Date: Tuesday 17/08/2021
Stage: Refuge de la Perrière > Refuge de la Pierre du Carré
Distance: 12,4 km
Ascent: 1035m / Descent: 1135m
Weather: Heavily clouded, 16°C
It must be about the first time I have slept well in a refuge, with other people in one dormitory. Nobody snored! We ended up sleeping with about ten people in the more than comfortable beds on the first floor. I was one of the last to leave at 9 o'clock.
The sky has cleared up a little compared to last night. There is a thin cloud cover over the valley and the sun is shining. I follow the nice path to the Pointe de la Frèche (2268 m). At first it is an easy ascending path, but when approaching the pass the gradient of the path quickly exceeds 35%. While the sun peeps over the mountain tops in the east, the clouds rise from the valley and are following close behind me. Although at first I could still enjoy a nice view of the Grand Charnier (2561m) opposite, I can't see anything anymore. I overtake a trio of hikers from the refuge: three generations of the same family, with the grandfather as local taking the lead. They will follow at some distance in the descent to the refuge des Férices (1892m).
On the ridge along the Col d'Arpignon (2276m), I can enjoy a bit of the panorama between two masses of clouds, but then the cloud cover closes permanently. To the right of the pass I can just make out two small lakes. In the stone field of Grande Lanche I catch up with two French doctors who also slept in the refuge last night. Together we continue our journey to the Férices. In the dense cloud cover, there is nothing to be seen of the otherwise beautiful landscape. In the refuge, which is nothing more than a small barrack with a few beds, a stove and a rickety table, we stop for a snack. And also to hide from the humidity brought on by the clouds. We cannot see the Lac des Férices that should be here behind the rocks. A pity, because in normal circumstances that should be a beautiful spot.
When we are about to move on, the family trio - with grandfather in front - arrives at the refuge. The descent to the Chalet de Pré Nouveau (1456m) also brings us out of the clouds. I let my two companions go. They descend much faster. On my right I can see some waterfalls between the trees. Soon I am at the chalet. I rejoin the French who have now started the climb to the Col de Claran. The first part of the climb up to the zigzag is very steep. From the Chalet de la Balme - not seen between the foliage - the path becomes a little less physical.
Suddenly, I get an uncomfortable feeling in my left knee. After a few dozen metres, the slightest movement changes into a hellish pain. I continue over a mountain ridge to the refuge de Claran (1808m), but cannot climb without a heavy pain shooting through my body. I keep going! I reach the refuge five minutes after the two French climbers. Their first diagnosis: an inflammation of the meniscus. Shit! After a few painkillers, anti-inflammatories and a hearty portion of food, I try to get going again. Not so easy. The climb to the Col de Claran (1956m) is not that steep and physically very doable, but the pain plays tricks on me. Followers of the blog know that I have had a few similar occurrences with injuries in the past (Sentier du Littoral in 2017, Traversée des Alpes in 2018) and frankly I hope not to add the Traversée de Belledonne 2021 to that list.
In any case, I reach the col after a lot of struggling. The first few hundred metres beyond the col the path is as good as flat and still easy for me to do. But suddenly the path becomes more technical with some scrambling over rocks. The two French doctors catch up with me again, while I am struggling to get ahead. I will reach the refuge de la Pierre du Carré (1765m) 20 minutes after them. Every step I take now hurts.
Normally, this is a manned refuge, but it has been closed for a year now. Although closed; someone has broken the lock. Fortunately, the interior has not been damaged. The three of us find a place in the beautiful hut. As we - and I by necessity - have finished our stage early, there is time enough to get to know the others. It turns out that one of them, Paul, worked in the hospital in Calais, where I ended up in the emergency room in 2017. He also remembers the fight between the many refugees a few days later, in which dozens of people were injured. He says there were many stabbings and that it was a "boucherie" (a massacre). They both advised me to rest well and a lot. I stick my leg into the ice-cold water of the fountain behind the hut.