Sorry for the long delay in finishing the posts from my summer trip. Since I didn’t have my laptop with me, I wasn’t able to download, keyword, or sort until I got home and then “regular” life and a couple other trips distracted me.
The walkers Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, covering about 187 km (over 100 miles), is typically covered in about two weeks, in 14 stages. Before we started, we planned to combine a few stages and skip a couple, shortening this hut-to-hut or village-to-village hike to eleven days. Though we hiked about as many days as planned, we ended up abandoning the route, partially because of weather and partially because it was more difficult than expected, especially carrying 20 pound backpacks.
24 July – Forclaz (Stage 1-2) – Rain
It rained heavily during the night and when we saw the forecast for more of the same, we had a pow-wow and considered skipping the route entirely and heading to Italy for a week. Instead we took the train further than planned, to Le Châtelard just across the Swiss border, and then caught a bus to Trient. From there it was an hour hike uphill in the rain to Col de la Forclaz. We arrived before lunch and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon drinking tea, sharing apricot and raspberry tarts, napping, showering, strolling during breaks in the rain, drinking beer, and chatting. Though postcards implied that we were surrounded by snow-capped peaks, we say none of them.
25 July – Lac du Champex (Stage 3) – More Rain
Anne and I decided not to join Hennie and Lynne on the Bovine Route, due to predicted rain and mud. Instead we spent almost four hours in transit (bus–train–train–train–bus) at a cost of over $50, including a snafu with our train ticket purchase (a lot of time and money to avoid walking in the rain). When we got to Champex, a small town along a lovely lake, we had lunch at one of the only open restaurants. I picked the cheapest thing on the menu, a small pizza and a simple green salad. My meal came to about $30; this is an expensive place.
As we headed back to our lodging, we encountered Hennie and Lynne returning from their wet, muddy hike. We checked into Hôtel du Col de la Forclaz and were assigned to a seven-bed dorm room; we were later joined by three young American men.
After placing my bags down, I walked uphill a few minutes to the Jardin Flore-Alpe where I spent a pleasant hour photographing alpine flowers. It drizzled on and off. Afterwards, I had a nice gluten-free dinner, rice with a small but yummy piece of chicken, and once again we talked about replanning to reduce rain and avoid thunderstorms.
26 July – Mont Fort (Stage 4-5) – Fog
Based on Hennie’s past experience, we combined two stages of the route, hiking in the fog through pastureland to Sembrancher, then catching a train to La Châble, bypassing a stretch along the road. We got a few peeks of the nearby peaks along the way in between the clouds.
In La Châble, we were fortunate to find the supermarket right before it’s midday closing. We quickly purchase food for three lunches – cheese, olives, nuts, hard-boiled eggs (dyed red), and energy bars. From there we took two cable cars up to Les Ruinettes, where we had a picnic lunch. By then, the fog had once again surrounded us. The hike up to Cabane de Mont Fort was pleasant, along a stream much of the time. We arrived with plenty of time to shower, relax and take pictures when the sun peeked out. The recent snow provided a beautiful dusting, like powdered sugar, on the craggy mountains. We had our own four-person dorm room. Dinner was delicious, including minestrone-like soup and a rare salad with lots of veggies. The main course was spaghetti, but since I requested a gluten-free meal, I was served a delicious raclette, a Swiss dish similar to scalloped potatoes, and in this case, crispy bacon. We all liked this hut with its friendly staff.
27 July – Prafleuri (Stage 6) – Boulder Fields
After such a delicious dinner, I was surprised to see no protein was served at breakfast, so I ate one of my hardboiled eggs.
I wasn’t worried when I read the hike description, after all I had recently completed a hike in Colorado that was longer, steeper, and at higher elevation, however, this was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever completed – more boulder field than trail. It took us 11 hours to reach Cabene de Prafleuri, almost twice as long as the book estimated. I was exhausted, and there was some grumpiness in the group, but my injured body parts held up well and the views were amazing.
We reread the hike description in our guidebook (Chamonix to Zermatt, the classic Walker’s Haute Route by Kev Reynolds), but there is no mention of rocks or boulders! An easy-to-miss comment does state that the estimated times do not include breaks. We took two, one for a snack and one for lunch; I finally consumed the can of tuna I’d been carrying for days.
We arrived just in time for dinner, served community style at long tables. It’s nice meeting up with the same people each night and comparing notes. This was our least favorite hut — no Wi-Fi, we had to either sterilize or purchase water, and there were only two toilets for the whole place. There were ten futons laid side-by-side on either side of our dorm room. The bedding clearly wasn’t changed nightly, so I used my sleep sack. I lay awake for hours with aching legs, finally falling asleep around 1:00 a.m. After the chatting people beneath us in the kitchen went to bed, it was surprisingly quiet.
28 July – Arolla (Stage 7) – Shortcut
Anne and I opted to take the easy way out, hiking for only two hours. We started straight up through a boulder field, taking about a half hour to reach the ridge with nice, if somewhat cloudy, views. From there it was a pleasant half hour down to Lac de Dix, where we bid goodbye to Hennie and Lynne. They turned right to continue with the next stage of the Haute Route, while we turned left and hiked along the lake. It took about an hour to reach the dam, the tallest gravity dam in the world (taller than the Eiffel Tower from it’s base). Our trail took us through multiple tunnels. After barely finding our way in the dark, we found a light switch for the next one. From the dam we caught a cable car down to Le Chargeur where we enjoyed tea/coffee and reconnecting with Wi-Fi while waited for the bus to Vex. Though less than 6 miles away, it took us almost 4 hours to reach Arolla from the dam.
We checked into Hotel de Glacier, a tremendous improvement over last night, where we showered, washed our clothes, and enjoyed the view from our flower-lined balcony, the sound of cowbells drifting across the valley. It was luxurious to have room to move about and repack our bags.
Lynne and Hennie arrived around 3:30, tired from their hike. It sounded like a good one, except for a steep uphill gravel stretch before a set of ladders.
Though this was my favorite hotel, and I enjoyed a very nice beer on the patio, dinner was disappointing. The salad was good, though with too much dressing, but the raclette was a great disappointment after my previous one. It was a do-it-yourself version with a pool of melted cheese on a plate, plain boiled baby potatoes, pickles, and various unappealing dried meats.
29 July – La Sage (Stage 8) – A Pleasant Hilly Hike
Anne decided to return home early, the injuries she incurred before our trip didn’t allow her enough time to get in shape, so she departed this morning, catching a bus and train to Zurich, then flying to London. Lynne woke up feeling ill, so she caught the first bus with Anne, while Hennie and I hiked.
We were on the trail by 8:00 and we saw no one for several hours, hearing only the sound of a stream and birds. It took us four hours to get to Les Hauderes, an hour longer than estimated (no surprise). We opted for the higher, more scenic route with lots of ups and downs. The section near Lac Bleu was especially pretty with nice views looking back at Mont Collon. There we met many day hikers heading out for a Saturday outing.
We crossed the road and continued downhill through trees and meadows to Les Hauderes. From there, we took a bus to La Sage, bypassing the last uphill portion of this stage. My legs were again aching, obviously needing more rest to recover from our arduous boulder field hike.
Lynne was napping when we arrived around 1:00. She slept for hours and felt much better afterwards. Our rooms aren’t as nice as last night’s (smaller with no view), but the lounge is huge with windows on three sides. After a shower and a nap, we spent the whole afternoon lounging there, watching storms move across the distant mountains. Our dinner was delicious: a salad with a small quiche, chicken breast with rice and herbs, fresh fruit, and a surprise bottle of champagne from a friend of Lynne’s.
30 July – Sion
With rain and thunderstorms in the forecast, we decided to skip the rest of the Haute Route and head early to Zermatt (see next post), stopping for one night in Sion on the way.
After breakfast at Hotel de la Sage, which included delicious fresh, warm croissants with homemade jam, we strolled through town watching vendors setting up for a festival. We decided to walk down to the next stop rather than take a chance the bus wouldn’t make it to our stop with booths lining the narrow street. In less than an hour, I was back at the bus stop in Les Hauderes for the third day in a row. This time I took a short walk through town before relaxing on the lawn behind the bus station.
It took us about 45 minutes to reach Sion, a huge town by comparison to where we been (34,000). It’s the capital of Valais, the canton in which we’ve been hiking for the last week. Our hotel was only ten minutes from the train station at the edge old town. It felt hot, after the cool mountains, in the mid-80s (about 30°C). After checking in, we had a yummy lunch on an outdoor plaza (tuna with rice and veggies for me). It was the only place serving food midday on a Sunday. Afterwards we walked up to the ruins of a castle, Château de Tourbillon, and the Sion Cathedral, both provided nice views of town and the incoming storm. We got down before it arrived and rested in our triple room – showering, napping, and listening to thunder. Again, most the restaurants were closed, but we found an open one and enjoyed a pleasant dinner at an outdoor café. Accordions were playing as we walked around town, and vendors were setting up for Swiss National Day.