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.
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.
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.
Leaving the Hotel de La Sage was tough. We had a fabulous room and fabulous dinner & breakfast. I will dream of those warm, freshly made croissants for years to come. We made our way up the steep road to the little store to stock up with some rations for the day. Our Alpine Exploratory route card instructions had indicated the store as a waypoint, so we thought it put us in the right direction. We met up with Bob and Matthew from Ohio and their directions seemed to jive with ours. One sign that things were not right, was that the large British group passed us going down the opposite way on the street. We found the signpost where we thought we should turn, but it never really mentioned any of the next waypoints that we needed. We were looking for Tsate, which was our next destination, but the sign didn’t say anything close to that. Regardless the path seemed to follow with our instructions for the most part.
Bob, Matthew and Denise heading out of La Sage on our way to getting lost.
We met up with a dirt road and were zigzagging our way up the hill. We came upon a hiker sign which seemed to point back down the hill. Denise had already blew past this marker not even slowing her pace to make sure that going up the road was correct. I waited up for Bob and Matthew and the three of us started to question whether we were going the right way now. I decided to continue up the road and try to catch up with Denise and I told Bob I would yell if I ever saw any more yellow markers. I never did. I caught up with Denise after about 2-3 more zigzags up the road and asked her if she knew where she was going. A look of panic came over her face. We decided to continue up the road, hoping it would intersect the correct trail and/or wind up in Tsate eventually. All along we never saw Bob or Matthew below us on the road. Our instructions mentioned that we should come up on a mound with a cross on it. I spotted three of crosses across the hillside! And a small group of barns, which I saw two. We could see a yellow hiker signpost near the one to the right, so we headed over that way.
Heading towards Col de Tsate
By the time we reached barns we had logged about 5 miles already and we should only be doing 7 for the entire day. The sign indicated that this was in fact Tsate, so we were finally back on course. We never saw Bob and Matt which had me a little concerned. We could see a pretty large expanse of the treeless mountainside and didn’t see anyone else hiking. As we wound around the hillside and up, we could just barely see some silhouettes of hikers up the hillside in the fog. It was a very foggy morning as well, so it was much more difficult to identify cols and trails up high. We eventually made it up to a lake where we could now see pretty much everyone who had left after us that morning. So much for starting early!
We passed by most of the others while taking a break at a nice little alpine lake and continued up the col. Our directions indicated that we should be able to see our destination, Cabane du Moiry, after cresting the col. Today was so foggy we saw nothing except for the lake and a large parking lot below. Cabane du Moiry is situated high on a far hillside left of the Moiry Glacier. They say it is quite a view when not socked in with fog.
Moiry parking lot and glacier runout
Lac de Moiry
The path looking up towards the socked in Moiry Glacier
Morraine path heading to Cabane du Moiry
Even though you can usually see the Cabane, it is still very far away. We then continued descending down the hillside to the car park area right near the turquoise blue water of the stream coming from the glacier. Our route card said there can be a snack cabin below, but it was closed today. We bottomed out at the car park and started our long grunt up the morraine on the other side of the glacier towards our Cabane. The ridge became narrower and narrower as we went almost filing in as a knife edge before we descended down and back up the trail on the actual mountainside. We had to cross some leftover snow that was almost pink in color from aging. Half way through it was a hole which we had to cross. It was a little unnerving since it felt like it could fall through. We continued up to a very steep and difficult section that was almost like scaling a cliff. Then it was steep switchbacks all the way to the top. Still no Cabane to see and I just put my head down and grunted my way up. Eventually I could just barely see the roof of the cabane popping above the rocks when we were only about 150 yards away. Finally!
Denise and I happy to finally have made it to Cabane du Moiry
Val, Kathy, Karen and Don discuss the days hike at Cabane du Moiry
The Cabane du Moiry has recently added a new “wing” that is quite large. The downstairs is all big pine tables and large windows that look down on the glacier that runs right below it. At the end of the room is a small sitting area with some Ikea-like chairs, but much less comfortable, sitting around a small table with a large glass window and the end. Today there was no glacier to be seen.
Cabane de Moiry Dining Hall
We got our room, which was situated above the large dining hall. It had 2 sets of bunks and a large storage area and bench that ran the length of the room. It also had a tall narrow window that looked down on what would be the glacier as well. We unpacked, got some showers(5CHF for 5 minutes), and headed down to the sitting area by the large window where most of the early arrivers where sitting and chatting. We had a few beers and chatted about the day. Eventually the fog relaxed a bit and we could see the glacier just below. Very cool. I ran out to get some pictures but it fogged up again before I could get anything decent. It had started raining pretty hard out and getting very cold. I was glad that it had held off until we had gotten to the cabane. It was supposed to by 100% chance today, but we lucked out during the hike.
Someone had mentioned that there was a cable car(gondola) down from the next days col at Sorebois and the cabance gave out free vouchers. We definitely considered this since it would give our aching knees a much needed break from the over 5500 feet of descent we had to make into Zinal tomorrow. We later found out that the gondola did not run on Mondays, so that was out. There was a bus that ran from the end of the valley to Zinal later in the morning. This did not sound quite as appealing to me. Denise was pretty sure she was going to take it. I would decide the next day after seeing how my knees faired on the downhill from the Cabane.
Bob and Matthew eventually showed up around 5pm, which was a relief. We were starting to get a bit concerned about them. They had actually returned back to La Sage after we questioned our route and restarted again on the correct trail which was down the street instead of up. They seemed a little frantic when they arrived, but were relieved to have finally made it. They also had issues at the cabane who said they didn’t have their reservation. Fortunately a credit card statement proved their purchase. We were also sharing the room with them.
Dinner was carrot, coconut, ginger soup, pork curry with couscous and chickpeas and yogurt with apple for desert. Really good meal and I was totally stuffed by the end. We sat with Herman from Holland during dinner and enjoyed some good conversation with him. He was traveling alone while trying to use up some vacation time from work. We had just caught up with him today as he was taking a couple extra days in Arolla.
As the rain got heavier out, the fog lifted so I decided to make another attempt at some pictures. I got a few a few but the best was a distant mountain to the north that had just got dusted with some fresh snow. I headed back in and rejoined the conversation with Denise and Herman. We eventually headed up to bed around 9pm or so. We did some reading and then fell off to sleep.
We enjoyed a nice quiet breakfast on the second floor of the Hotel du Pigne after a good nights sleep. We watched out the windows as they were setting up the finish line for a local ultra trail run on the main street, just outside the hotel. It was a misty rain out and looked as though it had rained most of the night. Paul and Clare eventually came down to the dining room and joined us for breakfast. Today was supposed to be an easier day on the route and not very remote. The plan was to hike down the valley, paralleling the road, and then head up from the other side of the valley floor to the town of La Sage. Paul and Clare were planning on staying in Arolla another day and camping at a campground just below the hotel. We said our goodbyes after breakfast with hopes of seeing them again, which I am sure we will. If not, were now Facebook friends so we would at least be able to stay in touch with them.
We had not planned any rest days on our entire trip except for one day on each of the trip in Chamonix and Zermatt. Others we had spoken to had planned to take a rest day along the way, which started us thinking we should have done the same. With the rainy weather, the less-than exciting route and weary hiking legs, we decided that we would take the local bus from Arolla up to La Sage and make today a rest day. I checked with the front desk and found that the bus would arrive at a parking lot just below town around 12:15pm. This would allow us to take our time this morning and finish up our laundry and repack our bags.
We enjoyed our room for every possible second until checkout, which was 12pm, and then made our way down the road to the parking lot where the bus arrived. There were less buses today due to it being a Sunday and the ultra trail race also forced the bus stop to be farther away than normal. The runners from the race had began to funnel into the finish line at this point and a crowd had gathered cheering them on. It was mostly younger kids finishing, which were probably the faster competitors of the race. We cheered them on as we walked down the very steep road finally reaching the bus stop.
The bus had arrived immediately as we reached the parking lot and we hopped on and paid our fare. The driver indicated that we would need to change buses at the depot in Les Hauderes which was at the bottom of valley floor. From there we would change buses to the one going up to La Sage. The bus filled up pretty quickly and then we started our way down the valley. We had passed a pizza restaurant not too far away which was a bit disappointing since we were really looking forward to a pizza the night before. Right next to the pizza place was a campground which is probably where Paul and Clare would be staying that night. The drive was pretty scenic and we had gone through some cantilever-type tunnels along the way. We had passed the trailhead to Lac Bleu, which was a crystal blue mountain lake along the way. It was the only real scenic thing on the hike for that day, but we would have to forgo that for some much needed rest.
We arrived at the bus station in Les Hauderes and quickly hopped onto the bus to La Sage. Our bus driver gestured to us which bus we were to take since he did not speak much English. The La Sage bus started up the long, steep hill towards La Sage dropping people off along the way. We initially passed our hotel since we were not sure where it was. I told the driver and he stopped right near it on the way back down the mountain. It was dead end road going up the mountain fortunately. We got off the bus and made our way down the narrow alleys to the Hotel de La Sage.
Hotel La Sage-Excellent Place!!
The Hotel de La Sage was well maintained old stone building with nice little decks outside each room and beautiful flowers landscaping the building. We were met by the owner, a lady of Indian descent who spoke very good English. She indicated that our room was not quite ready yet and that we could relax outside on the nearby covered patio and furniture. The little patio was arranged perfectly on the edge of the hill overlooking the mountains and the valley below from where we had just came from. It was a perfect setting to just chill. It further reinforced our decision to take it easy today.
Before we could get too relaxed, they were calling us to let us know our room was ready. We grabbed our packs and headed up to the room. It was a fabulous room and undoubtedly the best room on the trip so far. It was very clean and still preserved the old-world charm. It was comprised of three separate rooms within the room: a sitting area, a bedroom and a bathroom. The bedroom had the opening that led out to the deck with a table and chairs. It was the perfect place to dry our our clothes that hadn’t finished drying from the night before. The sun had actually popped out a bit to assist as well.
Denise enjoying a well-deserved rest day in La Sage
Denise headed back out to the little veranda to do some reading and I took a nap after we got situated in the room. I was later awoken by the smell of something tasty emanating from the kitchen below. I sat out on the deck and enjoyed the smells from the kitchen below for a bit while Denise was chatting below with Rich, one of our fellow trekkers who had recently arrived. I eventually headed down to chat and find out how the hike had been. Lac Bleu sounded cool, but not cool enough that I wished I would have hiked today.
Denise and I then headed up the road to find something to eat. We had spotted a little outdoor cafe up the street while on the bus that we decided to check out. It was between meal times so they were only serving crepes and drinks at the time. I ordered a crepe fromage(more cheese!) and a wine and Denise got a crepe with egg(yuk!). The cafe offered the same great view as our hotel and we situated ourselves at a table that took full advantage of it. Another couple had sat down at another table not far from us who looked to also be trekkers. They had a Canon 5D Mark III camera which caught my eye. The husband didn’t seem to be too into the food they had, and the woman ate the stuff he didn’t.
We headed back to the hotel and the other hikers started funneling in. We saw Nate and Ann coming up the hill and they indicated that it wasn’t as easy as what the guide book would lead you to believe. They looked a bit weary coming up the hill. I sat out under the veranda a bit more chatting with some of the others before dinner.
There was not many places to eat in La Sage so our meals were arranged at the hotel. Good thing too…it was truly amazing. We sat at a group table with Bob & Matthew(uncle and nephew from Ohio) and Karen & Don (the couple we had seen at the cafe earlier in the day). Don & Karen had not started the Haute Route yet, which was obvious since they seemed very fresh. This was there starting point and they would be only doing a few legs before heading down to Italy for some R&R. The dinner consisted of Salmon Tartar for appetizer, Duck for main entree and caramel cheesecake for dessert(what I smelled earler). A meal worthy of a five-star restaurant. Bob, not being a “foodie” was not quite as impressed with the meal as we were but he did eat it all. The hotel was a pretty reasonably priced hotel from what the others were saying. So it is definitely worthy of a higher price I think. The dining room was all glass walls so you could look out on the surrounding valleys. A must stop place if you are through here.
We settled in for the night in preparation for another day on the trail tomorrow. It was a much-needed rest day and it will rejuvenate us for the remaining 7 days of hiking yet to come. Hard to believe we are only half-way through this trek. Tomorrow we will be hiking over to the Cabane de Moiry hut which is perched on a hill side overlooking the Moiry Glacier. It will be another long day, but the view from the hut is supposed to be well worth the effort.
Another early breakfast and back on the trail by 7:43 AM. We followed Martijn for the immediate long climb up to the Col de Roux which starts 50 yards from the Cabane front door. The climb was well rewarded with a sunrise just coming over the mountain and Lac des Dix spread out below us. The lake is the second largest lake in Valais and the largest lake above 2,000 m in the Alps at 4km^2. We took some time to take in the gorgeous view and snap a few photos. It was breathtaking!
Lac Des Dix Trail
Glacier des Ecoulaies
We then descended down to the lake in typical zigzag fashion while taking in the magnificent views of the lake and the Glacier des Ecoulaies to the right. Once down to the lake we followed a very flat dirt road for over 3 miles to the inlet to the lake. We chatted with Bob and Matthew, an uncle and nephew from Ohio, while we lazily walked the dirt road: The only flat section of the entire 14 days. Bob was an avid cyclist and had done some pretty long rides across the country, so we instantly had good topic of conversation. There were cattle all along the shoreline grazing and I decided to try to get some pictures of them. I kept trying to slingshot myself up and past the the other hikers on the road in order stay with them, but eventually I fell back. There were a bunch of Scottish hikers behind us and they eventually came past me. The one girl in the bunch had had her hiking boots stolen at the Cabane du Mont Fort and had been hiking in another pair that had been left behind. Perhaps they were the persons’ that took hers. I eventually gave up on the cattle photos and made a push for the end of the lake to catch back up with Denise.
Lac des Dix Sunrise
Once at the inlet, we began a very steep hike up to the right on our way to Cabane des Dix, our lunch stop. The cimb eventually lessened a bit as we walked a ridge on a morraine heading towards Tete Noir and Mt. Blanc de Cheilon behind it. The climb intensified more and cresting Tete Noir was really steep and loose footing to boot. We could then finally see the cabane below and we began descending down to it. My knee had started to ache a bit now and I started to worry it would get worse as the day went on. We eventually made it to the cabane where Martijn had already arrived. Martijn was a solo traveler from the Netherlands that had became part of the core group that was trekking the same itinerary as we were. He is tall guy and very fast hiker. He was always the first one to reach the days destination, regardless if he started before or after everyone else. We were able to chat with him a lot since we were usually coming in right behind him due to Denise’s rapid pace. I bought some fruity pound cake and a Warsteiner at the cabane for our lunch. Perfect medicine for an aching knee. The Aussie couple was there too and were planning to stay there for the night. They had plans to leave there the next morning at 5:30am and hike to Arolla, then pick up a bus to La Sage and hike to Cabane de Moiry all in one day. Seemed a bit overzealous and dangerous given the difficulty of the remainder of the day.
Eventually, Val, Kathy, and Gareth arrived at the Cabane as Denise and I were getting ready to hit the trail again. We were anxious to get to Arolla for a private room after two nights in huts. The afternoon looked to be exciting since we had to ascend the infamous “ladders” at Pas des Chevres after crossing the large glacier just below Cabane des Dix. The descent from the cabane was not the easiest descent either. It was very steep and loose and I almost took a header several times.
View of Cabane de Dix from the glacier below
It was actually a relief to get onto the glacier since it was flat. The glacier itself was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but the surrounding views were cool. We could see the “ladders” come into view as we got closer to the other side of the glacier. There were some ice climbers coming down the ladders that were using ropes to descend them. Hmmm?
Mount and Glacier de Cheilon
We also heard a voice from our left calling our name. It was Paul and Clare coming up towards us. They had taken a different route than us and wound up here. Paul was not very fond of heights and was debating whether to take the “ladders” or the alternate pass which required ascending the mountain pass at a even higher elevation. I ended up telling Paul and Clare about my dealings with ladders in the past and my former panic attacks. That was probably not a good idea to bring those thoughts fresh into my head right before I did the ladders. Smooth move dude!
Hikers chatting beneath the view of Mont Blanc de Cheilon
We ran into the climbers who had come down the ladders and asked how they were. They said that they would not have done them without ropes. Huh?! Ok, I hadn’t at all been worrying about climbing these metal rungs up until that statement. It is just a ladder for crying out loud. I didn’t realize it yet, but all this stuff is now building up in my subconscious.
Paul and Clare made the wise decision to do the pass instead of the ladders. Denise and I made our way along the steep mountainside to the ladders. Getting to the ladders was almost as difficult as the ladders themselves. I let Denise go first so I could take some pictures of her going up. The bottom of the first ladder is pretty high and she had to do a chin-up to get started. I shot a couple pictures of her and then started on my way up. She yelled down to me that it was kind of freaky which I thought was odd for her. The first two sections were fairly modern aluminum extension ladder sections, then it turned into very narrow, rusty round and slippery steel rungs that were bolted into the rock wall. Each section had been bent at the top and hung on the section above it.
When I got into the narrow, slippery steel those panic attacks of my past crept into my head now. I could feel my heartbeat begin to race as thoughts of fainting and falling off began to dance through my head. My 40 pound backpack was trying to pull me off this thing and my camera bag, mounted in front of me, kept getting stuck on the rungs as I ascended. I started to recognize what was going on in my head and instantly started to ward it off. I started consciously breathing and taking one step at a time. I immediately regained some measure of calm again and continued on, one step at a time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Denise was going through the same issues. There were about 5 or 6 sections of ladder going up the side of the cliff wall before it met a small rock that extended out where you had to shimmy over to the right onto another 2 or 3 sections of ladder before reaching the top of Pas de Chevres.
When I reached the top of the ladders Denise and I started high-fiving each other immediately as we were relieved to have had that behind us. It was much more intense than I had ever thought it was going to be. I know most of it was in my mind, but it was rather exciting. It definitely would not have been as exciting had we been roped up and clipped in. I was kind of surprised how much it got to me. I have ice-climbed a few times in the past and that was not quite nerve-racking as this was. It could be that I was roped in then and was more exhausted too. Ladders….check!
View from top of the ladders
Once over the Pas de Chevres it was a long, downhill slog all the way into Arolla. We saw Paul and Clare making there way over the col and were pretty surprised how quickly they got over that. They told us later that even that was a bit sketchy. There was a pretty cool glacier to our right, but other than that it was a bit boring. We hiked down at a leisurely pace so that eventually Paul and Clare would catch up to us. The time and distance estimates in our route information were a bit off again for this day. Our routecard said 10.5 miles and 4 hours, but it was 11.5 miles in 7.5 hours.
Mont Collon Glacier
The last section before Arolla was pretty long switchbacks down a pretty steep pitch. I found myself cutting through some of them as they kind of ridiculous at some points. Eventually got into Arolla, which is a cute little ski town. We were staying at the Hotel du Pigne which was on the upper side of town. The hotel was really nice and our room was excellent. We immediately showered and did our laundry. We then walked down to the hotel patio and found Paul and Clare out there having a beer. We sat and talked with them a bit and I had one or two myself. They also decided to forgo the camping that night and get a room there too. It was a good call since it ended up raining that night.
Rolling into Arolla
Eventually we moved inside and had a very nice dinner there. I had my first Rosti Frommage(melted cheese over grated potatoes) and Denise had a really good burger and fries. Paul and Clare also decided to get a room there too and we hung out with them and had dinner together. The others stayed at another hotel down the hill and came up to our hotel for dinner. We had a few drinks and laughs with everyone. Eventually the others left and the four of us talked a bit more before heading to bed. A long day but a good one.
The next day was supposed to be an easy day. It was a relatively short walk down the valley and then back up the other side to the town of La Sage.
We woke up around 6:30am in our private little cubby hole room at the Cabane du Mont Fort. We headed down to breakfast early before most of the people except for a large group of older British folks who were heading out the door. Breakfast was the standard fare of bread, butter, jams, and cereal. We then packed up and made our way out for the long days hike to Cabane de Prafleuri. We would be going over 3 large cols today all at just under 10,000 feet elevation.
Our route card from Alpine Exploratory said to take the route that went up a stone road up the mountain where they were doing some road construction with large bulldozers. The alternate route that others were taking seemed a much more pleasing route with better views. We confirmed with our hiking compadres from the UK, Paul and Clare, that they were also taking that route. We started off down to the right of the cabane and traversed the hillside opposite it. We traversed the entire hillside for most of the morning along a very narrow path of about 1-3 feet wide eventually leading to the first col of the day, Col Termin(2648m). Almost the entire way was shaded from the sun and it was a nice cool walk in the morning. The view of the Grand Combin to our left was stunning the entire time.
We stopped at Col Termin for a little while and chatted with Rich from San Luis Obispo who had caught up with us. The rest of the group of single travelers caught up eventually and then we headed on our way still traversing the hillside, but this time in the sun. We now had views of Lake Louvie and the Cabane of the same name far below in the valley. There was also a large dammed lake further beyond in a valley behind it. We passed a group of some other Americans slowly climbing up out of the valley after staying at Cabane Louvie.
Eventually we came to the start of the climb to Col de Louvie(2921m) which turned into more boulders and scree. A path also came in from the left from Col de Chaux, which was were we would probably would have come into if we took the recommended Alpine Exploratory route. Once we crested the col, we stopped and had a lunch of bars we lugged from home. I am kind of wishing I would not have brought so many now. They are heavy for one, but the baguettes and cheese everyone else is eating looks so good. Eventually the rest of the group caught up and had some lunch as well. We chatted a bit with them before making our way through the left over snow right after the col and down across the valley to Col de PraFleuri.
After making our way down the bouldered descent to the dead glacier of Rosanblanche to what is appropriately named the Grand Desert. It is a very rocky and lined with cairns to find your way across to the Col de Prafleuri(2965m). While making our way across we caught up to the older British group who had left when we were heading down to breakfast. They didn’t seem to happy about letting us pass either. We found an alternate route around them while heading up a morraine on the one side. One of the faster guys in that group was up ahead and had spotted an Ibex standing on the top of a nearby cliff. By the time I switched my wide angle lens with my telephoto, the animal had laid down, so I could only get a shot of his head.
Ibex on the Point-Haute Route Switzerland
Denise did not seem very amused by the animal and continued on. She seemed to be in a race for the remainder of the afternoon and I never caught up with her until the Cabane we were staying at. Once I crested the col, it was a steady downhill through a cut that had a large metal pipe running up it. The Cabane was located in what looked to me like a old quarry. There were tracks running along that looked like a bulldozer would use them and some strange man-made platforms at the bottom where you could load one of those large dump trucks.
Heading towards Cabane de Perfleuri
Cabane de Perfleuri
The cabane was located up a steep hill on the other side of the quarry. I saw Denise arrive at the cabane as I was still coming down. By the time I got there she had already checked in. We were sharing a room with an Australian couple we had seen at the previous hut. They were not very chatty and kind of kept to themselves, but they seemed nice. We got the top bunk in the room which was fine. We got some tokens for the shower, which were 5 Francs for 3 minutes. 1 Franc more and 1 minute longer than last night. There is only one bathroom at the Cabane de Prafleuri which is kind of odd. 2 urinals are right out there for men to take a leak while women can be washing up in the sink or showering. A bit of a weird setup. The showers were warm, but lacked any place to put things. They felt so good though after a long hike.
Cabane de Perfleuri
I then enjoyed a couple of beers and snacks outside on the patio while talking with Martijn from the Netherlands. Eventually Rich showed up and so did the others. The showers began to form a long line of people waiting. I was glad to have gotten there so early. I also heard that the hot water had run out. While going the bathroom that evening, I could hear our friend Clare in the showering shivering out loud. The other thing that stinks at Prafleuri is that you cannot drink the water. You have to buy 1.5l bottles for 8 Francs. A bit steep!
Dinner was served around 6:30pm. It was really good. We had a bean/lentil soup to start and then some pork stew on rice for the main meal. Yes the vegan thing is a bit on hold for this vacation. Everything here is about bread, dairy, and meat. Not sure how they eat this stuff and stay so thin. For desert we had some pear with chocolate sauce on it.
After dinner we turned in early and did some reading and journal writing. Another big day tomorrow to the town of Arolla. Looking forward to having a hotel room and private bathroom.
Today is slated as one of the more difficult stages of the Haute Route. This is mostly due to the over 5500 feet of climbing elevation gained. Personally we are looking forward to this stage since both of us prefer going up over going downhill. I am also looking forward to getting more into the heavy alps. Everything up to now just doesn’t seem totally “Alpy” yet.
We started off the day around 7am since the traffic noise outside the Hotel Gietroz was a little too loud to sleep any longer. We had a nice breakfast, although I missed the server yourself manner like the other places had. We had some cereal, croissants and bread with butter, jelly and my new favorite, Nutella.
There was a large group of other hikers mingling outside the hotel as we ran up to the post office to mail a post card and get some money from the ATM. We had asked Alpine Exploratory, our tour company, if we could possibly skip staying at the last hut on the trip, the Europahutte, in lieu of staying at another hut called Cabane des Dix in a few nights. This would could be a pain since they would have to push back our other lodging reservations a night. So, I needed some extra money in case we needed to pay for it ourselves.
We started off down the street on our hike following 3 other male hikers. These were the same guys who we had seen at the pizza shop in Sembrancher. They seemed a bit puzzled with the first couple turns and we did as well. We all figured it out and started the long slog straight up the hillside. We eventually passed them and then caught up to the larger group we had seen congregating at the hotel earlier. We followed them up the hill for a while, and eventually passed half of them at a small church along the way. There were a bunch of younger hikers with their group that we hung behind for awhile until they stopped to rest or wait for the others. They let us past and we didn’t see them again for quite some time.
We just kept steadily pressing our way up the narrow switchbacks that never seemed to end. Miles and miles of winding up a very steep hill. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was still 10x better than going downhill for sure. We eventually reached a café at about halfway which was about a tenth of a mile down a lane. We bagged it since it didn’t look open anyway and we didn’t feel like going down for nothing if it was closed. The route card also indicated a picnic area further up which sounded good.
After more zigzags on a road now we came upon another couple, Ann and Nate, who we had seen at breakfast. They were sitting in the shade having a snack break. We chatted with them for a few minutes about travel and photography and then headed further up the road to a picnic grove. We enjoyed some bars and coffee and tea from our thermos’. As we munched our goodies, Ann and Nate passed on through as did the younger bunch of the big group. There was an older couple enjoying a picnic in the picnic grove as well. They had a fire rolling and were cooking up some food on it. Eventually the older bunch from the big group came by and settled into the picnic grove. By then we had started packing up and continued up a cat track from the Verbier/Les Ruinettes ski area.
Eventually we same out of the treeline and could see the top lift of the ski area. A bunch of hangliders had spread out their kites on the ground preparing for flight. They were taking off one after the other and filling the sky. It was pretty cool.
From their we followed a bisse(irrigation water ditch) around the mountain for most of the way. It was all open now with no trees and the views were amazing. Eventually we rounded a bend and Cabane du Mont Fort, our nights accommodations, was revealed. The landscape had also changed from meadowy fields to jagged rock and scree. It reminded me of being on the moon. One aspect that did disappoint me was the chairlift and gondola poles and wires drapped across the landscape. I had expectations of a more remote landscape and this made me feel like I was in the middle of the ski area.
Denise on the final approach to Cabane du Mont Fort
We made one final push up the cat tracks to the Cabane which seemed like the steepest part yet. The Cabane had looked so close initially, but was so much farther away than it seemed. We eventually reached it, racked our boots and poles, grabbed some Crocs off the shelf and found the guardian to get our room. We had a nice private 2 cot room on the second floor. We unpacked and quickly headed for the showers. They were 4 Francs for 2 minutes which didn’t sound like a lot, but if you turn the water off while lathering it is quite a good amount of time.
Our cozy accomodations in Cabane du Mont Fort
Apres Hike at Cabane du Mont Fort – relaxing on the deck after a long hike with Nate, Clare, Paul, Anne & Martijn
After cleaning up, we headed out on the deck to have a couple beers. The British couple we had met in Sembrancher the day before, Paul and Claire, were on the desk having a couple beers already. We found out they had taken a gondola up to the top. We had a nice afternoon chatting with Paul and Claire, Ann and Nate, and some of the other folks from the large group too. We were getting very hungry and it seemed like forever until 6:30PM came when dinner was served. We enjoyed some vegetable soup, salad and penne pasta with meat sauce dinner. We also had a vanilla pudding for dessert. It really hit the spot for me.
After dinner I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed out for some sunset pictures. Nate is also a photographer and was out there as well. I think I managed a few good shots, but they will require some blending I think.
Denise and Ann were chatting when I returned to the cabane. We talked a bit more and then headed in for the night. Tomorrow will be another tough day as we make our way over 3 mountain passes to Cabane de Perfleuri; tomorrow nights accommodations.
We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Hotel du Glacier first thing in the morning, then returned back to the room to finish drying out our laundry. We had direct sunlight on our balcony and it was a bright blue sky day. Our clothes dried out in no time. We got packed up and were out of the hotel by around 10:30 or so. Our route card indicated today’s hike was only around 13k(8 mi), so it should be a relatively easy day. We were in no big hurry to get hiking so we enjoyed the town a bit longer. We had to stop off at the Post Office to ship Denise’s hiking shoes back home as well as some extra clothing to lighten up the packs a bit.
Denise with Box of Shoes in hand headed to La Poste
The post office trip was a bit stressful. The PO was in the town grocery store and the workers didn’t speak any English at all. They ended up making our package priority instead of Economy which cost us another 12 CHF($12). We tried to get them to change it, but they said it was impossible(I think?). The guy was getting impatient and rude with us, so I said lets just let it go. So the shoes along with a few other unnecessary items were out of our packs and head back to the states. I think after a week of carrying those pounds we will think it may have been worth the extra cost.
Lac de Champex
Mr Travel Photographer
We headed along the lake and made a slight left out of town. We then hit a dead end which was the start of the trail. The first mile or so was a somewhat annoying steep downhill, gravel section which eventually leveled out and passed through some farmland. We passed through the quaint little village of Soulalex after about 2 miles which was a bit more interesting than the previous scenery.
Farmlands between Champex and Soulalex
Denise heading down a tractor road towards Soulalex
We then headed through some more farmland and downhills until crossing some railroad tracks before the town of Sembrancher. It was getting close to lunch so we figured we would hit a café in town. We searched around the old cobble streets for somewhere to eat. There were a couple bars, but they really didn’t look like they had much in the way of food. We walked out of town a bit towards the highway and found an Italian place. It reminded me of one of the typical pizza shops you would see back home in the states, so not a lot of local culture here. I was hungry and didn’t really care at this point. Of course we had even more pizza. There were three other guys eating there with pretty large packs by there table. They were also hiking the Haute Route which we knew since they had the ever-popular “blue book” by Kev Reynolds that outlines the route. The one guy seemed to speak fairly good English, but they none of them spoke French either as their native tongue, so it we weren’t sure exactly where they were from.
Sembrancher Town Centre
We seemed to have finally left the Tour de Mont Blanc crowds behind after leaving Champex. There were definitely less people hiking on the trails we were on today. Most of the people we did see had large packs, which means they were also self-supported like us. Most of the people we had seen in Trient had support vans taking most of their luggage to their next destination.
After leaving the Italian place, we went back to the town square to pick up the route again. We ran into a British couple while trying to pickup the trail again. They seemed to be having trouble finding it as well. The girl asked if we spoke English and seemed relieved when I said “yes”. They were also doing the Haute Route but were camping. This explained the extremely large backpacks they had. I thought mine was big, but theirs were almost double the size of ours. They were looking for a campground nearby that they were to stay for the night and so we started walking together. We began chatting a bit and all got lost together since we more involved in conversation than in directions. I then tried to take off ahead a bit but could not find the bridge we were looking for nor their campground. I eventually figured they were to go one way and they another. We said goodbye for now and that we would most-likely see each other again. And we would.
“Which way do we go George?”- Sembrancher Town Centre
I eventually found the bridge we were looking for and then we headed down an through some open fields. The bright sunlight and post lunch “funk” really took its toll on us now. Eventually we took a road up a hill in the shade which helped. The rest of the route followed some very chalky dirt roads through a quarry and up into La Chable. It was pretty boring and my feet were getting kind of achy. It is not that it was that hard, it was just either the surface we were walking or just from being on my feet all day. I think the first couple days of a trip like this are the roughest since your body is getting used to being on your feet all day. Sitting in a cubicle all day just doesn’t do much to get you ready for this.
Coming into La Chable
We eventually got to town and crossed the river into the new part of town called Villette. Our hotel, Hotel Gietroz, was directly across the bridge. We checked in and settled into the room. Denise did some more laundry then we showered up and headed out for some dinner. Denise had seen the British couple we met in Sembrancher walking across the bridge from La Chable back into Villette. Either they never found their campground or they just bagged it and took the bus into La Chable.
Hotel du GIetroz-Villette, Switzerland
I found a place to eat right next door, called Les Ruinettes, which sounded good. We had a few drinks and then had some dinner. They had a fixed menu of Popperdon, yoghurt soup and Lamb Curry. It was really good. I have pretty much thrown the vegan/vegetarian thing out the window on this trip. Oh well, only a few weeks. Everything here is all about diary and bread. With the language barrier it is just easier to suck it up and eat it. Les Ruinettes was actually run by a Brit, so it was much easier to order. For desert, I had some chocolate mouse tart-like thing with strawberries and whipped cream. The whole meal was quite amazing.
View across bridge to La Chable from our hotel room
We had heard from one of Denises’ friends who was hiking the same route about a week ahead of us. She had said that the erosion on the Europaweg portion of the hike was pretty bad. The Europaweg is the last couple sections of trail right before Zermatt and it supposed to be pretty gnarly with rockslides. We decided to see if we could insert a night at another hut, Cabane de Dix, between Cabane Perflueri and Arolla and ditch the last night at the Europahut which already had a disruption with an abbreviated hike to Zermatt. We will have wait to see if that is doable from Alpine Exploratory.
The day ended up being a couple miles longer than what the route card had said. This was probably due to searching for a place to eat and getting a little lost in Sembrancher. Fortunately, the our hiking time was dead-on at 4:30 to what the route card said. Tomorrow we hike up to Cabane du Mont Fort, which is our first real mountain hut. Should be a tough hike, but at least it is uphill. Looking forward to it!