Ascent of Puy de Sancy on 1985-06-27

Climber: Greg Slayden

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Thursday, June 27, 1985
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Puy de Sancy
    Elevation:6184 ft / 1884 m

Ascent Trip Report

I woke up at 1 AM in my dorm room in Tours, France after 3 hours sleep, ate some food, and headed up towards the Gare de Tours. I got on my train by 2 AM, sitting in a compartment alone until a French lady joined me. We were able to converse fairly well in French, which made me feel good, given my 3.5 weeks of class. The train departed Tours on time at 2:18 AM, and we both fell asleep in our compartment as the train sped east through Selles, Vierzon, Bourges, and Moulins.

We were awakened by a conductor at some point for our tickets, and later, as I could see the orange sun rising through one on my dozings-off, I stayed awake and watched the countryside. We finally stopped at St. Germain-des-Fosses, where I got off to change trains—the train to Clermont-Ferrand was directly across, and left right on time. We went through Vichy and Riom, and passed the Michelin Tire Co. test track, before stopping at Clemont-Ferrand. Here I made another quick and easy change of trains, soon finding myself admiring views of the large valley city below me as my train climbed into the hills of the Massif Central.

The views of Clermont-Ferrand faded, and the train wound through bucolic countryside for another half hour, stopping at jerkwater towns now and then, before coming to Lacquielle, where I changed trains for the last time, here catching a tiny shuttle which took me in 10 minutes to the tiny town of La Bourboule, in a valley in the middle of the Monts Dore range, the highest of the Massif Central. It was about 9:00 AM.

I filled a plastic water coke bottle that was my canteen up with excellent water from a public fountain at the La Bourboule train station and started walking east along the main road south of the river, hoping to intersect a foot-path on my map, GR 30-41. After a short road walk and careful interpretation of my large-scale map, I followed a footpath off into the woods to the south. After a short climb, a side path led to a “cascade” which was in a dense forest setting. I ate my breakfast on a large rock in the grey morning in front of the waterfall as it threatened rain, then started back uphill again.

The path wound about and came to a tiny narrow road through open fields. I was lost to a small degree as I tried to follow the path on the road, but the countryside was wild, rolling, and exhilarating—I had not seen anything like it before. I wrongly took a downhill path to a “roche” or volcanic plug before coming back. I came to a main road where a French couple were admiring the flowers from their van, but could not locate the path on the other side of it, since there were many logging roads there. So I walked along the road (which the map said paralleled the path) until I set off into the woods on a viable path that slabbed up the west face of the Montagne de Bozart.

I passed a real logging operation in the middle of the trail—a truck with two guys. The trail steepened as it climbed through tall pines, and views of the village of La Bourboule opened up. The path became a wide track through scrub, then left it completely for a huge grassy field covering the entire upper parts of the entire Monts Dore range. I followed a track in the grass southeast along the crest of the Montagne de Bozart, past a deserted barn, as I marveled at the grassy expanse around me.

It was hard to follow any real path, and I got disoriented as I neared the lip of the Le Mont Dore valley. I could see the Puy de Cliergue, my destination, but lost my trail totally and cut across the grass trying to get to its base, finding boggy areas, barbed wire fences, and a large herd of cows and their calling cards littering the area. I cut right through the herd without incident, though, and soon found myself on a steep trail making a grueling ascent to the Puy de Cliergue. The worst part of the climb was the occasional pile of droppings covered with flies that all flew away as one approached.

At last I reached Cliergue’s summit, where a large group of kids was resting—the first other hikers I had seen. There were patches of snow there. I found my own rock to rest on near the summit, and admired the expansive view of the valley below me. The rest of the ridge hike that afternoon was incredible—the well-defined path wound along the fairly level ridgecrest, still all grass, towards the impressive-looking crags of Puy de Sancy that loomed always closer. There were suddenly many other hikers on the spectacular trail, who I greeted with a “Bonjour”. One guy coming the other way had been sitting next to me on the trail from Clermont-Ferrand—we expressed our mutual surprise.

I stopped to take many pictures and admire the view—at the Puy Redon I had the scamper over rocks to gain the actual summit. Finally, the path came out from behind a crag and I could see the area below Puy de Sancy, which did not look so formidable from this side. A cable-car station was a couple hundred feet below the summit, and hundreds of school kids were streaming out from it to go up the Puy on a well-worn trail. I joined the great line of people, and after a short hike came out on onto the tiny 1885 m-6185 feet summit of Puy de Sancy, the highest point in central France. I read the plaque and view description on top, then left the crowds of 6 year olds to descend to the east and ascend the broad grassy dome of Puy Ferrand, which had ski lifts on it (they were all over the Puy de Sancy area). I lay down on the grass and gazed off to the southeast (the view was expansive) of the side of the Puy Ferrand, then decided to get moving again.

I went to the cable car station, bought some cokes (and forgot and had to retrieve my map) and started to hike down to the valley floor, at first having to deal with occasional patches of snow and ski lifts in the now sunny and pleasant afternoon. The path down was a wide, rocky, and steep road, a real knee-killer. I made good time, though, passing some hikers and admiring the view back upward at the cable cars and a tall, spectacular waterfall pouring over a cliff. I finally made my way all the way down to the road where the path ended, at the Station de Sancy. Following this highway a little ways brought me to the Le Mont Dore Youth Hostel, which seemed very deserted. I went in anyway, and after a wait paid for my bed and breakfast which was dominated by workmen. It seemed that I was the only one there.

I found my bunkroom, made my bed, used the bathroom, and briefly walked around the hostel—it was a chalet-style place with several bunkrooms and a large common room. It seemed to cater mostly to skiers, in the winter. Making a reservation had been needless. I ate some of my food, then went to sleep in my warm bed at around 5:30 PM, very tired from my long day.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:426 ft / 129 m
    Total Elevation Loss:328 ft / 99 m
    Quality:5 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:426 ft / 129 m
    Route:GR 30
    Start Trailhead:Sancy-Redon Col  5758 ft / 1755 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:328 ft / 99 m
    End Trailhead:Sancy-Ferrand Col  5856 ft / 1784 m
Ascent Part of Trip: 1985 - Puy de Sancy

Complete Trip Sequence:
1Puy de Cliergue1985-06-27 a2661 ft / 811 m
2Puy Redon1985-06-27 b544 ft / 166 m
3Puy de Sancy1985-06-27 c426 ft / 130 m
4Puy Ferrand1985-06-27 d227 ft / 69 m
5Telepherique Base Station1985-06-28 a128 ft / 39 m
Total Trip Gain: 3986 ft / 1215 m    Total Trip Loss: 2526 ft / 770 m

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