“Do you mind if we move our tour to Le Monal to Thursday?” the guide asks.
It’s a sunny enough day but apparently there is too much wind on the other side of the mountain, whereas the forecast for Thursday is sunny all day and no wind, which would be ideal. We could still do it today, but really Thursday would be better.
I got up at 6.45 and drove half an hour to get to Sainte Foy, the starting point for the trip; so I do mind a little. The only possible answer, though, is: “Of course, that’s no problem”.
But having come all this way and being so close to Le Monal, a place I have been meaning to see in the winter for so long, I’m not going to give up just like that – I am going to walk there instead.
Although this isn’t quite how it started. Having managed to get my day skipass refunded and after shoving the skis and boots back in the car, I headed off towards the forest for a short stroll, to enjoy the early morning peacefulness and to take in the landscape – the majestic Mont Pourri which raises its broad rock and ice shoulders on the opposite side of the valley from Sainte Foy.
Until I came across a sign for Le Monal. It was like an invitation to carry on. There was nobody else around except for a few brown squirrels. The clouds were lifting, the air was crisp. Blissful. I walked on; up icy paths in the shade of tall fir trees, and further, to the Echaillon settlement, which is just over halfway to Le Monal. I had water and I had time – there was no compelling reason to turn back now.
The path snaked through the forest, along the Clou stream, and out onto an alpine meadow. It seemed a while and I wondered whether I had taken a wrong turn. Then, suddenly, just over a small brow, there it was. On a white carpet, with its snow-covered roofs and tiny chapel, a hamlet shut down for winter. Nestled in a cove overlooked by sharp cliffs on one side and a forest on another, looking out south to the Mont Pourri and to the valley down below, Le Monal was just as idyllic as in the summer.
Snow was falling gently, on and off. There was no sound apart from the wind in the trees. I walked around a little and stopped to feast on a chocolate bar by the stream. By the time I came down the mountain, the path in the lower part of the forest, which was icy on the way up, had softened up. A few people were coming up in snowshoes. It was midday when I got back to the car park, and I had unexpectedly walked 10km.