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Across the Vercors by snowshoes
To make your track in the 'Big White', to observe ibexes and foxes, to bivouac under the moon meaning 70kms in a wild land, outside the world but very close to nature.
Texte & photos by Jean-François Vibert

A small dark spot on the big white. A small frightened jumping shadow whic hardly pierces the crystal. A chamois. A light and fugitive appearance which makes us forget about the brutality of the cities and brings us into another world. A universe which evolves outside time but at a few snowshoes far. The only means man has found to penetrate this virgin territory. Here we are at the heart of the vercors, in a setting which only comes to light as we get further on inside the land. From crests to hollows, from mounts to valleys, from forests to to plateaux, one can better understand why this place, surrounded by cliffs, was used as a maqui by the resistance forces during World War II.
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Around us, centuries of chalky erosion and a lot of green : the one of the freeze pine trees, of scattered spruces , and of the mass of fir trees, sweet to the eye like velvet. Our guide Enzo, a Vertaco by adoption ­ an abreviation for a vertacomicorien, the ancestor of a man from Vercors ­ makes us bent the head : before our eyes, tracks of a hare, who has become white with the coming of winter but who has not shown its blak ears yet. The local fauna agrees to be admired but from a certain distance. Wils sheeps and other ungulates ­ ibexs, deers, boars - are here in their fief and a too strong intrusion may make them flee, to make them lose enough energy to die.
As we are talking about warnings, Enzo starts a small technical part. Snowshoes may be the easiest way to visit this land, there is no reason to be tired for nothing : the climbing on will therefore be made thanks to a wedge and the thigh will be helped thanks to a fixation of the heels. The first day is meant to learn how to leave without civilisation. From where we are standing, we can contemplate a last time the lights of grenoble, small and useless in front of the huge edges which are surrounding us in silence.

This morning, after a bivouac at less than 0°C, wa try to get warmer in making tracks. The soft mattress of the small valley of hte Clos d'Aspres can testify this : noone has been here before us. Enzo is hoping that if others follow us, they will use our tracks in order not to mark this blanc page. The lapiaz traitors, - the faults due to the erosion of limestone ­, invisible under the snow require all our attention. But the point is to respect the setting. Let's then make the inventory of our discoveries of the day : plenty of fox tracks, and cliffs with walls covered with climbers in summer. Once at the Pas de l'il, the Vercors starts to rise. After 2000 metres altitude, the powder snow crackles and fairy chimneys appear on the Mont Blanc back ground.

The following they th vertigo is still to fear. Under our snow shoes, a cornice overhangs the pas de la Balme, our next destination. A succession of brows and small valleys are facing the Tête de Chaudières, at 2030m altitude. Once there, there we go for a slalom party, between dolines ­small depressions - and open sky holes, which make of this massif a real Gruyère for the unconscious people who do not take the required safety measures. One more reason to follow the guide who knows the traps : that is to say, the small snow bridges which can easily fall down for instance. The slopes request a hard work on our ankles' part but Enzo is already drawing his ham, his Swiss knife and his whiskey.
The birds who are flying above our improvised eating pauseon a rock will be allowed to have a few pieces of bacon. Once the café is done, that is to say some melted snow and café powder, we put our snow shoes on again in order to go and check if the Grave and the Meije are still set in the Ecrin massif. The climbing on is hard but the gain is priceless. Up there, the blue sky is between cobalt bue and turquoise under the wind which suddenly starts to blow. As far as the sun is concerned, being now a purple circle, it is lying on its cloud carpet : here we are, waiting for the shadows to become blue. It is time to hurry. Our feet are tired, we are hungry and thirsty. The full moon is enough for us to reach our next stop. Again without any contrivance, this diner at Loulou's is another rare moment to spend, Loulou being a cook who is fan of Henry Miller and who invented the Tarti Bleute, a tartiflette with as cheese, some Bleu of vercors, with horns of plenty and cooked in a woodfire. In his chalet without electricity but still warm, he offers us the lodging, just like he offers it to lost hunting dogs who are spending the night with his good old Gerry tonight.

Last Day : We leave very early for the Hauts Plateaux. Apparently, the Grand Veymont ­ Big Raymond for friends ­ blushes at our arrival. The sun is rising up and the warm chocolat flows out of the Thermos bottle. Under such a sun light, these 16,000 hectares of natural park, the largest park of France, resembles the great north, abandoned by gold diggers who wouls have left diamonds on the snow. The sparkling blinds us and a broken glass noises force us to shout. An echo tells us what Enzo is saying. He is talking about this desert where the fog hides the cairns, that is to say rocks which are used as landmarks for walkers. We have to fill in our flasks directly from a spring before leaving this stronghold, hoping that it will remain as wild and as impregnable as it is now.

Practical Information
Villard-de-lans/Corrençon in Vercors, the Mecca of Nordic ski which also includes an alpine domain of 130kms of runs, is situated in the regional Natural Park of the Vercors, at some 30 kms from Grenoble. Here, no concrete but a bell tower aroung which a typical village is the starting point for all the adventures : snow shoes ones of course, but also ice cascades, husky raids, paragliding, caving and even casino ! Some places not to forget :

The Caribou : A 'caf' conc' hotel- restaurant', a trilogy very appreciated by local inhabitants for theatre and opera evenings. Swimming pool in summer.
From 193F to 245F for a half board room.
Corrençon in Vercors, phone :

The Chalimont Chalet, called the Goutarou :
In these former unloading stables lost in the forest, Loulou Baudry welcomes climbers for the night. His speciality : the Tartibleute described in the previous article. For the aperitif : walnut wine and for a sober meal, try his longevity water, coming from the spring not far.
80F for a meal. 120F for the night.
Phone :

The Allières :
In this resting place above Lans-en-Vercors, the vercouline flows in the plates. This is logical, the owner, Bernard Maniglier offers you this home-made raclette with Bleu du Vercors as cheese directmy after having made it in the chimney. Do not leave without having tried his chesnut pie.
Between 100F and 150F for diner.
The Miellerie : apart from the usual tasting and sale of honey and other waxes, you can see an exhibition of hives behind glasses and learn more about the life of bees.
Information : Michel Hudry in Lans-en-Vercors
Tourism Information Center : or

Snowshoes Raids Starting in Villard/Corrençon in Vercors

Animal stalking : by the end of the day, we take our baits, small tools which sound like the noise of a young ibex or a deer in order to attract the mother then the father. If none of them come, we observe their tracks or try to find them with a pair of glasses.
130F per day. Contact Laurent Minelli at the ESF Phone :

Taste life in a farm : at the Lombards', among the Arribert family, you can discover the country life and the hisorical heritage of the region. You can also taaste their bilberry jam, in order to better appreciate local customs.
135F per day. Contact the ESF Phone :

Night dream : it is the ecologist name fornight clubbing : a snowhoes raid, followed by some caving at night, a diner and night in a resting place. 590F per person, including the guide, the equipment and the half boarding.
Contact Vercors Aventure Phone :

Recreation snowshoes : Visit the vercors as you like it, with an accompanist who will slowly make you discover the fauna and flora of the place, but also people of the country. Possibility to add to this activity some skiing.
1600F per person during the week. Contact : La Maison de l'Aventure, LaChapelle-en-Vercors Phone :

Easy Snowshoes :
Enzo, our guide details the equipment of the true trapper and gives us ll the little trick to easy our progression.
How to be dressed ?

Nothing is better than the multi-layer technique, which enables you to take part of your clothes off when the efforts starts to warm you. That is to say : a tee-shirt in hydrophobic fibre, an under pullover, a fleecy pullover and a ski jacket in case of bad weather. For the feet, plastic shell to protect the ankles or in case of powder snow, snow boots. Inside, mountain sockets.
What to put in the backpack ?

When you are leaving for a week, always bring basic items : matches, some strings, a knife a safety blanket, Metas ­ small solidified alcool pieces to make barbecues ­ a first aid kit and an Arva ­ a machine to find victims of avalanches. The rest of the bag will include the stove, a plate, a bottle, the sleeping bag, the front lamp, some clothes, a map and a compass.
How not to be too tired ?

First, never leave without a stick. Without it, the equilibrium is hard in slopes and the climbing up are harder. Then, try to walk on flat areas. In runs down, the gravity centre must be as low as possible for more stability. Finally, in climbing ups, put the front of your snowshoes into the snow wall.

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© Jean François VIBERT - Journalist and photographer - Paris -
Specialised in travels, extrems sports, leisure activities, adventure trips, outdoor sports, deserts and mountains... Trekking, ski, snowboard, mountain, bike, sailing, scuba diving, hiking, in line skating... Texts and pictures for the press and the web, illustration, digital photography, reportages...
Journaliste photographe - Spécialiste des voyages, des sports de glisse, des loisirs, de l'aventure, de l'outdoor, des déserts, des montagnes. VTT, trekking, ski, snowboard, parapente, voile, plongée sous marine, randonnées, roller in line... Textes et photos pour la presse et internet, illustrations, photographie numérique, reportages...

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