Monday 17th – Tuesday 18th August 2020
Today will be a first, we are driving over 2km above sea level, high in the Alps to a lake called Mont Cenis Lake. You can park for the night free of charge and have the most wonderful views up there. It will be quite a slog as the roads are very challenging twisting and turning so we will need to be on our best form.
We leave the pretty town of La Chambre not too late and refresh all of the amenities before setting off. We are looking forward to this, it will be the highest we have been with the van and will be practice for us for when we go to Mont Blanc in a couple of weeks – we will drive to Chamonix, leave Jess somewhere safe and take the steep and long cable car.
The hour and a half journey is just as we thought, many hairpin bends, kilometres of zig-zagging, our ears are popping and we are chewing up the diesel but it is well worth it as the drive flattens off and the lake comes into view.
Hayley has booked us into a restaurant up here for dinner. We find an excellent spot with the best view of the lake. It is amazing up here, it’s busy right now but as the day moves along then so will the people.
Time for a walk. There is a church all the way up here in the shape of a pyramid, and a museum dedicated to this famous mountain pass between France and Italy. Fascinating.
Our walk continues to one end of the lake, 45 minutes of walking and we are walking along the dam of Lake Cenis, a massive feat of engineering, the hike back is uphill and rather tiring. Once back at the van we sit in the front seats with a pre-dinner drink, admiring the view and the start of the setting sun. Dinner is only a short two-minute walk from the van, the aperatif is quickly going to our heads, best call it a day and go and eat.
We are given a fantastic spot in the restaurant, right in the corner with a wall to ceiling glass giving us a fantastic view of the lake and the last embers of the sun sparkling on it. We have an excellent two-course dinner of local dishes and a glass of wine to accompany it.
The walk to the van is in the final light of the day, once in we get the lights down low, music on, and a cup of tea. It’s a cold night, 8 degrees, so the heating is fired up but after 20 minutes it starts to struggle. We come to the conclusion that the altitude is having an effect on the gas canisters and the pressure required to make the heating work properly.
No matter it’s time for bed. It’s gone 10:30, it’s cold and we have had a great day.
Tuesday 18th August 2020
At 1:00 am Del is up with a headache, maybe the drink was more than first thought. Hayley too is up, not feeling great. By 4:00 am Hayley is feeling really ill, She has a swollen foot and numb leg along with nausea, and a severe headache is gripping her. She is feeling rough, very rough, and getting worse by the minute.
Then the mystery is solved. Hayley, while suffering the effects, did some reading.
Let this be a lesson. What we were both suffering from, and to a lesser extent the van heating, was altitude sickness. It can be deadly and can show its effects 1.5 km above sea level. It manifests itself in many ways all of which between us we have the symptoms of.
The trick? At a height over 2.1km (which is what we are at) do not exert yourself, or over-exercise. We did that! Do not drink alcohol while you are at height. We did that! We did everything wrong when you are going to go somewhere that is 2.1km above sea level. We need to do something.
By now it’s 5 in the morning, dark but with a slight slip of light as we can now see the base of the clouds and the faint outline of the dark mountains around us. We need to move, it’s cold, foggy, and has been raining. It looks like the Saddleworth moors now, we need to get out of here and quick. The drive down the mountain in the dark is tricky in the dense fog patches that just come from nowhere, wet roads, and the twisting and steep decline makes it very tricky indeed.
We get packed up and set off to a free parking place 800m down, enough to get some relief from the effects of altitude sickness. Hayley did not feel great at all.
Finally, we find the parking spot and we are both starting to feel better, a lot better. We shut the van up, lower the bed, and sleep well for 3 hours. Once awake again we have a light breakfast and decide to take it easy today and make for a campsite on Lake Bourget where we can do some laundry, get some power to charge things, have some space, and recover. What goes up has to come back down!
It’s a short drive to Lake Bourget and even a lower altitude, we are a little early and have to kill an hour over lunch but eventually, we are let in and given a spot right on the shores of the lake.
Beautiful, it’s a family campsite so lots ok kids running about cycling around the camp at speed as they do, but by the evening it’s lovely and peaceful.
Time for bed.
Oh and we washed our masks today.