woods had hosted the World Mountainbike Downhill Championships in 1993 (they were based in the tiny town of Métabief, about two kilometres north of le Morond).
For the first time all day, the sun momentarily broke through the clouds - giving us a fleeting glipse of the radiance around us ... then disappeared again.
We continued on down the trail until we intersected the "Chamois" section of the "Sous les Falaises du Mont d'Or" trail path. (Under the cliffs of Mont d'Or).
Looking back up towards the cliffs, it was hard to get a real idea of just how high and precipitous they were. We vowed we'd have to come back here again, and do an early morning walk in mid-summer when this valley would be filled with golden sunlight; or perhaps also in mid-winter, on snow-shoes, through one of the planet's most amazing landscapes. Imagine this place covered in snow, with huge fluffy snow-flakes swirling and tumbling all around you.
Right on cue, a huge gust of wind roared through the forest, crashing into the cliffs and sweeping-up the precipitous face. With it came a billion golden leaves - rising, falling, swirling and eddying - all around us. I tried to capture the moment in a photograph, but just couldn't do justice to the unreal atmosphere.
The words to California Dreamin' (famous 60s song by the Mamas and the Papas), that I'd been singing in the car on the way out here this morning, came back into my head:
Before we knew it, we were at the top (the end of the line so to speak) of the Télésiège des Roches, and after one last look over our shoulders at the majestic cliffs of Mont d'Or, we headed straight down the mountainside (literally) to where we'd left the car.
At about 4.30pm, we arrived back at the car park, where we decided unanimously that this (although ranked "only" number 56 among the Jura's highest peaks) had to be among the best top-five hikes in the Jura for sheer enjoyment and spectacle. To paraphrase Arnie the Terminator: We'll be back!
Jura peaks bagged:
- Mont d'Or (No. 55) 1463m