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Haute Route 2013-Day 6-Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla

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Lac Des Dix Sunrise

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 6

Cabane du Prafleuri to Arolla
Day
Hiking Time:7:32
Hiking Distance(mi):)11.4
Elevation Gain(ft):3,038
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:6
HR Hiking Time:38:39
HR Distance Hiked(mi):65.6
Elevation Gained(ft):20,502
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View back to Cabane de Prafleuri from Col de Roux

Another early breakfast and back on the trail by 7:43 AM. We followed Martijn for the immediate long climb up to the Col de Roux which starts 50 yards from the Cabane front door. The climb was well rewarded with a sunrise just coming over the mountain and Lac des Dix spread out below us. The lake is the second largest lake in Valais and the largest lake above 2,000 m in the Alps at 4km^2. We took some time to take in the gorgeous view and snap a few photos. It was breathtaking!

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Lac Des Dix Trail
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Glacier des Ecoulaies

We then descended down to the lake in typical zigzag fashion while taking in the magnificent views of the lake and the Glacier des Ecoulaies to the right. Once down to the lake we followed a very flat dirt road for over 3 miles to the inlet to the lake. We chatted with Bob and Matthew, an uncle and nephew from Ohio, while we lazily walked the dirt road: The only flat section of the entire 14 days. Bob was an avid cyclist and had done some pretty long rides across the country, so we instantly had good topic of conversation. There were cattle all along the shoreline grazing and I decided to try to get some pictures of them. I kept trying to slingshot myself up and past the the other hikers on the road in order stay with them, but eventually I fell back. There were a bunch of Scottish hikers behind us and they eventually came past me. The one girl in the bunch had had her hiking boots stolen at the Cabane du Mont Fort and had been hiking in another pair that had been left behind. Perhaps they were the persons’ that took hers. I eventually gave up on the cattle photos and made a push for the end of the lake to catch back up with Denise.

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Lac des Dix Sunrise

Once at the inlet, we began a very steep hike up to the right on our way to Cabane des Dix, our lunch stop. The cimb eventually lessened a bit as we walked a ridge on a morraine heading towards Tete Noir and Mt. Blanc de Cheilon behind it. The climb intensified more and cresting Tete Noir was really steep and loose footing to boot. We could then finally see the cabane below and we began descending down to it. My knee had started to ache a bit now and I started to worry it would get worse as the day went on. We eventually made it to the cabane where Martijn had already arrived. Martijn was a solo traveler from the Netherlands that had became part of the core group that was trekking the same itinerary as we were. He is tall guy and very fast hiker. He was always the first one to reach the days destination, regardless if he started before or after everyone else. We were able to chat with him a lot since we were usually coming in right behind him due to Denise’s rapid pace. I bought some fruity pound cake and a Warsteiner at the cabane for our lunch. Perfect medicine for an aching knee. The Aussie couple was there too and were planning to stay there for the night. They had plans to leave there the next morning at 5:30am and hike to Arolla, then pick up a bus to La Sage and hike to Cabane de Moiry all in one day. Seemed a bit overzealous and dangerous given the difficulty of the remainder of the day.

Eventually, Val, Kathy, and Gareth arrived at the Cabane as Denise and I were getting ready to hit the trail again. We were anxious to get to Arolla for a private room after two nights in huts.  The afternoon looked to be exciting since we had to ascend the infamous “ladders” at Pas des Chevres after crossing the large glacier just below Cabane des Dix. The descent from the cabane was not the easiest descent either. It was very steep and loose and I almost took a header several times.

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View of Cabane de Dix from the glacier below

It was actually a relief to get onto the glacier since it was flat. The glacier itself was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but the surrounding views were cool. We could see the “ladders” come into view as we got closer to the other side of the glacier. There were some ice climbers coming down the ladders that were using ropes to descend them. Hmmm?

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Mount and Glacier de Cheilon

We also heard a voice from our left calling our name. It was Paul and Clare coming up towards us. They had taken a different route than us and wound up here. Paul was not very fond of heights and was debating whether to take the “ladders” or the alternate pass which required ascending the mountain pass at a even higher elevation. I ended up telling Paul and Clare about my dealings with ladders in the past and my former panic attacks. That was probably not a good idea to bring those thoughts fresh into my head right before I did the ladders. Smooth move dude!

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Hikers chatting beneath the view of Mont Blanc de Cheilon

We ran into the climbers who had come down the ladders and asked how they were. They said that they would not have done them without ropes. Huh?! Ok, I hadn’t at all been worrying about climbing these metal rungs up until that statement. It is just a ladder for crying out loud. I didn’t realize it yet, but all this stuff is now building up in my subconscious.

Paul and Clare made the wise decision to do the pass instead of the ladders. Denise and I made our way along the steep mountainside to the ladders. Getting to the ladders was almost as difficult as the ladders themselves. I let Denise go first so I could take some pictures of her going up. The bottom of the first ladder is pretty high and she had to do a chin-up to get started. I shot a couple pictures of her and then started on my way up. She yelled down to me that it was kind of freaky which I thought was odd for her. The first two sections were fairly modern aluminum extension ladder sections, then it turned into very narrow, rusty round and slippery steel rungs that were bolted into the rock wall. Each section had been bent at the top and hung on the section above it.

When I got into the narrow, slippery steel those panic attacks of my past crept into my head now. I could feel my heartbeat begin to race as thoughts of fainting and falling off began to dance through my head. My 40 pound backpack was trying to pull me off this thing and my camera bag, mounted in front of me, kept getting stuck on the rungs as I ascended. I started to recognize what was going on in my head and instantly started to ward it off. I started consciously breathing and taking one step at a time. I immediately regained some measure of calm again and continued on, one step at a time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Denise was going through the same issues. There were about 5 or 6 sections of ladder going up the side of the cliff wall before it met a small rock that extended out where you had to shimmy over to the right onto another 2 or 3 sections of ladder before reaching the top of Pas de Chevres.

When I reached the top of the ladders Denise and I started high-fiving each other immediately as we were relieved to have had that behind us. It was much more intense than I had ever thought it was going to be. I know most of it was in my mind, but it was rather exciting. It definitely would not have been as exciting had we been roped up and clipped in. I was kind of surprised how much it got to me. I have ice-climbed a few times in the past and that was not quite nerve-racking as this was. It could be that I was roped in then and was more exhausted too. Ladders….check!

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View from top of the ladders

Once over the Pas de Chevres it was a long, downhill slog all the way into Arolla. We saw Paul and Clare making there way over the col and were pretty surprised how quickly they got over that. They told us later that even that was a bit sketchy. There was a pretty cool glacier to our right, but other than that it was a bit boring. We hiked down at a leisurely pace so that eventually Paul and Clare would catch up to us. The time and distance estimates in our route information were a bit off again for this day. Our routecard said 10.5 miles and 4 hours, but it was 11.5 miles in 7.5 hours. Adventure, Europe, France, Haute Route, Hiking, Sports, Switzerland, event

Mont Collon Glacier

The last section before Arolla was pretty long switchbacks down a pretty steep pitch. I found myself cutting through some of them as they kind of ridiculous at some points. Eventually got into Arolla, which is a cute little ski town. We were staying at the Hotel du Pigne which was on the upper side of town. The hotel was really nice and our room was excellent. We immediately showered and did our laundry. We then walked down to the hotel patio and found Paul and Clare out there having a beer. We sat and talked with them a bit and I had one or two myself. They also decided to forgo the camping that night and get a room there too. It was a good call since it ended up raining that night.

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Rolling into Arolla

Eventually we moved inside and had a very nice dinner there. I had my first Rosti Frommage(melted cheese over grated potatoes) and Denise had a really good burger and fries. Paul and Clare also decided to get a room there too and we hung out with them and had dinner together. The others stayed at another hotel down the hill and came up to our hotel for dinner. We had a few drinks and laughs with everyone. Eventually the others left and the four of us talked a bit more before heading to bed. A long day but a good one.

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Rostii Formage

The next day was supposed to be an easy day. It was a relatively short walk down the valley and then back up the other side to the town of La Sage.

Haute Route 2013-Day 5-Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri

Layers-Mountain Views leaving Cabane du Mont Fort
Layers-Mountain Views leaving Cabane du Mont Fort

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 4

La Chable(Villette) to Cabane du Mont Fort
Day
Hiking Time:5:19
Hiking Distance(mi):)7.95
Elevation Gain(ft):5,397
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:4
HR Hiking Time:24:14
HR Distance Hiked(mi):44.4
Elevation Gained(ft):14,068

 

We woke up around 6:30am in our private little cubby hole room at the Cabane du Mont Fort. We headed down to breakfast early before most of the people except for a large group of older British folks who were heading out the door. Breakfast was the standard fare of bread, butter, jams, and cereal. We then packed up and made our way out for the long days hike to Cabane de Prafleuri. We would be going over 3 large cols today all at just under 10,000 feet elevation.

Our route card from Alpine Exploratory said to take the route that went up a stone road up the mountain where they were doing some road construction with large bulldozers. The alternate route that others were taking seemed a much more pleasing route with better views. We confirmed with our hiking compadres from the UK, Paul and Clare, that they were also taking that route. We started off down to the right of the cabane and traversed the hillside opposite it. We traversed the entire hillside for most of the morning along a very narrow path of about 1-3 feet wide eventually leading to the first col of the day, Col Termin(2648m). Almost the entire way was shaded from the sun and it was a nice cool walk in the morning. The view of the Grand Combin to our left was stunning the entire time.

We stopped at Col Termin for a little while and chatted with Rich from San Luis Obispo who had caught up with us. The rest of the group of single travelers caught up eventually and then we headed on our way still traversing the hillside, but this time in the sun. We now had views of Lake Louvie and the Cabane of the same name far below in the valley. There was also a large dammed lake further beyond in a valley behind it. We passed a group of some other Americans slowly climbing up out of the valley after staying at Cabane Louvie.

Eventually we came to the start of the climb to Col de Louvie(2921m) which turned into more boulders and scree. A path also came in from the left from Col de Chaux, which was were we would probably would have come into if we took the recommended Alpine Exploratory route. Once we crested the col, we stopped and had a lunch of bars we lugged from home. I am kind of wishing I would not have brought so many now. They are heavy for one, but the baguettes and cheese everyone else is eating looks so good. Eventually the rest of the group caught up and had some lunch as well. We chatted a bit with them before making our way through the left over snow right after the col and down across the valley to Col de PraFleuri.

After making our way down the bouldered descent to the dead glacier of Rosanblanche to what is appropriately named the Grand Desert. It is a very rocky and lined with cairns to find your way across to the Col de Prafleuri(2965m). While making our way across we caught up to the older British group who had left when we were heading down to breakfast. They didn’t seem to happy about letting us pass either. We found an alternate route around them while heading up a morraine on the one side. One of the faster guys in that group was up ahead and had spotted an Ibex standing on the top of a nearby cliff. By the time I switched my wide angle lens with my telephoto, the animal had laid down, so I could only get a shot of his head.

Ibex on the Point-Haute Route Switzerland
Ibex on the Point-Haute Route Switzerland

Denise did not seem very amused by the animal and continued on. She seemed to be in a race for the remainder of the afternoon and I never caught up with her until the Cabane we were staying at. Once I crested the col, it was a steady downhill through a cut that had a large metal pipe running up it. The Cabane was located in what looked to me like a old quarry. There were tracks running along that looked like a bulldozer would use them and some strange man-made platforms at the bottom where you could load one of those large dump trucks.

Heading towards Cabane de Perfleuri
Heading towards Cabane de Perfleuri
Cabane de Perfleuri
Cabane de Perfleuri

The cabane was located up a steep hill on the other side of the quarry. I saw Denise arrive at the cabane as I was still coming down. By the time I got there she had already checked in. We were sharing a room with an Australian couple we had seen at the previous hut. They were not very chatty and kind of kept to themselves, but they seemed nice. We got the top bunk in the room which was fine. We got some tokens for the shower, which were 5 Francs for 3 minutes. 1 Franc more and 1 minute longer than last night. There is only one bathroom at the Cabane de Prafleuri which is kind of odd. 2 urinals are right out there for men to take a leak while women can be washing up in the sink or showering. A bit of a weird setup. The showers were warm, but lacked any place to put things. They felt so good though after a long hike.

Cabane de Perfleuri
Cabane de Perfleuri

I then enjoyed a couple of beers and snacks outside on the patio while talking with Martijn from the Netherlands. Eventually Rich showed up and so did the others. The showers began to form a long line of people waiting. I was glad to have gotten there so early. I also heard that the hot water had run out. While going the bathroom that evening, I could hear our friend Clare in the showering shivering out loud. The other thing that stinks at Prafleuri is that you cannot drink the water. You have to buy 1.5l bottles for 8 Francs. A bit steep!

Dinner was served around 6:30pm. It was really good. We had a bean/lentil soup to start and then some pork stew on rice for the main meal. Yes the vegan thing is a bit on hold for this vacation. Everything here is about bread, dairy, and meat. Not sure how they eat this stuff and stay so thin. For desert we had some pear with chocolate sauce on it.

After dinner we turned in early and did some reading and journal writing. Another big day tomorrow to the town of Arolla. Looking forward to having a hotel room and private bathroom.

Haute Route 2013-Day 4-La Chable to Cabane du Mont Fort

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 4

La Chable(Villette) to Cabane du Mont Fort
Day
Hiking Time:5:19
Hiking Distance(mi):)7.95
Elevation Gain(ft):5,397
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:4
HR Hiking Time:24:14
HR Distance Hiked(mi):44.4
Elevation Gained(ft):14,068

Today is slated as one of the more difficult stages of the Haute Route. This is mostly due to the over 5500 feet of climbing elevation gained. Personally we are looking forward to this stage since both of us prefer going up over going downhill. I am also looking forward to getting more into the heavy alps. Everything up to now just doesn’t seem totally “Alpy” yet.

We started off the day around 7am since the traffic noise outside the Hotel Gietroz was a little too loud to sleep any longer. We had a nice breakfast, although I missed the server yourself manner like the other places had. We had some cereal, croissants and bread with butter, jelly and my new favorite, Nutella.

There was a large group of other hikers mingling outside the hotel as we ran up to the post office to mail a post card and get some money from the ATM. We had asked Alpine Exploratory, our tour company, if we could possibly skip staying at the last hut on the trip, the Europahutte, in lieu of staying at another hut called Cabane des Dix in a few nights. This would could be a pain since they would have to push back our other lodging reservations a night. So, I needed some extra money in case we needed to pay for it ourselves.

We started off down the street on our hike following 3 other male hikers. These were the same guys who we had seen at the pizza shop in Sembrancher. They seemed a bit puzzled with the first couple turns and we did as well. We all figured it out and started the long slog straight up the hillside. We eventually passed them and then caught up to the larger group we had seen congregating at the hotel earlier. We followed them up the hill for a while, and eventually passed half of them at a small church along the way. There were a bunch of younger hikers with their group that we hung behind for awhile until they stopped to rest or wait for the others. They let us past and we didn’t see them again for quite some time.

We just kept steadily pressing our way up the narrow switchbacks that never seemed to end. Miles and miles of winding up a very steep hill. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It was still 10x better than going downhill for sure. We eventually reached a café at about halfway which was about a tenth of a mile down a lane. We bagged it since it didn’t look open anyway and we didn’t feel like going down for nothing if it was closed. The route card also indicated a picnic area further up which sounded good.

After more zigzags on a road now we came upon another couple, Ann and Nate, who we had seen at breakfast. They were sitting in the shade having a snack break. We chatted with them for a few minutes about travel and photography and then headed further up the road to a picnic grove. We enjoyed some bars and coffee and tea from our thermos’. As we munched our goodies,  Ann and Nate passed on through as did the younger bunch of the big group. There was an older couple enjoying a picnic in the picnic grove as well. They had a fire rolling and were cooking up some food on it. Eventually the older bunch from the big group came by and settled into the picnic grove. By then we had started packing up and continued up a cat track from the Verbier/Les Ruinettes ski area.

Eventually we same out of the treeline and could see the top lift of the ski area. A bunch of hangliders had spread out their kites on the ground preparing for flight. They were taking off one after the other and filling the sky. It was pretty cool.

From their we followed a bisse(irrigation water ditch) around the mountain for most of the way. It was all open now with no trees and the views were amazing. Eventually we rounded a bend and Cabane du Mont Fort, our nights accommodations, was revealed. The landscape had also changed from meadowy fields to jagged rock and scree. It reminded me of being on the moon. One aspect that did disappoint me was the chairlift and gondola poles and wires drapped across the landscape. I had expectations of a more remote landscape and this made me feel like I was in the middle of the ski area.

Denise on the final approach to Cabane du Mont Fort
Denise on the final approach to Cabane du Mont Fort

We made one final push up the cat tracks to the Cabane which seemed like the steepest part yet. The Cabane had looked so close initially, but was so much farther away than it seemed. We eventually reached it, racked our boots and poles, grabbed some Crocs off the shelf and found the guardian to get our room. We had a nice private 2 cot room on the second floor. We unpacked and quickly headed for the showers. They were 4 Francs for 2 minutes which didn’t sound like a lot, but if you turn the water off while lathering it is quite a good amount of time.

Our cozy accomodations in Cabane du Mont Fort
Our cozy accomodations in Cabane du Mont Fort
Apres Hike at Cabane du Mont Fort – relaxing on the deck after a long hike with Nate, Clare, Paul, Anne & Martijn

After cleaning up, we headed out on the deck to have a couple beers. The British couple we had met in Sembrancher the day before, Paul and Claire, were on the desk having a couple beers already. We found out they had taken a gondola up to the top. We had a nice afternoon chatting with Paul and Claire, Ann and Nate, and some of the other folks from the large group too. We were getting very hungry and it seemed like forever until 6:30PM came when dinner was served. We enjoyed some vegetable soup, salad and penne pasta with meat sauce dinner. We also had a vanilla pudding for  dessert. It really hit the spot for me.

After dinner I grabbed my camera and tripod and headed out for some sunset pictures. Nate is also a photographer and was out there as well. I think I managed a few good shots, but they will require some blending I think.

Sunset on Mont Blanc from Cabane du Mont Fort

Denise and Ann were chatting when I returned to the cabane. We talked a bit more and then headed in for the night. Tomorrow will be another tough day as we make our way over 3 mountain passes to Cabane de Perfleuri; tomorrow nights accommodations.

Haute Route 2013-Day 3-Champex to La Chable-Easy Day

Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 3

Champex to La Chable(Villette)
Day
Hiking Time:4:31
Hiking Distance(mi):)9.94
Elevation Gain(ft):2,720
Cumulative Totals
Days Hiking:3
HR Hiking Time:18:55
HR Distance Hiked(mi):36.5
Elevation Gained(ft):8,671

We enjoyed a nice breakfast at the Hotel du Glacier first thing in the morning, then returned back to the room to finish drying out our laundry. We had direct sunlight on our balcony and it was a bright blue sky day. Our clothes dried out in no time. We got packed up and were out of the hotel by around 10:30 or so. Our route card indicated today’s hike was only around 13k(8 mi), so it should be a relatively easy day. We were in no big hurry to get hiking so we enjoyed the town a bit longer. We had to stop off at the Post Office to ship Denise’s hiking shoes back home as well as some extra clothing to lighten up the packs a bit.

Denise with Box of Shoes in hand headed to La Poste
Denise with Box of Shoes in hand headed to La Poste

The post office trip was a bit stressful. The PO was in the town grocery store and the workers didn’t speak any English at all. They ended up making our package priority instead of Economy which cost us another 12 CHF($12). We tried to get them to change it, but they said it was impossible(I think?). The guy was getting impatient and rude with us, so I said lets just let it go. So the shoes along with a few other unnecessary items were out of our packs and head back to the states. I think after a week of carrying those pounds we will think it may have been worth the extra cost.

Lac de Champex
Lac de Champex
Mr Travel Photographer
Mr Travel Photographer

We headed along the lake and made a slight left out of town. We then hit a dead end which was the start of the trail. The first mile or so was a somewhat annoying steep downhill, gravel section which eventually leveled out and passed through some farmland. We passed through the quaint little village  of Soulalex after about 2 miles which was a bit more interesting than the previous scenery.

Farmlands between Champex and Soulalex
Farmlands between Champex and Soulalex
Denise heading down a tractor road towards Soulalex
Denise heading down a tractor road towards Soulalex
Downtown Soulalex
Downtown Soulalex

We then headed through some more farmland and downhills until crossing some railroad tracks before the town of Sembrancher. It was getting close to lunch so we figured we would hit a café in town. We searched around the old cobble streets for somewhere to eat. There were a couple bars, but they really didn’t look like they had much in the way of food. We walked out of town a bit towards the highway and found an Italian place. It reminded me of one of the typical pizza shops you would see back home in the states, so not a lot of local culture here. I was hungry and didn’t really care at this point. Of course we had even more pizza. There were three other guys eating there with pretty large packs by there table. They were also hiking the Haute Route which we knew since they had the ever-popular “blue book” by Kev Reynolds that outlines the route. The one guy seemed to speak fairly good English, but they none of them spoke French either as their native tongue, so it we weren’t sure exactly where they were from.

Sembrancher Town Centre
Sembrancher Town Centre

We seemed to have finally left the Tour de Mont Blanc crowds behind after leaving Champex. There were definitely less people hiking on the trails we were on today. Most of the people we did see had large packs, which means they were also self-supported like us. Most of the people we had seen in Trient had support vans taking most of their luggage to their next destination.

After leaving the Italian place, we went back to the town square to pick up the route again. We ran into a British couple  while trying to pickup the trail again. They seemed to be having trouble finding it as well. The girl asked if we spoke English and seemed relieved when I said “yes”. They were also doing the Haute Route but were camping. This explained the extremely large backpacks they had. I thought mine was big, but theirs were almost double the size of ours. They were looking for a campground nearby that they were to stay for the night and so we started walking together. We began chatting a bit and all got lost together since we more involved in conversation than in directions. I then tried to take off ahead a bit but could not find the bridge we were looking for nor their campground. I eventually figured they were to go one way and they another. We said goodbye for now and that we would most-likely see each other again. And we would.

"Which way do we go George?"- Sembrancher Town Centre
“Which way do we go George?”- Sembrancher Town Centre

I eventually found the bridge we were looking for and then we headed down an through some open fields. The bright sunlight and post lunch “funk” really took its toll on us now. Eventually we took a road up a hill in the shade which helped. The rest of the route followed some very chalky dirt roads through a quarry and up into La Chable.  It was pretty boring and my feet were getting kind of achy. It is not that it was that hard, it was just either the surface we were walking or just from being on my feet all day. I think the first couple days of a trip like this are the roughest since your body is getting used to being on your feet all day. Sitting in a cubicle all day just doesn’t do much to get you ready for this.

Coming into La Chable
Coming into La Chable

We eventually got to town and crossed the river into the new part of town called Villette. Our hotel, Hotel Gietroz, was directly across the bridge. We checked in and settled into the room.  Denise did some more laundry then we showered up and headed out for some dinner. Denise had seen the British couple we met in Sembrancher walking across the bridge from La Chable back into Villette. Either they never found their campground or they just bagged it and took the bus into La Chable.

Hotel du GIetroz-Villette, Switzerland
Hotel du GIetroz-Villette, Switzerland

I found a place to eat right next door, called Les Ruinettes, which sounded good. We had a few drinks and then had some dinner. They had a fixed menu of Popperdon, yoghurt soup and Lamb Curry. It was really good. I have pretty much thrown the vegan/vegetarian thing out the window on this trip. Oh well, only a few weeks. Everything here is all about diary and bread. With the language barrier it is just easier to suck it up and eat it. Les Ruinettes was actually run by a Brit, so it was much easier to order. For desert, I had some chocolate mouse tart-like thing with strawberries and whipped cream. The whole meal was quite amazing.

View across bridge to La Chable from our hotel room
View across bridge to La Chable from our hotel room

We had heard from one of Denises’ friends who was hiking the same route about a week ahead of us. She had said that the erosion on the Europaweg portion of the hike was pretty bad. The Europaweg is the last couple sections of trail right before Zermatt and it supposed to be pretty gnarly with rockslides. We decided to see if we could insert a night at another hut, Cabane de Dix, between Cabane Perflueri and Arolla and ditch the last night at the Europahut which already had a disruption with an abbreviated hike to Zermatt. We will have wait to see if that is doable from Alpine Exploratory.

The day ended up being a couple miles longer than what the route card had said. This was probably due to searching for a place to eat and getting a little lost in Sembrancher. Fortunately, the our hiking time was dead-on at 4:30 to what the route card said. Tomorrow we hike up to Cabane du Mont Fort, which is our first real mountain hut. Should be a tough hike, but at least it is uphill. Looking forward to it!

Haute Route 2013-Geneva to Chamonix

It was a quick two and a half hour flight to Geneva from Stockholm. We quickly made our way through passport control and into the baggage claim. I hunted around for a ATM while we waited for our one checked bag to hopefully come around the conveyor belt. We only check a bag because our trekking poles and my tripod most-likely be not allowed on the plane. There was no ATM, but they did have an currency exchange window where I exchanged enough USD’s to pay for our transportation to Chamonix.  We then anxiously awaited our bag to come flopping down the chute. It took its good old time as usual, but it finally did come. Ahh!! That is always a bit nerve-racking. We have been so lucky so many times, that I fear the next time is going to be the one where they lose our luggage.

We then looked around for the Alpy Bus desk which was our transportation to Chamonix. The Alpy Bus was the cheapest I found(~52 EUR for both of us) and they had very good reviews. When we found the desk there were a bunch of others there and we just had to wait for one more person. The other person came pretty quickly and we ended up leaving about 20 minutes early. The drive was around a hour and half and we made several stops before our hotel. We had left around 7:30PM, so it had gotten dark quickly and not much scenery to see. You could just make out Mont Blanc as we came into the valley as some last bits of daylight illuminated the white peak. I was glad we went with the Alpy Bus. I think it was a better move than trying to deal with the French trains which sounded much more complicated.

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They dropped us off at the back of the Hotel Richemond, which was the hotel we would be staying the next two nights in Chamonix. It was a very large, old concrete building and the decor inside matched it well. We quickly checked in, received our very large, heavy keychain, and took the tiny elevator to our room on the third floor. Room was also old style, but clean and comfortable. It had that old world style which really made you feel like you were in Europe. We quickly unloaded and made our way out into town to get some food.

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The Hotel was located on a main walking strip which had several restaurants and shopping. Most of the shops were closed but there was a lot of activity on the street. The North Face Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc was taking place the entire weekend which was pretty cool. There was a whole endurance vibe going which made me feel right at home. We walked around a bit and finally settled on a little Italian place called Casa Valerio which was right on the other side of the river from the hotel. It was a tiny place, but it was packed with people so we figured it must be good. There was a bunch of trail runners in there and a big table of Americans sitting behind us. We had a couple pizza’s, which were great, and some vino. Everything was really good.

We walked around town a bit after dinner and checked out the town. There was this street band marching around town playing this really catchy beat. It was drawing everyone in to see what it was all about. They kind of reminded me of some Mardi Gras-type band. Anyway, I have a video of it which will show you what I mean…

We had a really good night sleep after being awake for over 24 hours and made our way down for breakfast. It was the usual European hotel breakfast of croissants, bread, cereal, lunchmeat, juice, and coffee. I quickly broke my plant-based diet with some cereal & milk and a croissant with butter…Yum! That didn’t take long! I also had coffee which I had not had in awhile either. The view from the dining room was excellent. They had these very large windows that perfectly framed Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. It was like a giant 3D picture. There were several UT Mont-Blanc competitors having breakfast too. They were very easy to spot was they slowly hobbled bow-legged around the dining room. Ewwe…I know what that feels like!

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Shoe Shopping in Chamonix

A couple weeks prior to our trip, my wifes’ favorite pair of 10+ year old Lowa hiking shoes decided to self-destruct. This lead to a huge panic in an effort to finding a replacement pair in a short amount of time. Lowa’s current model was not the same quality as before, so that made things a bit more complicated. Also, the fact that there are no good outdoor stores in the Lehigh Valley(PA), forced her to mostly ordering online and driving down to Philadelphia. Our living room began to look like a shoe store with several sizes of each shoe were ordered. The credit card bill also began to rack up with many pairs of $100+ shoes ordered. She eventually found a pair that were not great, but were the best-fitting she could find. They were from Cabela’s of all places! I was teasing her about getting a bunch of camo attire to go with them. Anyway, she finally had hiking shoes but she was planning on looking in Chamonix too when we go there.

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Immediately after breakfast we made our way out of the hotel for some shoe shopping. The first store we stopped in she found a pair of Salewa approach-style hiking shoe that she really liked. She walked around in them for what seemed like forever and then we had to do the obligatory check of other shoes at other stores. Of course we came back to the Salewa’s again. They were not cheap, but hey if they worked it was worth it. While she was walking around I took the shoe box with her old shoes up to the La Post(Post Office) to see how much it would cost to ship home. It was only ~20 EUR which was great. I ran back to the store and she immediately bought the new ones in the Gore-Tex version which was another 30 EUR.

As we were walking down the street, her new shoes started making a clicking noise with each step. We checked them over rigorously, but still could not find what was causing it. So, back we go to the store to exchange them. The salesgirl looked them over, but could not find anything either. The only option was to go with the non-GoreTex model. She tried these and they were better. There was still a little clicking sound, but not as loud as the GTX model. We then exchanged them and the salesgirl refunded us the difference on my credit card. At least we thought she did at the time.

Finally we are done shoe shopping and make our way to the Post Office to send back the Cabela’s shoes. The Post Office is right next to the finish line for the UT Mont Blanc race so there are tons of people there. Just as we round the corner to the post office we see the galvanized metal garage door covering the entrance to the post office. I glance at the time on my iPhone and it is 12:05PM…they close at 12PM on Saturdays! Ugh! We stood there dumfounded for awhile. We were starting our hike tomorrow and they are closed on Sundays. We weren’t sure how long it would be until we got to another town that had a full-fledged post office. She would have to carry an extra pair of shoes for the next couple days at least. Bummer!

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Next, we headed out for a little day-hike to stretch the legs and Denise to try out her shoes a bit. We took part of the trails on the mountainside heading towards La Flegere, opposite of Mont Blanc, to get some views of Chamonix and the snow-covered peaks in the background. The trail we were on was used for the trail race, so runners were coming by every few minutes. We would clap for them and cheer them on a bit. It looked pretty brutal, but I have to say the thought of it started to swirl a bit in my head for a future event. Denise seemed to read my mind as she warned me “don’t get any ideas!”

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As we made our way up the hillside, the path went directly through a little cafe situated on the mountainside called Cafe La Floria. It was covered in beautiful flowers and had an amazing view. Runners were actually running through the seating area, which was quite narrow. We eventually dropped down and looped back to where we had started. We ended up doing around 4 miles or so. Denise’s shoes also stopped the clicking noise during the hike. She was not wishing she would have stuck with the Gore-Tex model. I thought it was a little ridiculous to need Gore-Tex for such a low shoe.

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We arrived back to the hotel, showered up and heading out for some dinner. We got a good recommendation for some pizza from the lady at the hotel lobby desk, so we headed up there. The place was called La Bartravel. It was right across from the Post Office, which we could state at menacingly during dinner. They had super large beers and killer pizza. Another good one. We were really diggin’ the pizza here as you can see. It was really good and probably the safest thing to order since we could not translate most things.

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We then walked around Chamonix a bit after dinner. The street band was out again playing their beats all around town. At one point we saw them overtaking a outdoor dining area at one of the local restaurants which was pretty funny. We headed back to the hotel to get a good nights sleep to get ready for the start of our Haute Route trek tomorrow.

 

 

 

Tour of Toronto…

I got up early on Friday morning and headed out for half hour run around the neighborhood near our hotel. We then got cleaned up and headed down for our complimentary hotel breakfast. I had some waffles with syrup and it ended up wiping me out. I got back to the room and had to take a nap. Definitely not used to eating that kind of crap anymore. We eventually got going and headed into Toronto for the day.

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As you can see from my Garmin track below, we put on 10 miles of walking around the city. I even forgot to start it up a couple times so it was probably more than that. We checked out a good part of the city and hit Kensington Market, Chinatown, and the Entertainment and shoppping districts. The TIFF film fest was going on and that area was quite crazy. We enjoyed lunch and dinner at the Fresh restaurant on Spadina. It was so good! Amazing how tasty healthy plant-based food can be.

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We walked around most of the day and did some shopping in a couple outdoor stores. Sometime after 4pm we headed back down to the waterfront for the Vegetarian Food Festival. The festival was pretty good with stands from the China Study, Vega Foods, and lots of delicious samples. Rich Roll was also supposed to be speaking there on Saturday and Sunday, but we had to head up to Huntsville after this. We had thoughts of eating at the food festival, but we decided to catch the bus and head back up to Fresh(on Spadina) again for dinner. I had quinoa onion rings and a “buddha” bowl which consisted of thai peanut sauce with marinated tofu cubes, tomato, cilantro,cucumber, bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, herbs & spices.  I was still pretty full from lunch so I could not even finish my meal.

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After dinner, we headed back down to the car and made our way up to the Deerhurst Resort up in Huntsville, Ontario. It took ~2-2.5 hours to get there, so we did not get into our room until 11PM. When we pulled in they already had alot of the gates up for the transition area and the bike and run chutes.

 

Amalfi-Pontone-Ravello-Atrani Loop Hike

Hiking Route

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We woke around 8AM on Sunday, our first day in Amalfi. We headed up to the 5th floor of the Hotel Amalfi for our complimentary breakfast. Cereal and croissants topped off our tanks before our first hikes into the Lattari Mountain towns. The cliff walls around Amalfi made it seem impossible to get to towns that could be seen above.
We organized our daypack and Sunflower Guidebook by Julian Tippett, which will prove to be indispensable for navigating the intricacies of the route. We would be following routes 6(Amalfi to Minuta), 7(Minuta to Ravella), and 3(Ravella to Atrani). We started up the main road in Amalfi, turned right up a set of steps on the right, and made our way up the mountain and out of town. The sweat began to drip very quickly, but I stopped to take some images on the way, which kept our progress slower. As we climbed up through the lemon trees, the view of the town and the sea opened up in front of us.

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After many steps we hit the shortcut to segment 16 which is an out-and-back to Torre Della Ziro. Torre Della Ziro is promontory that overlooks the towns of Amalfi and Atrani. It was once home to Queen Giovanna d’Aragona who was eventually beheaded. Despite this, it was quite a nice view. We retraced our steps back and up to Pontone for lunch at Giovanni’s. Replenished the calories burned with some pizza and vino and continued on to Minuta and Scala. The square in Pontone also provides some nice views and there is a water fountain on the way out of town to fill up.

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After reaching the summit in Minuta, it was a leisurely walk along the quiet road to Scala. We prematurely took a set of steps that we soon realized were wrong when we came to a sign to Amalfi. Back up we went with my wife reminding me of the mistake the whole way. I was even accused of doing it on purpose in order to fulfill some quota of climbing elevation.
We continued on down the road and eventually found the correct steps which led us to a hairpin bend in the road and up to Ravello. Ravello was quite busy and we made our way through rather quickly. On heading out of town we found a open air bar with a killer view of Minori and the sea below, which was calling our name. I enjoyed a Guinness, some water, mating pigeons, and the incredible view. While we were there our initial plan of going to Minori was rejected since it was too late in the day for the extra stop, so we rerouted to Atrani instead.
The start of the path to Atrani took us through some back streets of Ravello and eventually to a more rustic olive grove section which was pretty nice. We reached a concrete path that lead to a section that was a down steep steps to Atrani. I don’t think I have ever gone down more steps at one time. Our knees were throbbing and legs like jelly by the time we got to Atrani. From there we followed the main road along the sea to Amalfi.
We headed back to the room, showered up, and headed back out to find some dinner. We attempted to find a different place to eat, but ended up back at Ristorante La Perla again. When you know the food is good and they have such a large selection it is hard to pass up. We enjoyed some Chianti, Bruschetta, Gnocchi and Denise had a veggie platter. For dessert I had Creme Brûlée and a Limoncello. Another great meal!
After dinner it was back to the hotel and off to sleep to rest our weary legs. Get ready for the next days hike to Valle delle Ferriere provided the weather holds up.

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