It's been a long time between summits this year, but we finally got around to hiking to the top of a couple of new Jura peaks this weekend - Roches Blanches (No. 52) and Crêt de la Neige (No 51).
Both peaks are located on the second ridgeline behind Le Chasseron, near Ste-Croix - which is about 75 minutes drive north of our home in St George. We headed-up there via Lausanne and Ste-Croix on Saturday, 5 July 2014, and parked the car at the base of the ski lift in Buttes (770m). The drive up and over the main (eastern) Jura ridgeline was as lovely as ever, and it got even better once we'd passed through Ste-Croix and entered the Vallon de Noirvaux and some beautiful precipitous gorge country at the headwaters of Le Butte river. We slowed-down to enjoy the views, and to watch a couple of chamoix that sauntered along near the side of the road at one point.
Buttes is a very picturesque, old village in the District of Val-de-Travers, in the Canton of Neuchâtel. The word "Buttes" comes from the French word "butte" meaning "a small elevation". The first records of the village had it down as "Boutes" (1342), which, if derived from "bout", referred to its location on "the extremity of a territory" - perhaps alluding to it being so close to the Swiss-French border, as well as the border between the cantons of Vaud and Neuchâtel.
below the Montagne de Buttes ridgeline.
We parked right alongside the "Auberge des Fées" (Hotel of the fairies), and shouldered our packs before heading-up the Jura ridgeline that loomed-up on the southern side of the valley.
We stayed around for a few minutes to check-out the impressive-looking information board, which showed all of the winter ski-lifts and pistes, as well as the summer hiking routes, and mountain-biking and VTT "mountain-scooter" trails. We hadn't been completely sure of what route we'd take up the mountain until now, but, after checking-out the map, decided to follow the well-marked "green" trail that led all the way to Le Chasseron (1607m, No. 14 on the list of highest named peaks in the Jura).
At around 10:30am, in beautiful sunshine, we headed-up the road south of town, found the start of the off-road trail (just west of the La Plata homestead), and began zig-zagging our way up the mountainside.
The trail wound its way through a beautiful tall mixed forest (mainly beech and fir) called the Bois de Ban. Mostly it was easy going, with thick, spongy masses of soft, cushioning leaf-litter underfoot. In some places, especially as we skirted around the western side of Crêt Rond (989m), it got quite steep and rocky, but still a gorgeous trail.
From time to time, the trail intersected with the VTT "mountain scooter" trail - a specially made course for kamikaze trail riders who like the idea of charging down the mountainside on one of those fat-wheeled scooters. There were jumps and all sorts of obstacles and features built into the course (as well as lots of netting and giant cushions strapped to trees to keep life and limb together).
For a few sections of the trail above Plan des Augues (1040m), the pedestrian and mountain-bike trails ran side-by-side, or sometimes even shared the same stretch of forest track. It paid to keep your eyes open, and wits about you. However, although the ski-lift at Buttes was operating - to take scooter dare-devils to the top of the run - at La Robella - we didn't meet anyone else on the trail. We had the entire mountain-side to ourselves, and that was an absolute treat. It was glorious. Appropriately, for such an enchanted forest, we came across a "Fontaine des Fées" (fairies' fountain), from which we took a drink, but at which we saw no fairies. However, the forest and trail was just gorgeous, so it wouldn't have surprised us if there were lots of fairies and elves in there.
We finally emerged out of the forest, just after the trail had rejoined the road between Buttes and La Robella ... which in fact continued up and over the mountain - to Bullet on the southeast side of the ridgeline. Coinciding with us leaving the Bois de Ban it began to drizzle with light rain, so we sheltered for awhile under a tree and ate a snack bar. Once it became obvious that the rain wasn't going to let-up, we headed back out onto the trail and continued our journey.
Before long we approached La Robella (marked Petite Robella on the topo map) - which is both a farmhouse and a restaurant, and the staging-post for the top of the Buttes ski-lift. Despite the (now) gloomy weather and grey skies, La Robella was a burst of bright colour - thanks to hundreds of all-shades-of-red geraniums that were growing in pot-plant boxes that adorned the building.
We followed the trail along the spur until it reached a gap in the wall - at the point on the topographic map marked 1438.2 (there are a couple of small huts there) - at which point we crossed over the ridgeline and headed down into the small valley immediately to the south. There we came across a trail sign-post marking "Crêt de la Neige 1425".
It obviously wasn't the crêt (being in a valley floor), but we could see the real crêt rising-up before us - just a little further to the south. We headed off more-or-less along the hard-to-distinguish trail towards Le Chasseron, which became a bit more apparent once we reached the ridgeline - at which point we turned southwest (off the trail) and made our way up the spur. About 300 metres further up the ridge we reached the highest point of Crêt de la Neige - 1472 metres - our first summit and destination for the day. It was now about 12.30pm (about two hours from when we'd left Buttes).
There was nothing of any note to distinguish the summit, and no signs of anyone ever having been up there. It's obviously an "off the beaten track" Jura summit, and probably relatively little known and climbed. I'm not sure why it's called Crêt de la Neige, but guess it's much the same as the other Crêt de la Neige - the highest peak in the Jura (1720m), way down south in the French Jura, overlooking Geneva: That is, because snow hangs around on the sheltered slopes long after it has disappeared from all of the neighbouring peaks and surrounding landscapes in spring. Needless to say, there was no snow anywhere in sight today. Just some scudding clouds and drizzling rain. So we stayed just long enough to take a celebratory photograph, and peer through the clouds to catch glimpses of Le Chasseron, then we searched around for a dry spot under a tree to have our lunch.
After lunch (which we enjoyed out of the rain - under the shelter of a huge old fir tree), we shouldered our packs (at about 1pm) and retraced our steps back down the ridgeline, and into the swale where the 1425m signpost stood. We stopped there just long enough to get our bearings for our next destination - the summit of Roches Blanches - which we could see about one and half kilometres off to our southwest. Down the valley, not only could we see Roches Blanches, but also the peaks of about six other Jura peaks that we've climbed on previous Jura Mountain rambles: Le Chasseron, Petites Roches, Aiguilles de Baulmes, Dent de Vaulion, Mont de la Maya and Mont d'Or.
We headed back up to the canton boundary ridgeline (that we'd passed over an hour or so before), and picked-up a small trail that headed uphill - southwest along the top of the ridge. We soon came across an old stone marker - dated 1719 - with the emblems of Vaud on one side and Neuchâtel on the other. In all we saw about three or four of these along the trail.
We stopped at the first of these and took some photos, and soaked-up the beautiful views down the valley towards Le Chasseron and the other diminishing peaks of the southern Jura.
The trail wound its way through a beautiful forest - with steep cliffs and drop-offs on both sides. Despite the weather, and the dense forest, from time to time we got some great views of the surrounding peaks. The trail was pure wilderness, with plenty of obstacles in the form of fallen logs and rocky ridges to negotiate. We came across a trail sign advising us that we were now in the Roches Blanches nature reserve, with a suite of conditions to help protect the place.
Although less than two kilometres in distance, this ridgetop walk still took some time - partly because it was uneven ground, and partly because it was such a beautiful place to be hiking, which meant we stopped a lot, to take lots of photos.
Eventually we arrived at the highest point of Roches Blanches - 1470 metres - which was marked by another, more substantial, canton boundary marker stone. We dropped our backpacks, and pulled out a hip-flask of marc for a celebratory drink. It was now about 2pm.
As always, and has become our custom for these rambles, we took a few celebratory, commemorative photos flying the Swiss flag, and then wandered around for awhile to soak-up the atmosphere and enjoy the views.
Roches Blanches is a popular destination for rock climbers ... but we didn't encounter anyone at all today. All we heard were the sounds of songbirds. And the only other beings we came across were huge snails and slugs. No chamois, no lynx, in fact nothing much of any note except some beautiful butterflies.
(taken from Petites Roches in October 2012).
After about half an hour, we re-hoisted our backpacks, and headed back down the trail - retracing the same route that we'd followed on the way up. It wound its way along the ridgetop, and through the leafy green forest back towards La Robella.
pointing towards Crêt de la Neige.
We stopped from time to time to admire the views, and to take a few more photos. It really is a beautiful part of the Jura and well worth the trek up here.
before leaving the Roches Blanches ridgetop.
With the weather improving, and bursts of sunlight even brightening up the day, we headed back down the mountain towards La Robella and Buttes. It was an easy walk, through the same beautiful forests and flower-filled alpine pastures, and we soon dropped back down the 700 metres of altitude that we'd gained on the way up earlier in the day.
The return trip was just as enjoyable as it had been on the way up, and we were soon back in the car-park at Buttes - arriving there at about 4pm - five and a half hours after we'd set-out this morning. The two peaks bagged today were our 57th and 58th of the Jura's highest peaks - leaving just 10 peaks unclimbed on our Jura Mountain Rambling list. Stay tuned.
Jura Peaks bagged:
- Crêt de la Neige (No 51) 1472m
- Roches Blanches (No 52) 1470m