SOTA: Le Grand Felletin (F/MC-033)

sign post pointing towards the Grand Felletin
Directions towards Le Grand Felletin, about half way into the woods from the parking area.

I was in Lyon, France for a conference and had late Saturday and all of Sunday to devote to SOTA activity. During a 24-hour period, I activated four previously unactivated peaks in the Massif Central region.

By the time I got the rental car on Saturday afternoon, I figured that best case scenario, I might be able to activate two peaks during the remaining daylight. The two I had in mind were Le Grand Felletin (F/MC-033) and Le Pet du Loup (F/MC-256). Some online hiking posts detail the approach to Grand Felletin, a two-point peak with some interesting geology. Both are to the southwest of Lyon, and I plotted a route that could take me back past Pet du Loup, which looked like a roadside peak.

map of the Pilat Region Nature Park
Le Pet du Loup and Le Grand Felletin peaks in relation to Lyon. The summits are at the top and bottom ends of the Pilat Region Nature Park.

But what of Pet du Loup?

I never got to Pet du Loup because Le Grand Felletin took more time than I had anticipated, which is a shame since it has such a great name — Le Pet du Loup would be translated as “The Wolf’s Fart”. Yes, that really is the translation, and I would guess that it derives from a variety of mushroom found in the region, which releases a cloud of brown spores when ruptured. In fact, the species is actually termed Vesse-de-Loup. “Vesse” is an archaic french word that means, specifically, a silent fart. You have to respect a language that has that level of nuance regarding flatulation. It takes English three words to convey “silent-but-deadly.”

Anyhow, about the activation

Getting to Le Grand Felletin

I drove to Col de Charousse, using Google navigation.

Map of Col de Charousse and Le Felletin
Le Grand Felletin in just about due south from the parking spot at Le Col de Charousse

A road curves past a large crucifix, and several trails branch off from bare earth parking areas. On the side opposite the crucifix, there is a sign, shown in the photo, below.

col de charousse sign

The trail of interest begins with the road to the right of the sign. The road could be driven for some distance and I did not see any signs prohibiting vehicles, but everyone parks out on the wider dirt area, so I did as well and hiked in. After a bit of walking, a wooded trail diverges to the right, while the road continues.

The trail follows the GR7 (grande randonée), part of the national trail system. For practical purposes, look for green spray-painted arrows and lengths of purple and white plastic tape tied to trees. At some points, there are also a few wooden signposts like the one at the top of this post.

Arrows and tape indicate the correct direction
Arrows on the left and some tape on the right, where the pedestrian trail diverges from the road.

Arrival at the Activation Site

It is about a 45 minute walk from the parking area to the activation site. The Grand Felletin is a mountain top plateau that overlooks a sharp, rocky drop off to the east. There are some benches and an observation area with some explanatory signage. There is also a large, metal cross.

In the foreground an informational sign; in the background, the land far below. In the distance some more mountains.
The view to the east of Le Grand Felletin

The sign provides some background about the geology of the site, which is effectively the eastern edge of the Massif Central range. The steep slope of loose rocks (termed “chirats”) to the east is the result of glaciation, the rocks having been fragmented through cyclic freezing and thawing.

A sign describing the formation of chirats

Someone has posted a book excerpt about the legend of the site. According to the laminated pink paper, in ancient times, a chariot route passed the nearby roman camp and the town of Montvert (green mountain). Apparently, it was not a very upstanding sort of town, and over time the residents’ lack of morals led to its downfall, leaving behind a ghost town. [Skipping to the bottom…] by legend, it is said that they left behind underground treasures, which can only be found on Christmas — but woe unto the treasure seeker surprised by the devil, for they will never be seen again. I’d take all that with a grain of salt.

Pink plastic-covered paper describing the legend of the Grand Felletin

Incidentally, despite the overabundance of crucifixes in the area, a quick internet search will tell you that the pagans do have the last laugh: the name “Felletin” itself is purported to derive from the goddess “Félis” and the river “Tin” — despite this story showing up on the town’s website, it is, as the British say, complete rubbish.

Those interested in radio and not french history would do best to skip down to the next header about space weather conditions. Let’s just say I had a lot of time on my hands the day I fell down this particular rat hole.

The persistence on the internet of the false narrative about the town name probably owes something to a local brewer, who named a beer after Felis, and reproduces a short version of the legend on the bottles.

The legend about the name being derived from the goddess Felis was probably in circulation for a long time, after a quick internet search, I came across it in an 1837 book on regional architecture, Historique Monumental de L’Ancienne Province de Limousin, by Jean Baptiste Tripon. This book has been scanned in its entirety by Google, and surely by age it must be free of copyright and in the public domain, but for some maddening reason, while it can be searched, full text cannot be displayed.

Nonetheless, it is quoted by former town mayor and amateur (and perhaps not very accurate) historian Gilbert Annet François Queyrat in his 1862 book, Notice Historique sur La Ville et Le College de Felletin. In that quotation, it seems that Tripon was relating a description by Pierre de Beaumesnil, who in turn was repeating a description provided to him by a monsieur Miomandre, a paper manufacturer in Felletin around the turn of the 19th Century, who was describing a building that in his time no longer existed… Incidentally, according to one biographer, Beaumesnil was known for having roved the region making drawings of ancient buildings and ruins, but was suspected of occasionally inventing drawings rather than accurately reproducing what he saw, so he might not be the most reliable source. Of note, his day job was as a comedian.

In any event, according to this handed down description, a building had once served as a barracks for Austrian prisoners, had caught fire, and was razed. However, earlier in its history, it had long served as the parish church. It was remarkable for non-gothic architecture, and was rumored to have originally been a temple dedicated to the local goddess of Venus, venerated under the name of “Félix” or “Félis”, and who represented fecundity.

It is not unreasonable think that there may have been a local fertility goddess that over time was syncretized with the roman Venus as they occupied Gaul. Felix (happiness, fortune, luck) is an epithet of Venus, and Venus does have a fertility aspect, but it does not make sense that this would have been the name of the original pagan goddess.

Thankfully, towards the end of the 19th Century, historians started applying scientific method. In his 1880 work, Felletin: 17th & 18th Centuries, the french abbot and historian L. Pataux kicked the apocryphal etymology to the curb, and insisted on producing a more evidence-based chronology of the region.

A modern account of the linguistic evolution of the town’s name is pulled together in 1928 Mémoires de la Société des Sciences Naturelles et Archéologiques de la Creuse (starting on page 128). This account underlines the gap in historical record between evidence of neolithic settlement and records from the middle ages. While roman roads passed within several kilometers of the town, whether there were pre-roman or roman settlements in the town itself is a matter of conjecture. Rather,this document point towards the Latin “Filictum”, a field of ferns, as the actual basis for town’s name. Various derivations of this word appear in ecclesiastical documents dating back to around 1100.

Pitiful Conditions

It is a good thing that I did not check the space weather conditions before heading out or I might have never gone up the mountain. A recurrent coronal hole had been activate all day, resulting in a substantial geomagnetic storm.

plot of the planetary K index, with storm conditions during the activation period.
The activation was conducted in the middle of the bright red period on April 22, with planetary K index between 5 and 6.
Additional solar data.
Plot of additional solar data. Note solar wind speeds in excess of 700m/s and negative direction of magnetic field.

In the US, April 22nd was QRP TTF (to the field) day, and I had wondered if I might get lucky and work some US stations on 20m in the late afternoon, but as it turns out, I barely managed to work a handful of European stations. The twenty meter band was watery, but worth it because I landed one summit-to-summit SOTA contact with CT/HB9BIN/P, and was also answered by KA1R, who must have a substantial antenna to have heard me under those conditions.

I had seven contacts on forty meters. Here, the problem was not lack of activity, but the roar of European contest stations that had all taken refuge from the poor conditions and had set up shot in the 40m CW band. After being trampled a few times, I found a marginal location just under some RTTY activity, and worked stations in Croatia, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the UK.

So, not a stellar beginning, but I did accomplish my goal of activating a virgin SOTA peak — don’t worry, there are still plenty of them left. However, Le Pet du Loup remains unactivated… maybe my next trip, unless someone else gets there first!

 

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