The Haute Route

HR Day 3
Day 3, Typical Haute Route View

We have finished the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. We did roughly 85 miles over the past nine days, our longest day was 14 miles and we usually did 9-10 but that really doesn’t mean much – what really mattered were the climbs and the passes or cols we had to transit each day. We ascended more than 20,000 feet (6,000 meters), some of it quite steep.

HR Day 3-2
Climbing out of the valley on Day 3 (yes, we did start down there)

The views were stunning – words really don’t do it justice. We spent most nights in hotels in small alpine villages or ski resorts but also two nights in mountain huts. Very few people use tents, not sure if that is discouraged or just not done. Pretty much everyone stays in the huts on those sections where hotels/hostels are not available. The huts have big dorm rooms (10-16 beds per room), a flush toilet (or two) and a single shower (or two).

HR Day 3 - Hut 1
Our group’s dorm room in our first hut

The huts we stayed in can sleep 50-60 people and were very nice. Our group consisted of 12 hikers and 2 guides, though one of our group decided not to hike after the second day when he realized he could not keep up.

HR Day 4 - Hut 1 View
Our first hut

A note on the “Haute Route”. There are really many variations. Some people hike every mile from Chamonix to Zermatt, about 110 miles. This takes most people 12-14 days (at least). The Alpenwild variation has all the major passes (or cols) and most of the great views, bypassing some of the valley slogs, and using some conveniently placed chair lifts and gondolas (a good part of the route is in ski country) to get the hike down to 11 days (9 hiking days, an acclimation day at the start and a rest day at the end).

Day 4 - Col 2
A typical mountain pass – day 4 – our group resting at the top

And, of course, the big plus using a guide service was that our bags were ferried from hotel to hotel. So, except for the hut nights, we only had to carry our foul weather clothing, water and snacks. Speaking of weather, we had nine glorious days – sunny or partly sunny the whole way.

As I type this in Zermatt it is raining and 49 degrees (with a chance of snow this weekend!), so we were very fortunate. And it is hard. We had a pretty fit group and the tough climb days (>3500 feet) were tiring. Our age range was 55 to 70 with most of us being around 60. We were mostly Americans, with a couple of delightful Aussies thrown in for variety. Most of the passes were 9,000 to 10,000 feet and most nights were spent below 7,000 feet.

Day 4 - Col de Prafleuri
Col de Prafleuri, Day 5

We joked that the Swiss have yet to discover switchbacks. And 90% of the trail is either ascending or descending, there are almost no flat sections. Everyone was tired but the time we got to Zermatt. We ate breakfast/dinner in the hotel/hostels/huts and lunch was usually a wonderful picnic supplied by our guides (cheese/meat/bread/fruit/chocolate) and we ate a lot – hiking 6-8 hours a day burns a lot of calories.

Day 9 - Typical Lunch
Typical lunch spread

Water was plentiful (most of the time) and we drank it straight from the streams/rivers without treating or filtering. And there were (almost) no injuries!

Day 7 - Injury
Roberta attacks Switzerland with her knee. Switzerland wins.
Day 9 Lunch View
View from our lunch spot on day 9
HR Day 7 - 1
…and did I say the views were stunning?

The Last Lock

Sadly, after 12 weeks we are back in Joigny to begin cleaning up the boat and preparing to move on…..

Joigny Aug 11 - 2
12 weeks later and back in Joigny!

The day started cold and foggy (49 degrees in August!) for our short motor to Joigny. We were joined in the last locks by two other boats, what looked like a converted barge (more on that later) and a Le Boat rental. The last lock was fun…when we noticed as we were locking down that the Le Boat seemed to be hung on the bow. We tooted our horn to get the lock keeper’s attention before their stern went under water (at which point, the boat sinks and we all are stuck for a good while).

Hung Up 2
Two very clueless Le Boat people and a hung boat.

So, the alarmed lock keeper closed the gates and cycled the lock again to float the boat off.  All went well and the boat came clear but as we started to cycle down again they appeared to be doing the same thing before the lock keeper came up and explained that a stern line was needed as well as a bow line and basically stop being idiots.

Hung Up 1
Another view of the hung boat.

The other boat in the lock was a custom barge owned by a South African couple and they are looking to sell.  We had time to talk as the lock was re-cycled.  They are asking 195,000 Euros and they invited us to stop by and see the boat in Joigny. Lovely but maybe a bit big for us (20 meters).

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We visited the barge, then their web site.
Joigny Aug 11
The view of Joigny from our mooring

Nearing the end….

After nearly 12 weeks, 1500 Km and 640 locks we are nearing the end of our Burgundy barging adventure.  Amazingly enough we have followed the plan we created many months ago, covering nearly all the navigable waterways of Burgundy. Also amazingly, after living for 12 weeks on a 11.6 m by 3.8 m boat we are still talking to each other and are sad to be leaving “Bray Sur Somme”.

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We did the Canal de Bourgogne, the Canal du Centre, the Canal de Roanne, the Canal lateral a la Loire, the Canal de Briare the Canal du Loing and the Canal du Nivernais (twice), along with bits of the Yonne, Seine and Saône rivers.

Our biggest concern now is that we appear to have a goodly amount of quality wine that must be enjoyed before we leave the boat. How will we manage to fit Martini Night in?

The Locking Life

Thought I would do a post about locking since it is something most people are unfamiliar with and we get a lot of questions about it…

The locks allow canals to traverse varied terrain in a controlled manner.  The canals connect various river valleys (i.e. the Canal du Burgogne connects the Seine with the Saone) passing over the intervening hills. The locks allow boats to climb mountains!

Each lock consists of two sets of doors and two sets of gates, usually part of the doors,. The doors allow the boats to pass, the gates allow the water to pass. To ascend a lock, with both sets of doors closed and the lock full, the lockeeper will open the lower gate allowing the water to flow out of the lock. When the water in the lock has reached the lower canal level, the lower doors are opened allowing a boat to enter the lock. The lower doors and gates are then closed and the upper gates opened, allowing water to flow back into the lock from the upper canal. When the lock level reaches the upper canal water level the upper doors are opened allowing the boat to exit. The process is repeated in the opposite direction to descend.

Some of the locks are completely manual, with the lock keeper (with sometimes help from a boat crew member) cranking open the doors and gates. Some of the locks have hydraulics to open the doors and the gates are manual. Some have manual doors and hydraulic gates and yet others are fully hydraulic with the lock keeper standing at a control panel. And yet others are completely automatic with no lock keeper present, relying on the boat operators to initiate the lock cycle (usually with a pull cord located outside the lock to request access and another pull cord inside the lock to begin the cycle). You really never know when approaching a lock what you will find.

A lock cycle can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20 minutes (or sometimes much longer if there is a line of boats waiting or you have a particularly loquacious lock keeper).

A word about the size of the locks  in Burgundy. They vary in length in the canals, from 30m long in Lock #15 on the Canal du Nivernais up to 40m on the Canal de Roanne, but most are a “standard” 38.5m (126 ft). The widths are all about 5m (16.4 ft).  Our boat is 11.6 meters by 3.8 meters. We have been in locks where the lock keeper squeezed in three boats our size – 35 m of boats in a 38 m lock!    The picture shows our boat to scale in a standard lock.

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In the rivers the locks are much bigger because there is still significant commercial traffic. The biggest lock we have been in was the Seine Varenne lock, 220m long by 17m wide. The second figure above shows a to-scale plan of the Seine Varenne lock and our boat.

The depth of the locks (how much the boat rises or lowers) various dramatically. We have been in the 10.7 meter (35 feet) Canal du Centre lock off the Saône and in a 0.48 meter (1.5 feet) lock in the Canal du Nivernais but they are typically 2-4 meters. In the deeper locks, going up, the lock keeper usually lowers a hook to take your line to attach it to a bollard on the surface. Some of the deep locks have floating bollards that go up with the boat.

Locks are really very simple and quite safe. The only really bad thing you can do is tie off your line to the boat (rather than holding it loosely). When locking down, if the line is cleated, the boat will “hang” as the water level drops. I’ve seen this happen and it is quite scary. The boat ends up hanging off the line until either the line is cut, breaks or the cleat pulls out of the boat. The boat then drops the 5-10 feet to the water. Once the boat starts to hang, the line cannot be released, it has to be cut. Most of the regular cruisers carry knives for this purpose or have one very handy.

Here is a sequence of a boat locking up (ascending from a lower canal level to a higher canal level):

Lower doors open, boat enters lock.


Lower doors closing behind boat(s)


Upper gates open, lock filling.


Up lock doors open, boat exits lock at the higher level.

And here is a sequence for locking down. Note that this is an “automatic” lock – there is no lock keeper.

Approaching automatic lock, cord (~100m from lock entrance) is pulled.


Doors open and boat enters lock

Crew jumps off boat, after securing line, pulls the lock initiation cord.


Upper doors close behind the boat(s).


Lower gates open, lock empties to lower canal level.


Lower doors open, boat(s) exit lock.

Emerson, Linda and the Pont-canal

We passed over one of the three large canal bridges over the Loire river – this one on the western terminus of the Lateral Canal à la Loire.  It is very strange to be boating in the air, 60 feet over a large river.

And we had our first Martini Night with Emerson and Linda. We were joined by a captain from a neighboring boat who was clearly enamored with the USA and ended up presenting us with the a coveted VNF flag (we’ve been looking for one for weeks).

Napoleon, Montereau and Moret-sur-Loing

We left Montereau, the site of Napoleon’s last big victory against the allied Austrian forces in the catchily named “War of the Sixth Coalition.” (Theyhad a heck of time, but this was the war that eventually ended with Napoleon in exile on Elba. Of course he later escaped – which resulted in the “War of the Seventh Coalition,’ but that’s another story). They have a big statue of Napoleon on the bridge with the famous quote “Don’t worry my friends, the cannon ball that can kill be has not yet been made!”

Another battle in the war occurred the day before at Moret-Sur-Loing (where we are currently) as the French attempted to delay the advancing coalition forces. A cannon ball remains in one of the medieval doors into the city.

Moret 2 - jun 16
A couple of tourists below a wayward Prussian cannonball in the Porte de Samois.

We arrived here yesterday (it was highly recommended by a cruising couple we met a few weeks ago) and plan to lay over a day. This will also give us a chance to defrost our freezer which is a major project, before we start south on a new canal, Canal du Loing.

Moret 6 - Loing Jul 16
Sunday fun on a hot day in Moret-Sur-Loing

Turns out the Loing is not always a gentle as we see it today. Talking to the harbor master, she said it flooded last June and completely destroyed the office and marina which has since been rebuilt.

Moret 3 Flood Gauge
Flood gauge o the Loing, note the June 2016 mark!

Moret is a lovely medieval town with a 12th century church (though, to be honest, pretty much every town has an incredible medieval church or two) and still has two of the original town wall gateways.

But clearly everyone is not excited about our arrival……

Swimming with the big fish…. and the Seine!

On  a long day of motoring (we did not moor until 7 pm and hit the last last lock at closing time – 6:30 pm) we finished the Yonne portion of our adventure. The locks in the upper Yonne are huge and with quite a bit of commercial traffic.  The big barges completely fill the locks so you have to wait if one is ahead. To put this in perspective, 20-30 boats our size could easily fit in one of the locks.

Big Boys 1 Jun 15
Waiting on a big boy to pass so we can enter the lock

The commercial barges seem to act like independent truckers – they have living quarters (some even have cars on the back deck they can load and unload with the onboard crane). Interesting life!

The Yonne is lovely and we were completely alone for many hours yesterday. Unlike the Saône, however, there are few “nature” mooring opportunities and ones we saw were occupied by fisherfolk (after biking, fishing must be the most popular activity in France!) so you are restricted to mooring in towns. But they can be quite nice – our mooring in Montereau (where the Yonne joins the Seine) is just across from a great 12th century church.

Montereau Jun 15
From our mooring, Notre Dame et Saint Loup

And we can see the Seine from here! The traffic promises to be even more interesting (i.e. bigger barges) but we are only in it for 12 Km or so before turning south on the Canal du Loing.

Seine Jun 15
The Seine (just past the bridge)  from our mooring (in the Yonne).


One thing we’ve noticed in the two months we’ve been here is how the French like to take a thing and add “erie” to describe the maker or seller of the thing. For instance, boulanger is the verb to bake, and boulangerie is the baker or bread shop. Some are not even French words (jeannerie, gadgeterie, etc.) Here is my, as yet incomplete list, of  “Frencheries”.

  • Animalerie:  Pet Store
  • Billetterie: Ticket seller (Billet = ticket)
  • Boucherie: Meat Seller (Boucher = butcher)
  • Boulangerie: Bakery (Boulange = baker)
  • Bagagerie: Baggage seller.
  • Briquetterie: Brick Maker
  • Carterie: Card shop
  • Coifferie: Hair Salon?
  • Capitainerie: Harbor Masters Office
  • Cordonnerie: Shoe Maker/Repair
  • Cremerie: Creamery
  • Droguerie: Hardware/drugstore
  • Gadgeterie: Electronics (this is one of my favorites!)
  • Horlogerie: Clock repair/sales
  • Bijouterie: Jewelry store (Bijou = jewelry)
  • Imprimerie: Printer
  • Jeannerie: Jeans store (another favorite!)
  • Juiverie: Jewish quarter
  • Literie: Bedding (Lit = to sleep)
  • Maroquinerie: Leather goods (purses/belts)


  • Metallerie: Metal working
  • Ferronnerie: Iron Works
  • Mercerie: Hat shop ??
  • Onglerie: Manicurist (Ongle: Nail)
  • Papeterie: Stationery Store

Ferronnerie - Metallerie

  • Pataterie; Potato seller??
  • Poissonnerie: Fish Monger (Poisson = fish)
  • Quincaillerie: Hardware store
  • Retoucherie: Alterations Place
  • Saladerie: Salad place
  • Tannerie:  Tannery
  • Tapisserie: Tapestry maker
  • Teinturerie: Dyer/Dry Cleaner
  • Tresorerie: Treasury
  • Menuiserie: Carpentry Place


Eastern Loop ….. DONE!

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Eastern Loop: Legs 1-5 and part of Leg 6

After just over 7 weeks we have completed the eastern loop of our Burgundian canal adventure.  We left Joigny on May 21 and returned on July 11, traveling 920 kilometers, and traversing 431 locks. We had three sets of visitors and numerous adventures. Some involved bruises. We traversed the entire length of the Canal du Bourgoyne, had a lovely sample of the Saone River, travelled west on the Canal du Centre (doing a side trip down to Roanne) , then north on the Canal du Nivernais and back to Joigny on the Yonne. Thank you to all our visitors… Francis, Emilie, Richard, Jackie, David, Emory, John, Christin.. you all made the adventures more fun!

View from Locaboat base – May 20
Joigny July 11
View from Locaboat base – July 11

The Locaboat folks have been uniformly helpful and responsive. Our lovely boat, “Bray Sur Somme” has performed flawlessly, with not a single mechanical problem. None of the problems my inner engineer envisioned have come to pass. We have learned that our boat uses about 2L/hr of fuel, that we can go 4-7 days without filling our water tanks, and that we almost never need electricity. Truth be told, we can easily go a week without any outside services. Which suits us just fine. Our favorite moorings are the wild ones, in the river or on the canal, away from the towns. Okay, still within biking distance of a boulangerie, but far from the lights so we can see the Milky Way on moonless nights.

Today we began the western loop of our Burgundian adventure – the smaller of the two. We look forward to another 5 weeks of fun and (mis)adventures. Emerson and Linda join us in a week and we are very excited to have Martini Night people joining us (okay, to be honest,  more crew!).  We plan to reach Sens for Bastille Day (when everything, including the locks, shut down), hoping they will have good fireworks!

Yonne Jul 12
Heading north on the Yonne

Au Revoir, Alaskans

Alaska Flag
Flying the colors!

We arrived in Auxerre yesterday and had to sadly say au revoir to our Alaskan family, John and Christin. They did the entire Canal Du Nivernais  with us (180 Km and 110 locks), in rain and sun, locking up and locking down, through tunnels and cases and cases of wine. We got a personal tour of a 16th century chateau, drove through three tunnels, toured innumerable churches (including the basilica in Vezelay), ate lots of snails,  saw a guy in a restaurant probably die and then come back to life because he hadn’t ordered lunch.

We saw them safely to the Gare Auxerre. The fledgelings have left the nest and are on to Paris for further adventures!

Salade Alaska

But we found something at the supermarché to remember them by.