Last Friday I set off for a long-overdue solo tramp in the Vosges. I chose walk no. 24 – Le Ban de la Roche – in my favorite Vosges guide: Randonner avec les TER published by the Club Vosgien in 2003.
I had planned to take the 7am train to Rothau, but the night before I had worked until nearly 2am. No big deal – I got an extra hour of sleep and took the 8:55am train from Strasbourg. I arrived at Rothau just before 10am.
It took me a bit of time to locate the first blaze – a yellow triangle. Occasionally the blazes start out at the train station, but in this case didn’t. When in doubt, I’ve learned, go to the church. And that’s what I did.
The village of Rothau is nice enough. I didn’t spend enough time there to see much. It has two lovely churches and a major high way that runs right through town, which made walking along the narrow sidewalks feel a bit like playing Russian roulette. So I was happy to make my way into the forest and climb out of the valley. After leaving behind the last house on a gravel road, I found a dirt path that wound around the side of the mountain. A canal ran alongside the path where a few ducks were swimming in the morning sun.
Nature was slowly and carefully waking up on the mountainside. Tufts of grass were peeking out from piles of leaf rot and fallen branches. Tree saplings reached for the sunshine. The mosses covering the rocks were especially pretty with fine stalks sporophytes. I saw an owl swoop across the trail. There was a woodpecker hammering away at a tree above my head.
I hiked for about two hours before I came to a sign directing me to the Cascade de la Serva. It was a steep hike up to reach the most impressive section of the waterfall.
The waterfall was gorgeous. The roar of the water was nearly deafening. The temperature fell as the relative humidity rose. I could smell the damp rocks. The trail climbed even steeper as it wound around and followed the waterfall to its source at the top of the Champs du Feu.
I couldn’t resist taking off my shoes to feel the ice-cold water on my feet. So I found a sunny spot next to the water. Had it been a bit warmer, I probably would have been tempted to take a dip in my skivvies in one of the small pools.
I couldn’t stop here too long – I still had about 15 kilometers left.
I walked through a forest of naked deciduous trees. This still made it possible to see across the valley to the mountain ahead. Up I climbed to the Champs du Feu.
Well…sort of. I was headed in the direction of the Champs du Feu, but lost my trail at a wild intersection of trails. I spent about 2km figuring out that I was headed in the wrong direction.
I eventually made it to the Champs du Feu – a ski station in the Bas-Rhin. The last bits of snow had become sheets of ice on the trail, which made it tricky for descending to the Col de la Charbonnière before lunch was over!
I didn’t think that lunch was going to be spectacular, but I was mistaken. I ordered the soupe de jour and a portion of cheese. I didn’t think that the presentation would be so spot on or that the serving would be so generous. The meal was just what I needed to power me over the next 10 or so kilometers to Saint-Blaise-la-Roche.
The guide indicated that an old castle ruins was ahead, but didn’t give a description of what exactly I should be looking for.
When I made it to the ruins I understood why it was called château de la Roche and was puzzled why the guide book only mentions it, but doesn’t have it marked out on the map. The donjon or stone keep of this 12th century castle was built on a granite rock jutting up to the sky. The Club Vosgien built a steep 105 step staircase that winds around to the top of the donjon ruins. From the top is a gorgeous view of the neighboring hillsides and valleys and a frightful walk down.The rest of the hike was literally all down hill from that point. I crossed a field with pen full of lamas and then found a forestry road that led me to the edge of Saint-Blaise-la-Roche. At the highest part of town were mostly farmers’ granges with large farming equipment parked inside. Further down, the homes took on the typical Alsatian style with half-timbered fronts and large well-manicured gardens ready for spring planting.
I found the train station with a bit of help from a local and waited a half an hour for my train back to Strasbourg. I was physically tired, but I felt amazing. My legs felt stronger and my mind felt a bit clearer.
Rothau to Saint-Blaise-la-Roche Total: 22km / +650m