Dwight Peck's personal Web site

Winter 2008-2009

The best snow we've had in the Jura in a decade, but now it's nearly all gone.


Springtime in the Bois de la Bassine

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

It's early May, we're preoccupied with weighty matters of no consequence, and we're slipping out on a Saturday for a little wandering round in the Bois de la Bassine.

2 May 2009: We've left our good friend, the Volkswagen, at the top of the road (1263m altitude) above our village of Bassins, and we're just going to take a bracing little walk in the forest. Springtime Saturdays in the Jura tend to bring along superb sunny weather until early afternoon, when the clouds start to roll in over the mountain and we start to roll out of bed.

There's a rocky line of limestone cliffs, however, that runs nearly the length of the local mountains between 1350m and 1450m asl., and here we are. As the clouds gathering above us bring a delightful, cool crispness and breeze to the air, we're poking about looking for a way up through them. Here's one.

We're striding purposefully onto the top of the ridge overlooking the hidden Combe des Begnines on the far side, at about 1450m, as the rain starts bucketing down upon us, as was probably foreseeable.

The splendid Combe des Begnines in all its sodden glory, looking northwestward.

Some days you can't win.

Squish, squish, we're going home now.

We're squishily galloping by this time, southwestward, towards a favorite signposted path down through a notch in the cliffs near the farm of Le Couchant -- that will be much more convenient that sliding mudstruck back down the way we came up.

I think many people will agree with me when I say that, as beautiful as the Jura mountains can be on a sunny day, they're still more beautiful on a bad day. Fewer passersby, certainly. Here's the start of the notch path down the hill.

Here's the notch.

And the ancient path curves out around the cliffs here, a carefully built old route for bringing the bêtes up into the Combe des Begnines from the lower pastures, before the roadway was put in on the French side. There are two notches through the cliffs on the Swiss side -- this is one of them, and the other is about three kilometres to the northeast, near the farm called Rionde Dessus.

Back in what's now a deflating sort of drizzle at the turndown of the road up from Bassins, where it turns northeastward nine kilometres towards the Col du Marchairuz (right) or, left, along a rocky road to Les Pralets farm with its buvette for restoring hikers and skiers as they hurry past. La Bassine, the communal farm of Bassins villages, sells homemade cheeses to passersby. The red sign indicates that this roadway is on the Number 7 Swiss national bicycling route (surely the hardest one of them all).

The defeated look of the terminally sodden.


Next day, 3 May, and wouldn't you know it? the rain still hasn't let up, for our sins. This is about as far as Dieter is going to get along the road today -- we've just paid out 500 Swiss francs to replace the exhaust and muffler system that we tore out on snowbound mountain roads a few weeks ago. So let that be a lesson.

A big tree with goiter

A big tree doing something obscene, let's not think about it.

A Tolkien tree

And a promising way up through the cliffs. We're probably out of the Bois de la Bassine and near the Bois des Leipes now, but it's the same row of cliffy bits.

Normally, persisting upwards does it, in the end, and nothing else matters, except not sliding back down.

And there, up that little gully, seems to be the stone wall that runs all along the ridge above the Combe des Begnines.

We're taking advantage of a break in the drizzly rain to stroll about and view the wetly majestic sights. There are a reasonable number of fresh animal tracks in the snow, but strangely few animals to be seen directly these past few months.

And now we'll return earthward down the same notch path that we followed yesterday.

This is a very quiet and beautiful place, and a few times we've seen chamois bounding down from one side into the centre and up again smoothly into the forest up the far side, like Romanian gymnasts in their glory days. No chamois today though.

To liven things up today, instead of continuing round on the path, we'll tentatively plunge directly down this ravine and hopefully come out in the same place in a little while.

It's a fine secluded little ravine, and peaceful away from city noises and cares.

Now we're just wandering along below the cliffs in a generally carward direction, but all upon a sudden . . .

. . . we've descended into the kind of place that we don't want to be in.

Brutal little patches of semi-bottomless limestone forest complexity

Lots and lots of places not to walk, and . . .

. . . we're walking on tiptoes anyway.

Shortly after this moment of limestone nature at its finest, we stumbled upon our own tracks from earlier in the day, and . . . Bob's your uncle.

Driving back out with Amberian Dawn coming out the MP3 player, we pause to commemorate the farm of La Bassine. With all its crocuses, and not much grass for the cows yet.


After an interminable week of bureaucratic hijinks, and the Ramsar Standing Committee bussing into town tomorrow for its annual bee dance, we're extremely -- excessively -- pleased to get out into the forest of La Bassine again. It's 10 May and it looks like rain. Again.

There's no good in tearing Dieter's undersides out again, so we'll abandon our plans, leave him at the roadside, and plod directly up from here.

Doubtless grateful for not having to tear his undersides out again, not having to sound like a C-130 taking off from Bagram when he's just idling in the carpark, Dieter will faithfully wait for us to return later.

Once again, we're going to wander up the forest again onto that ridge on the horizon, which overlooks the Combe des Begnines on the far side.

It may not look hospitable just at the moment, but we recall having stumbled, literally, upon a break in the cliffs up there, and today we're going to find it again. Anthill lovers will note that monster on the right.

Our first theory did not work out. We have two more theories, though, so we'll strike off to the left below the cliffs and soon stumble upon our upward route once again. (The third theory is to strike off to the right.)

The retreating snow is allowing the limestone forest floor to really express itself.

This is a flower picture. Unlike Alison, I'm not normally a macro-flower photo person, but today I'm trying out a Nikon Coolpix S620 I've just bought for the Ramsar Secretariat. It's 12+ megapixels, better zoom, "fastest start-up" amongst all the inexpensive digitals, but to speak frankly just this once, at day's end I preferred my little Fujifilm FinePix J10.

(What plodder would try to sell his camera under the name of "FinePix"? That's dumber than "Patriot Act"!)

A kilometre on, there's a wall, that's a landmark, and we're way to the southeast of where we ought to be, so Theory Two is abandoned, and it's time for Theory Three.

When a very old stone wall leaves Lake Geneva and bolts straight ahead up the mountain 8 or 10 kilometres towards the sky, where does it end? Here.

Trudging back through the woods, we've been scrutinizing the cliffs above and, finally . . . no cliffs above. Theory Three is starting to look good.

The map shows an ancient stone wall running all along the steep hillside just below the cliffs, and . . . that must be it.

And there's the break or gateway in the wall that hints that this must once have been a normal way for farmers (surely not the livestock) to get up from Rionde Dessus into the Combe des Begnines 150 metres higher up the mountain. I always speculate on what life must have been like for those old-timers plodding up and down through these forests, before TV and the Internet. And for those old-timers who took time out of their busy schedules to clamber up here and build these excellent stone walls.

We'll pause to look down mnemonically to make sure that we can find this place again, for getting home with.

We're back into hole country now, on a sort of balcony that runs along at about 1400m between two levels of the cliffline.

Here's the balcony sort of level -- we'll just do a scoping study here for a few minutes and then plummet back down the hill.

That was fun. Now we'll retrace across the balcony and rejoin the earth again.

Kristin has always expressed a fondness for trees growing out of rocks, so this is for you, Kristin.

Here we are back at the top of our Theory Three secret way up through the cliffs above Rionde Dessus. Prepare Yourselves, O Knees!

Leap! Just leap!


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 20 May 2009, revised 20 October 2014.


Recent Events