I ran this one as a 2 day hike, with an overnight bivvy on the Prairie de Vararey, simply because I’d had a long week and wanted to get into the mountains as quickly as possible after my last meeting!
So I took the advice of Alastair Humphreys & with basic planning set off at 18:00 on Friday night for the closest spot I could get to in the Chartreuse with potential for exploration. I think Chalet Charmette at 1280m is an old loggers refuge, now closed, but which forms a popular starting point for hikes up to the prairies to the west or potentially to Charmont Som to the east.
There are two main paths up to the prairies - the tracks to the Grande and Petite Vache (cols, named after cows - which presumably used to be the principal visitors to the praries) to the NW and the one to the SW - which is longer with a slightly gentler rise. I chose the SW approach, which rewarded me with an interesting forest walk with occasional views, but mostly a good solid forest path up to the plateau at around 1600m.
Just to the left of the col I was able to find a high-point which I expected to offer reasonable views of the sunrise, along with a few good dry & flat spots for a camp. As I approached I disturbed a family of wild boar (sanguiller) - 2 adults and 3 piglets, who then proceeded to trot out of sight into the undergrowth before I could get the camera out.
As the sun approached the horizon I could see that I wasn’t in a good spot for a sunset shot, so settled down to fire up my Backcountry Boiler for the first time using twigs and leaves that I’d collected on the path. Unfortunately my scouting skills at generating kindling failed me, and I had to resort to the FireFelt along with the requisite denatured ethyl alcohol (US), Alcohol a bruler (France), Methylated spirits or meths (UK, Aus, NZ), brennspirits (Germany), alcool etilico denaturato (Italy).
The following morning I rose early to catch the sunrise, and spent an hour or so taking photos, having breakfast and packing my damp sleeping bag & bivy bag.
I started to the south to go find a geocache at Chalet des Bannettes, and to fill up with water from the source at the Chalet. On the way up there I spotted a couple of male Bouquetin in the distance up on the Rocher de Chalves to the East (the photo to the right below), and a Marmot scurrying for cover.
Turning to the North I realized that the next closest geocache was up high on the peak of the Rocher de Lorzier - which looked a formidable climb from where I was standing (and the geocache was rated 4.5 / 5 terrain!).
As I started up the climb I spotted a group of Chamois who stood and looked at me for a minute, then disapeared into the undergrowth (photo above - to the left). Now that I look at the photo again, I relize it was actually a female Bouquetin, not a Chamois.
The map showed a black dotted trail which turned out to be next to impossible to follow on the ground, even with GPS, however I kept going despite the steep slope. Not a trail I’d advise for someone without mountain goat blood in their veins - and definitely not one for children or those with vertigo.
Looking at the map at the top I decided to continue on to the North, and descend via the Col d’Hurtieres, because it looked a shorter descent on the risky section - and it was. As I approached the col, I shot another pano from which you can get a good idea of the expanse of the prarie.
Continuing on to the North I approached Grande Sure, and considered taking the unmarked route on the southern flank. I decided not to in this case because I was already tired from the earlier ascent and the rough sleep you get when occassionally woken by wild animals in the dark… I took the marked path from the Col de la Sure - which was a well traveled, well marked path. There were a couple of scrambling sections, but no more than a couple of meters.
From the top there was a similarly good panoramic view of the mountains, and a good view of Mont Blanc in the distance - without cloud cover for a change.
After lunch I trekked back down to the Col de la Sure, then left the plateau by the Col de la Grande Vache, and headed back to my car. This path down was more like a 4x4 track than a path, so a lot less interesting than the way up from the south - but still appreciated, as it was fairly easy on the legs.
My actual route is shown on the embedded social hiking map below. My total hike was 19km and 1316m of ascent and descent over the 2 days.