Mercantour Isola2000 to Refuge de Nice. Day 4 of 5 crossing the Mercantour National Park.
Back on schedule
On day 3 from Roya to Isola2000 I did catch-up the delay from day 2 Estenc to Roya. Today is a very long run from Isola2000 to the Refuge de Nice 5 valleys apart. The hotel in Isola2000 is the only place that let me leave as early as 6.00AM with a breakfast. By 6.15AM I am on the trail, climbing between night and dawn on the slope opposite the ski resort.
It is all about landscapes
The early start let me see incredible landscapes first in the reflective lakes then with the first sun rays. Every few steps, I am balanced between taking a new photo or saving time for the long day and going ahead.
At the top of this slope I find some snow that is still relatively hard at this time of the day. I manage to go across the patches to follow the trail sign without wearing the crampons. I am very careful on each step I make.
Some steps in Italy
When I cross over the Baisse de Druos entering junction via Italy it is fabulous: lakes, snow heaps, waterfalls, crest… all in the same picture.
I arrive at the Lago di Valscura and get to meet the senior ibex, new owner of the old habitation. During this crossing of the Mercantour I am in condition to see animals from very close, very often less than 10m away from me!
Now in Italy, I still use the French map, with the old and poor route details on the Italian side, instead of using an new Italian map. As I don’t know the place and my GPS is useless, it is no surprise I will add an extra +/-200m going further down the Italian valley. I make my way back on the high path close to the Rifiugio di Questa facing the high valley of Fremamorta.
The Pas de Prefouns is deep
There I have decided to take the “first exit” back to France, via the Pas de Prefouns, avoiding more off-trail (after the Col de Fremamorta to join directly the Boreon).
The Pas de Prefouns is deep indeed. I have to admit I took some time to consider the options, the steep and slippery slopes, eventually wearing crampons, to get out of this place. Not so many people going this way. And the path almost disappeared in crumblings.
Like in many altitude places, sometime the kerns and the traces are not following the easy summer route due to lasting snow patches and kerns raised earlier in the season.
I am finally at the foot of the last stretch. I can see a sign. The slope is steep and slippery but as I go carefully I do not use the crampons. From the top of the Pas du Prefouns, the valley of Lac Negre on the other side seams relatively flat.
Fun way down via Lac Negre Beach
I have a sip of glucose, I tighten the straps of my bags and a long, fast and fun way down is starting. The most steep section to the lake is the most fun. Then I simply run all the way down to the Boreon, via the Col and vallon de Salèse.
I get slowed down on the junction between the Boreon and the bottom of the vallon de Cougourde by a large number of pine trees totally obstructing the trail.
Two more Pas
The hurdle race finished, I reach this section I have done recently after training for the Vertical Race. I get motivated and climb to the lac de Trecolpas at a speed around 1000m per hour. Short break at the lake, I still have two Pas to go through to reach the Refuge de Nice.
From the Pas des Ladres, we have a great view south to the lac de Fenestre, the Prairie de Fenestre and a nice trail to the Madone de Fenestere, 440m below.
At the Madone de Fenestre, I eat some nuts, refill with water and shortly make my way to the Pas du Mont Colomb.
In the evening light
Although I have not arrived yet, there is still some distance to the Refuge de Nice, I can’t resist the evening light and stop on many occasion to take photos, playing with the clouds and with soft shadows.
This is also risking the dinner at the refuge but this evening I am having the last of the 3 dehydrated meals, that I’m carrying since 4 days.
Again, now above 2400m north side, I find a large layer of snow on my way to the Pas (2548m). The snow in the sun is soft and does not require using the crampons.
On this side of the Pas there is nobody, no sun, no wind, it is really quiet. That is when I get the close visit of a chamois quite curious.
Now, There is no much shots to take, it is not time to stand in the cold. I no longer stop on this way down (another -370m) between random rocks and slippery snow. The traces in the snow have already frozen and it is better to make your own trace or to remain well balanced when engaging in the short slopes.
When I reach the Lac de la Fous, it is coloured of an impressive dark blue. I run all the way to the Refuge de Nice making just a pit stop shooting one of the many civilized chamois that I find on my way.
This day was really great, many fabulous landscapes, a sense of adventure at the Pas de Prefouns and going down the Pas de Colomb, a lot of fun running down the trail to the Lac Negre. And I am very pleased to complete this long day, not that tired, ready for the last day. The cleaned stats for the day say: 49km, +3200m, -3050m.