Arriving well after sunset and not really aware of where I had ended up, except that there was a lot of snow, next morning I climbed 120 metres or so above the refuge at the col for a view of the volcanic mountains right opposite in the coloured light of a magnificent sunrise. There was no wind, but the thermometer on my rucksac showed -12°C; every footfall made a loud cracking noise in the stillness. No traffic except the snow plough, spreading grit on the pass road.
We were staying at the Col de la Croix Morand, 1401 m, above the town of Le Mont Dore in the Auvergne in a weekend arranged by the French motorbike club AMA (thanks Édouard, Jean-Paul and Éric). Immediately facing the Buron du Col refuge are mountains of the Puy de Sancy range, the Puy de la Tache, 1629 m., Puy de Monne, 1692 m. and Puy de l’Angle, 1738 m., the highest of the range, which was our stop for lunch.
Hiking at a similar altitude to my day out on raquettes in Haute Savoie but a very different experience. Rather than information signs and signposts placed by the resort, we used a 1:25 000 map for directions, following basically the GR4 long-distance footpath with some difficulty, particularly as the first footfall after overnight snow. No manicured pistes here and certainly no friendly mechanical lift or télécabine nor any “maintenance” of the pistes overnight. Just walk straight out of the refuge, cross the pass road and continue upwards across a variety of textures of snow.
English language is less helpful than French as we have only composite words for powder snow, frozen snow, icy snow and so on, which makes description tedious. We say “traverse”, which isn’t an easy manoeuvre using raquettes; clearly climbing isn’t going to get any easier in snow rather than on a dry path, but describing the various techniques for descent either ends up in kiddie-talk or quite inexact English. Staying in control of my descent on varying textures of snow - and therefore not descending on my bum - became an urgent obsession. Ploughing through and down deep powder snow was a momentary pleasure until the snow turned once again icy, cracking noisily under each snow-shoed footfall and threatening a tumble.
After a poor December from the Nordic sport point of view in France, it’s been a good February. The sights and sounds of these two adventures on raquettes have been extraordinary and I have been lucky with the weather: what an opportunity to be able to seize and justifying the arcane travel arrangements!