18 April 2011

Mountain climbing

Sometimes it's difficult to follow through with a Sunday hike in Marseille. In the morning, many large roads were closed for the marathon, so the buses didn't go. After the runners passed, the buses continued to not go because of several little strikes; someone is always on strike down here. I didn't actually get to leave until noon, and had to connect several times to reach the end of the road at the seashore.

From there I went hiking. I wanted to find the trail along the coast but couldn't find it. The one I did find went uphill, which didn't worry me because the coastal trail the week before went uphill at first too. But then it got really really steep, almost vertical up a narrow gully with some footholds hewn into the rock. Up was ok but I didn't want to return that way so I kept going even after it became obvious that I was on the wrong trail, one that went inland into the hills. I followed the yellow trail markers, up a few more difficult climbs, until I met the red trail. There are beautiful views there over the sea far below and the valleys and peaks all around. The path is rocky but sometimes covered with slippery gravel. The trees are deep green, with steep white walls rising from the sparse forest all around me. There were few other hikers, and they all had better boots than me... I could hear several groups of climbers scaling the vertical walls of the hills.

I didn't have a map but a GPS unit and my cellphone with GPS and Google terrain maps. Neither was showing the trails, unlike the trails last week. I was trying to following Google's altitude lines, but had little choice but climbing all the way to the top of the highest hill at 425 meters because leaving the trail is impractical. My cellphone battery had run out by then but fortunately I no longer use my iPhone and so could swap in a fresh one. The view from the top of the Massif Marseilleveyre is magnificent - there is a ruined church up there overlooking the other hills, the valleys, and the sea with small rocky islands. "Hill" is a misleading word here - these are not gently rolling hills but steep white pinnacles with near-vertical walls near the top; most are far too steep to have trails going up. On the other side there is a stunning view of the Marseille bay and the city, stretching far into the distance.

I met some hikers up there who did have a map and knew the way down to the edge of the city. I knew this would turn out scary because Google's altitude lines were packed really closely there, but after a while there we met a father with two children, and I figured that if they can do this so can I. The vertical sections were even steeper than the early ones, they were longer, and there were more of them. They must be climbed like a ladder, but it's difficult to look down and find footrests and handholds and to plan a route because the walls are so irregular and hidden from sight. Often I had to feel the wall with my boots. It seems very dangerous, and there are no chains or cables to hold on to, but it's doable. There is never a point where it's not clear what to do next. Eventually I reached the forest at the bottom; the trails are still steep and rocky there but can be walked easily. I had lost sight of the children long ago because I kept stopping and taking pictures of the gorgeous landscape.

Deceptively easy at first:

But then the trail gets down to business:

The narrow valley I had been climbing:

A view of Marseille from the other side of the highest mountain:

Climbing down is hard:

Made it, back in civilisation!

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