SATURDAY 6TH AUGUST - We were grounded over Thursday and Friday due to more problems with the van. After driving down the road on Wednesday, after the paragliding, the warning light for the Diesel particulate filter came on, followed by a flashing warning for the glow plugs. Doing some research, we think it was due to our drive down from the Col du l’liseran the other day. The DPF is supposed to keep your emissions clean by burning off soot from the diesel (or something like that) but to work properly it needs the engine to burn at a certain heat for a certain amount of time. Folk who make short journeys around town often have problems with it. Or, in our case, people who’s van engine runs from cold, from 2700 metres all the way down to 1000 metres without the engine heating up at all because the road is so steep that no acceleration is needed! This, compounded with our drive on Wednesday which was very stop and starty, trying to find take off places to paraglide, which weren’t in the cloud.
Anyway, D seemed to think that because it was only emissions that the van was fine to drive. But researching online we discovered this wasn’t the case and we needed to find a stretch of road where we could get engine speed up to 60mph or revs over 2, and maintain this for atleast 30 miles. But if the DPF is over a certain level of saturation then it needs to be sorted by a garage.
So Thursday was spent finding our nearest VW garage (in St Jean Maurienne, around 60km down the road thankfully!) We then drove there to try and burn off this soot, unsuccessfully. The usual communication problems ensued but they did plug in the diagnostic doodah into the engine and said that something needed to be updated after the work that was done previously (which was to repair some sensor.) We were told it was okay to drive the van and to bring it back tomorrow as they didn’t have time to fit us in today. Rats! That was 2 days of scorchio weather wasted on van troubles.
Friday we drove back to the garage, left the van with them and went for a shop in town, returning an hour later to be told that they had updated something or other and we now had to try and drive the van to burn off the soot. If this did not sort the problem then we would have to bring the van back a week later to replace the DPF (big job so will take all day supposedly!) So it turns out that booting the van for 30miles didn’t work and we now have to fork out a grand to get the van sorted!
Gutted! We were both very tempted to say, ‘feck it!’ and just start driving back home. This holiday has been jinxed by so many things so far that we’re not both sure that if we get up into the mountains then we’ll both fall in a crevasse and die or something! Although, I did say that maybe we should stay because fate might have us drive home and we’d end up in a horrific car crash or something! Yes we were both feeling rather pessimistic. In the end we decided to stay and I felt much more optimistic after finding a Alpinism guide in a local shop that has loads of interesting peaks to climb in the area. It is written in French but it’s 100x better than the guide we bought from Needlesports for this area, which is in English but is absolutely ancient!
We spent last night getting pissed on a local Chardonnay and today we went for a short walk up to the de l’Arpont refuge which is a base for doing one of the local mountains above 3500m. It wasn’t very exciting (at all!) but it was still good to get out and stretch our legs after a couple of days of being cooped up doing nothing. We’d decided to walk there as the weather forecast was for showers but we could have done something more exciting in the end as there were only 2 very light showers during the whole of the day!
The walk up starts of steeply, through woodland, winding up and up and up and up for over 1000 metres. Like doing a munro, but starting at munro height! The scenery was pretty though once out of the woods and we caught snitches of the glacier above when the cloud cleared enough. At one point we came across a herd of sheep (there was hundreds of them!) with their 2 shepherds and dogs. The dogs are known as Pastou and they are big white, fluffy beasts which guard the flocks of sheep from harm. If you encounter them, they are supposed to be very interested in your presence and want to check you out to make sure you are not of any threat. Well the doggy we encountered was a gentle giant who came over to say hello and to be petted. Though I suspect he was possible an older doggy as there was another dog below with the sheep who was a bit more threatening.
It wasn’t long after this point that we reached the hut, around another hour. It’s a quaint wee hut though I suspect it is privately run. I tried to ask about the peak above with a few folk but all that I spoke to had only been to a lake an hour and half above. I suspect that this hut is used more by walkers going along the GR5 from hut to hut in the Vannoise, as opposed to those climbing any peaks. We hung around for a while though (me eating cake of course!) feeding the free range hens that were pecking about and watching the marmots who were tamer than usual. Then it took us a couple of hours of slogging downhill to get back to the village shop and to the campsite.
Weather is for heavy rain and thunderstorms tomorrow morning so we’re heading to Modane to look around the shops. Then on Monday the weather looks a bit iffy too but Tuesday might be okayish so we may go up a peak called Rochermelon which is one of the easier 3500m peaks in the area, though a very long day. Indications are that Thursday may be okay, if so we’ll head up to the Dent Parachee hut on Wednesday and get up our first big hill on Thursday. Then the van has to go back to the garage on Friday. This has screwed up all our plans to go to Italy and the Monte Rosa but we’ll just making do with what is around here instead.