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.
At 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.
Unexpectedly 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.
Then, 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!