Our sleeping arrangements in Refuge Nice comprised a small cubby hole with 4 beds on two bunks. The space between the bunks was too limited to accommodate any gear so all that had to be stowed in the open area beyond the cubby hole, which was part of a much larger dortoir with beds to the right and the left and above us. It sounds quite claustrophobic but in fact it worked quite well. It was busy and showers, that required a paid-for token for 3 minutes of hot water, and toilets were in much demand. The food was very good and the location and surroundings could not be beaten. Dinner was pea soup, veal, cheese and pudding. After dinner bouquetin came down to the area close to the refuge and during the day I saw marmottes, chamois, ravens, wheatear, dipper, pipettes and alpine choughs. There were also masses of attractive flowers.
We were up early for breakfast and ready for off at 8am. The day would involve two major climbs and two descents. It was the most remote and desolate region of the trek and included the Valley of Wonders (Vallee des Merveilles) a rugged area famous for petroglyphs (rock carvings) believed to date from the bronze age. The first stage involved an ascent from the refuge
essentially following a stream to a large lake, Lac Nire. After, there was a minor col before entering the Vallon du Mont Chamineye beneath the eponymous peak at 2921m. There were several snow patches (neves) in this valley and the next one and we often spied chamois playing or resting on the snow. There were a number of small lakes in this valley some with icebergs
The valley was followed by a steep and quite long climb up to the high point of the trek the Baisse du Basto 2693m. Looking back the valley appears quite desolate.
The climb was just over 300m but it was very steep at the end and quite eroded and loose at the very top. This was signified on the IGN map by a red dotted trace, always a warning sign! From the top we could see our route forward down 300m or so and then up about 200m to la baisse de Valmasque (2549m) our final col for the day.
and there were fantastic views behind
and in front into the Vallee des Merveilles.
The descent into the valley was quite steep and stony but offered amazing views into what struck me as a very special and atmospheric place. We saw several marmottes as we walked through the rock strewn valley floor with large glacier-smoothed rocks everywhere.
The rock carvings in this valley and its surroundings were first described and studied in detail by a Brit at the end of the 19th Century. In 1967 a Frenchman catalogued over 10,000 such carvings and now the whole area is very closely monitored and controlled to protect these artefacts. Amongst other controls, visitors have to keep to defined paths and must not use walking poles with metal tips.
We were almost at the end of the valley when we met one of the site wardens who checked that we knew about the restrictions applied to the area. We confirmed we did and she offered one of us rubber tips for walking poles so they could be used. We asked about the carvings and she offered to show us a couple. I was surprised by how small and indistinct two if them were. I could easily have overlooked them. The other clutch known as The chief of the tribe” were larger but still rather underwhelming.
We thanked the warden warmly and walked on, later meeting her colleague who walked a while with us and retrieved the rubber pole cups. The day was hot and it was a relief to spy the lake
and the refuge.
The refuge was not completely full but was crowded. We were put in a dortoir with 10 beds, 5 over 5, we were assigned the top bunks. But in the end only 8 beds were occupied. There was no hot water and the only shower near our dortoir had an appropriate warning notice attached. The evening meal was good but a little crowded. Breakfast was the standard fare and we were off, ready to walk, around 8am.
During this day the countryside became more gentle and we had our first convincing sight of the sea. We started by climbing to the lake that provided water to the Refuge. We first encountered the barrage wall
and walked past the lake above the barrage. We continued climbing passing more small lakes until we reached the Lacs du Diable
and beyond the Pas du Diable (2436m).
This was a hot day, high twenties or even 30C I think, and it was a long walk to our next stop. The views were striking but a lot less dramatic than heretofore. In the more open countryside we struggled to find some shade for our lunch.
After the climb on the side of the hill in the photo above we had the disappointment of a descent and another climb to reach the Col des Trois Communes.
The redoubt was built in 1897 and was the first military building to use both stone and reinforced concrete, though the reinforced concrete was only used on the Italian facing walls. Around the area there were several remnants of military buildings including this barrack block we passed a little later.
The redoubt was the site of fierce fighting in April 1945 (http://www.cheminsdememoire.gouv.fr/en/redoubt-3-communes) and there is a memorial close by to the French forces involved.
There were another 2 or 3 kms to go before we reached our overnight stop around 4.30pm. The walk was mostly on tarmac down to a place called Camp d’Argent, no doubt a name derived from the old military ruins thereabouts. There were still impressive sights to gaze at.
Our overnight stop was L’Estive (1737m) a very comfortable Gite just opposite a ski drag lift.