French Alps : Salvagnie to Refuge Buet and up the mountain to La Cathedrale

OK – so this is NOT in the Scottish Highlands, but it was a really good day of scrambling, so here goes…

A fantastic walk in the high mountains (topped out at just over 8,100’) – and no-one told the weather it was meant to be October!  This walk has it all : cool forests, a great Refuge (in season), huge rocks for scrambling and a 360⁰ ‘to die for’ panorama of spiky peaks, right  across to Mont Blanc!


Start point is a car park just east of Salvegny (at about 3,100’), with a good track taking you up through the forest.  Couple of crossings of a stream as you climb, the track taking you right across the open rock face (could be extra interesting after rain – though there are chains to help and no problems getting across!).

When you emerge from the forest you get great views across the valley, with limestone rock stacks around you – each with its own pine tree poking out of it.

Turn right at a junction and follow the track upwards until you reach the Refuge, Hotel du Buet (6,400’).  The views from here are fantastic!  This is the place to stay for an evening during the Summer months : a glass of wine, fluttering prayer flags, alpenglow across to the snowy vista of Mont Blanc – and maybe another glass of wine because you could never get enough of this view.

Did I mention the weather?  Blue sky, bright sunlight, crystal clear views!

So – we thought we’d push on East along the ‘Fretes du Grenier’.  Not sure how that translates exactly, but ‘rocks with attitude’ might be a good approximation!

The track climbs quite easily on a good path – all the time heading towards great, grey rock formations.  Sometimes rock chimneys, sometimes house sized boulders, sometimes narrow crevices to squeeze through.  But always plenty to keep you pushing upwards.

At this point we need to introduce the cast of Alpine animals.  First to make their presence felt were a small herd of (very large) Ibex.  Ibex might not sound scary BUT that’s before you see their horns.  These animals come straight out of Dante’s inferno: devil beasts with fully laden circular horns – and they didn’t budge from the path that they had taken up residence on.

Rather than argue the toss with them (no way!), we walked around them and put up with their well-practised ‘Paddington hard stares’ – and they were quite happy to let us.

Continuing upwards, we came towards the top of the mountain range, though that opened up a whole new vista of the complete horseshoe of 9,000’ mountains – with a very tempting (not to mention quite narrow) connecting ridge from us to them.  At this point we decided that one last view point would have to suffice – and headed up to the highest point before La Cathedrale, nearly 8,100’ (2,450m).

Difficult to resist one last scramble – so up to the highest point for a 360⁰ vista of stunning mountains.

So tempting to keep going – and next time will do that for certain – but today we had to head back!

Back down past the Ibex (hadn’t moved much), watched a Golden Eagle (huge) and an Alpine Vulture (even bigger) by the Hotel du Buet, on down the track heading south across Le Grand Joux, making good progress all the time.  At this point we came across Animal #4 : a large adder who was sunning himself on the track in the afternoon sun.  As he tried to escape into the bushes before I’d got my camera ready, I tried to ‘encourage’ him back on the path with my shoe…  Not such a good idea really: he got very hissed off with me and looked for ways to prove it.  Got the picture though!

Finally took the track along the valley floor back to the car, all the time watching the sun slowly dipping below the huge precipice opposite.

An unforgettable day!  You couldn’t ask for anything more.  The Alps at their ‘summer’ best!

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