Day 8: Névache to Briançon via the GR5C
It was so cold. We spent most of the night shivering under our single sleeping bag blanket (hurray for emergency blankets!). When we checked the inside of the tent in the morning we first thought it was completely dry. A second later we realised there was plenty of condensation but it had frozen.
Due to the cold we had a late start. It was nearly 10 am before we were ready to go, having stopped by the bakery on the way for some bread and cakes.
From Névache to Briançon we took a variant route, the GR5C. It’s a long day (27 km, 1400 m ascent and 1800 m descent), especially if you have a late start…
The first part was straightforward; zigzagging through the forests to reach a lake where we enjoyed a tarte aux noix and a tarte au chocolat. Then we climbed further to reach the Col de Cibières. Around here the path became a dirt road. The views across towards the Écrins were amazing though and as we didn’t have to watch our feet we could watch the mountains. We had a quick lunch at the café at Col de Granon, after which we hurried along the road past some old barracks and on towards the Crête de Peyrolle which was today’s Great Challenge.
The climb towards La Grande Peyrolle along the Crête is steep and rocky but not difficult. Basically an amazing ridgewalk. It was still sunny and windy and the views in all direction were superb. Looking south made us wonder how many of those mountains we would end up climbing. From the Grande Peyrolle the going became tougher. We’d been hiking for about seven hours at this stage and still had to descend 1300 m to reach Briançon. First the ridge became narrower and narrower, with loose rocks rather than a path. I used to be afraid of heights. It’s improving every year but this was way out of my comfort zone and starting to cross the line between “discomfort” and “hell, no”. Especially as the wind was picking up so I was finding it hard to breathe. Then the path began to drop down steeply too. I got down, eventually, cursing the bloody GR5C every step of the way.
The path gradually became easier and about 500 m it was again a civilised zigzagging path through the forest. However, the descent was now so gradual that we ended up covering a lot of distance for every meter in altitude. We ran a bit but Briançon hardly seemed to be getting closer. Then finally, finally we reached a fort on the outskirts of Briançon, followed by roads and Briançon itself. We staggered through the old town and on towards the railway station to our hotel (we had decided against camping; good thing too because it was getting a bit late). At this point, both of us were seriously considering staying in Briançon for another day or two to rest our aching feet.