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France – The Vosges with Barbara

Barbara and her family went to the French Vosges for a camping holiday. This range of lower mountains near the Swiss border has beautiful forests with mountaintops up to 1.400 meters. For Barbara these days away from home are nog complete without some nice runs, so read her story about her holiday trails.

The air is hot, even at 1000 meters above sea level. Crickets and midgets, dry grass and dust. The campsite is full of smells en sounds. I am sitting in a folding chair, sweating. As my children start to kick each other, out of the blue, I jump up. The chair tumbles. They scream, I raise my voice. Their faces, red and filled with outrage and anger. My face, tired and worked up. Big sigh…

The kids go for a swim. I could use some cold water myself. But instead of my bikinis, I grap my running shoes and lace up for a run in the mountains. Vacay with kids ain’t always easy. As a mother of three children, I know there’s always (at least) one of them to disagree/fight/cry/argue/all of the above. Staying at a campsite means everyone around us hears every curse, every cry, every scream. But vacation with my family also means the soft, tanned body of my 5-yeard old in swim shorts every day. It means hiking up a mountain with my 9-year old, her hair in blond braids, dancing in the sunlight. It means taking photos with my 11-year old, chasing light and checking out locations. It means living in the middle of nature for weeks. It means my husband cooking the best meals every day.

I leave the campsite and run to the trailhead nearby. Downhillers on mountainbikes race off the mountain, not afraid to die I guess. Soon I am the only person on the trail, as a climb up to the Hohneck, the highest peak in this area of the Vosges. I climb up to the ski lift through the forest, easy peasy pace. After the ski station the route is a little boring; through a grass hill and then on the road for a bit. But then there’s the Pied du Hohneck, a restaurant from where the climb to the peak really starts. In ten minutes I’ll be up there.

Even pretty packed with tourists (because accessible by car and there’s another restaurant with excellent tarte myrtilles), I don’t want to skip this peak. It’s the highest one around and from here it’s great running. I go down to Wormspel (whatever that means) and I take the trail around the Kastelberg. I love everything about this trail! It doesn’t tag the peak of the Kastelberg, it takes me around it with a breathtaking view of the Hohneck behind me. On my right, I observe some lightning in dark clouds. I am on my own in the mountains, but I am pretty sure I’ll be safe and down in just a few minutes. That’s the upside of this popular area: it never feels completely remote. But by now, the fighting kids seem far away.

After the Kastelberg, I am on my way to tag the Rainkopf. Passing an auberge and a refuge (both closed), I easily find the trail to the top. A bit through the forest and then just up up up to where no one else is at this hour. I know this is a Strava segment called The real climb to the Rainkopf and I got my mind set on it. The view is worth every step, every breath, every heartbeat. I sit on a rock until my heart rate is back to kinda normal, wondering wether I got that Strava crown or not. I take a sip of water and move on to the next one: the Rothenbachkopf (1316 m). The funny thing is you can see the whole ridge and almost all the peaks. Sometimes they seem pretty easy and close, like this Rothenbach friend. Running down the Rainkopf, I see the tiny trail that leads up to the next peak. But when I get to the climb, I realize how steep it really is. So, out of breath again, I sit on the rocks at the top of the little mountain. The campsite with all its smells and sounds lays down in the valley and I feel so remote from it. In a good way.

The Batteriekopf (1306 m) is the end of my journey on the ridge today. A quick tag, a photo and then I head back to Rothenbach. Steep downhill and then I choose the trail to Rainkopf refuge (not the peak itself, since this forest trail is much more runable). From there it’s all the way down to either Lac Blachemer or Lac de la Lande to get back to the start.