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Haute Route Day 13-Europahütte to Zermatt

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Europahutte

I heard Denise’s watch alarm go off around 6am and I laid there until about 6:30am. We had shared the bunk room with another couple who slept on the bottom of the bunk and we were on top. They were a bit ricketty, so I was a bit self-conscious about moving around through the night, so I didn’t sleep all that well. We packed up and made our way down to breakfast at the Europahütte. More cereal, bread, butter, jam and coffee. Standard fare these days. I really miss my smoothie! My first glance out the window revealed total white out. It was looking more and more like a valley walk so far us. We had assumed that the others were going to hike back up to the other side of the suspension bridge and walk the Europaweg in to Zermatt, but we never actually talked about it with them.

We finished eating, paid up our beer and water tab, packed up and made our way down the mountain to the town of Randa. We had to meet the taxi there around 8:30am and it was almost a 3 mile hike down to the pickup point. We left the hut around 7am.

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Last Day on the Haute Route…down to Zermatt

Denise and I started at the back of the pack as we all made our way down. The descent was pretty steep with numerous rocky zigzags paved the way down. My knees were not used to the steep descent first thing in the morning and they were letting me know that in no uncertain terms. We usually start the day with a good climb and end with the descent, so this was a bit of a change. Denise had been sagging back a bit and I tried to stay in between her and the rest of the group who had gained a bit of a lead on us. I glanced back one time to find her taking her pack off. I stopped and waited a bit and saw her doing some stretches. I went up to see what was up. She said she had taken a pretty good fall and now had a stiff neck. She hadn’t fallen at all in the last 12 days of hiking and now she tumbled on our last day of hiking. This would solidify our decision to walk the valley in to Zermatt.

We continued down the trail slowly after Denise collected herself. She had been listening to the audiobook Unbroken by Laura Hildebrandt and was trying to finish it before the hike ended. Denise fell again a short time later. This time not quite as bad. I then stayed behind her a bit. I was now getting a little worried we may miss the taxi and have to walk that much further.

I caught up to Denise sometime later and she turned around in tears. I immediately thought she fell again and hurt herself and asked if she was ok. She turned around and headed down the hill not saying a word. I later found out that the book had a emotional ending that she had hit which was what caused the sudden burst of tears.

We eventually got down to the taxi pickup point and the taxi driver was coming up the road looking for us. We had decided we would walk the valley in to Zermatt since the clouds had not broken up high. It would not be worth climbing back up the other side of the bridge again. When we got to the taxi we were surprised to see all the others from our group were in there too. We thought they had left in another taxi already. The taxi van was quite full and Denise sat up front and I was crouched on the floor by the sliding door. The taxi stopped at the bus terminal in Tasch and we got out. We were surprised when all the others in our group got out too. They had also decided to walk the valley in as well due to the cloud cover.

We all walked over to a nearby coffee shop and reminisced for awhile about the trip some more. Afterwards we made our way to Zermatt on the trail that followed the river down the valley to Zermatt. The trail had a few undulations in it, much like the trail we started on 14 days ago in Chamonix. This time it seemed much easier now that we were all seasoned Haute Route hikers.

We eventually came to a small rise with a bench overlooking Zermatt and the Matterhorn peeking around the corner. We took a bunch of group pictures and had a big “group hug” to celebrate the long, two-week journey from Chamonix. It was a pretty special moment. We then continued down the hill into Zermatt town. It was the end of the journey.

Entering Zermatt was an immediate culture shock. There were throngs of tourists everywhere. Stores and restaurants lined the street. We spotted the Molino Italian restaurant for lunch and we headed in. It was a beautiful day so we decided to sit outside. I am sure we stuck out like sore thumbs amongst the extremely clean tourists. The pizza and the beer were really good!

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Celebration Meal

After lunch, we all parted ways to our respective hotels. As we were walking up the street, I heard my name being called. Huh? Someone knows me in Zermatt? It turned out to be Anne, Nate, Paul and Claire who had diverted off the trail earlier. We chatted a bit with all of them and then made our way to the Hotel Allalin. We had decided that the entire crew would get together for a big final dinner tonight and then hit some clubs afterwards. Sounds like a party!

The Hotel Allalin was quite the site for sore eyes. Especially after staying in a mountain hut the night before. The lady at the front desk was so friendly and gave us such a warm welcome. Denise had been hoping for a room with a view of the Matterhorn. She asked the lady if we had one, she said she wasn’t going to tell us with a little smirk on her face. When we got to the gorgeous room I glanced outside to see the Matterhorn in all its glory right in front of us. Ahh! The folks at Alpine Exploratory made a good call on this place, especially for your last night of your hike.

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and doing our wash in the sink. The day had turned super clear and sunny and it our clothing dried rather quickly on the balcony. The plan was to meet the others at 7pm at the church in town and go out for a final bash before everyone leaves.

We all met up in town and walked up and down the streets for awhile trying to agree on someplace to eat. We ended up eating at the Ristorante Molino again(same place we had lunch), except we ate inside. After a good dinner, we ventured out searching for some type of nightclub to go to. A couple were pretty lame, but we ended  up finding this one in a basement. There was no one in there when we got there, but the tunes were good. It ended up getting pretty crowded as the night went on. We also started getting crazier as the drinks flowed. We were all dancing on some little platform and then swinging from a beam in the ceiling. Denise and I decided to head out a little earlier along with Nate and Anne, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. It was fun trip and even though we had planned on doing this trip on our own, we met such a great group of people anyway to share the experience with. It all worked out really well.

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Post Hike Partying at the Disco!

Well technically the Haute Route trek is completed, but we still have another day in Zermatt. Would we dare venture out for more hiking? Or would we just relax around Zermatt all day? Hmmm…stay tuned. While the entire trek was supposed to be a 14-day trek, we combined the first two days into one doing the 17+ miles from Chamonix to Trient.

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 13

Europa hut(Europahütte) to Zermatt
Day
Hiking Time:3:42
Hiking Distance(mi):)7.15
Elevation Gain(ft):801
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:13
HR Hiking Time:76:14
HR Distance Hiked(mi):128.0
Elevation Gained(ft):40,977

Haute Route Day 12-St. Niklaus to Europahütte

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Denise, Val, Kathy, and Garreth heading out of Gasenried to hit the Europaweg

As I mentioned in my Haute Route Day 11 post, my mattress had a large crater in the middle of it and I spent most of the night sleeping curled around the edge of it. By the way, Paul from the UK informed me later that this was easily resolved by moving the boards closer together. Unfortunately, I am not that clever or motivated to get up in the middle of the night and deal with it I guess. Anyway, I heard Denise waking around 6am and knew I had a about a half hour until I needed to wake. We needed to pack up before the 7am breakfast at Hotel de la Reserve so we could make the 7:44am bus to Gasenried. We decided to take the bus up to Gasenried instead of making the 2.5 hour hike up there. It would be a long day even without the extra 2.5 hours. Kathy, Val and Gareth had decided on doing the same thing so it was an easy decision. They are all pretty hardcore mountaineers, so if they are taking the bus I really don’t bad doing the same.

After arriving in Gasenried, we spotted a little market and I picked up a roll, some Gruyere cheese, and a sleeve of cookies for my lunch. We met up with the others and started on our way.

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Start of the Europaweg

We walked up the road a bit, passed a church, crossed a bridge, made a left and were immediately in the woods and climbing. And climbing. We spent a good part of the morning climbing through the woods. Kathy, Val and Gareth stopped for a bit and we had kept going so we were split up for most of the day. Eventually we came out above treeline and reached a statue overlooking the towns below which was our first waypoint. Again the distances we got were far more than what was listed on the Alpine Exploratory route card we had. What they listed in km, I had in miles.

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DANGER!! Cross the rockfall quickly!!

After this, the landscape had changed to very steep and rocky. It would stay this way all day too. The path was very narrow with some serious exposure all day. The worst parts were the areas with the fresh rockfalls and the signs indicating that you are to proceed through quickly to avoid danger. One of the gullies I had crossed has some very loose rocks and I found myself on all fours, spread-eagled across the boulders, trying to make way without causing a rockfall myself. It was rather stressful to say the least. Right after this, three guys through and walked across it like it was nothing making me look like quite the wuss. Denise had been waiting for me to find my way and just followed the guys path and made it without any issue.

When you were not on a rockfall area you were skirting a very narrow, 1 foot wide or less path that had a sheer drop over the edge. If you mistook a step, you are a goner. Several areas in the paths had big cracks in them that looked like the whole walkway would just drop off at any second. There were also several sections that had ropes attached to the rockwall on the uphill side of the path. Most of these sections were a lot less scary than some of the sections that didn’t have any.

This went on for hours. I was very exhausted from all this stress. Normally there would be spectacular views the entire way too, which may make this difficult terrain more tolerable. But today the mountains were socked in with fog most of the time. As the afternoon went on, the clouds eased up a bit, but it was if they were playing hide-and-seek with us. They would reveal small parts of themselves, but never the entire mountain. The Weisshorn, the Grand Gendarme, and the Brunegghorn were never totally able to be seen in their entirety.

Eventually Kathy, Val and Gareth caught up to us and passed us. We mentioned to them about the scariness of rockfall areas, but they didn’t seem phased by it at all. I guess they are used to that or we just wussies! Smile Or both.

The path did ease up a bit and get a little wider making things a more relaxing. Just as we were settling into some nicer walking, we rounded a bend only to find a cabled suspension bridge linking up the trail across a section of the that was once the mountain. A large rockfall had wiped out a large section of the former mountainside. The bridge was pretty shaky and the narrow planks that were laid on the bottom of the braided cabling would frequently click into place making it feel as if they were giving way. The wood also looked like the thickness of wood paneling and seemed like I could break through at any second. As I approached the middle of the expanse it began to swing more and more. It was actually kind of fun though.

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EuropaHutte!! An oasis among the rocky mountainside. Note the other suspension bridge further on which was closed.

We finally arrived at the Europahütte after rounding a couple more bends in the mountain side. It was a relief to finally get there. We settled in and got the lay of the land for the place. We sat out on the deck for a while with Rich, Martijn, Val, Kathy and Gareth  and enjoyed some beers, snacks, laughs and the beautiful views of the mountains across the valley. We eventually moved indoors after it got a bit more chilly out.

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Apres Hike at Europahut with Martijn, Rich, Val, Denise, and Gareth

Dinner at the Europahutte or Europa Hut(in English) was some scallopini style meat and potatoes with gravy along with a consomme soupe and salad. We had some pink ice cream and whipped cream for desert and sat around talking for a bit. Tomorrow we had to make a decision of how we would proceed to Zermatt. There was another suspension bridge right after the Europahutte which was closed due to another recent rockfall, so we needed to decide whether we would take a taxi from the town of Randa below the hut back up to the other side of the suspension bridge or just walk the valley into Zermatt. Denise and I reserved the taxi, but would decide on the way down to Randa based on if the mountains were clouded in again. It sounded like the others would be hiking back up to the other side of the bridge and taking it in on the high side.

As the sun set, I broke out the tripod and tried to get some sunset shots beyond the mountains. The clouds had cleared up quite a bit now, but the sunset really didn’t materialize too well. We headed up to the bunks around 9-9:30pm for a good night sleep.

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 12

St. Niklaus to Europa hut(Europahütte)
Day
Hiking Time:6:58
Hiking Distance(mi):)9.27
Elevation Gain(ft):3,930
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:12
HR Hiking Time:72:32
HR Distance Hiked(mi):120.8
Elevation Gained(ft):40,176

Haute Route Day 11-Gruben to St. Niklaus

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 11

Gruben to St. Niklaus
Day
Hiking Time:8:05
Hiking Distance(mi):)12.5
Elevation Gain(ft):3,878
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:11
HR Hiking Time:63:35
HR Distance Hiked(mi):111.5
Elevation Gained(ft):36,246

We headed out of the Schwarzhorn Hotel after a relatively mediocre breakfast. It was an immediate grunt uphill as we left the building and switchbacked our way towards the Oberstafel . We started out at around 6500′ elevation and would peak at just short of 10,000′ in less than 4 miles.

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View on ascent out of Gruben

We were had a forced opportunity for a break part way up the mountainside as a stampede of cows were being coerced down the mountain by a young couple. They had a large bag of salt, which they would pour on some rocks on their way down. The cows would then follow along and compete with each other to get the salt. We were a bit startled by it at first as this large herd came bursting out of the trees. We didn’t know which way to go. They eventually moved on and we continued our slog uphill.

 

The weather quickly turned windy and cold as we exited the tree line. Now we could see most of the way up to the pass that we would eventually climb to. The terrain became very rocky and barren from here up. The next section was a little less steep and then it kicked up for the stretch before the pass.

We took a bit of a break at a large rock to put on some more layers, hats and gloves. Rich from CA had passed on by us. Eventually Martign(Ned) and Garreth(UK) came flying up behind us in hot pursuit. They had practically flew up the hillside, which was evident by the sweat dripping off both of their faces. Martign is very tall guy and one of the faster hikers I have ever seen. He just goes consistently fast and you may keep up with him for a little while, but eventually he will vanish.

The others passed by us and we could see them making their way up the large, rocky summit. It had started to snow after we put our jackets on and the pass was going in and out of sight. Denise and I somehow took a path to the right that wound us on the right side of a small pond before the steeper stretch. We realized this had taken us out of the way of the main trail and it was a little tricky getting back over to the left due to the large rocks that covered the area we were on. There was no real trail so we had to figure a way back over. Kind of burned up some time there.

Heading up the very steep section before the pass, the snow was coming down pretty good and a very cold wind blew. The rocks and plants had a very windblown, icy look to them like Sastrugi which makes this pretty evident. We eventually reached the pass where the temperature was well below freezing and the winds were whipping. I took a couple shots of the trail marker sign which looked pretty cool with the windblown snow and ice on it. The Schwarzhorn summit was just to our left, but the fog did not allow us to see it.

We started on our down from the pass on route to St Niklaus. It remained foggy for a while as we descended the rocky path. The path angled to the right side of the valley. I passed an older couple taking a break who brought a small group houses just below in the valley to my right. They could just barely be seen through the dense fog.

We continued bearing to the right following the mountainside. Eventually we came to a landing where Martign was taking pictures. It was an amazing view of the entire valley or “Valais” leading down towards Zermatt. The view was amazing despite the fact that there was a large volume of clouds covering the peaks of the mountains on the other side of the valley. We also watched a couple Chamois(deer-like animals) run around on the flat just below where we stood. It was a just an amazing viewpoint. We stood there taking it in for a while and Kathy and Val eventually caught up. Val took the picture of Denise and I here.

We had a snack and continued on gradually down the mountain side towards the small town of Jungen. We were hoping for the clouds on the mountains across the valley to lift, but they never did entirely. The town of Jungen was supposed to have a cable car to take you down to St. Niklaus too, which we were contemplating a bit.

Jungen was a cute little mountainside village with matching slate roofed cottages. As we came out of the woods the trail angled around the left side of the village eventually coming a small pond and picnic area. There was a nice area to view the valley immediately after where we could also see the cable car. We decided to keep pushing down the mountain on foot. It ended up being a great decision because we found a little restaurant in the narrow village pathways with a big grass terrace and the most incredible view ever! Denise asked me if I wanted to stop for a beer…Yeah…twist my arm!

We unloaded our packs and made ourselves at home on the wood picnic table overlooking the valley. There was yodeling music playing which really made me feel like I was in the Alps for sure. I ask German speaking hostess if they had any food. She said “Brautwurst and Rosti” in some Germany-English language. I gave her the thumbs up! And added a big bottle of Feldschlosschen beer too. Ahh….Life is good!

We were entertained by a group of older gentlemen hikers with a table full of empty beer bottles and wine glasses. I don’t think they were hiking down the mountain. I recorded a little video of Denise and I as we were enjoying the view. We thought it was funny.

Eventually Rich from California showed and joined us. My meal came out soon after and it was the best meal ever! I put my vegan hat off to the side for this one. Rich ended up ordering the Bratwurst and Rosti meal too after seeing mine. Nate and Anne(from Seattle) showed up too … it was becoming quite the party.
We eventually loaded up and started our way down the mountain. It was a little steeper now and consisted of switchbacks most of the way. Once down into St. Niklaus we had to navigate some train tracks and then we were in the town. It was a relatively modern looking town, but it seemed pretty deserted. There was a more quaint section with more shops and dining, but most places were closed. We eventually found our hotel, Hotel La Reserve, which was on the opposite side of town. Our hotel had a pizza place which was rated as one of the better places to eat, but it too was closed.

We settled into our bright yellow hotel room, unloaded our gear, took showers, and washed our clothes in the sink. I did some research on where to eat and decided to head back into town and do some searching there. We settled on the only place that seemed open. Turns out Nate, Anne, Val, Garreth and Kathy were there. Some of the others continued on up the mountain towards the town of Gasenried for the night. We would be starting there tomorrow, but would be taking a bus up to it.

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More Bratwurst and Rosti in St. Niklaus

The waitress did not speak very good English so it was a bit difficult for me wife to order since she has so many special requests. She ended up having to seek help from Nate who spoke a some German. We found that we had more trouble language-wise since entering the German-speaking portion of Switzerland. I think some of that may be because we prepared a little more for the French. Dinner was ok, but not one of our best meals.

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The bright yellow room at Hotel La Reserva

We headed back to the hotel for the night and settled in for a good night sleep. Or tried to. My side of the bed had the most enormous crater in the mattress I had ever seen. I ended up sleeping in “C” position on my side all night. We found out later on that Paul and Clare(UK) had slept in the same room a night or two later. Paul also had the larger crater to deal with. He ended up coming up with a more ingenious way of dealing with it, but I forgot what that was exactly.

Haute Route 2013-Day 10-Zinal to Gruben

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 10

Zinal to Gruben
Day
Hiking Time:7:00
Hiking Distance(mi):)11.9
Elevation Gain(ft):4,117
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:10
HR Hiking Time:57:29
HR Distance Hiked(mi):99.0
Elevation Gained(ft):32,368

We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Hotel Europe around 7:30 AM  then packed up and started on our walk. We saw the older Brit Posse congregating at the supermarche(grocery store) as we headed to the trailhead. It was nice to know we would not have to pass them later and get the dirty looks that they typically give us when we do.

We started up through some roads in town past some large apartment buildings and eventually into the woods. We went through a small tunnel that is apparently part of their avalanche defense. Not sure how they can get the whole town in the tiny tunnel that quickly, but whatever. We then began the long, steep climb up and out of the town. It was pretty exhausting first thing in the morning and I was burping up my croissants right away.  Eventually it flattened out a bit to a narrow path that traversed the side of the mountain. After a bit we caught up to Bob and Matthew, our Ohio contingent. They were heading to Hotel Weisshorn for the night so we probably would not see them until Zermatt. Next we ran into Herman from Holland.

The path then turned into a much wider path that was pretty flat traversing the hillside. We eventually reached the point where we needed to decide whether to go straight to Gruben via Forcletta or go to Hotel Weisshorn and over the Meidpass to Gruben. The later would be a much longer day. It was very cloudy up high and the views were minimal, so we decided to go the more direct route up and over Forcletta to Gruben.

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Denise heading down towards Gruben

We had gotten pretty far ahead of Bob, Matthew, and Herman when we reached the decision point. We pressed on figuring we would see them again probably in Zermatt. We never did though. Fortunately Bob had found this blog on the web and reached out to us through that. Anyway, the climb over Forcletta was so foggy and damp. We stopped to dig out some rain gear and another warmer layer. Eventually we hit the peak and started our descent into Gruben.

The descent down to Gruben meandered casually down the valley. View of the Brunneghorn and Weisshorn were to our right. We were the only ones on the path too, since it appeared that the others were planning on heading over to the Meidpass and staying at the Hotel Weisshorn for the night. Eventually, we reached a series of huts at Chalte Berg where soon after we picked up a dirt road that took us in a more northerly direction downhill.

Further down the road, the path broke off to the right(East) and then switchbacked more quickly down the mountain. After passing through a more wooded section we emerged at the top of the hamlet of Gruben. We followed a small path along the stream through farms and pastures eventually reaching the heart of the town. The Hotel Schwarzhorn could easily be seen the entire was as it dominated the other buildings in the town.

The mileage on our route card had said 9 miles for this trek, but we ended up with just under 12 and we didn’t get lost either. The route card was spot on for the time(7 hours) and elevation gain and loss.

We checked in to the Hotel and made our way to our room. The room had two single beds and we quickly unloaded, showered up in the shared bathrooms, and then laid down for a good nap. We were getting pretty tired at this point. 10 days of hiking in the alps are beginning to take their toll on our bodies.

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Hotel Schwarzhorn Gruben

We headed down to the dining room for dinner after we woke from our nap. We were jolted awake as we entered the dining room and the large table of the group all yelled as we entered. We were surprised to see everyone was here. We sat at a table for two and enjoyed nice hot dinner. Rich from the group came over and chatted with us a bit and told us about his experience at the Hotel Weisshorn earlier in the day. Apparently it was inundated with kids and he then decided to move on. I guess we made the right decision there.

After dinner we hung out for a bit in the sitting area catching up on our social media since it was the only place to get WIFI. We then chatted a bit with Anne from Seattle for awhile then off to bed. Tomorrow is another big day as we head to St. Niklaus.

Haute Route 2013-Day 1-Chamonix to Trient-The Journey Begins…

Hiking Time:8:48
Hiking Distance(mi):)17.0
Elevation Gain(ft):4,629
Total HR Hiking Time:8:48
Total HR Distance Hiked:17.0
Total Feet Climbed:4,629

We finished packing up bags after a good breakfast. I think I had about 3 croissants with Nutella. As we were packing, I was sifting through the receipts I had laying on the night stand and noticed the ones from Denise’s hiking shoes. I asked her if she wanted them and we noticed that the 30 EUR one from the exchange was marked as a credit. Hmm? It was a credit card purchase so we thought it should say debit instead. We surely don’t want to pay 60 extra Euros for clicking Non-Gore Tex shoes, so back to the store we went. The salesgirl we dealt with was there and she went to the office to find out how it went through. I had tried to check it on credit card on my phone but it had not shown up yet. She ended up giving us 30 EUR cash and then we realized that she really needed to give us 60. She finally understood and gave us another 30 and then we were on our way.

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Denise heading out of Chamonix beginning our Haute Route Journey

The plan for the day was to take a bus from Chamonix to the next town of Argentiere and start the hike there. Normally, the hike to Argentiere is one shorter day, but since we decided to stay an extra day in Chamonix we needed to double up. Argentiere was around 6 miles from Chamonix and Trient was 11 from Argentiere which would make a very long first day. We got to the bus stop and found out that we had just missed the 10am bus and the next one was not until 10:55. Ugh! I suggested we start walking and maybe we could pickup the bus at another bus stop. So, we kept on walking right out of town.

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We followed the road for a bit and eventually hopped on a flat path that followed the river out of town. It was shaded and very easy walking which was nice. Eventually we came to a point were the path ended and we came into a golf course. A guy on a golf cart noticed our confusion and came over to help us out. He directed us through the parking lot of the golf course and then follow a very well-protected path that ran between the golf course and the river. The path had a large cantilevered, cement barrier protecting the path. It seemed like so much for just protected people from golf balls. Once past the golf course we crossed the river and headed up the side of the mountain.

The way the day started out I thought it was going to be really easy going from Chamonix to Argentiere. Easy is a such relative term! We climbed rather steeply up the path for a while. Eventually it leveled out a bit paralleling the valley below. Soon we dropped back down to the valley floor as we came into the town of Argentiere. It was basically a main road running through some shops and restaurants with houses behind on both sides. It was much more quiet than Chamonix and I was kind of wishing we would have stayed there for the first night. Oh well. It was now around lunch time so we stopped at the Les Cheserys restaurant with outdoor seating along the main road. There were some other hikers there so we didn’t feel too out of place there.

Les Cheserys Restaurant-Argentiere, FR

We looked over the menu a bit and decided on going with our old standby, Pizza! It was a very warm, clear sunny day so we were relieved to get the packs off our back for awhile. We had now covered the 6 miles that we had planned to take the bus for. Looks like we were in for an extremely long day. We had a good lunch and headed on our way to Trient.

 

Looking back on Chamonix and Mont Blanc

Looking back on Chamonix and Mont Blanc

 

Small Church in Argentiere

Small Church in Argentiere

We crossed the street and meandered North through the town. Eventually, we came to Tre-le-Champ and from there we began to climb. It was pretty steep for most of the way. We were a bit humbled though when a family came by going down the trail. The one child and a very old grandmother cruised by us like she was out for an afternoon stroll. I really felt like a flatlander now. After we got above most of the forested area, we hit this one section that was a long series of log steps. I am sure they had good intentions for these to be helpful, but they really sucked.

Stepped trail above Argentiere

Stepped trail above Argentiere

Sun rays on Col des Montets

Sun rays on Col des Montets

We eventually topped out and came upon some guys that were actually mountain biking the other way. I don’t know how they could ride this stuff. We were having a hard enough time hiking it. The clouds had started getting heavier and darker as we ascended up. It had actually started to sprinkle a little bit when we reached the top, but nothing major. We could see that ahead of us was march darker and most-likely getting hit with heavier precip. Hopefully it would stay ahead of us.

Argentiere Ski Area

Argentiere Ski Area

We then crossed some pastures towards what was the Argentiere ski area. I could tell by the large lift poles lined along the hillsides. It kind of took away from the scenery a bit, but whatever. There was actually an option to take a chairlift or gondola from Argentiere to Col de Balme, but I didn’t see any of the lifts actually running. It was now getting to be around 5PM, so perhaps they were closed by now. We followed a maintenance road for a bit uphill and then veered off onto a marked trail that took us to the Col de Balme. The col was the border between France and Switzerland and there was a large stone post sticking out of the ground indicating this. The was also a hut at the col called Refuge de Balme, but it appeared to be closed. There was a lady peering out the window at us as we passed, but she did not wave back when I waved to her. Ok…keep moving along.

 

Denise straddles the France-Swiss Border at Col de Balme

Denise straddles the France-Swiss Border at Col de Balme

Refuge at Col de Balme

Refuge at Col de Balme

We stopped for a little bit to have a snack and put on some extra clothing. It was pretty cloud y and since it was later in the day it was a bit cool. We wound our way downhill via some longer switchbacks. It was a nice view of the Trient Valley and the backdrop of mountains we soon be tackling in the upcoming days. We passed a couple of long huts made totally of stone. Even the roof was made of cemented rock which was unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Trient Valley

Trient Valley

Carved Owl above Trient

Carved Owl above Trient

The downhill had not been too steep so far, but we soon entered back into forest where the trail became one of the steepest switchbacks I had ever been on before. If you looked over the edge of the trail the subsequent levels of trail look as if they were stacked on top each other. It was like a switchback into the side of a cliff wall. Not only was this steep but they had obviously taken the brunt of all those dark clouds we had seen earlier and it was wet and muddy. This had really started to take its toll on our tired feet and legs. It had been a long day and we on the final descent into Trient. We could see the town but it could not get here soon enough.

 

Auberge du Mont-Blanc in Trient, Switzerland

Auberge du Mont-Blanc in Trient, Switzerland

Once we got back to some flatter land, we still had another mile or two across some pastures and through town. We were staying at the Auberge du Mont Blanc which located was at the far end of the village. It was now getting dark as it was approaching 8PM. We were supposed to be at the auberge by 7PM since they were serving a group dinner. As we entered the building it was obviously right in the middle of meal time and the place was very busy. I had to go back into the kitchen to find someone to give us our room. A very stressed out lady, who spoke very little English, came out and said room 9 but didn’t give me a key. I went up to the room figuring it would be open, but it was not. Back down I went to get the lady again and tried to communicate that it was locked. She was now getting even more agitated. She eventually got me a key and I headed back up and the key didn’t work. Oh man…she is going to hit me this time! I flagged her down again and she blurted out something in French as she went by. Probably calling me an asshole or something. She eventually came back with the master key which looked like one of those ones that a janitor has with about 100 keys on it. We went to the room together and she opened the door only to find that someone had taken this room mistakenly. We had pre-booked all of our accommodations for the trip so this room was reserved for us. Now another younger girl had come up who spoke English and translated. Apparently the lady was not mad at me, but just stressed. She apologized and gave us another room which was a dorm with bunks, but we still had it to ourselves.

The Pink Church of Trient

The Pink Church of Trient

One nice thing was this room had a great view of the town above us with the large pink church and the surrounding mountain peaks. The church also had lights on it so it was well lit at night. We then headed down to eat and they brought us out our own dishes as the masses typically got family-style and they had all finished. It was also much quieter too, so it kind of worked out well. We were pretty tired after the first day traveling a fairly demanding 17 miles. We definitely through ourselves into the fire for the first day. I had a couple beers and then we headed up for showers and then quickly crashed for the night.

One note on the showers here were that they didn’t drain well and started overflowing onto the floor. It was pretty gross. This place was packed with people which is mostly because it is on the very busy Tour du Mont Blanc trek. We would eventually be breaking off of that and it should be a little less busy in a day or two.

Tomorrow we are heading for the Champex. Our route card typically sends you over the Fenetre d’Arpette, which is a very technically difficult and demanding hike. We are debating whether we want to take that or the alternative “Bovine Route” which runs more South through Col de Forclaz. The Bovine Route is still a demanding hike, but just not as technical as the Fenetre. Denise was leaning towards the Bovine and I was feeling like I would be missing out not taking the Fenetre. Guess we will sleep on it.