During summer of 2019 we had the opportunity to spend a few days at 1842m high on the plateau of Vercors (France) in the hut of a couple of shepherd friends David and Marie-Amande. These few days in total autonomy, far away from the rest of the world and modern communication, were the perfect occasion to relax while letting our minds wander freely and to take poetic pictures of this surreal area, following the quiet rhythm of clouds, light and sheep…
Climbing up the Vercors
Our train stops at Clelles-Mens train station, in the countryside south of Grenoble. It’s around midday and we are the only passengers getting off. While we fill up our water-bottles in the station master’s kitchen, he tells us about his worries concerning the future of this tiny railway sation of which part of the platforms has been turned into a lush vegetable garden. « Driving to Grenoble is truly a pain today. There are massive traffic jams and if you manage to get through them then you have to pay a fortune to park your car. Many people from the countryside take the train to go to work or get out during the weekend. Which is clever and better for the planet. Yet the government is planning to close the line because they consider it doesn’t bring enough money in. But it will kill this part of the countryside if they do so! » Indeed, when we walk out of the station, we can note that the car park outside is full. Parisian political thinking VS true field reality…
Thinking about this problematic that we know about only to well in our Normandy countryside, we start walking our way toward today’s destination. We need to hike for several hours to get to the shepherd’s hut of Chamousset. It’s going to be a serious climb up. We are facing the natural citadel of the Vercors plateau, reaching high in the sky. How are we getting up there? The directions given by our friend Marie-Amande to get to their hut are looking like a crazy treasure hunt. We understand know why this place was such an important seat of french resistance during the WWII.
First we take the direction of Chichilianne, a small village located a few kilometers away. It’s been built at the foot of majestic Mont Aiguille, standing like a proud watch tower in the wall of Vercors. We are carrying in our bags a bottle of calva (a kind of apple schnaps made in Normandy) and also a bottle of south-american rum. We add to these a french saucisson (dry sausage) and of course some cheese bought at the local shop. This will surely be appreciated by our shepherds friends who are spending 5 months away from the rest of the world !
As we were drinking a last fresh beer before setting off, a couple of locals ask us where we are planning to go. We tell them about our plans: to climb up by the Pas de l’Aiguille pass, then follow our friend’s directions. But it’s particularly hot today and the couple suggests we take another route through the Pas de l’Essaure pass, known to be a bit more steep but shady thanks to a surrounding forest. That seems like a better idea indeed. We agree to change our course and start hiking up the Vercors!
Climbing up the Pas de l’Essaure towards the high plateau of Vercors
We first follow a small country road that soon turns into a dusty dirt road entering the forest. We walk across a dry river bed and a few hundred meters further on we spot the track up the Vercors, going higher and deeper in the mountain forest. The couple of locals from Chichilliane was right. It IS steep! We realise how much we were missing some training… Our bodies feel weak after this first part of the wedding photography season and the last time we hiked somewhat seriously was when we were on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail! Also, we might have had too much cheese this last weeks, but who’s to know? After a few kilometers (and a lot of effort) in this beautiful and quiet forest we finally got an open view on the landscape below and over the marvellous mountains of the Parc national des Ecrins in the background.
After climbing up for three hours, we pass an electric fence and finally got to a somewhat flatter place. Yeaah! We are up the plateau of Vercors! We just reached the Pas de l’Essaure and in front of us is the wonderful open lanscape of the vallon de Combeau in which cows and calves are peacefully grazing. We are overwhelmed by the beauty of it all!
A quick look to our GPS device reminds us we are not there yet! We must go through this valley of Combeau, get behind the large rock promontory standing in the background and walk higher still to get to the shepherd’s hut of Chamousset where we will wait for our friends to come back from their daily walk with their sheep.
Now, we DO have a GPS but as usual we manage to take the wrong route. Thankfully, we are experienced in getting lost now and we cut through the pastures, being careful not to fall in the notorious chasms of the Vercors nor to come too close to the cows and sheep.
We walk around the large rock promontory which profile is looking more and more like a scenery from the Lion King as we get closer. We’ll nickname it the African Summit and will have a lot of time to take hundreds of pictures of it as the shepherd’s hut is located not far below its massive figure. It will be an amazing landmark for the following days walking the mountain. As we are getting closer than ever to the hut, we notice something moving in the distance. A flock of sheep, two shepherds and two horses are coming our way. Our friends are getting back from their day in the mountain, which means it must be quite late in the afternoon now! Which also means we’ve been a bit slow… 🙂
Above the clouds on the plateau of Vercors
We’ve been in the Vercors for a few days now and have got used to the sheep way of life. We wake up everyday at dawn which gives us all the time to take pictures while walking with the flock. We enjoy making a full coverage of the shepherds’ life with the sheep during the key moments of the day and use the sheep’s nap time to wander around and take pictures of the natural wonders of Vercors.
The Vercors is an unpredictable and mysterious place and we soon discover its many changing faces. First it has displayed its best sunnny side as if it wanted to win us over. But this was too simple for the Vercors. One fine day we were walking with our friends and the flock not far from the Pas de l’Essaure, we attend to a wonderful Vercors‘s show. The sheep are grazing not far from the edge of the plateau around which the most majestic cloud sea is playing. Everything is hidden from view except the summit of fascinating Mont Aiguille. We stand awestruck at the edge of the plateau watching the cloud swell crashing on this gigantic island.
Suddenly, a mother chamois and its fawn come bouncing around only a few hundred meters from the sheep. They give us a puzzled look as if they were surprised to see us up so early, before running out of sight.
Enchanted by this vision, we decide to come back the following day after lunch, while our friends are looking after the sleeping flock. We take a nap on the edge of the Vercors, waiting for the perfect light to show up. The afternoon sun plays beautifully on the thin clouds wrapped auround Mont Aiguille. The landscape is very different from yesterday and we don’t miss the chance to admire the valley below and tiny village of Chichilliane. We realise how high are the cliffs… Impressive!
Like yesterday, we are particularly lucky. As the sun gets low and starts turning the mountain golden, an ibex family come grazing just next to us. We watch them for a long time, standing as montionless as we can, while the clouds danse over the valley.
Cliffs of Vercors: the end of the world
After this show we were already in total love with the Vercors. But we did’nt know there was more to come! As we turn around to watch the ibex family jump away, we realise the landscape in our back has changed. A strong gold light has taken hold of the clouds. We are only a few minutes before dusk and soon the whole world turn a beautiful violet-blue colour. The clouds dive down the cliff as if going to sleep. We must be very cautious now. It’s getting dark and we don’t want to fall from the cliff like the clouds! Huge brown birds of prey are like floating in the mist below, playing hide and seek. We feel like we are standing at the end of the roman flat world and than suddenly the known world ends into nothingness. Maybe if we fall, we’ll fall for ever!
We stand there a few more minutes before we understand what’s going on. The clouds that were so low down the cliff a moment ago are now rising fast towards us! We are not very far from the shepherd’s hut but we better hurry up all the same! We could get lost very easily in the clouds. We try to walk back as fast as possible but nature is faster than we are. We are soon surrounded by mist. Thankfully, we encounter the edge of the sheep’s night fence that leads us back safely to our friends and the comfortable warmth of the hut’s wood stove!
The following days, the Vercors will show us its darker face. Rain and wind will rage and howl on the plateau. But as the proverb says: after the rain, the sun! We’ll have other opportunities to take pictures of other sides of the cliff before we have to leave this fantasy world, its wild creatures, its dreamy landscapes and fluffy white sheep to get back to « human normality ». But this wonderful time spent on the plateau du Vercors wouldn’t have been the same without the moments of true friendship shared with our shepherds friends Marie-Amande and David. Thanks for welcoming us in paradise!
M. & Mme Shoes
Créatures et détails du Vercors
La nature brute et sauvage du Vercors offre des paysages grandioses. Les rares Hommes qui peuplent le plateau y mènent une vie rude de bergers. Mais le Vercors, c’est aussi une multitude de détails, fleurs et bêtes dont voici un petit échantillon ci-dessous :