August 2020 : the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic is raging. A several month long lockdown (the first one) has just ended in France. We need fresh air, hiking and travels, but we cannot realise the projects we had in mind for this year. So be it! We’ll discover marvels in France. We chose a 220km long trek over 10 days from the Doubs to the crests of the Jura, passing by the summit of the Mont d’Or. There is 3 great hiking trails passing there : the GR5, the GR9 and the GR 509 also called la Grande Traversée Jurassienne (the Great Jura Crossing). And for the first time we won’t travel alone on this trek!
The Great Jura Crossing
During a family meeting earlier this year (before lockdown), we asked Simon with a defying tone to come with us on our next trek. Simon is one of Mariette’s little cousins. 15 years old, fan of Fortnite and Fifa. Like many other kids of his age he never hiked over long distances before and never really camped. But he’s quite keen on sports! Is it the reason he accepted, or was it out of pride? Whatever, he is not totally convinced that it’s gonna be his dreamed holidays, so he asked us if he could bring along his friend Arthur with him.
Arthur, 15 years old also. He is on french sports-study program, and is going on Scout camps since he’s a child, so he has a strong experience in hiking, camping and he’s quite resourceful. We accepted him with pleasure!
Two more friends of us have been wanting to hike with us for a long time. We thought they could go along pretty well together and with the rest of the team. That’s the perfect occasion! Marlène is an experienced hiker and solo traveller. She often walk the world and french mountains. We met Quentin (yeah you gotta be attentive here, you’ll have two Quentin now!) during our first trip in Australia back in 2011/2012. Since, he still travels here and there, but most of all he now lives next to the Alps, so he is well ready for that trek!
The team is ready ! We’ll be 6 on the track of the GR509. The Great Jura Crossing is a 400km long path going from Montbéliard to Culoz.
Our choice is to take the southern half of it : we’ll walk from Pontarlier to Bellgarde-sur-Valserine, passing by the summit of the Mont d’Or, the valleys and forests of the Doubs and finally by the crests of the Jura from where we’ll be able to contemplate the Alps with the Mont-Blanc and Switzerland.
It seems to be a perfect plan to make two teenagers discover the pleasures of long distance hiking without too many challenge, or any hardcore ascension.
Departure from Pontarlier
Pontarlier, train station’s car park. What a treat to unflod our legs after 8h spent on the road from our beloved Normandie. It’s a real pleasure to meet again with our friends Marlène and Quentin. We haven’t seen each other since a long time! We quickly walk out of town and into a forest soaked by heavy rains. That bad forecast isn’t really reassuring for the next few days. We were supposed to have a nice sunny weather… This humidy reveals the flashy green from the grass and leaves! Nature shines with many summer colors. After a few kilometers we arrive at Fort Malher du Larmont inférieur, an old and now abandonned fortress, built in front the Lajoux castle. This is the first lookout of the trek, and what a view it is! The valley below is illuminated with strong sunrays coming from above the dark threatening clouds.
After Lajoux castle we get on a steep path up a thick forest. Very steep… As we tought, the two kids are not the ones overheating their lungs, but us who are actually sweating like a whore in a church (That’s Quentin favourite expression… -_-) ! We pay all the home made brioches and slow cooked stews made with love during lockdown time! Damn you, why are you so delicious ?
We end that first day under the rain and establish camp behind a couple of cut wood piles in front of the large Saint-Point lake. We make a small roof out of a piece of sheet metal that was there, and enjoy the luxury of a pre-dinner snack before Simon and Arthur eat their lyophilized dinners in two minutes. Those buggers are still bloody hungry even after that! Their appetites require more quantity of solid food. They must fill those stomachs! We realise teenagers are litteraly eating like 4 people, fuelling them growing up probably… We soon understand that managing the food will be a challenge at that rythm. The night is now falling slowly, painting the sky with bright orange colors. We stay there sitting on a log facing the panorama : pine trees, the lake down in the valley, the sunset… What a show! There is worse for a start, isn’t it?
The Mont d’Or summit
Our goal was to climb up the Mont d’Or summit and sleep overnight there to enjoy the view and shoot photos at sunrise. But as we start that walking day, it is still raining as hell. Luckly we are progressing in a thick forest which canopy protects us as much as it can. In the middle of the morning, as we arrive at Les Hopitaux-Neufs, we make an unsuspected encounter : an old locomotive is sending clouds of steam in the air to meet their cousins up in the sky. Two men are working on it, making it shine. These two enthusiasts are in charge of its maintenance and happily share its story with us. It was used in the old days for local industry, but it has now find another youth with tourism.
The path up to the Mont d’Or follows up sky fields and mountain bike tracks of the Metabief station. We’re walking in a white fog. We can’t see more than 10 or 15m away! We must be careful, there are some crazy mountain bikers rolling down the slopes and jumping over logs. There are a few lookouts on the way up the summit of the Mont d’Or but we can’t see shit! Just a damn white curtain. Disoriented by that fog we must ask our way to a team of guys working on a sky lift. Knowing that we won’t be able to stay around overnight we’ll need to walk further on this afternoon.
Back on track towards the summit, in low spirits thanks to that non existant view, we hope that tomorrow will be a better day for hiking. But as we reach the summit of the Mont d’Or, what we tought impossible finally happened: the sky clears up the grey clouds in a few minutes. Blue is back and visibility also! Simon and Arthur, still not convinced by that adventure yet, start to realise that rewards don’t come without effort. And what a reward! We are standing on the edge of a tall cliff, diving 200m down below. Behind us the forest of the Doubs spreads as far as we can see, and down the cliffs the beautiful valley appears. We enjoy that miracle a few minutes before the dark cover comes back over us. Here we are again : under the rain and in the fog…
Cows, grassland and thunderstorm
Our high hopes to walk with nice weather disapear a little bit more at dawn on this third day. This morning nothing has changed. The sky is grey and the grass is wet. We set off for a long day hike from forests to pastures. Simon and Arthur are ahead of us making little stops from time to time to wait for us. We’re following behind with Marlène and Quentin, chatting about our travel memories and hiking experiences. The kids start to think they will lead every day like this, but will they last for 10 days ?
We walk through a succession of meadows and slowly get acquainted with the cattles which graze around us. Except those cows we see no one. Hikers seem to be a rare thing nowadays. But this animal presence has something peaceful. Well, maybe not when we’re in the middle of a friendly herd and it starts to run like crazy after playing with us. Or again when big fat mama cows are lying down for a nap just next to the field door we must use to get out of it. Luckily Quentin (nope, not that one, the other one !) who grew up in a farm and is used to deal with animals managed to politely ask these venerable creatures to move their bottoms from the door and allow us to pass !
At the end of the day, we are pitching our tents next to what looks like an old unused barn when a strong thunderstorm suddenty fills the sky. There’s so much water falling from the clouds that we wouldn’t be surprised if we saw fish falling too! Quick! Let us find shelter under that small piece of roof on the side of the farm. There is a drinker there we could use as a seat. Simon sits on it and just fall asleep, too tired from his day. The rest of us are marvelling at the power of nature, waiting for it to calm down, and trying to make a plan for the evening : Mariette would like to enter into the farm. There is a room with furniture inside and it doesn’t look like someone has been there recently. Marlène and the two Quentin do not agree. We’ll wait until the rain calm down, and we’ll pitch the tent in the middle of the field behind the house. With the end of the thunderstorm comes beautiful lights with a sunset that we watch enjoying a hot tea. Sleeping that night is restorative but it’s still so wet !
Early morning, we woke up with the sound of a car driving down the gravel road. Is it the ranger ? Will he fine us for camping in a pasture (which is forbidden)? Nope, it’s the farmer, the owner of the house Mariette wanted to sleep in yesterday! He comes to take care of his cattle which is not grazing on that piece of land, but on the one just behind. As soon as he notices we are here, he comes towards us and talk to us with a strong swiss accent. We explain that we’ve been caught in that thunderstorm yesterday, and he invites us to share a coffee in his house. We fold all our equipement and meet his wife inside a large room where a fire is already burning in the fireplace. This is a simple settlement : no water, no electricity. A long wooden table with a checkered tablecloth furnishes the room. Cups of hot coffee and biscuits are already for us there! Toinette and Roger are from Switzerland and drive up here nearly every day with their 4WD to take care of their cows. It’s only 8.30AM but Roger nonetheless offers us some apricot brandy to fuel up our coffees. We can’t refuse such a gracious offer! So delicious that we must try that without coffee! We chat with them nearly an hour and half, and then we all go back to our activities. Roger show us his cattle, and we walk off on the path through meadows and forests…
Across the valleys and forest of the Doubs
The bad weather putting us all in an unmotivated mood, we decide to change our itinerary. We should have cross a valley in Mouthe to climb on another forest on the other side and reach Foncine-le-Haut. But instead we’ll follow the GR5 that goes to the same village but following a river flowing from the source of the Doubs next to which we pass, and then a kind of a wetland in the valley. That long flat part put us back on business! We walk fast, and the idea that we’ll find a nice pizzeria (spotted on our GPS) for noon is of great help.
Unfortunately when we arrive in Chaux-Neuve, the streets of the village are deserted. All doors and shops are closed! Our food supplies are very low, we had planned to buy some more here. We wait sitting on the pedestrian way in front of a petrol station, where a small food shop opens at 2PM. We’ll finaly be able to get some small food there, we’ll eat better later: we modify our itinerary again to aim for a restaurant. The lady from the petrol station recommands us a place in Chapelle-des-Bois. Well, we’ve planned to be there tomorrow noon. It doesn’t matter, we’ll continue on the GR5 and we’ll cut through the woods to be there tonight! A phone call and a table is booked: a kind poshy voice tells us that we’ll be sitting in the “Petit salon” (textually the small living room, but in a restaurant or a hotel, it’s usually a small and more intimate room). Hum, OK… Where will we end up ?
The GR5 takes us along a large grassland surrounded by a beautiful pine tree forest. From there we cut into the woods through a steep path. The forest is sublime. That’s a perfect occasion to teach Simon a very important lesson in the life of a young hiker: how to poop in the bushes in a repectful way for nature. What a laugh!
We finally arrive in Chapelle-des-Bois in time. The restaurant welcome us even if we’re all muddy, soaked and smell quite bad, as you can imagine after 4 days trekking in the rain. The “petit salon” is like the person who booked us the table: poshy. A couple is already sitting here… When we enter their faces litteraly fall. Sorry guys… Out of respect for this couple whom we just ruined a romantic dinner, we keep our shoes on and Mariette and Marlène use the bathroom to have a full body wash! Less poshy, but eh, this is a hiking trip!
Now we are quite full, and some of us nearly clean. But Chapelle-des-Bois is a village where wild camping is forbidden and strangely no alternatives for hikers are available except hotels. No official campsite. A motor-home area exists, but you can’t pitch a tent there. There are even showers, but they are closed, and hotels refuse to let us having a shower even if we pay for it. No tap of drinking water either. We’ll finally camp into the forest outside the village. This experience is the first of a long series. The missing of infrastructures for hikers is obvious, even though if there are several long distance hiking tracks, mountains bike tracks and horse riding tracks passing through this place. Is it due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that they’re missing seasonal workers ? Even if the idea of a trek is to get off civilation and get back into the wild, the fact that there’s not even water is quite strange. Everything is well though of for motor-homers, but not for the others…
Hiking to Les Rousses
The zip of our tent has not yet finished its run to the bottom that we’re already ready to jump out. Outside, behind the canopy of the forest where we set up camp yesterday night, we can see a bright blue sky! The sun is back! There we go, motivation is at its top. Especially because today we should walk along two beautiful lakes and a forest full of History with an abandonned fortress and the Falaise des Trépassés (Cliff of the Deceased). That tall natural stone wall is carved with hundred of names dating from the French Revolution, when religion had been forbidden. People came there to have illegal celebrations for their dead beloved ones and carved their names in that wall.
Les Rousses is an important step of our hiking trip because it’s our half way checkpoint. More importantly because it’s also the last chance to hop on a bus and then a train for Simon and Arthur if they don’t feel like hiking the other half. They’d love to continue with us, but we’re not certain that will be possible. Arthur complains about pain in its foot since yesterday. He had an ingrown nail not long ago and we think it’s coming back. We decide to take a day off here, keep an eye on it to see how he feels and take a decision.
Les Rousses is a big touristic station. There’s a small town-center with all kind of shops and restaurants and cheese mongers, and outside a large lake with a nautic base… but no camp-site! One more time we’ll be forced to wild camp illegally. No showers either, they have been closed to protect the lake from shampoo and chemical soaps. Whatever, we’ll wash ourselves in the lake using the sand and a minimum of natural soap we have with us. Ooh gosh it feels good !
Arthur’s foot is badly damaged. We manage to video-call a foot doctor, and let Arthur takes is own decision. After a moment, and after speaking with Arthur and Simon’s parents the decision is made : they’ll stop here. But they won’t go back home by train. They’ll stay in Les Rousses while we continue and we’ll pick them up on our way back. They will miss the crest of Jura but they already walk nearly 100km. For a first time it’s not too bad! They can be proud. As for us we will continue with Marlène and Quentin, but one more time we’ll change our itinerary to be on the crests sooner than planned, passing on a bit of the GR9. But that story will be for another time!
M. & Mme Shoes
You’ll find tons of information on the Great Jura Crossing’s official website, about itinerary, elevation, villages, and GPX track…
Where to eat :
- At Les Hopitaux-Neufs, the bakery named Le Fournil du Mont d’Or offers excelent sandwhishes with Comté and Morteau saussage . Further, on the road called Route de la Poste, at the entrance of the campsite called Le Miroir, you’ll find a very nice bar/restaurant with a warm welcome and good charcuterie and cheese plates. They accepted to fill up our water bottles.
- At Chaux-Neuve, the small grocery shop at the petrol station Chez Chantal, offers a choice of quality local products (bread, cheese, charcuterie, fruits, veggies, …). The shop is closed between 12AM and 2PM.
- At Chapelle-des-Bois, the hotel-restaurant Les Clochettes du Risoux, a bit poshy but not too much, offers great local food specialities. We managed to get our water bottles filled up here.
- At Bellefontaine, the hotel-restaurant La Chaumière offers local beers and delicious burgers. Everything else on the menu looks amazing but have tried the burgers only. There is a fountain in the village center next to the church on the main road. It’s written “non drikable water” but we all filled up our water bottles and none of us has been sick. The water was even very good !
- At Les Rousses, the restaurant Chalêt Regain offers quite originals and unique burgers, and one the best fondue we ever eat. Don’t miss it ! We also tried the pizzeria called La Pastoria, and the crêperie called La Traverse. We eat well in both. To fill up you water bottles, when you’re at the lake, next to the nautic base you’ll find toilets with drinkable tap water and power plugs.