Lessons Learned (or what’s not in the book that you should know)

Here is a summary of the insights we gained that are interspersed in our trip summary – in no particular order….

If you end up using buses or trains to move around, look into a 3-day pass for the Valais region, it can save you a decent sum.

The demi-pension tends to be a good deal – you will usually get a full 3-4 course meal for the price of an entree at most other restaurants.

The Cicerone book does not talk about when lifts run and when they stop for the season – don’t take anything for granted.

Corollary to previous: take advantage of the Office of Tourism – they can alert you to the current lift schedule and help you find a place to stay if you haven’t made reservations.

Corollary to previous: there are a lot of crazy people who actually pay to RUN on the trails you will be hiking – be informed of races during your travel dates so that you can make appropriate reservations ahead of time (or avoid the madness altogether).

As in many other countries, the Swiss take a “siesta” between noon and 2-3 pm.  Restaurants are open but no other businesses will be available during this time (except in larger towns like Chamonix and Zermatt, based on our experience).

There are some great lifts at both Chamonix and Zermatt that will offer you great views and proximity to the mountains.  They are not cheap, but we thought they were worth it (if you have the means).  There is a multi-day pass in Chamonix that will also cover the lift at Le Tour (if you are planning to use it).  In any case, examine what you want to do; we were not really prepared and ended up spending more than we should have on tickets for individual lifts.

“Kev time” is not a reality for many of us lesser hikers – however, we (elderly Wink 50 year olds) were able to easily accomplish each leg with time to relax in the evening, so don’t get too hung up on your speed.  You are there to enjoy the moment, not just to endure the day.

If you buy maps, get the ones with a “T” on the end, otherwise you won’t have all the hiking trails marked.

If you stay in a hotel in the Chamonix valley, you will get a free pass to use public transportation during your stay – including buses and trains.

Trail difficulty is marked by colors: yellow/black is easy, red/white is more difficult, blue (we never encountered it) is the most challenging.

Take advantage of other traveler’s knowledge and whatever else you can pick up from people along the way – the trail is definitely subject to change from avalanches or other natural phenomena.  You can save yourself time or at least be mentally prepared for an altered route.

BE PREPARED FOR BLISTERS!  They are benign injuries, but will significantly impact your enjoyment of the trip and even your ability to stay on schedule.  We both brought different sock combinations and had various ointments and tapes – but blisters still created a distraction and could have delayed our trip more significantly.

Take advantage of hostels, cabanes and other group resting spots to meet fellow travelers.  These interactions are what will make your experience much richer and more memorable.

Trails end: Zermatt

We thoroughly enjoyed our 2 days in Zermatt.  It is a large ski resort with tons of tourists – and skiers – even at this time of year.  I guess it is a rare place where you can ski all year round.  Kev describes it well when he talks about expensive fashion and jewelry shops.  Needless to say, we didn’t buy much in Zermatt.  But it was fun to walk around, see the old village, the climber’s cemetery and all the people.

Buildings in Old Zermatt Village

 

 

 

The climber’s cemetery was eerie and beautiful

We chose our hotel because it was recommended by our friends who had done this trip before.  We were not disappointed – pretty good value, amazing view and very good petit dejourners.  We told Cindy and Peter about it, and were pleased when they joined us there the next day.  We were able to make reservations by email.

Here are journal entries for Sept 8 and 9:

It was great to relax and sleep in this morning, but I did want to get a sunrise picture of the Matterhorn.  I shot a few – I could almost do it lying down in bed, our view is so great!  Breakfast was fantastic – great bread, the usual meat and cheese, and lots of grains and nuts to add to muesli or granola.  It was hard to hold back, even though we knew wouldn’t be hiking 10 miles to burn it off.

We sprang for the Panoramic Pass, a 2-day pass that enabled us to go up several cable cars/trams to view the Matterhorn and Breitthorn up close.  There were lots of skiers – including (we think, based on equipment and apparent sponsors) the Swiss and German national teams.


There were also a lot of climbers going up Breitthorn and another peak to the west.

 

You can just make out the tiny figures of those who reached the summit

 

We’ll go to the other lift tomorrow.  Tonight we plan to meet up with Cindy and Peter, who are staying in the room next door.  We’re glad they were able to get a room, and we’re looking forward to catching up on their trip.

After our first day, the Matterhorn had a constant cloud around its head.

 

The cable/tram up to the Klein Matterhorn (“Little Matterhorn”) and another intermediate location to the south of Zermatt were cool.  The “Sunnega” paradise was the starting-off point for hikers (and Matterhorn climbers, though we didn’t see any actually climbing on the mountain).  The Klein Matterhorn (highest lift) takes you up to summer skiing and the base for those hoping to summit Breitthorn.  Riding over the glaciers was spectacular.  Again, it is amazing that they have these cables set up so high – and have blasted tunnels through mountains way up here.

Looking down into Zermatt

 

 

Spectacular glacial view

 

 

 

We basically spent all morning and early afternoon up enjoying the rides and views.  For lunch we ate left-over dinner and the end of the bread/cheese/salami that we had packed for lunch at the end of our trip.  We poked around Zermatt afterward, my goodness, it’s expensive!  I would love to buy another set of clothes (since I’m pretty sick of the same, dirty stuff), but not at these prices.

We joined up with Peter and Cindy for dinner and to hear about their trip and adventures.  They also took the bus and cable up to Verbier and Les Ruinettes on their way to Mont Fort (not their original plan, but I think Cindy was impressed with our idea enough to convince Peter to take advantage of the cable cars).  I think they hiked to Prafleuri, but somehow got down and avoided Col de Riedmatten and Pas de Chevres (good plan).  They made it to Arolla and hiked up the back side of the col and looked down!  We shared contact information, and it would be fun to re-connect with them.  They are both on sabbatical from NAU and have 6 weeks of travel ahead of them.

Today we used the rest of our 2-day pass to go up the other cable/tram system to Rothorn.  Surprisingly, it started with an underground train going straight up to a cable car stop.  We went all the way up, via telepherique and enjoyed another view of all the mountains.  This side of the valley was very different from what we experienced yesterday.  In the winter, this is a “free” area, without specific runs.  In the summer, it is a celebration of the mountains!  Each mountain had a plaque with a photo of the peak and something written about it by previous climbers.  I took many photos!  It was a magical place – my favorite of the 3.  We watched paragliders take off into the valley and I created my own Matterhorn cairn after admiring one that someone else had made.  Beautiful and fun morning – yet again fantastic weather.

Each mountain had a sign showing a photo, naming it and giving information and a statement…

 

They helped us to identify and name all of the peaks

 


We were buzzed by the Swiss military – quite a surprise:


It was odd to see the barren back (southern) side of Weisshorn:

 

In the evening, we hopped onto the train to Basel, but didn’t get to enjoy much viewing of the countryside because we were underground much of the time!

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Rothorn was my favorite part of Zermatt.  For 360 degrees, there were mountains surrounding you.  And each one was different and special – commemorated by the photos and plaques that told the stories and emotions of climbing, summiting and finding peace and grace in the mountains.  It seemed a fitting place to end our trek.

My Matterhorn cairn

September 7, St. Niklaus to Zermatt

Day summary:

  • 4.5 hours (Kev…)
  • 11 miles
  • gain 479 m

It did not take 4.5 hours…  It wasn’t hard, but it took longer than that.  Today was not hiking – it was walking.  Sometimes alongside a road, sometimes on a path above the river.  It was not challenging, but it was also a great last day, walking up the valley, through villages, finally catching a glimpse of the Mont Choco Matterhorn and eventually entering Zermatt.  We even walked through a golf course!

Here is the journal entry for today:

WE MADE IT!  We did not do the 2-day trek via the Europa Hut for reasons described earlier.  We did the “Alternate route: Stage 13” as described in the Cicerone book.  It took us awhile to find the way to the trail from St. Niklaus.  But we knew we couldn’t go wrong, since all roads going south lead to Zermatt.  Much of the “trail” today was actually walking on roads or unpaved roadbeds.  Not always exciting, but occasionally interesting – going through small alpine villages.  We made it to Randa by lunch time – which we realized was a mistake since everything closes at noon.  We had lunch fixings but were psyched to enjoy a bottle of sodapop with it.  We walked by a small shop just as the owner was locking up.  I pleaded with him for 2 coca colas and he let me in to make my purchase – Danka!  We found a park bench a little further on and sat down for yet another lunch of bread, cheese and salami – but this time with REAL coca cola, sugar and all!

We alternated between paved road, path and unpaved road.  Sometimes we were walking next to train tracks, sometimes over them, but always beside the river, fed by glaciers “gletchers” from Breitthorn and the Matterhorn.

Finally, we walked around the bend and saw the Matterhorn, distinctive and obvious – for the first time! It was very impressive, though still far off.  As we continued walking, we understood Kev’s comment that the north side of Zermatt is in a constant state of construction – which makes sense since that is the only direction for growth.  At a certain point, only electric cars are allowed into the city, but before you reach that boundary, there is a lot of traffic and trucks, hauling and building.

We finally descended to the road and made our way through goofy traffic to the train station and tourist office.  We called the Hotel Dufour to see if we could get a room a day early.  They said yes, gave directions and we made our way here.  It is another lovely hotel – with a great view of the Matterhorn!  Can’t wait to see sunrise!

 

 

A walk around and a great – different – supper of ravioli and pizza.  And we are ready to sleep and then find a day of adventure here in Zermatt.

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Although not the rugged trek of our early trip days, we really enjoyed this walk through villages and into Zermatt.  To finally see the Matterhorn was fantastic.  Funny – it is not nearly as beautiful as many of the other peaks featured along this trek – Mont Blanc, the Combins, Weisshorn, Breitthorn – all covered with layers of snow, leaking glaciers on the north, but it is the iconic Swiss Alp.  And it serves as the symbol of our trek’s completion – emblazoned on a cookie, no less!

View from hotel room

 

My sunrise shot!

September 6, Gruben to St. Niklaus

Day summary:

  • 7 hours (Kev time)
  • 9 miles
  • gain 1072 m, lose 1767 m

This was not the day that we had originally planned.  We were going to hike into St. Niklaus, then take the bus to Gasenried and spend the night.  From there we would hike to the Europa Hut….  But you have already heard our change in plans.  This was a day of firsts and lasts…. first unplanned night, arriving in town without a hotel reservation and our last pass of the entire trip 🙁 or :)…  hard to tell – happy to be close to the end, sad to be almost done with this adventure.

Here is the journal entry for today:

Today was another long day, not for the amount of vertical, but because we kept expecting to go around a bend and see the end in sight.  Today we would go over our last pass!  Bittersweet thought.

We left Hotel Schwarzhorn at around 8:30 am, after almost everyone else – AGAIN!  It was a frosty morning:

 

It took 1 1/2 hours to get out of the valley – I think we were prepared for that.  Then we started heading over to Augsbordpass, the last pass of the trip.  The bad part was that it had a “false front,” so we thought we’d made it, but then had another steep climb to go.  It wasn’t particularly difficult, just long.  Cold at the top and view of new mountains, then we scurried down to a warmer spot for lunch (have you heard this before?).  We encountered several groups headed in the same direction, and saw our first group of campers on the whole trip.  We were surprised to see a little green tent settled in amongst the rocks.

Again – not psychologically prepared when we got down and out of the pass, we had a LOONG  valley wall walk before getting the pay-back panoramic views Kev promised.  Finally we did make it around that bend, and the skyline was fabulous!  We both took 360 degree shots to stitch together later.  Then DOWN, DOWN, DOWN again.  For the third time today it seemed to take forever to get down to where we were headed: the cable car at Jungen.  Once we reached St. Niklaus, we used the tourism office to find us a place – now we are both tired but showered and ready to relax until tomorrow.  We have an extra day since we did not go via the Europa Hut.  We could stay here another night, but will likely head to Zermatt and spend another day there.

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It is interesting to re-read this journaling.  It is obvious as the days go on that we’re getting tired, but this trip was so amazing and beautiful – it was worth it!  Be inspired – not discouraged.  This is a view worth hiking for:

 

I could tell that Barry was feeling much better – he beat me up to the pass!

 

Somewhere along the trail today, I saw this mangy looking thing:

 

For the first time (since my little detour to Prafleuri) we walked over snow along the valley wall.

 

The valley wall walk was more boulder-jumping – but as we got closer to Jungen, there were stretches that were more “developed” or man-made.  It was beautiful – views down the valley to the north and of Alps in every other direction.  Can you ever really get tired of this?

 

The walk down to Jungen involved hiking back and forth down the slope to reach this remote little farming enclave – an isolated village accessible only by cable car (?).

 

When we arrived at the cable car access, there were three people sitting on the 4-person-capacity car waiting to descend.  Without any English, we figured out that there was a camera and “call button” to let the operator at the bottom of the hill know that someone wanted to go down.  Why these 3 were still sitting there, I’m not sure.  Anyway, we waited for awhile, and were frustrated that nothing seemed to be happening.  Thank goodness that a Swiss German-speaking couple arrived and communicated with the operator – Voila – the car descended and another ascended – and we were able to board and glide down the very steep hill into St. Niklaus.  Neither of us has been that far off the ground and NOT been in an airplane – the slope was that great!

 

Narrow street in St. Niklaus

September 5, Zinal to Gruben

Day summary:

  • 6 hours (Kev again)
  • 8.5 miles
  • gain 1199 m, lose 459 m

We followed (in the opposite direction) the Z’s marking the trail, courtesy of the Sierre to Zinal marathon:

Today we only had one spot when we weren’t sure of our path.  More people hike to Weisshorn, so that track is quite visible.  The trail heading up and over to Pointe de la Forcletta is a little less obvious.  We made the transition today from French Switzerland to German Switzerland – quite a contrast in language and culture.  The change is visible on the maps when “cols” become passes and “mont” changes to “horn.”  It took about an hour to get out of the valley – it is the hallmark of this trip that you hike up in the morning just to hike down in the afternoon just to hike back up again the next morning.  We are literally crossing the “nap” of this corduroy-shaped terrain.

Our journal entry for today:

Bonus at breakfast this morning: they had a great breakfast (petit dejourner) buffet today.  We were the first ones down there, waiting for them to set it all up.  Then they delivered up fresh-from-the-oven croissants!  YUM!

We had a great day of hiking today.  It was super clear, but COLD.  We saw snow in shaded areas and icicles on grass by a stream.  It was a steep climb out of Zinal – not surprising, but then the trail stays at a fairly level height, following along the west edge of the valley.  We passed lots of munching cows, one of whom did not want to relinquish the path to me.

Finally we reached the fork where we headed west, breaking off from the more popular route to Hotel Weisshorn.  There wasn’t much of a marked path – it was just up a steep slope with lots of rivulets of water running down.  Eventually we reached a road that took us to the farm house and cross described by Kev – the alp of Tshalet.  To reach the start of the pass (Forcletta), you cross over some grassy hills.  The pass was surprisingly easy, compared to the several we have crossed this last week.  It’s a steady climb, but there is no scrambling.  The view at the top is disappointing, though.  You can’t really see all the cool peaks to the south yet.  It was also very cold and windy, so we kept hiking down before finding a comfortable spot for lunch.

The view from Chalte Berg is magnificent –  Weisshorn, Bishorn and the Tete de Milon are massive and the glaciers impressive.  After that it was just knee-grinding downhill to Gruben.  We didn’t take the path recommended by Kev because the sign indicated that we’d get there quicker on the one we chose.  But when you get down to the road, you are still at least a mile (or more?)  from the center of Gruben, so we should have taken the other trail.  We got lucky because 2 men were finishing up their work and heading home down into the valley.  They offered us a ride in their van – and as you can imagine, they didn’t have to ask twice.  They delivered us right to the hotel door and Barry offered to buy them a beer – they accepted, but chose coffee, and then we tried sustaining a conversation with their limited English and our non-existent German.  Kristof and son, Erik, were both very nice and kind – what a great introduction to this German side of Switzerland.

Hotel Schwarzhorn is very comfortable.  We have a sink in the room and there are newly remodeled showers and toilets across the hall.  Dinner was only so-so.  Nothing like what we have enjoyed so far.  Soup – what kind?, nice salad, then thin slabs of pork with gravy, shredded carrots and PLAIN spaghetti noodles.  Dessert was cold chocolate pudding.

The hotel has a good supply of lunch items and other food – good thing since there is NOTHING else in Gruben.

Apparently the hot time on a Saturday night in Gruben is standing around in the street outside the bar, by the cows, drinking beer!?!

Good night – I’m beat!

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Hotel Schwarzhorn has several floors featuring private rooms with a communal bathroom down the hall, and a couple of dortoir-style rooms on the upper level.  There is a bar on the lower level and then a little grocery store, check-in desk and the main dining area on the first level.  Inside the front door is a 3-D relief map of the Alps that gives a good perspective of the trip.  I think there is one other dortoir in Gruben, but it is a very small town without much going on.  We probably saw more people and activity since it was a Saturday.

Once out of the valley, we walked at a steady level along the slope and encountered many cows.

 

Moooove over!

 

Signs along the way

 

It wasn’t hard to figure out why they chose to build here – Chalte Berg

 

The village of Gruben

 

Hotel Schwarzhorn – looks just like the book showed

 

A view of our room

 

September 4, Grimentz to Zinal

Day summary:

  • 5.5 hours (Kev time)
  • 8.5 miles
  • gain 1617 m, lose 459 m

But remember that we didn’t walk all of this.

The rides on the front and back end of today made it a good test of Barry’s feet and allowed us to ease back into hiking, helping us to decide that we really could finish the trip as planned.  After Riedmatten, I had told Barry that I would be okay if we never hiked another day in Switzerland.  I’m glad that we did – it was much easier after that day, and we still feel a great sense of accomplishment from completing the journey.

Here is the journal entry for today:

Today was a pretty easy day.  We had a great breakfast at Hotel Alpina – they even had a cool set-up for making soft-boiled eggs.

We took the bus up to the Barrage de Moiry – then it was a fairly quick walk up to the Col de Sorebois – that is the top of the ski area in Zinal.  We walked down amidst cows and sheep in the ski runs, under lifts and around to make our way down to the telepherique.  It was running once an hour, so we had to wait a bit for it.  While we were waiting, Alistair and Mike (our British friends) came down the mountainside!  They had not been able to stay at the Cabane de Barrage and had to hike another 2 hours up and east to Cabane des Becs de Besson – at 3000 m!  Sounds like a horrible evening, and both breakfast and supper were minimal.  They must have hiked super-fast this morning (the only people we met who could meet or beat Kev time) – when I think about how much ground they covered compared to us today.  We waved at them on the way down – us on the tram, them scurrying down the ski slopes.

We are staying at Hotel Pointe de Zinal- it is very comfortable, with a bright room and a view of the street.  It also has a little balcony (a much appreciated clothes-drying spot).  We booked this hotel on the Internet using Coeur du Valais, but I think we wouldn’t have had any trouble finding a place to stay.  Because it is a ski resort there are lots of hotels and dortoirs.

Barry took a nap; I went down to get postcards and ran into Alistair and Mike again and we chatted for awhile.  It has been fun to talk with them because Alistair is also a physical therapist, so we can compare and talk “shop.”  We’re planning to meet for a beer at 4:30 and share maps and books (Mike has an older Cicerone guide that doesn’t describe a newer cabane that they want to hike to beyond the Hotel Weisshorn).

Barry’s feet are much better, we’ll likely get back on track and make our way to Gruben tomorrow.

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Barrage du Moiry

 

We took recursive photos while on Col de Sorebois!

 

Kev claims the views keep getting better as you descend into the valley – he is right!

 

Our hotel in Zinal

September 3, Arolla to Grimentz

Day summary:

  • 7 hours (Kev time)
  • 6 miles
  • gain 218 m, lose 554 m

Our original plan was to take a bus to La Sage or Villa, hike up to the Barrage de Moiry and then walk down into Grimentz for the night, expecting to take the bus back up to the barrage the next day – I didn’t want to cover the same ground twice, so the bus seemed like a nice option.  You can also stay at a refuge at the Barrage, but we’re all about comfort.  We found out later that our British friends had planned to stay at that hut, but it was full.  Our friends ended up having to hike a lot further up to a more remote refuge (actually running out of water on the way), so it may be wise to make reservations ahead of time.

In order to give Barry’s feet a break – and to muster the energy to complete our trip, which had turned out to be more challenging than we had anticipated – we took a postbus from Arolla to Sion, a train to Sierre, and then another postbus from Sierre to Grimentz.

It was an enjoyable break, and we came to appreciate the amount of vertical ground we had been covering and the geography of the region beyond the mountains themselves.  It was weird (and wonderful) to cover so many miles so quickly!

Here is the journal entry for today:

I can’t say enough about Hotel Mont Collon!  Yes, there were very few guests there, but the owner went out of her way to help us.  We had a great petit dejeuner – typical, but plentiful.  The owner investigated travel info to get us from Arolla to Grimentz and printed it out for us.  Barry asked about Internet access and a computer, and she offered up her laptop, all while preparing the hotel for a conference of 85 people (which turned out to be PhD graduate students in environmental studies offering presentations of their theses, and going for hikes in the mountains – pretty cool!).

Our first leg was a bus from Arolla to Sion.  We actually rode past Ann and Joe (a couple from Australia whom we’d met at Mont Fort) as we neared Les Haudres.  It was crazy taking the bus up and down very narrow mountain roads with tight switchbacks and blind curves.  It was also great NOT TO BE WALKING.  It appears that the switchbacks are just big enough for the postbus to fit around – the driver goes right up to the rail before cranking the wheel to make the turn.  As a bus, we always win the war when bus encounters car coming towards us and there is only width for one vehicle.  Many a car had to back its way down to a spot with enough shoulder to pull off and let us through.

We lunched in Sion (capital of the Valais province) and caught a train to Sierre, then finished our motorized traveling day with another bus from Sierre to Grimentz.  We saw a lot of towns and farm fields along the way.  We are now in the Hotel Alpina, right across the street from the bus stop that will take us up to the Barrage de Moiry tomorrow morning.  We will hike up from there catch a cable car at Sorebois that will carry us down into Zinal.  Then we will decide what Barry’s feet can handle.  We have a couple of options: straight into Gruben or 2 days via Weisshorn.  We have already decided not to go to Zermatt via the Europa Hut. The book offers warnings about the trail from Gasenried to the hut.  If Kev offers warnings I get scared now – because there wasn’t enough warning for the steep, class 4 climb to Col de Riedmatten.  We have checked the weather and it looks pretty good for the next several days.  We have also heard that there is avalanche damage to the trail from the Europa Hut into Zermatt, creating quite the detour.  No thanks!

Off to dinner in a few minutes.  Hotel Alpina is pretty posh and modern compared to our stays over the last couple of nights.  No creaky floors, no dormitory-style beds, sleek shower, TV, etc.

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We enjoyed our rides on buses and trains.  Sion was interesting – bustling big city, with two tall islands of hills upon which sat a castle and what appeared to be an old monastery.  As mentioned in the “Accommodations and Traveling in Switzerland” article, we could have saved a lot of money if we had purchased a 3-day pass that would have covered the buses and trains we took today, as well as the bus from Grimentz up to the Barrage de Moiry tomorrow.  Oh well.  Live and learn.

Today was “picture light” because we were speeding past all the scenery.

Interesting view of hillside agriculture

 

Roadside shrine/crucifix looking down into valley

 

Sion, provincial capital of Valais – and an old castle (?) atop a hill island

 

Hotel Alpina in Grimentz

September 2, Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla

Day Summary

  • 6.5 hours (Kev time)
  • 9.5 miles
  • gain 735 m, lost 1353 m

And we thought yesterday was hard…  Looking back, if I had known what this day entailed, we might never have taken the trip.  Or I would have at least done anything to avoid this day.  I HATE heights.  I like to think that my fear of heights is healthy.  There are reasons why you shouldn’t get too close to the edge or be too far off the ground!  I’m not an over-the-top acrophobe; I can rock climb, as long as I’m roped in and trust my belayer.  But I once had a small panic attack before climbing up Half Dome in Yosemite, and I was unable to overcome a more serious sense of panic while attempting the Mountaineer’s Route of Mount Whitney in California.  I’m actually surprised that I was able to meet today’s challenge without a similar episode.  And I guess I’m also surprised that this trail is even included on the Walker’s Route – it is seriously vertical.  If you can handle ladders (which I don’t do well with), then there is an “easier” way over Riedmatten (Pas de Chevres); but however you slice it, getting over the pass is seriously steep.

Here is the journal entry for today:

Today was another LONG day.  Kev’s distance and timing are laughable (or cryable!).  Prafleuri is in a DANK, DARK area that is the beginning of a dam further down.  We first had to hike a short distance to get to Col de Roux – not so bad.  Then it seemed to take forever to get down to Lac Dix.  Barry’s blisters really bothered him.  He felt slow, and even worse, he felt bad about being slow.  CURSE Kev and the signs for being misleading about time expectations.  We finally made it around to the bridge on the other side of the lake where we stopped and fortified ourselves with a snack.  Then we were ready to attack the long ups and downs before making the final push UP to Col Riedmatten.  There was a detour to get past an avalanche wash-out of the trail (noted in the book), and then over and up and down and around lots of boulders.  I’m getting really tired of that.  But the “hike” – that is CLIMB up to the col was crazy/amazing.  Forget not making it up Whitney, this was even more challenging.  And the weather was on again/off again with showers and clouds.

This was a challenging day – have I emphasized that enough?  Making the col was fabulous, but it was cold and windy, so we had to descend before taking a break for lunch.  We have learned to celebrate making it over passes by having little butter cookies with chocolate Matterhorns on them (called Mont Chocos).  YUM!

Once on the other side, it was much easier hiking down into Arolla.  When we finally arrived, we stopped for a beer and a break to relieve the blisters.  Then walked down to our hotel – Hotel Mont Collon.  This is a crazy OLD hotel – with 5 stories and I think there is only one other room occupied tonight.  They knew who we were when we arrived.  Old, creaky place, and though I had reserved a room with just a sink, the owner graciously offered us a room with a bath at no extra cost 🙂

Dinner was amazing!  The food was great and the service equal to the best restaurants we’ve been to – and there was only one other table of 2 being served (though the owner’s family was also eating at a large table around the corner).  We had a full 4 course meal – soup, salad, entree and dessert that was delicious.

Tomorrow we plan a break from the original schedule.  The weather isn’t great and Barry’s feet need some time to heal.  Bon soir.

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The view down to Lac Dix after passing Col de Roux

 

It didn’t look that far away, but it seemed to take forever to get down to the lake – maybe that was just because of the blisters…

 

There were a lot of marmots checking out our progress

 

Lac Dix from the other side – you can see the road that we walked on the left side of the lake

 

Hiking up to Col Riedmatten – steep, but the ladders at Pas de Chevres scared me more than this did

 

WE MADE IT!

 

It was cloudy and cold – so we made our way down before stopping for lunch

 

The town of Arolla

 

Mont Collon

 

Our fabulous hotel

 

Our “summit” treat

(to celebrate making it over passes since we weren’t actually summiting anything)

September 1, Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri

Day summary:

  • 6.5 hours (Kev Time – hah!)
  • 8.5 miles
  • gain 735 m, lose 740 m (a little misleading)

This was one LONG day – made worse by the fact that Barry had developed blisters the day before, aggravated by walking all over Le Chable trying to figure out how to make our way uphill.  It actually started out beautiful and easy, walking along the side of the mountains to Col Termin.  Though the trail was on a steep incline, it felt safe and there were occasional cables to hang onto during nasty weather.  After Col Termin it got a lot rougher and the weather more harsh.  Hiking on a path is great; clambering over boulders, trying not to break an ankle, is a lot more difficult.  In fact, our Aussie friends detoured off the trail, heading down to Lac Louvie and a hut down there since she was not feeling well.  As we neared Prafleuri, we also experienced trail alterations due to glaciers melting more and more each year.  I think I’ll slap the next person who questions global warming!

Here is the trip summary for today:

We were slow getting out of the gate this morning – we spent some time trying to protect Barry’s blisters for the trail ahead.  I  used tape and cushioning to reduce the wear.  Everyone is in such a rush!  Sometimes because they are trying to cover an incredible amount of ground in one day.  I think there was one group trying to make it all the way to Arolla today – that’s just nuts!

The Cabane du Mont Fort was great!  Recently (?) redone or added onto?  We had a room to ourselves.  However, it was not cheap – and please believe that petit dejourner is VERY petite here.  Bread, butter and jam, and coffee, tea or cocoa.  Portioned out per table, you don’t feel like you can ask for more.  That’s it!

The first part of our hike was great – very exposed but with a mix of up and down and terrific views of mountains and valley below.  We finally reached Col Termin for a late lunch.  Then it got tough – there are just a lot of rocks to climb over.  We had two more passes to make it over, Col Louvie and Col Prafleuri.

The cowherd at Mont Fort had tried to warn us – he asked us if we were going to hike over the glacier, and we had no idea what he meant.  But after making it over Col Louvie, we had to scramble down rocks (again) and then ford a glacial river!  EEK!  I remembered all too well walking through glacial run-off on Mt. Baker (Washington State Cascades) – I didn’t even want to think about it.  There were some rocks placed along the way to help with the crossing, but it was still deep and long and COLD!  I looked up and around the tarn and thought I could make it around and over the “little” rivers closer to the glacier more easily.  Before Barry could talk some sense into me, off I went.

BIG MISTAKE!

Poor Barry, trying to watch and see if I was okay!  The waterways were wider and more difficult than they had appeared from afar.  And the terrain very squishy – giving way or causing me to sink really deep into the muck.  I did finally make it around, after cursing and falling and crying and getting wet and cursing some more.  Barry made the easier crossing with the help of two Brits that we later dined with.  He watched and waited and waited and watched – then we joined up, grateful to be together again (me, very contrite after making such a dumb decision), and we made our way up and over the col and then down to the cabane.  We were treated to an encounter with an ibex just as we were getting close to the cabane.

We were late arrivers for dinner at Cabane de Prafleuri – but not the last.  There was a guided group of 9 Japanese hikers that was VERY slow (but also older).  The place was hopping because it was hosting some kind of event for families of CAS folks.  There was a lot of wine getting passed around and singing going on.

We were all too ready to fall into our sleeping bags and get a well-deserved rest that night.

(limited journaling due to long difficult day and very unhappy feet)

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Sign along the way showing area wildlife


On our way – a little belatedly

More rocks than path

Exposure and views

Did we mention the views?

Can we stand to take just one more picture of mountains?

The weather did start to darken in the afternoon

Nearing Col Termin

Lac Louvie

Let the clambering begin

Just as we were flagging on our ascent over Col Louvie, we were treated to a small group of Chamois crossing the trail in front of us – it lifted our spirits!

At both cols we were teased by “false” fronts – we thought we were there, but then we weren’t.  And then we saw crazy cairns built by people with too much time and energy to spare (but the rock towers were pretty none-the-less).

Col Louvie

We’re headed that way!

Seriously, it looked a LOT wider in real life!

Are we there yet?

YES!  Can you see my relief?

Then as we were approaching the cabane – we were blessed with an encounter with an ibex bull!  This was the only one we saw on the trip.  He was pretty cool – and a terrific trail’s end to a LONG day.

The facilities at Prafleuri were much more dormitory-style than at Mont Fort – there were many rooms with many beds.  Comfortable, but not as private.  We were glad to have sleep sacks, ear plugs and breathe rights.  We were also fortunate to be positioned by the window, which we cracked open a little bit before going to sleep.  That many hot bodies in a closed room made it stifling by morning; at least we got an occasional breeze of fresh air.  And we were able to store our lunch items on the window ledge to keep them cool and fresh for the next day.

 

Settling into our space at Prafleuri

As we were readying to leave the next day, we ran into an interesting dilemma: the staff at Prafleuri claimed that their water was not potable – but since I saw CAS family members filling their water bottles up from the tap, I questioned that claim, and noted that the water for sale there was priced very high -hmmm?  Barry heeded the warning and bought a bottle; I filled up from the tap – and suffered no ill effects.  With that much glacial run-off, it’s hard to imagine it not being safe (and I’ve had Giardia before, so I’m no fool about this!).

Prafleuri was not as expensive as Mont Fort, and provided a better breakfast: the standard bread, butter and jam, tea/coffee/cocoa plus yogurt and cereal – with the containers placed out on the counter so you could help yourself to more.  Unlike MF, we were “assigned” tables for our meals – maybe because of the CAS event?  They sat us based on language, so we likely would have sorted ourselves out that way in end.  But it also meant that as late arrivals the night before, we were still sitting with people we could talk to, so that was nice.

As for “Kev time” – we think he’s just nuts.  But I’m sure there are some who can meet his times; and he does clarify that he doesn’t include any breaks, it is purely walking time.  I know that we were slower today because of Barry’s blisters and my insane detour, but still, we left Mont Fort close to 8:00 am and didn’t arrive at Prafleuri until after their normal supper hour (6:30-ish).  So I really question 6.5 hours.  Some of the crowd at Mont Fort (the ones trying to get to Arolla) took the shorter but steeper route over Col de la Chaux.  Although we had to scramble after Col Termin, I would not have wanted to miss the views.

August 31: Champex to Mont Fort

Day Summary:

  • 5.5 hours (Kev time)
  • 16 miles (much by chair lift/gondola)
  • gain 1740 m, lose 759 m

This was the first time that our day differed markedly from “Kev time” – and we used a bus and a chairlift for the worst of it.  We left Champex at around 8 (I think) and arrived at the Cabane du Mont Fort close to 4 or 5 (I think – we didn’t keep really good track of departure and arrival times, though which I wish we had, just to be able to document real [50 yr old] time versus Kev Reynold’s crazy pace).

Here is the trip report for today:

Lesson learned for Barry: socks will NOT dry overnight.  Oops!  He washed all of his socks and most of his clothes in the sink/tub at Champex.  Rather, I washed his stuff and some of mine.  My socks didn’t dry either, but everything else did. We hiked with laundry hanging off of our packs today.

Today we hiked 4 hours from Champex to Le Chable, expecting to take the cable car up to Verbier and then to Les Ruinettes.  We met up with Marco and then the 2 Americans we encountered the first day – Cindy and Peter from Flagstaff.  We introduced them to the Finn realizing that they were on the same schedule.

As we arrived in Le Chable, we noticed that the lift wasn’t running – BAD SIGN!

When we reached the station, we found out that the cable had stopped running for the season just the day before.  Damn!  An important piece of information missing from the Cicerone book.  It was at this moment that we first got the idea to create an e-journal of our trip – to save others from similar mistakes.  It was a good thing for us that the cable car was right next to the train and bus station.  The woman in the little cafe/store didn’t speak English, and we don’t speak French.  But then she asked if I spoke Spanish – aha! a language in common – (more or less since I remember very little, and in recent years have used it mostly to order food and get around in Mexico).  But we were able to communicate well enough for us to learn that there was a bus to Verbier leaving in 40 minutes; we could buy the tickets on board; and the cable from Verbier to Les Ruinettes was still running.  YEAH!  Gumby be praised (you know –  be humble and respectable, but above all, be flexible) – he doesn’t mention being lucky.

Although we could have altered our plans, it would have been a pain.  And the bus was probably cheaper than the cable – less than $6.

We figured out as we rode up that this roadway was part of the Tour de France – riding UPHILL on some amazing switchbacks.  I can’t imagine it. There were painted signs cheering on bikers all the way up the very steep road.  This realization also explained the painted signs we had encountered in Le Chable – apparently purchased spots to cheer on participants and make “life statements” – we’ll share our favorite in the photo section.

Verbier is a small ski resort village perched on a very steep hill.  It is crowded with shops, hotels, restaurants and ski equipment stores.  We found a place to buy cheese, salami, cashews and cookies – for a considerable price.  We figure we’ll need lunch for tomorrow and the next day.

We took the cable car up to Les Ruinettes and then walked the short 1 1/2 hours or so to Cabane du Mont Fort – which is really nestled among the ski slopes of Verbier.  Alex (son) would be in heaven here.  Mountain bikers take the cable up and ride crazily down the mountain.  Paragliders come up and jump their way down.  Bell-ringing cows adorn the countryside.  It is an amazingly beautiful place.

As we reached the hut, we encountered some weird, eerie “heads” that started to sing and make noise as we approached.  At first we thought it was the wind.  The heads were strange and the sounds even stranger.  Later we found out that there was a motion sensor that triggered the heads to start singing when someone approached.  I have since Googled and found NOTHING explaining this strange mix of art, music and sick humor!

We are now moved into our private room in le Cabane du Mont Fort; sitting on the patio with a beer and a journal – surrounded by people speaking French and German.

There is one Kiwi couple (Viv and Nancy) who we’ll be able to talk to at supper.  They’ve hiked a lot of places so it will be fun to talk with them.

Important piece of information: we wondered about the “nylon” ropes that appear to enclose the cows.  They looked pretty benign and I questioned the intelligence of the cows….  Turns out they ARE electrified.  Barry made the discovery as we arrived at the cabane and found ourselves walking past BIG cows (just what is cow etiquette? do you look at them or avoid eye-contact?).  We then had to climb under or jump over one of these ribbon ropes.  He grabbed it, planning to hold it up and squeeze under it, but got zapped in the process.  No wonder it keeps the cows inside!

We had dinner with the “down under” crowd – the Kiwis and 2 Aussies (Joe and Ann) – all of whom have traveled a lot – they can help us build our “bucket list” (what to do before you kick the bucket).  The cowbells will serenade us tonight.

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In retrospect, the hike from Champex to Le Chable, while offering gorgeous views of green valleys and villages, was kind of like the leg from Champex to Argentiere that we avoided.  It follows and crosses roads, and takes you through little villages along the way, but doesn’t have much rugged wilderness appeal.  If your time is limited, it might be worth considering taking a bus for that leg and hiking up to Mont Fort from Le Chable or Les Ruinettes – however much vertical you want for that day.  On the other hand, the views we were treated to on this day were unique for the trip.  And Cindy (who is a professor of history at Northern Arizona University) reported that she spied old Roman potsherds in a freshly-turned field as we approached Le Chable!

Gorgeous green valley views unique to this leg of the trip

Walking through lovely villages on the way to Le Chable

Once you are in the valley, you walk through a village to reach Le Chable – Barry with Marco

Sidewalk writing on the route of the Tour de France

Our favorite phrase: “It’s riding hard (replace with hiking), suffering and beer”

Sign atop Les Ruinettes – which way from here? (to the left and down the road)

The path at Les Ruinettes was not obvious, except by figuring out which direction you had to head.  This was one of the rare times when we weren’t sure of the trail.  We were actually on a rough gravel road and were able to ask someone driving by (in a 4WD truck) if we were headed in the right direction.  They confirmed and assured us that we would eventually see the foot path to the cabane as it rose above the road on the left.  We spent a little time watching paragliders taking off down into the valley.  What an amazing experience that must be!  Though we had timed the 2-somes floating down into Chamonix and figured that for $200, you only got about 15 minutes of air time.  The single gliders could stay in the air a lot longer (or chose to since they weren’t charging someone for the ride).

Paragliders all set and waiting for the right wind

View of Gran and Petit Combins

Almost there!

The Cabane du Mont Fort was our first mountain hut experience.  It was not very full during our stay, but we did have the opportunity to meet other travelers.  It seemed that the cabane had been remodeled recently (in the last few years).  It had numerous small rooms on the second two levels that provided quite a bit of privacy.  There were many rooms for 3 (like ours – 2 cots and a mattress), for 4 (2 bunk beds) and also 2 larger, dormitory style rooms with mattresses on the floor.  We were on the top floor, and the bathrooms and showers were on the level below us.  There is a room on the main level where you can store your boots and trade for indoor shoes (provided by the hut) or change into your own sandals.  I think there was a little kitchen area where you could also prepare your own food.

Cabane du Mont Fort

Lots of cows and bells

The “talking heads” of Mont Fort (that’s what we dubbed them anyway)

Kind of disturbing, eh?

Great sunset at the end of a day full of the unexpected