Hiking to the top of Crêt Pela is more about enjoying a good walk in the forest than about getting to the top of a Jura mountain with amazing views: It really only has glimpses of Mont Blanc and the Alps from the summit, as the ridgetop is somewhat shrubby, and surrounded by dense coniferous forest. But it does provide a destination for one of the most popular walks in the Franche-Comté - where it's notable for being the highest point in the province, as well as the French Departement du Jura (one of the four departements in Franche-Comté).
We started today's walk at about 11am - from a parking spot called "Gouffre" at the southwestern end of Lac de Lamoura - which is about a kilometre east of the town of Lamoura. (Lamoura is a small Jura village in eastern France, just over the border from Switzerland near the Col de la Faucille.)
It was a lovely sunny morning, with just a few clouds in the sky, and a forecast for a mixture of more sunshine, and some clouds, throughout the day. Perfect for a Jura walk.
We skirted around the south side of the lake, treading gingerly across the slippery walk-trail that was being kept hard and icy by the near-zero temperatures, and early-morning shade from the Jura ridge immediately southeast of the lake - the ridge that runs southwest-northeast between the peaks of Crêt Pela and Crêt de la Vigoureuse.
Just a hundred metres or so around the lake, we turned right, and followed a narrow goat-track uphill that led us to a point called "Sur le Lac" (1200m), and a trail that ran parallel to the lake called "Sentier de Decouverte".
From there, we turned northeast ... and followed the "sentier". It mostly followed the contour, on the heavily forested lower slopes of the Bois sur les Champs - which covered the entire hillside and ridgeline above us.
We'd taken a bit of a gamble with this walk in deciding to do the trip without snowshoes (mainly because it hadn't snowed for a couple of weeks, and because we'd done our last walk to the top of Les Ervuines without snowshoes last weekend - which had been relatively easy). But some of the slippery slopes and deeper patches of snow already had us wondering if we'd made a mistake. Quite often we sank through the soft snow or icy crust, including a couple of times when our boots sank into the semi-frozen muddy slush that was hidden underneath the white carpet.
It didn't take us long to cover the first kilometre or so from Lac de Lamoura, and we were soon approaching the next landmark on our route - the alpage farmhouse called Les Thoramys. There are a couple of other buildings in the vicinity (now all shuttered-up for winter), so we stopped just long enough to take a few photos, then carried on our way - still heading northeast on the same long traverse that steadily climbed up to about 1300 metres.
We stopped at Les Thoramys (1243m) just long enough to check the map ... and to collect my hat which had blown off in a ferocious gust of wind that hit us once we'd reached the open ground near the alpage. We'd noticed the wind picking-up speed as we were driving down from St George earlier in the morning, and had hoped it wouldn't be too much of a spoiler for our hike ... but the signs were not promising. Making matters worse, the fierce wind - now coming at us with increasing intensity from the south - was bringing with it an ominous wall of grey-black cloud. Off to the north and west the skies were still mostly clear and blue, so we kept our fingers crossed, turned our backs to the clouds and wind, and forged ahead.
About a kilometre from Les Thoramys, our trail then began intersecting a series of teleskis and ski pistes (although most of these were not in action) that ran from the upper slopes near La Serra (1452m) down to the valley floor near the small ski resort village of l'Abbaye. Each time we passed either a teleski chairlift or piste, we got good views down to the valley floor - seeing first La Combe du Lac, and soon after, l'Abbaye.
The first major ski piste that we came to was the southern-most piste (of a series) that flowed down the mountain-side from the top of the Teleski de la Serra, past the Point de Vue du Lac (1320m). Due possibly to the small amount of snow on the piste, it wasn't in operation today, so we had an easy, casual passage to the other side. At this point we decided to not follow the usual walk trail - which dropped down the side of the hill to follow another traverse at about 1275 metres - and instead stuck to the forest trail that we were on (the Rte Foret des Auvernes), a couple of hundred metres higher-up the slope.
The Telesiege des Auvernes was in use, and we stopped to watch skiers and snowboarders come racing down the mountain on the main piste just a little further north along the trail - the most northern piste of the series. When the coast was clear, we quickly made our way across the piste, without managing to get in anyone's way in the process.
About a hundred metres further along the road we encountered the walking trail again - coming back up the mountainside - so we turned east onto that and started cutting footsteps into the snow up the steep slope. Fortunately someone had been up here fairly recently wearing snowshoes, so the trail was reasonably well compacted, meaning we didn't break through the surface too often and sink into the softer snow below.
We were now heading into some rough-and-tumble country - the infamous "Foret du Massacre" - which is a dark coniferous forest (almost entirely composed of fir trees) which had been the scene of a brutal massacre of Italian soldiers in 1535. Apparently, a contingent of 600 Italian mercenaries - commanded by Renzo de Cery and dispatched by Francis 1 at the request of the King of France - had met grisly deaths there after a failed mission to reach (and rescue) Geneva which was under siege by the Savoyard army led by the Duke of Savoy, Charles III. In a rapidly unfolding tragedy, the mercenaries were "headed off at the pass" - quite literally - at the Col de la Faucille within view of Geneva after marching up from Genoa, and chased into the wild Jura forests by the Savoyards. Once reduced to a fleeing, disorganized rabble by the rough-and-tumble Jura rocks, ridges, cliffs, grottes, caves, fallen trees, and more, they were steadily picked-off by their more locally-experienced adversaries. Apparently before the slaughter, the forest had been called Foret Frasse (or simply "la Frasse"), but the locals who witnessed the carnage later decided to rename it - the Foret du Massacre.
Unfortunately, we too fell victim to the rocks, ridges and rolling landscape, and, soon after having to leave the footsteps of the snow-shoers (they had turned north, soon after they'd passed a point marked "Grotte" on the map), we were forced to cut our own trail across the hilltop. Although obviously still on some kind of trail, we couldn't tell exactly if we were still on the walk-trail or not, as we were focusing our attention on the ground below us - sinking up to our knees in the deep snow with every step at the top of the ridge. It was hard-going, and physically draining. Damn, why hadn't we brought our snow-shoes?
With the wind now howling around us, and clouds completely blocking-out any distant views, we reached the top of the ridge, where we plunged into the deepest snow we'd encountered thus far and bush-bashed our way to what looked like the highest point. Although we were quite sure that we were very close to the top of Crêt Pela (it was no doubt nearby, but hidden behind the trees and thicket), we couldn't find the summit-marker wooden post and small "Crêt Pela - 1495m" sign that should have been there. My altimeter was showing we were up at the right altitude. No matter, we were close enough for our liking! So we took a "top of the mountain" celebratory photo anyway, and then made a mad dash to get out of the freezing, wind-blasted conditions. It was about 1pm, yet felt like it was nearly the end of the day.
We didn't have to go too far back down the mountain on the lee side, to find a sheltered place out of the wind, and we were soon bunkered down under a big fir tree whose branches provided a teepee-like shelter under which the two of us could enjoy our lunch. We sat there with our tea and sandwiches, and listened to the ferocious wind screaming and howling above us. It made me think of the screams of those tormented mercenaries who were lost in the surrounding forests and hunted down by the Savoyards 500 years ago.
Our original plan was to have lunch at the summit, and then follow the walk-trail that skirts around the western side of the peak - to the northeast, before turning back on a long southwest traverse on the other (eastern) side of the ridge. But not having snow-shoes, and being acutely aware of the deteriorating weather conditions, we decided to abandon the circular route, and head back down the mountain the same way we came.
Being a little off the summit due to our rapid search for a lunch stop, we had to again cut a new course back to where we'd last seen the snowshoe tracks - which meant that we found ourselves in some relatively tricky spots on a couple of occasions in the deep snow. Three or four times we plunged into hollows in which we sank down to the top of our thighs. On one occasion I tripped forward when this happened, and thus found myself face-first in the snow, with neither my feet or my hands able to get enough of a grip to haul myself back out. Fortunately of course, we managed to get back to the trail, and were soon heading back down the mountain, shaking snow out of our boots and socks and grinning happily. It was good to be back on a hard trail surface again.
It didn't take us long to get back onto the Rte Foret des Auvernes, where we turned southwest and began the long traverse back towards Lac de Lamoura. We hardly stopped the entire way back to the car-park, intent now on just getting off the mountain, out of the wind and cold, and home to a hot bath and open fire. Before we knew it, we were back at the lake, although this time we dropped down the mountain by following the unused ski piste at the Point de Vue du Lac - to the Combe du Lac. There, we joined another walking trail that led us to and around the eastern end of the lake, then along its left bank to the Gouffre car-park.
Needless to say, it didn't take us long to drop our packs into the back of the car, and to start the 45 minute drive back through the Jura to St George. It had been an adventurous walk, but I suspect we'll be back (in sunnier, more summery weather) to have another ramble through this part of the Jura.
Jura peaks bagged:
- Crêt Pela (No 46) 1495m
- "Pela" means a mountain or a land peeled, naked ... which is nothing like the heavily forested and shrubby top of Crêt Pela today.
- The Foret du Massacre is in the Parc Naturel Regional du Haut Jura. In writing up this blog, I also found out that it is also a refuge for Grand Tétras and lynx, and is declared a Natura 2000 reserve. Winter walkers are encouraged to keep off the marked ski pistes, but probably should avoid the area altogether, and save their hikes there for the spring, summer and autumn. Now that we know about its natural significance and level of protection, we certainly will be doing so from now on.