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.
The forest of Grande Rolat. Lost again. Not once, twice.
This is the large parking area on the road from the Col du Marchairuz down to Le Brassus and the Vallée de Joux -- it's kept cleared in winter and makes a reliable starting-off place for good hikes in a number of directions. It's 16 December 2018 and we're preparing to plunge around in the forest of Grande Rolat for a while, in the first decent snow of the season.
There are only a very few tracks through the forest, and only two of them have trail signs, but we normally prefer bushwhacking haplessly about anyway.
Our guide today, Mr Joe, is deciding where we will go today and opting for that low ridge southeast of the carpark.
Bushwhacking indeed, and avoiding the little ankle-snapper holes in the limestone forest floor.
Leaping over our first stone wall. Which means that we're already not where we thought we were.
In fact, with no sign of the sun overhead, it's hard not to get turned around and 'disorientated' (as many British say).
But 'up' is usually a sensible choice.
Our forest friends are finding it hard these days to scrounge up enough to eat.
Another stone wall along the top of the ridge -- that much, at least, was expected.
Across another stone wall, also expected. It turned out subsequently that this is probably where we made our first mistake -- it's not the right stone wall.
And that's certainly not the right way to get over it!
Well, whatever works.
Some while later we come across a forest track, which memory informs us should not be here, so we set off along it to learn more.
The absence of a visible sun makes it hard to determine our direction, but if the sun were to come out, within a quarter of an hour we'd have all this snow in the trees on our heads.
The track is not always obvious, but we seem still to be on it. We're forming a consensus that we are presently heading south towards, eventually, the prepared ski de fond, cross-country skiing area in the Combe des Amburnex. There is only one track in this part of the forest, but, if memory servies, the curves in its path should be tending towards the right, not to the left.
Discussions ensue about whether to strike off into the trackless unknown or stay on the track until we find some sort of landmark.
It's all moot, because the track seems to have disappeared anyway.
And then reappeared. But it's still tending leftward instead of to the right.
We should soon emerge from the forest in the pastures of the Joux de Bière farm, where we can take stock of things and make some sort of plan.
The topography is beginning to look really unexpected and it's raising questions in our minds.
It's quite a coldish day and, if all goes well, the new wet snow will stay up on the trees until we've gone home. Once the tree-avalanches start, the fun diminishes fast.
Suddenly we've joined a little intersection of two lines of snowshoe and boot tracks from some days ago. We think we know now where we must be, though it's all rather perplexing.
Wrong again. That heavily traveled snowshoe track along a bare line of running meltwater tells us exactly where we are now. Irrefutably.
That way leads back out to the main road, and we've stumbled onto the main dirt track towards the Sèche de Gimel, past the Intercommunal refuge frequently hired by school groups and others for a weekend party. More than once, we've come upon lines of teenagers trudging along out here in mid-calf snow wearing street shoes and jeans, laboring under cases of beer and bags of stuff for the grill.
What this means, however, is that we are about two kilometres away from where we had just decided we were -- we've spent the last hour walking happily in the diametrically wrong direction.
We follow the crowd-track as far as the Refuge Intercommunal to get our bearings again.
There's no weekend party in progress at the moment -- the crowd-track was an old one.
So now that we know in which direction we're facing at last, it's time to strike off into the confusing landscape once again.
We intend to walk due south from the front of the cabane.
This isn't the sort of forest, though, where it's possible to walk 'due south' or 'due anything' for very long.
And thus, within ten minutes, we're lost again.
Everything looks like everything else.
The one reassuring thing about the forest of Grande Rolat is that if you carry on long enough, you have to pop out of it at some recognizable place, as long as you don't wander about in circles. And though we've been wandering about for almost three hours now, we haven't come onto our own tracks yet. So there's that.
That has the look of another stone wall in the distance, and may prove helpful.
It is a stone wall, and stone walls are clearly shown on our topographical map -- but which stone wall is it?
It does, however, lead us to another untracked track -- but there are only two tracks in this part of the forest, unless the forestry people have scraped out a new one. (This is clearly not a new one -- no monster machine ruts in the mud.)
Following the wall wherever it may lead
And here we see a place where two snowshoers have recently come stumbling out of the woods to where we now stand, and presumably that was us.
So now we're following our own track, but we still don't know where it's going.
We have a theory about all this, but we've had theories before.
At last, a little clarity -- we crossed that track a while ago, and now we're saved.
We just have to follow the well-trodden path back to the car. Easy game.
Three or four hours well spent, actually, since we didn't have any purpose in view anyway.
At the hotel-restaurant on the Col du Marchairuz, half of Geneva has driven up for a fondue lunch. If it were a sunny day, there'd be many times as many cars.
We go our separate ways now: Dr Joe goes down the hill by St-Cergue, I go down via Bière and Ballens to the far end of the lake.
Not much more snow came to us, unfortunately, since this day in mid-December, but things are looking up in mid-January.