January 11, 2018

Yann Gobert's great Jura crossing

 

I didn’t have the patience to wait for warmer weather. Nor did I have enough time to shod skis and skins – but I felt a real need to take a break, to breathe the forest, to follow a trail, and think only of essentials: drinking, eating, and sleeping snugly.
So I decided to head off for a few days, for a winter hike in the Jura, a region of France I’m particularly fond of because of its simplicity, unspoilt purity, and wide choice of trails.

 

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Time to press pause

I departed from Paris with a photographer friend, Ronan Merot. Like me, he needed to get out of the city and drop his regular tempo for a weekend away. Once in St-Claude, we hitchhiked to the starting point of our trek – nothing could be easier in regions like this one, where solidarity and mutual aid are still very much alive. A couple turned around to pick us up and drop us in Mijoux, where we joined the route of the Grande Traversée du Jura (GTJ) – the Great Jura Crossing.

 
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The Grande Traversée du Jura

There are several GTJ routes to suit your activity: hiking, biking, showshoes and horseback… They are clearly waymarked: everything has been designed to let you easily explore this superb region.
We started walking in gorgeous sunshine, gradually easing into our rhythm. The packs were heavy but we were in the forest: not a building to be seen, not a sound to be heard. We didn’t talk, simply experiencing the silence and savoring the crisp late-winter air. This low, contemplative tempo was new to me, but let me take a real break and absorb the nature all around.


 

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Moving freely

I had not planned precise stages. I didn’t want to be confined by imperatives or constraints. We were self-sufficient, able to bivy where and when we wanted, though taking care to steer clear of the protected areas. This freedom gave us carte blanche to advance at our own tempo, taking photos, chatting, chilling. Along the way, we encountered very few people – cross-country skiers, mainly, and a few snowshoers on a day-long excursion. We had opted to leave our showshoes at home, to be lighter, even if it meant a few strenuous sections where the snow was deeper or softer, as the late February sun was shining hard.
 

 
 

A bivy deep in the woods

Night falls quickly at this time of year, and we had to stop around 5pm, allowing us time to set up our bivouac and prepare a camp fire in the snow. This requires a certain technique, which Ronan has off to a tee. We then had to melt snow for refreshment and to fill our flasks. Once the fire was finally burning well, we could cook dinner. The stars were out, and we lapped up the night-time silence, interrupted only by the gentle crackle of the fire. 
 

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After three days cut off from the city and our means of communication, we slowly returned to civilization. Once back home, the smell of wood smoke spirited me back to the depths of the Jurassian forest – and a bundle of memories of a weekend in the wild.

 

 

 

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