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Photo by Jason DeVarennes

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mont Lozere in the Clouds

Before our wonderful multi-course classic French meal with our Irish, French and Japanese friends, I had a quick look at the map and noticed some nice twisty scenic roads with triple arrows all around  Mont Lozere. I mentioned the possibility of doing a loop ride around the massif the next day. Christian and Siobhan instead suggested a loop up and across the massif. They recommended a dirt road that turned off the main road shortly after the ski station at Le Mas de la Barque. They had ridden it on their mountain bikes but said once up the first steep bit from the paved road, it should be quite rideable with our road tires.
 
We were starting to notice that these mountains were a bit different from those of the Pyrenees and Alpes. Here the mountains, while dramatic in their own way, were more of a backdrop to the main feature: the valleys. It was actually the valleys or gorges that seemed to have the most spectacular scenery. The mountain tops tended to be the large causses with prairie like scenery, that is until they dropped off dramatically into a gorge.

I found a website that gives a little insight into what we were experiencing. According to the author,
  • The word Cevennes provides an important clue to the landscape. It means seven veins, because seven rivers flow east to the Rhone cutting deep into the mountains. From a vantage point on one of the Cevennes' great mountains  the ridges above these seven valleys look like the waves of a mighty ocean.
But we hadn't quite figured this out yet.

When we mapped out the planned route, we saw we'd have a good climb to get up to the ski station at Le Mas de la Barque and then a long flat section across the top to reach the Le Bleymard - Mont Lozère ski station on the western side. We also mapped out an alternative route that descended down to Villefort and headed west along the Altier River before climbing back up to Le Blaymard, just in case the dirt was too rough or the weather was not cooperative.

We woke to clouds, but I found an optimistic forecast that suggested they might burn off. Siobhan and Chisa decided to stay a second night, so we could also stay for another night. This would let us, well really John, ride without having to haul all our gear. Siobhan had told us there was a restaurant at Le Mas de la Barque and another at the Mont Lozere ski station, but we decided to play safe and carry plenty of food anyway.  John emptied out a single pannier to carry, so we could have lots of room for sandwiches and snacks. We stopped at the local boulangerie and picked up some pizzas and croissants, as well as some other snacks at the small grocery. We then began descending down toward Genolhac.

But the descent didn't last long and we started climbing in earnest toward the Col du Pre de la Dame. As we came to the Belvedere des Bouzedes, it almost seemed like my optimistic forecast might be accurate, as we had a bit of clearing and a not bad view of the mountains in the distance.








But the higher we climbed, the more the clouds closed in and the wind picked up. I reached the col first, since John was busy playing with his camera, uh I mean taking photos!


I quickly put on all my warm clothing, and we got the obligatory col photo, before heading down to the ski resort. It seems it was a popular place, and the restaurant was completely full when we arrived. It was also completely in the clouds with absolutely no visibility. We ordered hot chocolates at the bar, and then decided to go with option two and descend to the valley, rather than ride across the top with no visibility.


Partway down, it became clearer and warmer, so we stopped at a nice spot on a hairpin overlooking the valley below to have the pizzas and croissants that we'd brought with us. The remainder of the descent brought us down to Villefort, where we began following the Altier River.




We could see the clouds hanging low on the mountain off to our left, and decided we had definitely made the right choice to change our planned route. We stopped briefly to take photos of a few castles by the river. We had planned to have our next food stop at the Le Bleymard ski station, and had a lot of distance to cover to get there, so we tried not to stop for too long.






We turned at Le Bleymard to climb back up to the ski station at Mont Lozere, where Siobhan had suggested we could find an open restaurant. At this point, the winds picked up and as we reached the ski station, the clouds closed in. We were very sad to find everything closed there! We pressed on to the col, where we stopped just long enough to add warm clothes and take the obligatory photo.

The clouds were quite heavy, and one could almost call it rain. The visibility was about three feet, and the descent was nerve-wracking until we finally reached lower elevations where I could stop worry that the drivers coming down behind us would never see us! I did at least have a taillight. But why did I not have my hi-vis vest? We had not planned to be out after dark, but I should always carry it for mountainous tours. I will definitely have it next time!

This also confirmed we had made the right decision not to ride across the top, since visibility here was even worse than on the far side.




Shortly after we reached a clear area, we found a house under construction where we took shelter and made sandwiches from the bread, cheese and ham we'd brought along. We were quite happy to have brought so much food, and finished off just about everything we had. We then continued down toward Le Pont de Montvert and back to Vialas.


It was starting to properly rain a bit just before we arrived back at Siobhan's. It was still light out, but Chisa and Siobhan were a little concerned given the raw conditions. They'd had a nice hike early in the day and then came back and built a big fire. They ushered us in to warm up by the fire and have hot drinks, then a hot shower and a hot meal. They pampered us way too much! But it was greatly appreciated.

Before tuning in for the evening I checked the forecast and found yet another optimistic one. I hoped this one might prove more accurate for our further adventures! Stay tuned...






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