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.
When 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.
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.
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.