Haute Route Day 9 – the final day

Amazingly we spent quite a good night at the Schwarzhorn but we still left promptly. After an early breakfast our bags were in the minibus and we were walking by 6:30. We needed to be away sharply because while the trip went on to day 10 (Saturday) for everyone else, Bernie and I needed to get home Friday night. Our flights were between 9pm and 10pm from Geneva, a 4-hour train journey from St Niklaus where we would be met by Yves mid-afternoon.

It was still dark when we left the hotel but by just after 7am there was enough light for some pretty and well groomed cattle to see us coming and disdainfully refuse to leave the path.


Once more we were going to be climbing out of one valley and crossing into another via a col, or pass. In this case we would climb out of the Turtmann Valley and cross into the Matter Valley to the east, via the Augustbordpass. At the southern end of the Matter Valley is Zermatt and the brooding Matterhorn. At its northern end is Visp, where Bernie and I will change trains in order to reach Geneva.

By 7:15 while the valley was still in deep shade the sun was just crowning the peaks behind us to the west. At that hour it appeared as though the peaks had been dipped in molten gold.


We soon left the cool of the forest and gained height via the customary stony footpaths through sparse and dry grass, heathers and occasional skeletal trees. The sky was crystal clear and we knew that we had another hot day ahead. Even at this hour many people were in shorts and t-shirts.


As we turned to the east at just before 9am the sun drilled into our eyes and anyone with sunglasses wore them or pulled the peak of their hats down a degree or two.

IMG_7055.jpgAt the top of the hill in the photo above we hit the rock band, as we had done once close to the ridgelines crossed on previous days. We were getting used to this, but today there was a difference. As we crested the hill in the middle distance the ground fell away and there was a basin of rocks. Unaccountably, those at the front couldn’t see any route markers so Clive and I broadly followed another trecker ahead. It turned out to be a very interesting and really rather fun 300m of uphill rock-hopping. We soon overtook the other trecker who ominously said she was glad we knew the route because she didn’t. Ah! We ploughed gamefully on thoroughly enjoying the exercise and the view. This poor photo at least gives you the gist. Pretty Swiss mountains? No. Fun to climb? For Clive and I, yes. Appreciated by Pascal? Er, no. He was somewhat perturbed that we elected to go that way when there was a perfectly good and much safer way-marked route that, had we not been so impetuous, he would have shown us. Ooops!


Once Pascal and the others had reached the Augustbordpass (2894m) we recieved a mild telling off, but the grin and glint in his eye told us it was only for effect. In other circumstances he would probably have been with us, being no stranger to athletic rock-hopping himself. Indeed, he actively encourages others to practise rock-hopping skills. Apparently it’s good training for foot/eye coordination and ankle strengthening. So Clive’s and my route was good training!

It being 9:30 it was time for a break and everyone had early elevenses in the sunshine.

After the break we headed down the eastern side of the ridgeline, crossing a much less forbidding rock band on a clear gritty track, smiling broadly. Extraordinarily, I heard several people agree that this was the best day so far, not despite the early start but because of it. As we weren’t on glaciers or deep snow we hadn’t needed to use the classic 4 or 5am ‘Alpine starts’ to travel before the sun melted the snow and ice. But today’s relatively early (for walkers Haute Route trekkers) start had resulted in a lighter, brighter and cooler first half of the day.


As anticipated, as we went down grasses became more evident and eventually dominated the vegetation, interspersed with rocks of all sizes.

IMG_7073.jpgUnexpectedly there was a return to rock-hopping for a kilometre or two and for some, especially those with minor injuries, this was unwelcome. Others were skipping, including Pascal who was in his element.


As if by way of a test of character the rocks were followed by a fairly preciptous and airy series of tracks clinging to the side of long drops. More than one person advised me to take care. I couldn’t imagine why so continued skipping along behind Pascal in order to get some photos of the others from ahead.


We all survived and at about 11:15 the Matter Valley came into view. Unfortunately the Matterhorn couldn’t be seen from here but the vista lost nothing because of that. St Niklaus was tucked into the valley fold in the bottom left of the photo.


Then we went on through forests and woody glades losing height all the time.

IMG_7090.jpgThen, at around 12:30, we reached the lunch stop in a small settlement called Jungen. In fact the beautifully placed Bergrestaurant Jungeralp was the end of the walking for the day, and the end of the walking trip for Bernie and I.

We variously sat in the shade of the tree in the centre of the photo, or at the blue picnic bench to its right, and had lunch accompanied by cold beers from the bar. What an idyllic spot.


Just beyond the trees was the top station of the Jungen to St Niklaus cable car. This small cable system has two 4-person cars, one up and one down, every 7 minutes. We were anxious not to get caught up in a queue of those just finishing lunch at the restaurant so at just before 1pm we packed away our lunch and got pole postion in the cable car queue. Bernie and I, with Bobbie and Amanda, went down first so we could collect our bags from Yves. In the event he kindly drove us to the station from which we said farewell to the ladies who were taken to Zermatt. Bye and bye Yves returned and collected our other trekking companions from the cable car and brought them over to the station for goodbyes. There was just time for a small beer or glass of wine as we had made good time, but all too soon it was time to say farewell and Bernie and I boarded the train for the journey home just after this final photo was taken.


From dire weather for the first few days the second half of the trek was glorious. The original group of 9 had the additional 5 people join on day 4 and the group was enhanced by their presence – the only sadness being the early departure of Rob. We had been led and fed extraordinarily well throughout the week by Pascal and his innovative picnics and most of our accommodation had been great fun, if a little compact once or twice. Nobody sustained a significant injury and the Swiss economy had been assisted by the enthusiastic consumption of beer, wine and a little degustiv called Génépi. Despite the inevitable stresses and strains of an endeavor such as the Haute Route, many new friends were made and those of us who had trekked together before parted even better friends than we had been at the beginning.

Thanks Pascal and everyone. What a great time we had!

Haute Route Day 8 – Grimmentz to Grüben meiden

With the clock ticking inexorably towards the end of the trek, day 8 kicked off with a difference. We weren’t walking straight from the gite, nor even being transferred by Yves in his minibus. Instead we were getting a bus. In fact 2 buses and then a funicular.

At about 7:40 in the morning after a sizeable breakfast including real Swiss meusli, we said farewell to the owners and walked down the hill from the Gite de St Jean to the bus stop.

IMG_6928.jpgWhen the bus arrived it was quite full of schoolchildren. They didn’t turn a hair when we all piled on. I guess they were used to it and we were happy enough to stand. It was only a 10 minute ride down the valley through Mayoux to the next town. In Vissoie after just a few minutes loitering in the town square we boarded the 454 for Chandolin, which would take us to the village of Saint Luc.


St Luc was still sleepy as we walked through at 08:35 heading for the funicular station, but even at this hour the snowy peaks had their heads in crystal clear blue sky. They kept my eyes skyward. St Luc was a delightful little Val d’Anniviers village of clean neat streets lined with picture-book predominantly wooden Swiss cottages. There were flowers everywhere and hardly any traffic, but it was only of passing interest on the way to the mountains.IMG_6948.jpg

Towards the top of the village we found the funicular station. Built in 1995 to replace the old chair lift the terminus building is in a modern style completely out of character with the village, but it is very practical. The funicular carries passengers at 10 metres per second up 500m vertical to the top station at Tignousa (2180m). The average gradient is an impressive 43%, not far short of 1-in-1, with a maximum of an amazing 55%, more than 1-in-1. The view from inside the carriage is spectacular as it whisks you, relatively speaking, half a kilometre up the mountain.

We emerged from the modern and functional top station just after 09:00 into blindingly bright sunlight and set off for the Meidpass,about 8 km distant and roughly 800m higher at 2790m. Inevitably we were walking from one valley, the Val d’Anniviers, over a pass in the ridgeline and down into the Turtmanntal valley. Once clear of the wooded area by the funicular top station (which can be seen centre right in the photo below) the views were spectacular.


As we climbed the temperature rose and the need for constant hydration increased. After a while I dropped to the back of the group and took off my t-shirt to wring it out. It stayed off for a while tied to my rucksack to dry and it was glorious to feel the sun on my shoulders. I caught up with the group again at Lac de l’Armina where they had stopped for a break. In light of my shirtlessness I passed through and headed for the Meidpass alone. The path was steep and increasingly dry-looking. In due course the sparse grass gave way to rock and scree. Apart from the occasional person coming the other way, and Nigel who was well ahead of me, I had the mountainside to myself.


I made the pass at 11:20. The views were extraordinary as Nigel and I waited for the group to join. They weren’t long and, sadly, it was time for the t-shirt to go back on. We headed down the other side of the ridge together and marvelled at the beauty around us. In the photo here were are skirting the Meidsee en route to the lunchspot, about 30 minutes after crossing the pass.


We took lunch by the side of the Meidsee. The vegetation was still sparse but the clean and fresh water meant we could wash the lunch things before they were re-packed. Once again Pascal had prepared a salad lunch, this time with some hard-boiled eggs which for unknown reasons were yellow. But he teased us with a ‘special’ dessert which he kept secret until it was served. IMG_7008.jpg

Once the ‘main course’ had been consumed Pascal produced a pack of maringues, 2 large tubs of blueberries and several cartons of double cream. The meringues were broken up on a plate, a dozen or so blueberries were then squished into it and a huge squirt of double cream was mixed in making a fantastic sweet, sticky ‘Meidsee Mess’. We all then leapt for the tablecloth for ours. It was utterluy delicious, and better still there was enough for a second large helping.

It was all too much and as we had made good progress in the morning it was siesta time. This Alpine trekking is hell sometimes and the dreadful weather of a few days ago was forgotten in the heat and sunshine, mellowed by Pascal’s ‘Meidsee Mess’. What a fine looking bunch of hard-core trekkers.


Eventually, and a degree relutantly, it was time to move on. We still had a couple of hours trekking ahead of us but it was all downhill so no big issue.

Progressively the thin reedy grass became more full and green and occasional trees appeared. Then we passed small settlements and eventually we were in shady mixed woodlands.


Looking back the way we had come it was hard to fathom how barren and stark it was up at the pass. Isn’t such beauty breathtaking? And so much better when you’ve had to work a bit to see it.


By and by we emerged into the Turtmanntal valley and found the village of Grüben Meiden. We could see our accommodation for the night ahead. Amazingly we we’re to stay in the Hotel Schwarzhorn and we were impressed. Initially at least.


The Schwarzhorn is the large imposing building centre-left in the photo below. The hotel was quite busy with well-to-do tourists, mostly American or so they sounded, and as we walked across the manicured lawns their chatter subsided as they looked us up and down, and up again. Ooops. were we supposed to use the tradesmans’ entrance, we wondered? Anyway, normal service resumed once we’d sat down out of the way and enjoyed a cold beer or two.

We were then shown to our rooms. Oh boy. On the top floor, the 4th, well out of the way of the suites, there were 3 dorms each of 12 beds. While the mattresses and bedding were fine it was their location that took us aback. On the floor. There were no beds just a room full of matresses on the floor. Apart from a limited set of wooden shelves in the corridor there was nowhere to store our overnight bags or day packs. so the room was a mess of boots and bags. Thank goodness it was all dry. WW3 was developing in the corridor between various group over exactly who was entitled to use which storage space. In the end it subsided and we just got on with things, but did I mention the showers. No? That will be because there weren’t any on our floor. We had to go down 2 floors and queue. The posh people down there loved us of course. 36 grubby and smelly trekkers using their 2 showers. At least the water was hot but the towels ended up an odd shade of cream. We had to laugh even if our hosts were a bit wrinkly-mouthed. At least our floor had a toilet.

As it turned out the food was good. Not as much as we were accustomed to, but it was wholesome, tasty, and nicely served in a well appointed dining room. After a glass or several of wine we repaired back up to our rooms to find a war zone. There were bags everywhere and people sleeping on the corridor floor. Even more people had come in while we were dining. Thankfully we managed to pack into our dorm. It was just as well that by this time we knew each other quite well.

What a day. It started unusually, with the buses and the funicular, and ended equally unusually, in a hotel with rather good food and a friendly bar but whose accommodation above floor 3 was dire.

We left early the next day. Very early.

Haute Route Day 7 – Arolla les Haudères to Grimmentz. What a beautiful day!

This morning commenced with a early departure. Having only joined us on day 4, Rob sadly had to leave the trek. I noticed him talking intently on the telephone yesterday evening but thought nothing of it until later. He told us that while he and his wife were in France his daughter had remained in Australia. She called him to say that their house was under dire threat from a major bushfire and she needed to discuss the situation and salvage options. After a night’s reflection Rob decided that he needed to be closer to reliable communications and maybe to return down under immediately.  Either way we said goodbye early this morning. Good luck Rob!

Meanwhile the remainers were heading to Grimmentz, a village in the neighbouring valley. We were to take a minibus to Cotter to save the roadwork and group members were invited to choose whether to go in the first run or the second. The first group were to walk a little futher than the second group and were taken to the hamlet of Cotter, via Forclaz and La Sage. It was only 7 miles or so but we gained an easy 700m.


Setting off the views all around were stupendous and my heart really sang for the first time. This was chocolate box Switzerland and there was more to come. This view looking northeast.


And this looking back the way we had come, to the southeast down the valley towards Arolla les Haudères. The prominent mountain in the centre is Grand Dent de Veisivi, with Dent de Perroc beyond. Pigne d’Arolla is the highest snow-clad peak to the right.


In due course the group was reuinited and we set off for the top of the ridge, but the views kept calling and being in a hamlet served to accentuate our height and the beauty around us.


As we progressed the shade of blue in the big sky above darkened and the early light cloud began to disperse. Sunlight stole over the surrounding mountains and our dry soil zig-zig path led us ever upward towards the ridgeline.IMG_6804.jpg

At about 11 we stopped for a break at a particulalrly photogenic spot. Though these photos may not do it full justice and maybe the bloke in green should have got out of the way, it was very special. There were a lot of photos taken and a lot of chocolate shared. Swiss of course. Oh, and some more of my bro’s mint cake and some well travelled Trail Mix that had actually been to the top of Mont Blanc in June. No expense spared eh?



Then it was onward to the Col de Torrent another hour’s climb away in increasing heat.

IMG_6816.jpgThe path remained dry and wasn’t always steep as we traversed natural terracing. After the ropey weather of the first few days we were blessed with glorious sunshine, light winds and endless views. While the steep section was always in view the smiles never faded. Why on earth would they?


Eventually after a prolonged section of steep and rocky path through a blasted area of boulders and scree we reached the col. From here the views exploded and became even more dramatic, if that was possible. We were now looking down from nearly 3000m into the Val de Moiry with the Lac des Autannes in the foreground and the much larger and stunning Lac de Moiry below.


Shortly after leaving the col we stopped for lunch and Pascal with customary wizardry produced a feast. New this time was a ‘gendarme’ sausage to be eaten with mustard.


In fact there was so much food and we had made such good time in the morning although it was fairly chilly at this height there was time for a siesta.IMG_6842.jpg

Then Bobbie helped Amanda’s stiffness with some painful-looking contortion aerobics. The mountain air affects different people in different ways but it was jolly entertaining for the rest of us and Amanda did say she felt better. Extraordinary!IMG_6848.jpg

After lunch we headed fast down into the Val de Moiry and the stunningly intense aquamarine or turquiose waters of the lac. This breathtaking colour is apparently due to rock salt in the water that absorbs some of the spectrum of light and predominantly reflecting the blue. The intensity of the blue is normally enhanced by the blue sky above although by the time this photo was taken it was getting distinctly grey.IMG_6861.jpg

The Lac de Moiry is actually a reservoir holding a massive 78 million cubic metres of water. While the lac is 120m deep the dam at its head is 148m high. By now the sky was blue again and the lac really glows blue.IMG_6876.jpgOur route took us to the side of the lac and then over the massive dam to a little cafe on the far side where we were to meet Yves. Yves is actually a very senior, extremely talented and knowledgeable Alpine guide in his own right. He is so much more than a driver and we were lucky that this week he supported Pascal with kit transfer.

After a well-earned refreshment at the cafe Yves took us several miles north to the village of Grimmentz where were were to spend the night, thereby saving the road walk. Grimmentz is a delightful little village that epitomizes Switzerland for me. I don’t think I can do better than to show you, rather than try to describe its charm.



From this hostelry is was only a short walk to our accommodation. Having described last night’s hotel as a million percent better that what went before, the bar just got raised higher. The Gite de St-Jean was perfect. The owners were charming, the food was very tasty (soup followed by unlimited cottage pie), the wine and beer were chilled, the rooms were spacious and each sleeping space had plenty of elbow room and colourful bedding. There was a good Wi-Fi and numerous charging points. The showers were clean with plenty of hot water and the views were magnificent. There was even a sensible sized window ledge in the 12-man room I shared with Bernie, J-P, Bobbie, Amanda and Jacqui where I could put my smelly trainers. I think we had our best night’s sleep on the whole trip here as this group were to the quiet end of the snoring spectrum. Best of all there was real Swiss muesli for breakfast in addition to a continental spread. I couldn’t recommend the Gite de St-Jean in Grimmentz more highly.

Here are two of the views.

The first being enjoyed by Nigel and J-P, along with some complementary peanuts:


And this looking back towards the mountains at sundown.IMG_6915.jpg

Such magnificence. I wanted to stay here all week! Could tomorrow possibly be better?










Haute Route Day 6 – from the Cabane de Praflueri to Arolla les Haudères

After the broadly fine weather yesterday we barely dared hope for another. But we got lucky!

From the Cabane de Praflueri (2662m) we headed across boulders and up rocky and still icy paths to the Col des Roux at 2800m. It was cold in the ealy morning mountain air and the sky was almost cloudless as we slipped and stumbled down into the valley and then up to the col. The distance was only 800m or so but it was tricky underfoot. The view from the col looking south was superb. Grande Dixence lake, or the Lac de Dix, shimmered and reflected the high mountains beyond: Mont Blanc de Cheilon (3870m) to the right and the Pigne d’Arolla (3796m) on the left. I climbed Pigne d’Arolla on my first Alpine skills course several years ago.


From the col we headed down steep and initially icy but dry rocky paths to the side of the Grande Dixence lake. In the north to our left we could see the top of a huge dam.

The Grande Dixence dam, the world’s highest gravity dam, is part of a vast complex that includes four pumping stations and three power stations with a total output of 2,000 MW. 100 km of tunnels in the midst of the mountainous area collect meltwater from 35 glaciers in the canton of Valais. The Grande Dixence hydroelectric power complex accounts for 20% of Switzerland’s energy storage capacity and provides enough electricity to power the equivalent of 500,000 homes.

But we turned to the right and made our way along an uncommonly flat vehicle track dodging, and occasionally climbing up the rocky sides of the track to avoid, several dozen sizeable horned cattle. The delicately toned bells around their necks did little to diminish the size of these beasts and we were wary as they passed, usually closer than this.


By mid morning we had reached the southern end of the lake where we stopped for a break. Even though most people had snacks, and I was enjoying and sharing some Kendal Mint Cake which was a gift from my brother Richard, Pascal passed around some sweets and biscuits to keep us going.

After 10 minutes or so we began the climb up to what, for some people, is a significant challenge, the Pas de Chèvre ladders close the the Col de Riedmatten. The way was initially up steep but well-defined paths through mixed grass and rocks. With the view of the lake expanding all the time and the weather reamining good this was a joyous section, but it wasn’t without a slippery climb or two.


Eventually the grass thinned then disappeared as we climbed a moraine and the way became rocky and desolate once more. Further on we walked for a while alongside a mountain stream. Though were were pretty warm for our exertions nobody was tempted to dip their toes into the glacier meltwater.


Towards lunch time a decision was to be taken. Would we cross the ridgeline overlooking the Cheilon Glacier into the Arolla valley by the Col de Riedmatten or would we use the ladders at the nearby Pas de Chèvres?

Until 2014 the ladders, installed decades ago and subjected to the elements as well as the traffic of thousands of hikers, were not used by everyone. Many hikers opted instead for the steep, loose terrain of Col de Riedmatten. Given these two options, this section was often more of a dreaded moment than an enjoyable experience. Now, however, all of the stunning glory of the Cheilon Glacier and Pigne d’Arolla can be enjoyed free of trepidation. At least by those with a head for heights. New ladders, installed in 2014, are a marvel of Swiss engineering. Built directly into the cliff face on freshly scoured granite, these ladders inspire confidence, alledgedly. The views from the platforms are stellar, and you can take in the splendor in relative safety. As for Col de Riedmatten, though there are cables and chains protecting the upper sections of the trail, rockfall is always a possibility. We, or more precisely, Pascal, chose the ladders. Everybody was fine on all of the 4 ladder/platform sections, but some were more able to enjoy the panorama than others and those yet to climb looked on apprehensively.



Mercifully, once were were all safely at the Pas de Chèvre it was time for lunch. Once more Pascal broke out the little red and white tablecloth on to and around which were placed the various lunch items by those who had carried them. Food carriage is a shared responsibility but Pascal always carried more than his fair share.


After lunch we had a relatively easy, and definitely less stressful, walk down to Arolla with stunning views of the Pigne d’Arolla and its glacier to our right.


In due course as we lost height the way became green and the air warmer, although it had never been really cold. Shorts and t-shirts were the order of the day for some while others preferred a little more coverage upper body and some on the legs too. As we aproached Arolla the vegetation became more green.


Arolla is at the end of the Val d’Hérens at just under 2000m at the foot of Mount Collon and we were to be taken to our overnight accommodation at Les Haudères from Arolla. This would save unecessary and unwelcome footslogging along roads. As we approached the village anticipation of there being a source of refreshement grew. It had been a long day after all.


But Pascal’s colleague, Yves, was waiting to take half of the group to les Haudères village and I opted to be in that group. There would be refreshment there too, and being in the first group guaranteed a choice of beds and a hot shower!

Most of us, all except 3 of the women, were staying in the delightful Hôtel Pension des Alpes. They were in the slightly more up-market Hôtel des Haudères around the corner, but we all ate and drank together and the girls were escorted home, some later than others. In this picture my room-mate Bernie is happily guarding my meagre refreshment in the beer garden while I took the photo. The others were not far away.


This was the start of a fine evening. The better weather had consolidated and the new joiners were fully integrated. The hotel was several million percent better that the Cabane de Praflueri in every single aspect and this alone demanded celebration. Indeed some people didn’t make it to bed until 2am, not least due to the discovery of a digestive called Génépi, This is a traditional herbal aperitif related to absynthe (but without the hallucinagens) popular in Alpine regions. I couldn’t possibly say who the late revellers were and everyone made it to breakfast on time in good shape.

What a great day! Bring on day 7.


Haute Route Day 5 – at last a day of sunshine

At the Cabane de Louvie we awoke to the strains of The Eagles ‘Desperado’ at 6:30. This has been the team wake up alarm since it was first used in Corsica on the GR20 in June 2016 but sadly not used sooner on this trip. What a difference it made! We awoke to blue sky. To say the crowded dorm of 14 exalted would be a step too far at this hour but the joy and relief was palpable. This is the view over the lake that greeted us.

As I watched from outside while trying to find the satellite on my satphone, the sun crept over the horizon and illuminated the crests to my left. I can still feel the goosebumps now. At last. AT LAST!

In the other direction the left flank of the Grand Combin appeared majestic and commanding in a crystal clear azure sky. Today was going to be a great day!

After breakfast we set off around the western side of Lac de Louvie. We were still in shade and some mist had returned. It was cold but the track was firm and the sky was pale blue rather than grey.

While on the track Pascal pointed out some fox tracks. Little by little the mist lifted. Then we saw Ibex tracks too and scanning the mountainside we saw the animals themselves.

Shortly after we turned away from the lake and climbed towards the Col de Louvie. As we climbed the mist lifted, the sky became darker blue and the sun reached us.

The gradient gradually increased and we then found ourselves in a boulder field. Boulders covered in snow and ice aren’t fun and the way became quite tough.

The best solution was to hop from one exposed and dry rock to another. But that technique tempts a slip and is not adopted by everyone. However a few of us did use that technique without mishap and were soon at the col. Others followed close behind. Jacqui, Bobbie and I were among the first up.

After another al fresco picnic lunch close to the col we continued into Le Grand Dèsert. This was a blasted and barren area of rock through which it was necessary to go to reach the Col de Praz Flueri.

Once over the col it was a straightforward matter to head down through greener pastures to the Cabane de Prafluri where we were to spend the night.

This accommodation presented challenges in terms of drinkable water, showers that worked, its welcome and its unique operating rules but it was comfortable enough for a one-night stay.

Haute Route Day 4 – summer snow

Hi everyone. Sorry for there being no blog for a few days. The last 3 nights have found us in locations without any phone service coverage or WiFi.

On the morning of day 4 we awoke to a winter wonderland; unexpected in early September.

After breakfast, with a degree of reluctance, and wearing just about every bit of clothing, we headed out.

The raw cold air banished any early morning cobwebs as we headed carefully along previously muddy but now frozen narrow pathways.

Despite heading down towards the ski resort of Verbier, or maybe because of it, the snow got heavier. But the scenery, or at least as much of it as we could see through the murk, became more picturesque.

Sadly, shortly after this picture was taken my camera phone decided it was too cold and shut down. While being unfortunate that at least saves you being presented with endless snowy photos of us trudging through snow until lunchtime.

At about midday we neared the valley and in coming out of the snow we were treated to the first close-up view of an Ibex.

Once in the valley we were transferred to the village of Fionnay where we found a cafe in which to warm up before having a picnic lunch outside. At least it had warmed up a little.

At this point our group increased to 14 with 5 new joiners; Ian’s girlfriend Catherine, Rob from Australia, Bobbie and Mandy from Pennsylvania and Dallas, and a Frenchman called Jean-Pierre.

After lunch we headed up into the clouds again and soon lost any visibility. There was little snow at this height, the precipitation having been replaced by rain.

The occasional glimpses of the valley below were welcome but the afternoon became an uninteresting uphill slog. But spirits remained high as we got to know our new trek-makes.

In due course we reached the Cabane de Louvie, a traditional wooden building with a great view over the Lac de Louvie, apparently. Unfortunately we couldn’t see it and the lack of communications added to the joy.

After dinner things perked up somewhat as Pascal produced some pipes and proceeded to entertain us with wit and music. What had been a fairly challenging day and one in which good humour had been in short supply ended very well. Thanks Pascal!

And so to bed in hope of better weather the next day.

And we got it!

Haute Route Day 3 – to the Col de Mille

Our third day on the walkers Haute Route started with a 45 minute transfer by minibus to the small town of Bourg-St-Pierre. We were then to walk broadly north for about 10 miles, crossing under the Grand Combin and crossing alpine meadows to the Col de Mille where we would spend the night.

The Grand Combin is a large glaciated massif consisting of several summits, among which three are above 4000 metres.

Following a tummy-settling post-minibus coffee in Bourg-St-Pierre we headed off north. Initially walking along minor roads we soon left the town behind us and followed farm tracks up to the high pastures. As we gained height we were treated to an unexpected early view of the valley we were to skirt to the east.

As we gained height we became more hopeful of a clear day. The surrounding pastures were great and we could see across the valley to the alps on the other side dotted with chalets. It was shaping to be a good day and I even risked a photo.

But that proved to be the cue for the mist to roll in again. Five minutes later this was the view.

As a result our eyes turned to our immediate area and I was delighted when Jacqui handed me a mountain raspberry which she had just picked. Closer inspection showed there to be dozens of them and all were beautifully juicy little red gems. Each was no more than 1cm wide or long and often they were smaller, but all were very red, ripe, juicy and tasty.

Then we were unexpectedly granted a glimpse into the murk. Across the valley a very small window appeared in the cloud curtain and through it poked (I think) the Grandes Jurasses. It was a moment of exquisite pleasure. Look closely in the centre-left of the picture.

But the view was short lived as the curtain closed and the mists rolled in again.

At about 11:30 we reached Le Coeur, a creamery making Coeur cheese from cows milk. Our arrival was a little surreal. As we walked through the mist and with the sound of cowbells clanging cheerfully in the distance, a small group of dwellings appeared together with what appeared to be a giant hurling huge sawn logs around to a rock music accompaniment. It turned out to be one of the burlier cheese makers moving the logs closer to where they were needed and he had Lou Reed’s ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ on his radio. Pascal knew the man as one of 3 who worked at Le Coeur and we were invited to tour the creamery.

What a treat it was. We were shown the room where the milk was heat treated. There was a delicious smell of woodsmoke in the room although the cheese is not smoked. It transpired that the wood we saw being piled would in due course be burned in a huge metal container over which a massive cauldron of cheese would be manoeuvred to be heat treated. In the photo below the fire box is on the left and the milk cauldron in on the right. The pulley and lever system to manoeuvre the cauldron over the fire is hidden above.

Once the cheese had been made and shaped it was stored in another building, here:

In this picture you can see new cheese stored alongside more mature cheese. The latter is clearly marked COEUR.

After our tour we bought a quarter of a cheese and proceeded to have some of it for lunch. It was only just after 12 but it was a perfect location to sample the Coeur cheese with fresh artisan bread, saucisson and some terrine du porc (one infused with cognac). We also had some quiche and peaches. Once again Pascal used his delightful little red and white cloth and we tucked in watched closely by 2 very energetic collie dogs.

After lunch we continued our journey north, sometimes in weak sunshine but often in thick mist. During one brighter spell we were closely watched by a cow, in this case a brown one rather than the more usual black.

Once past the path guardian we could see our target for the day, the Cabana de Mille, in the distance around a huge amphitheatre. By the time this picture was taken the mist had obscured it but it was roughly in the middle of the photo.

We could have gone directly to it using the obvious tracks seen on the photo, but instead elected to go the long way round to the right and to approach the cabana indirectly.

In contouring around we came upon this relatively new dwelling. We were amused to see the loo, proudly exposed below and to the right of the house. Undoubtedly the best seat around but lacking in privacy and likely to be very cold given the strength of wind typical up here.

Moving on, we continued to contour around to the cabana, which was reached about 3pm. Modern in style the bar/restaurant area had magnificent panoramic windows.

From which the view was stupendous!

To cap a really good day sadly lacking in decent weather but otherwise most enjoyable, Pascal prepared some of the mushrooms gathered yesterday for us to eat. The orange ones are the Saffron Milk Cap that I mentioned yesterday while the pale ones are porcini. They were cooked simply with garlic and were completely delicious.

The mushrooms were followed by dinner and a lots of chat over a beer or two. Then time for bed in another one-team dorm. Thank goodness I don’t need much sleep.

See you tomorrow!

Haute Route Day 2 – Forest trails

Today we were to walk 18km or so from Trient to Champex, mostly on forest trails.

We started at 8:30, crossing the road from our accommodation and entering an area of extensive forest. With occasional glimpses of Montigny to our left we walked uphill through the forest for 2 hours. This photo is of Pascal trying to enthuse us before heading into the wooded gloom.

This won’t be everyone’s idea of a good walk but we knew from Pascal’s briefing that today would be like this; largely forest walking with limited views. It was nice therefore that there was interest within the forest itself. Not from birds, animals or tree types but from mushrooms. We must have been in ‘mushroom central’. Every few yards, feet sometimes, there were different mushrooms. Mushroom spotting isn’t my field so I can’t tell you what they all were, but they came in a variety of shades, colours and sizes. I think my favourite was this beautifully coloured amanita muscaria. Although classified as poisonous reports of human deaths resulting from its ingestion are extremely rare.

Pascal was particularly interested in this lactarius deliciosus, commonly known as the saffron milk cup, of which he picked a few dozen for eating tomorrow.

And this monster, the big daddy of one he had picked earlier and shared with us. It was absolutely delicious.

Eventually we became mushroomed out and continued our upward toil. There really wasn’t anything else memorable to record other that the steepness and lack of interest, as seen in this photo.

Once we had gained the plateau of the Bovine, an area famous for the raising of beef, the sky cleared a little and we found ourselves at the delightful Alpage de Bovine.

A popular lunch stop for those people walking the Tour de Mont Blanc, the alpage is owned by a lady who also keeps cows, complete with neck bells, and sells wonderful home made treats, charcuterie, and drinks to travellers. Pascal introduced her to us and she poured us some of her delicious white wine. Then she learned it was one of the groups 60th birthday and she poured some more on the house. Happy birthday Nigel!

Had it been lunchtime we would doubtless have investigated the food in more detail, as others were doing.

But it wasn’t so we moved outside where a helpful panoramic photograph showed whet we would have been able to see if it wasn’t for the wretched mist.Apparently the Jungfrau is out there somewhere.

After an hour or so more forest trekking and mushroom harvesting we stopped for lunch at the L’alpage du Plan de l’au. This amazing and highly rated alpage was very popular and included a viewing terrace conplete with tables and red and white parasols. Although we did use the facilities and the bar for some amber refreshment we didn’t eat there. Instead Pascal prepared a salad and we dined al fresco on cheese, bread, saucisson and cantaloupe melon in an old shed round the back. Jolly delicious it was too!

After a longerthan customary lunch due to Nigel’s birthday we made tracks for the Relais d’Arpelle where we would spend the night. Once more the otherwise largely uninteresting, to me at least, trek through the forest was enlivened by the mushroom spotting. This was also enhanced as one of our group is quite an expert on mushrooms and was happy to bring us up to speed on characteristics andtheir names. My favourite from the afternoon was this little family. Sadly I didn’t get their name.

Eventually even we were mushroomed out for a second time and we headed along forest roads and then tracks by a surging watercourse and waterfalls to our Relais.

After finding our rooms, two dorms with much more room and light than last night, we showered and rested before dinner. Some wine and other drinks accompanied a rousing chorus of ‘Happy Birthday dear Nigel’ then it was time for bed.

Apparently the weather is looking better for tomorrow and we should be above the clouds. Can’t wait!

Haute Route Day 1 – rain vs. smiles. The smiles won!

The first day of our bimble began this morning. Following a fine breakfast at our hotel we caught the Number 2 bus from Argentière to the village of Le Tour, a few minutes down the valley but too far to walk with our overnight bags. He are the gang (in addition to me) at the bus stop: L to R Steve, Jane, Ian, Clive, Wanda, Bernie and Nigel. Jacqueline, on holiday in France from Brazil, was to join us at the start.

We met our ace guide Pascal Rolle in Le Tour. After much handshaking, backslapping and hugging, as he knew most of us from previous trips, we had some tea and coffee in the Chalet Alpin. At 1462m this traditional chalet is owned by the French Alpine Club and Pascal briefed us on the trip from there. that’s him in the black hat and shades.

Then we were off. At about 10am we headed up through an area which, in winter, would have been a huge ski slope but was now a steep grassy slope cut by gravelly access roads. These were used by the maintenance teams to access the pylons and winch gear driving the cable cars overhead. By and by, and in particular once we had climbed past the Charamillon, which at 1850m is a restaurant and first aid post and where skiers would leave their cable cars and continue upwards on ski lifts or tows, the terrain changed. The grass became more sparse and colourful, being dotted with wildflowers in yellow, blue, pink and white. The paths became more narrow and rocky, and steeper. At the same time the sky which was unbroken blue at the start was becoming cloudy. Nonetheless our chatter continued as we climbed towards the Col de Balme, casting occasional glances back across Le Tour to the Mont Blanc massif brightly illuminated by the golden late summer sunshine.

By 11:30 we had reached the col at 2185m and were at the French/Swiss border and took advantage of the bar/café positioned there, the Chalet du Col de Balme. Most people had a coffee or tea but not all as there was also a fine selection of beer from the Brasserie de Mont Blanc. It would have been churlish to pass it by. It was after all nearly lunchtime and we had climbed almost a vertical kilometre to reach it.

After this brief rest we continued. But instead of following the normal Haute Route which just went down the other side of the ridge to the village of Trient, Pascal took us on a path which contoured along the ridgeline to the south east. The purposes of this were to make more of the day, to save our knees from a simple downhill slog, and to give us a view of the impressive Glacier du Trient.

As soon as we crested the col, from the southern, French, aspect to the north-facing Swiss side of the ridge the environment changed. The grass became longer and more green while the pretty little wild flowers were replaced by bushier and tougher wild plants including thistles and heathers. The terrain including the paths became more rugged. Most telling the cloud cover increased dramatically.

After an interesting walk of an hour or so during which our views progressively deteriorated to this…

…we stopped for lunch at about 12:30. Pascal had prepared a delightful picnic of cold meat, cheese, tomatoes and bread with peaches for dessert and placed them on a little red and white tablecloth on a flat rock in a clearing and we ate heartily.

We had just finished lunch when the rain started. Gentle at first so we were a little slow in donning full waterproofs. In fact as there was no wind to speak of and it wasn’t cold some people including myself only wore jackets, deciding against the often unpleasant wearing of waterproof trousers too. Pascal even produced a mountain umbrella which he delighted in demonstrating with Bernie.

Then we moved off into the murk, over sharp-edged rocks which were increasingly slippery. Indeed one of our number took a painful tumble which required Pascal’s first aid skills to make good – no it wasn’t me! They finished the day at a reduced pace but in significant discomfort and may take a rest day tomorrow.

Meanwhile while the intensity of the rain increased we were afforded just one glimpse of the glacier when, extraordinarily, the grey curtain parted briefly. Although indistinct the Glacier du Trient may be seen in the upper part of this photo, to the right of the cascading rivers.

Then it was gone and we headed onwards once more. Up and down slippery rocky climbs, sometimes assisted by chain link but mostly just taking great care.

There was one section which would have been very difficult indeed to pass were it not for some impressive Swiss engineering and a grabwire.

That was about the last of the excitement. There followed an hour or so of wet slippery trudge down muddy and rocky paths to complete the walk of around 18km. The woodland was extensive and on a drier day we would have spent longer investigating the lichen, mushrooms and other interesting facets of this valley. Pascal did his best to engage us but with waterproofs struggling to cope with the deluge we headed for our overnight accommodation without delay.

Perched 300ft above the valley and the village of Trient there were some superb views which I would have been delighted to share with you had my camera not given up the ghost. In my pocket for easy access it was always likely to get wet. Had it been in my pack to keep it dry I wouldn’t have been able to reach it without constant stops – and that wasn’t going to happen. Anyway it would still have got wet in use. So with my shorts dripping wet we just headed for home for the night; the Hotel du Col de la Forclaz. Google maps says it has dorm-style and private rooms in an unfussy hotel offering free breakfast, 2 eateries and a bar. Yep, that’s about right. It’s warm and dry. The bar was welcoming enough and the ‘take it or leave it’ dinner of tomato soup, chicken and chips with cauliflower cheese, and ice cream to follow was just fine.

I’m writing this from our dorm. We have a room to ourselves. All 9 of us together in one room. There’s not a lot of space or light but the bedding is clean and we’re all pretty tired. There is a separate bed for one person while the other 8 are in two rows of 4, one row up and the other down. Space on the upper deck where I find myself was eased when one team member unused to sleeping in such close proximity with relative strangers announced that wasn’t going to happen. They took their bedding down to a common space and was last seen kipping in a chair. Ah well. That’s how it goes sometimes. Once my camera recovered and before the aforementioned incident I took this from which you get the gist. It is a bit tight but I’ve slept in a lot worse

Anyway. It’s just gone 11:30 in Switzerland and I’m now the only one awake in the dorm. Mercifully the loo is just next door. The sound of rhythmic breathing is everywhere intermingled with more strident utterances. And it’s not only the chaps.

Now where did I leave my earplugs.

Haha. You have to laugh. But you know, despite the rain there was not one complaint all day and everyone kept smiling. Even a slight error in navigational understanding that resulted in one gang member striding ahead and ending up arriving at the accommodation two rounds of drinks behind the rest was resolved in good humour over dinner. No, that wasn’t me either.

What a great group of people I’m with. And thanks Pascal. What a star!

Night night John boy


The Haute Route – a bimble through Alpine France and Switzerland

Hi everyone,

Two months have passed sinse I was last in the Alps and the old feet are getting restless. But the itchiness won’t last for for long as I’m off again tomorrow and for once I won’t be climbing but walking and the views will be green rather than white.

A group of friends and I, led by the fantastic guide and good buddy Pascal Rolle, are currently heading for France and are going to walk the Alpine Haute Route (or the High Route or the Mountaineers’ Route).

First identified as a summer Alpine mountaineering route by the English Alpine Club over 150 years ago, it normally takes around 12 days to walk (or 7 days to ski) the 180 km from the Chamonix valley, where I stayed prior to climbing Mont Blanc in June, to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. There isn’t a fixed route and depending on the conditions day by day some sections of glacier may need to be avoided by those not geared up for glacier travel. However, we will try to stick as close to the original route as possible, and will do it 10 days. Now there’s a surprise…

I believe that for some of the time we will be on the “Walker’s” Haute Route, which is an alpine hiking trail that follows a network of well-marked and signposted paths. The “Walker’s” route stays below 3000 meters and takes advantage of the popular mountain huts and small inns and hotels in the villages along the way. Sounds good eh? In the spring, summer and fall, this route is safe and requires no ropes, crampons, or protection devices but remains challenging because of its daily elevation gains and distances.

Whichever way we go, the Haute Route in 10 days (actually nine and a half as we finish in Zermatt early in the afternoon of day ten), will be a wonderful leg-stretch in glorious mountain scenery and I am looking forward to taking you with me.

I shall try to post a blog every day, but that will depend on phone coverage (likely to be spartan in the valleys and more remote areas) and the availability of Wi-Fi in the evenings.

All things being equal, my next post will be tomorrow from the village of Trient, just over the border into Switzerland, in the canton of Valais. We will get there via the Col de Balme (the Balme Pass). The col is at 2195m (7201ft) and we will climb nearly 900m (nearly 3000ft) to reach it before descending almost but not quite as far to the village in the valley beyond. As a ‘taster’ this is what it should look like in the pass (courtesy of Wikipedia).


More tomorrow. Hopefully…