Walking the GR52 - Day 4

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Top. The "Christ" petroglyph.

Below. Petroglyphs on the Roche dÉclat.

Date 4 Aug 2004 Weather A warm day with an early thunderstorm
From above Lac Niré To Vallée des Merveilles
Route 490 m ascent, 680 m descent, route hard, navigation difficult

A short day into the Vallée des Merveilles. Passing up between the string of lakes I was observed by a chamois on a nearby ridge.

The ascent to Baisse du Basto (2,693 m) was difficult and complex. T he route is not easy to follow and the col is not easily identified. T here are a couple of other cols nearby which are far more prominent but end in cliffs or the wrong valley . Following GR markings and cairns I c rossed several snow drifts and scrambled up a couple of rocky sections to eventually reach the third highest point on the entire traverse of the Alps.

Then it was down the valley, sidling above Lac du Basto and past another chamois high on a little grassy ledge. An easy zigzagging ascent to Baisse de Valmasque (2,549 m) and the entry to the Vallée des Merveilles. A steep descent into the valley bottom and down the valley which narrows and exhibits exceptional ice polishing of the rock in a little gorge - just the canvas for the petroglyphs. Once the eye is trained they are readily spotted - many graffiti but the carvings seem unique, composed of small chippings in the rock rather than scraped lines like the graffiti. Walked several of the chemins de discovery and lunched towards the end of the section of carvings traversed by the track, and then being hurried to the refuge by the impending thunderstorm. Decided the best course of action was to do the interpretation trail rather than a tour in French. It is believed that the area had religious significance due to the number of thunderstorms which lash the area around Mt Bego.

The storm abated around 6pm so I set up camp in the designated area near the refuge. Camping in the Vallée des Merveilles and surrounding areas is strictly controlled and policed. Far more so than the rest of Mercantour national park where camping is allowed provided you are more than 1 hour from the road and your tent is pitched after 7pm and taken down before 9am.

Later that night, mists and the odd drop of rain settled in.

The Vallée des Merveilles is an amazing place with art which ranks with the neolithic cave painting around Lascaux and the aboriginal rock art of Australia.

The area is heavily visited by day walkers and people who come and stay in the refuge for a day or two. You can even get to it on horseback.

All images and text in this web site are copyright (2004) J. M. Fowler.