Monday, September 5, 2011

Lac de Lhurs

No lolligagging this morning, kids, out of bed! Pack your daypacks and lace your boots! Down to the local store for croissants and pain-chocolat. Today we have ourselves a plan, a goal, a destination. We would hike from the edge of town up to the head of the cirque and on to a high lake called Lac de Lhurs.

The first section of the hike follows some rough dirt roads and took us through the last flat areas of the cirque before climbing towards the headwall. It is deceptive from the map, and certainly from when viewed from below, but this is excellent farmland. It helps explain how it is that such a remote village came to be settled in the first place. Bucolic? I'm expecting Bilbo Baggins to hop out at any moment.

Although the land is verdant, it is used largely for raising livestock: sheep for the most part, but also cows, horses, and a few goats. And although a flock or two were around (just listen for the calypso band of bells floating on the breeze), for the most part not many animals were evident. For as far off the beaten path as this place it, these are merely the winter pastures. Right now most of the livestock are higher up in the mountains in the summer pastures. The land below is used for raising some crops, but mostly for raising fodder for the winter months.

For the most part, folks have long ago made peace with the fact that, with landscape as steep it is, the only way to get anywhere is to use switchbacks. This is in stark contrast to the White Mountains, where trails are content to shoot straight up riverbeds and gullies. Nevertheless, the going was steep in places.

As we got higher, the geology of the place made itself more apparent. For while the lower areas are crumbly shards of sedimentary rock, the higher reaches are made of somewhat harder stuff. This is good, because otherwise there would be no mountains here at all, and it would have all washed down ages ago.

The farther and higher we climbed, the green fields below were lost to view, and our eyes were drawn to the grey and green heights above. The clouds never fully cleared, and so the sheer rock and sharp peaks played peekabo for the whole hike.

It's mostly limestone in these parts, with some granite mixed in. The presence of limestone explains the many striations and grooves - created by runoff over millenia.

The rock is shot through in many places with inclusions of quartz and other minerals. In some places these serve just as a place for the other rock to flake off. In other places, like this, it just makes a very nice contrast.

We ascended steadily up and up. The final push was across a ravine that, during spring thaw, would be a torrent with spring runoff. At its head and over a little rise we finally reached the glacial bowl that holds Lac de Lhurs. At this time of year, the Lac is quite low, which explains why the outlet was dry. Like a bathtub ring, you can see the usual height of the spring melt. The bowl about is similar to Tuckerman Ravine with Hermit Lake, though the materials are completely different. No trees reach up here - it is all grass, moss, flowers, and a few coniferous shrubs. Alas, although the views out and up are nice, the Lac itself and the nearby slopes are (especially under cloudy skies) a bit drab and depressing.

The rock has been assaulted over the ages with wind, rain, cold, snow, and glaciers, and like so many mountain ranges on Earth has plenty of scree.

But we were hardly alone here. Even before we reached the lake, we passed through this flock of sheep (at their summer pasture! Mon Dieu!). This breed is particularly long in face. Their wool, if it is used at all, must need a terrible amount of washing and carding to be workable.

We also met this lone donkey. He was very interested in Paul, hoping desparately to get some lunch. Paul pulls out some bread, and the donkey begins a plaintive bray. Paul pulls out a carrot, and the donkey starts to drool. Ever hopeful, he and Jasper could be good friends.

There were people here as well. Other hikers, sure, but also a few folks fishing from shore! The Lac is stocked with trout. We also met a few British researchers, one of whom was up past her knees in the water, reaching deep to pull up rocks. They have a datalogger of some sort in the Lac, and were trying to retrieve it. But, due to a wet spring and summer, the Lac was higher than usual at this time, hence the fishing around in freezing water!

On the way down, the cloud deck descended with us, so that by the time we regained the car and cruised back into the village, we could see little of the heights we had so recently been on. As we descended, I filled a Nalgene from my pack with the abundant blackberries growing in brambles that cropped up here and there on either side.

Our next planned hike it to the summit of the nearest peak overlooking the cirque: Pic d'Anie. However, we have encountered a consistent pattern of clouds on the heights, especially in the afternoon. So we'll have to wait and see: it would be awful to climb this picturesque peak and not be able to enjoy the view!

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