The night is falling when I park the car on the snow on the Col de Menée (1457m), marking the southeast border of a mountain region what is called the Vercors, limestone foothills of the French Alps. A large part of the Vercors mountains exist of a wide elevated plateau which is among all the limestone plateaus in the Alps the least undulating and thus the most popular for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in the Alps, even with a pulk. One month before my solo crossing of Sarek I now have the time to test my pulk for a last time. After a very cold night in the car I pack my gear on the pulk, click my boots in the ski bindings and start to climb away from the col. The breakable snow crust immediately makes for a tough ascent. I’m well warmed up when I reach the ridge of the Crête de Grande Leirie. The snow crust is now mostly supportive and the skiing doable on the wide undulating mountain ridge. On the steeper slopes I start to make wide zigzags. My pulk sometimes slides out of my track, but I manage to keep going.
The annoying descent from the ridge into the Vallée de Combeau doesn’t go as I’ve hoped. The slope is too steep. Surely I haven’t chosen the easiest approach to the plateau. I fall a few times in the snow before I realize I have to take off my skis and walk straight down with the pulk pushing in my back. Luckily my feet don’t sink too deep in the powder.
Below in the Combeau valley I put the skis back on and slide deeper through the valley, passing by the Refuge de l’Essaure, one of the many shepherd’s cabins on the plateau which are often home to multi day snowshoers and skiers during the winter nights. I’m not interested in the cabin today. Today I want to get as far as possible on the plateau. Within sight of the cabin I pull the pulk over the last steep slope in the head of the valley to finally reach the actual limestone plateau of the Vercors. The weather is deteriorating while I ski to the west deeper onto the undulating terrain. On the Plaine de la Longue Fissolle, an elongated depression on the plateau, I set up the tent between the scattered pine trees. The first snowflakes are falling out of the sky when I retreat into the tent. The night is dominated by wind and snowfall.
I welcome a 20cm layer of fresh powder in the morning. The weather is rapidly improving by noon and the fresh powder is sparkling exuberantly in the sun on my way north while the last low clouds are lifting from the plateau in the distance. I notice I now need a lot more effort to pull the pulk through the powder even though it doesn’t bother me. Mont Aiguille and Grand Veymont are dominating the horizon in the north and east while passing along the foot of Sommet de Tourte-Barreaux, an isolated hill on the plateau. It’s a fine day to ski unbeaten on the undulating snow.
A cold breeze is sweeping across the Plaine de la Queyrie, so I start to search for a sheltered bivouac spot which I find at the edge of the plain on the foot of Tête de la Graille, another isolated hill. I climb to the summit of the hill in the evening, something I repeat the next morning. A fantastic view awaits me over almost the entire plateau. Descending back to the tent on my backcountry skis asks for caution over the rather steep slopes of the hill.
I ski passed the Cabane de Pré Peyret to Col de Pison (1655m). The sun is really burning today and during the afternoon the top of the snow layer starts to get soft, immediately slowing down my progression. Soon I notice the dry powder snow under the soft top layer is sticking to the wet bottom of the pulk. In fact it is not sticking to the pulk itself but onto the aluminum bars instead which I constructed under the Ice Blue sled for better tracking. The bars definitely are not offering any advantage in these snow conditions. For the rest of the afternoon I’m regularly making a stop to scrape all the sticky snow from the pulk time after time. When I reach a nice looking bivouac spot above the Ferme des Bachassons I stop for the day and pitch the tent. There is a well and water source near the shepherd’s hut (which is locked to hikers by the way). The water is still running which saves me from another evening melting snow.
In the evening I climb to the summit of Rocher de Plautret (1827m), a rocky summit on the steep edge of the plateau. Beyond lies the Drôme valley 1400m in the deeps below. A cold breeze almost makes me shiver in my vapor barrier clothes. I watch the sun setting before returning to the tent. The way back to the tent becomes a fast ski run down the moderate slope of the mountain.
The next morning I pack my backpack but I’m leaving my tent and pulk behind. Today I want to climb the Montagne de Glandasse and make a ski traverse of this mountain ridge away from the plateau. Reaching the crest of the ridge becomes harder than I’ve thought, winding myself in numerous zigzags on the steep slope between the pines. When finally on the ridge I can admire the wild views over the plateau, over the Drôme hills in the south and the alpine peaks of the Alps in the east. Groups of chamois have found refuge on the Montagne de Glandasse, fleeing away whenever they get me in the eye.
From the summit of le Dôme (2041m) a long descent awaits me to the Cabane de Chatillon. The snow is often a hard icy crust on the south facing slope so I switch a few times to walking in stead of skiing. The Cabanes de Chatillon are half buried in the snow. One of the shepherd’s huts is never locked. It is quite dark inside but it doesn’t matter. I have found my next stay for the night. In the evening I descend over the steep path into the cliff face on the south face of Montagne de Glandasse. I know from an earlier trip during late springtime, there is a source of water in the cliffs which can be reached over a ledge in the cliff face. However I’m not successful this time. Too much snow has accumulated on the narrow ledge and I immediately realize it is too dangerous to try searching the spring. That makes another evening melting the snow.
The next day I ski the whole way back to the tent over the Montagne de Glandasse. Luckily I find my Soulo the way I left it behind yesterday. The sun is yet high above the horizon, so I pack the tent and put all my stuff back on the pulk. For the rest of the afternoon I ski in southeast direction over the plateau, mostly through dense pine forest. It’s tiresome to maneuver through the woods on the unbeaten powder dragging a pulk behind. The night falls before I can find a nice satisfying spot for the tent.
Between the summits of Tête de l’Angelet (1782m) and Rancou (1882m) I pitch the tent for the last night of the trip on the plateau. On the following day I visit the edge of the plateau above Cirque d’Archiane and once again have to deal with sticky snow under the pulk by noon. The sun keeps burning and temperatures reach well above freezing. At the Bergerie de Tussac I encounter the winding path leading down the plateau. 650m lower the path ends at the narrow paved road which comes to a dead-end in the Combeau valley. I hoped the road would still be covered by snow but I’m in no luck. I decide to leave my pulk behind, hide it in the woods and walk to the car to catch my pulk again later. Upon reaching the dead-end in the Combeau valley after about an hour of walking on the road with the skis attached on my backpack, the snow returns under my boots and soon I can start to ski again. The night falls when I ski over the Crête de la Grande Leirie back to the Col de Menée where I find the car again. After another nights sleep in the car I catch my pulk in the morning and return home from this nice and educational pulk trip.