But the hike to the top of Crêt de Chalam - which, at 1545m is about 200 metres higher than Ben Nevis (but a "lowly" 29th highest peak in the Jura Mountains and 2,015th highest in France) - wasn't meant to be like that. The forecast for the day was "fine". And it certainly started-out that way when we woke-up at our home in St George - about an hour away (by car) to the north. Although we'd experienced an unseasonal (very early) couple of snowfalls during the week, the skies were clear and the gorgeous, warm, early-morning light over the village sure made the prospect of a day's hike in the mountains all the more enticing. Not to mention the prospect of tromping through a first blanket of snow at the top of the Jura - on one of the last of the peaks in the "top 30" that we hadn't climbed.
By now the sunshine had well and truly disappeared, and we were in the shaded depths of the deciduous forest - somewhere between the Montagne des Moines ridgeline to our east, and the summit of Haute Crête (1431m, No 69) to the west. We passed by the (already abandoned for winter) Petit Mannet farmhouse and plunged deeper into the forest along a thin and sinuous forest trail that snaked its way up the mountainside.
We soon reached the ruins of Grand Mannet (970m), where we stopped just long enough for a drink of water, and to take a few photos. I'm not sure how many years ago Grand Mannet was abandoned, but the forest sure has been winning the battle of the wills ever since. There were a multitude of trees growing inside the once extensive building, their roots upsetting the foundations, while others had fallen across the walls, knocking-down many sections. Nature reclaiming its turf.
The trail soon became confined to a thin ribbon of ground on the ridgeline of a long spur that would eventually lead all the way up to the top of the mountain. Down below us, off to our right, was the valley of the Combe du Nant Sec, while on the other side the terrain just-as-steeply dropped away to the Combe de Ramas. Somewhere along this section we passed by the Nant Sec Rnes, then the Crête Rnes (as they were marked on our topographic map), but we didn't stop to investigate, being more intent on pushing-on, enjoying the magnificent trail and getting to the summit. The forest was simply beautiful - filled with fallen leaves, intense green mosses and delightful fungi of all shapes and sizes. At around 1100 metres we started to encounter our first patches of snow ... and things began to get more and more interesting and exciting.
We soon found ourselves up among the clouds, with visibility diminishing with every metre in altitude. The trail became increasingly harder: Harder to see, harder (steeper) to climb, and more and more slippery. Wet slippery rocks, wet slippery mud, wet slippery leaf-litter and slippery snow. Sometimes you'd put your foot down on a patch of snow, that covered a sodden layer of leaves, that covered a wet and muddy rock. Needless to say, it wasn't easy going and we slipped and slid over the rocks in some of the trickier phases. I took a couple of spectacular tumbles into the snow or sludge, but fortunately came to no real harm. With the trail increasingly confined to the ridgetop - a long arête that just went up and up for about two kilometres - our mood became more and more serious. Our conversations dried-up - and we focussed our attention on staying upright and intact.
There were also ta number of sombre plaques and installations commemorating the significance of this site to the French resistance during the Second World War. This heavily forested, rugged and dangerous part of the Jura was a hotbed for the Maquis during the period of German occupation in WW2. Apparently about 3,000 resistance fighters, under the command of their legendary leader Romans-Petit, used this area as a base around 1943-44.
Jura peaks bagged:
- Crêt de Chalam (No 29) 1545m