Day 14 Monday 29 August Europahutte to Zermatt

The final day. This section of the Europaweg was open and there were fine views of the mountains almost all day.

One of the highlights of the day was at the beginning. There was a steep 200 metre descent to the Charles Kuonen bridge. This claims to be the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world and was opened in 2013 after the previous, shorter, bridge was destroyed in a rockfall.

It is much less scary than it looks and didn’t swing or sway at all (there was no wind). It was an exhilarating experience, a bit like a theme park ride.

After the bridge I re-entered the wood and the path began to climb again, regaining the height I lost earlier. There were a lot of small flags that were marking the path that looked temporary. I wondered whether here were placed for a race. The ultramarathon race of Monta Rosa was due to start on 31 August so maybe they were placed for that.

Finally, I emerged from the forest and got my first view of the Matterhorn peeping round the side of the valley.

First view of the Matterhorn (on the right) with the other peaks above Zermatt

Now the path ran alongside the mountainside with superb views. There was a long exposed section, protected by ropes. In places there had been small rockfalls and the path had been replaced by short wooden bridges

On the Europaweg. The flag markers can be seen to the right of the path

This was a fitting climax to the trek. I could see along the valley to Zermatt with its ski area beyond it. As the Matterhorn emerged from behind the valley wall it dominated the other peaks. The ridge on the horizon marks the Swiss/Italian border. In winter there are pistes across it and you can cross an international border for lunch.

The Europaweg then had to descend to avoid a cliff and scree slope and I lost about 300 metres in height. I re-entered the forest and there was a tunnel, protecting the walker from rockfall. After the tunnel there were several concrete shelves to deflect falling boulders. At one point the reinforced concrete had been broken and a large split boulder lay just below the path.

The path climbed up through forest to turn a corner and enter the valley formed by the Taschbach torrent. This led to the hamlet of Taschalp. Above the chalets are another collection of 4000 metre peaks

Taschalp

I stopped at a hut in the village for lunch, fresh salad rather than the stale pumpernickel and sweaty cheese that I had been carrying for several days. I then crossed the Taschbach and turned west to rejoin the Mattertal.

The path continued up the valley, above the tree line and the Matterhorn and its glacier came into full view.

Now there was another exposed section of path. At the end of this section there was a warning sign to proceed quickly because of the risk of rockfall. There were shelters made of corrugated iron in case evasive action was necessary.

Finally I entered the Zermatt ski area with the town of Zermatt in the valley below

I now had a choice to make. I think I should have continued to stay high for more views and walk to the Sunnega underground funicular railway. Instead I felt I should walk into Zermatt. Initially the path descended steeply alongside a piste and through woodland. I then had a long, boring road to follow down into the town. My lodging for tonight was in Tasch so I took the Zermatt shuttle and said goodbye to the Mountains.

Kleinematterhorn from Tasch

This was a tough but rewarding walk. The way marking was excellent although there are a couple of sections that might be difficult to follow in poor visibility. My training was interrupted due to my knee injury and I noticed this on the first few days, at one point I thought I would have to abandon the trek. I did have intermittent muscular pain throughout the walk and this is something I need to address before next year’s adventures.

If you want to do this walk, be aware you need to be fit, some of the climbs are steep and prolonged. The exposure on the Europaweg can be avoided by following the valley, although you would miss the last section which was particularly good. The Pas du Chevres cannot be avoided, except by crossing another pass that is said to be a steep and potentially unstable boulder and scree field, it certainly did not look inviting. All the groups I saw took the Pas Du Chevres.

If you think it is for you, I recommend Kev Reynold’s Cicerone guide. If you have not walked in the Alps before then the Tour du Mont Blanc is also a great walk and may be a better introduction to Alpine trekking. Mountain walking is not risk free and it is up to the individual to decide whether the risks are justifiable.

Any factual information is taken from the Cicerone guide, local tourist web sites or information boards placed alongside the path.

Day 13 Sunday 28 August Gasenried to Europahutte

For the last two days of the trek, I will follow the Europaweg. This is a trail, created in 1997 that runs high above the Mattertal, usually keeping above the tree line and is said to give great views of the mountains at the head of the valley and on its western side. Reading the guide, there are some section that are exposed and protected by chains or ropes. In some places, there are unstable scree slopes above the path and it has had to be diverted several times over the last 25 years. This year was no exception. Climate change is now really affecting the alps. I have already made mention of the retreating glaciers. The drop in snow fall and glacier melt have affected the stability of the scree and boulders and there were several rockfalls this spring. As a result, the whole of the route between Gasenried and the Europahutte has been closed and the path now runs at a much lower altitude below the tree line.

The weather had improved and there was little cloud so I got an early view of the Weisshorn as I walked through Gasenried village.

The new route followed the road through the village and then took a path that contoured round the mountain. Gasenried is a small village with a main road and chalets scattered along the hillside

Looking back at Gasenried from the edge of the forest

The path now entered the forest. I had intermittent views across the valley. There was a steep descent to cross a dry river bed followed by a re-ascent. I continued to ascend through the wood and then came across a rather precarious looking bridge

It was more stable than it looks. Beyond it there was a section where several trees had been felled and lay across the path. I had to climb over or under them and then continued through the wood to the next obstacle, a waterfall on the Riedbach.

There was a little exposure to climb up to the waterfall. The path then passed between the waterfall and the rock which was a novelty. I tried to take photographs through the water but these were not a success, it just looked like there were drops of water on the lens.

There was now a long descent, almost as far as the valley floor at Herbriggen

Herbriggen

I now had a cIimb of about 1000 metres to get to the Europahutte. Most of the afternoon was spent in the trees with occasional views of the opposite side of the valley. I climbed steeply away from Herbriggen. After a while there was a series of steep steps, not as exposed as the ladders on the Pas de Chevres, to cross the Geisstriftbachji torrent.

On the other side of the river there was a steep descent, partly on steps and partly on rope protected rock. About half an hour later I came to a clearing with a superb view of the Weisshorn across the valley

There was now a long climb through woodland which was fairly steep and not particularly interesting. The path was tortuous in order to wind its way around cliff faces. Eventually I broke into open ground above the tree line. I crossed a torrent draining the Hobarggletscher glacier on what felt like a wooden plank, the crack in the middle did not add to my sense of security.

Across the river the path now climbed up over grassy and rocky ground to meet the old Europaweg route. I was rewarded by a view of the Bishorn and the Weisshorn and their glacier

Weisshorn (left) and Bishorn (right)

The path now traversed rocky ground to pass around a spur and I could then see the Europahutte perched on rocks between trees just below me.

I think this small hut was built for the Europaweg. Somehow it sleeps 43 people. Despite its isolation it had a bar (essential) and served us a nice three course meal. I ate with two Scotsmen who normally climb in the Alps but this year were just walking between the high altitude huts. I was a little concerned about Felix and Thora. They have always overtaken me within an hour or two of me starting the day’s walk but I had not seen them all day. They eventually turned up at about 7pm, exhausted after having tried to follow the original Europaweg route before having to turn back. At least they saw the fine statue of St Bernard on the slopes of the Grathorn, I had to make do with the picture in the Cicerone guide.

Day 12 Saturday 27 August Gruben to Jungen and Gasenried

Today involved the crossing of the Augstbordpass, the final pass of the trek. The day started clear and sunny as I set off from the hotel . There was a nice, easy ascent across pastures before I entered woodland.

Early morning in the Turtmanntal
The start of the path to Augstbordpass

On the way up I chatted to a couple of Americans from Texas who I also talked to in the Gruben hotel. I was surprised how many Americans were in the trek but then I remembered there were quite a few US web sites organising TMB and Haute Route treks. Several of the groups I spoke to were combining the trek with city visits in Europe. Jamie and his wife (who I spent the afternoon with in Zinal) were coming to York but Angela and I were away so we couldn’t meet up.

The path continued to climb steadily through the forest. Felix and Thora caught up with me in a clearing and I got a rare picture of me on trek

The path re-entered forest and emerged again on a flat grassy area with the final pass in front of me

At the end of the grassy area the path crossed stony ground and steepened to arrive at the Augstbord pass.

Looking west from the Augstbordpass

There was now a steep and stony descent. There was meant to be a good view of the Mischabel, the ridge and peaks that make up the east wall of the Mattertal, but the peaks were in cloud.

At the bottom of the steep section the path crossed to the east side of the valley and then climbed slightly. It passed over boulder fields and then became a thin but good path with some exposure to the steep slopes to the left. Eventually it rounded a spur and I had my first view of the glaciers and peaks above Zermatt. The Matterhorn remained out of view, hidden by the Mettelhorn.

I now turned south towards Zermatt. Initially the path remained fairly level but soon I started to descend steeply, in zigzags to the hamlet of Jungen.

Jungen with the village of Grachen in the distance on the other side of the valley.
The Riedbach glacier and torrent which I will cross tomorrow

At Jungen I had the choice of an extremely steep descent through forest or a cable car ride down to St Nicholas. I chose the cable car to try to take some stress off my knee and went to the hut. Here there was an ancient four seat car with some instructions in German. There was a phone number which I rang. The man who answered spoke no English. I do not speak German but we both spoke a little French and he told me the cable car would leave in 5 minutes.

At St Nicholas I chose to take a bus to Grachen rather than start a 200m climb at 5 in the afternoon. Grachen is the start of the Europaweg, the path which I will follow to Zermatt. The first part is a very easy 20 minute section to Gasenried where I had a bed booked for the night. The hotel terrace had a good view of the east side of the valley and was an excellent place to enjoy steak and chips

Day 11 Friday 26 August Zinal to Gruben

Today’s task was to head generally northwards to reach the Forcletta pass and cross into the next valley, the Turtmanttal. In doing this I would pass from French speaking Switzerland, where I can make myself understood, to the German speaking region where I have no grasp of the language.

There were threatening clouds in the sky as I left Zinal. I climbed up between apartment blocks and a swimming pool on a track which turned northwards. It went under a tunnel and then zig-zagged upwards. A path cut a corner off the track and went steeply upwards through a field to reach a few chalets at a water spout. There was a view towards Zinal and, up the valley, the high mountain tops were hidden by cloud.

The path entered forest and continued to ascend gently. It crossed a field at a farm called Sierra Zinal which looked more like an American ranch rather than a Swiss farmhouse. I continued to traverse the mountainside, climbing steadily, As it turned into a valley I came out of the forest and I could easily see the route ahead

I followed the path to the trees seen in the middle of the picture. At that point, there is a choice to continue the traverse to the Hotel Weisshorn and cross the Meidpass to reach Gruben in two days. My route lay up to the ridge which is about 2500m high. At the top of this ridge there were a couple of cowsheds and a rather precariously situated chalet, which at least, had electricity (of sorts)

There was a water trough at the cowsheds and I could see a small brown mammal with a black tip to its tail. It was too small to be a marmot and I wondered if it was a stoat, although I do not know if they live at that altitude. Someone I met later, at the Europahutte, opined that it may have been a polecat. It was too far away to photograph with an iPhone and it was running in and out if the undergrowth by the trough so I will never know.

Ahead of me were large grassy mounds which led to the stony Forcletta Pass

From the pass I should have seen the final ridge before the Materall (the valley which has Zermatt at its head). However it was covered in cloud and I descended without delay before the Forcletta became enshrouded in mist.

The path was easy to follow, even in the mist and I arrived at a collection of farm buildings with confirmation I was in German Switzerland

I was between the cloud covering the mountaintops and the cloud filling the valley. The Cicerone guide says that there are tremendous views from here but…

As I descended I re-entered the mist. I joined a track at another collection of chalets and soon turned downhill on to a path that seemed to descend endlessly though forest. Eventually I came out of the trees at the valley floor by a large dairy. The Cicerone guide implies that the valley (the Turtmanntal) is only inhabited in the summer, presumably to graze cattle, run the dairy and provide accommodation for walkers and climbers.

It was now a gentle walk through fields for about a kilometre to the village of Gruben which consists of some chalets and a large hotel

The hotel has some “normal” rooms and dortoirs, on the top floor. these were arranged like a mountain refuge with a shore, aching facilities, toilets and a storage area for rucksacks. For the walkers, there was a dining area and I met up again with Felix and Flora for a drink and to compare notes about the last two days.

Day 9 Wednesday 24 August La Sage to Cabane du Moiry

I had virtually no internet or Wi-Fi for the second half of the Haute Route. I had been making paper notes as I went along and I ran out of paper. I forgot I had Word on my I-pad so the rest of the blog is written from memory and from photograph reminders. Silly me! It would have been much easier to cut and paste.

Gite l’Ecureuil (The Squirrel Gite) was a lovely old wooden chalet. I was in the top room which had really squeaky floorboards. There was a French family in the room below and, even though I tried to creep about, I must have disturbed then when I got dressed at a rather late (for me) 7:30.

After a quick petit dejeuner I bought some pumpernickel and cheese for the next 2 day’s lunch and set off on a track by the Gite up the hill. I entered woodland and continued to climb up to a small group of chalets at Mayens de Matou. Here I was able to replenish my water bottles from the ubiquitous spout and trough.

Above the forest there were good views north to the Rhone valley and the hills beyond

The path now climbed steadily but without difficulty up the grassy slope to Le Tsate

Farm buildings at Le Tsate

Above Le Tsate the path continued to climb. After another 30 minutes I arrived at a plateau where there were a few cowsheds, the Remoinste du Tsate. The farmer had rounded up his cows and most of them were in the sheds. A dog was herding the rest but he ignored me and I joined a path that crossed the level area and continued uphill. There was a good view back to a tarn and the mountain on the other side of the valley.

I crossed another level area and then climbed again to a stony plateau with the col du Tsate above me

There was a good path up to the Col. None of this climb was particularly steep. The top of the col was narrow. I shared the space with a couple of Americans and ate my lunch. From the top I could see my next target, the lac du Glacier far below me

The way down was much steeper than the descent, however there wa# a good, stony path. I soon arrived at a grassy plateau. Here I traversed across several springs that coalesced below me to form a river. After a short uphill stretch I continued the descent over grassy ground to reach the Lac du Glacier. As I approached the valley The paths became busy with day walkers. There is a car park at the lake and they are several marked circular walks. Some people drive up and walk to the Cabane du Moiry which is a mountain restaurant by day. I now had my first view of the impressive Moiry icefall. The Cabane can just be seen on a rocky outcrop to the left of the ice.

The way up to the hut was to climb up to the lateral moraine on the left of the picture. I then walked along the top of the rocks for a short distance before a short descent into the depression on the far side of the moraine. The path then climbed very steeply over rocky ground, a couple of exposed areas protected by a rope. I was now tired and the going got rougher, climbing across a large boulder field. I could see down to the heavily crevassed glacier

Finally I reached the hut. The icefall was truly awesome

Moiry Icefall

The image does not do it justice. I found little information about it but, according to the map, it is about 500 metres across and at least 200 metres high. Above it are more glaciers and snow capped peaks culminating in the Pigne de la Lex. To the south-west, I was treated to a magnificent sunset

Felix and Flora had already arrived, they passed me on the way up to the cowsheds. The Maltese man was nowhere to be seen, we think he crossed a different pass to the south and was wild camping. We did not see him again on the walk, His route would take an extra day to reach Zinal, my next stop. I had a drink with three Americans, from Virginia I think, admiring the view. The only name I can remember is Jamie.

The Cabane du Moiry was crowded as it is a popular destination to see the glacier and mountaineers use it as a base to access the climbing routes. It is also on the Tour du Monta Rosa as well as the Haute Route. I shared a small dormitory with a French family. I had the top bunk and this was arguably the most dangerous part of the walk; the ladder was offset from my bunk. I has to traverse under a low beam at the end of the bunk and, coming down, I had to avoid treading on a small French child. Happily there were no accidents and, after a good night’s sleep I was ready to continue on my way.

Day 8 Tuesday 23 August Arolla to Le Sage

Today I will be walking through a very different landscape compared through the desolate, high altitude glacier wrought boulder fields of the last day and a half. The route descends alongside the wooded valley of la Borgne d’Arolla to the village of Les Hauderes before climbing a little way up the mountainside to La Sage. The narrow valley is dominated by the Pigne d’Arolla at top

The village itself was small, mainly set on one road. I left the village by a path that climbed up the hill next to the dortoir. This passed between chalets to cross a field and enter a wood. Like all the forests on this walk the trees were mainly larch and spread apart so there was undergrowth between them. They are much more pleasant to walk through than the Forestry Commission plantations in the UK

I came to a path junction inviting me to take the chemin difficile to Lac Bleu (as recommended by Kev Reynolds) or a more easy route. As this was meant to be a leisurely day I chose the latter which had the advantage of no scrambling across steep slopes but the disadvantage that it remained in the forest so views were limited. The path descended through the wood. There were alternating shafts of sunshine separated by the shadows of the tree trunks which made for relaxing walking. Every so often there were good views across the valley. The path continued to drop until it met a track just above the valley road. It then climbed again through woodland, becoming steep to climb up alongside a waterfall until it met the high path.. After a further gentle climb I arrived at the idyllic Lac Bleu

I had plenty of time today so I spent and hour and a half relaxing by the lake This was a popular spot for a day walk so, as the morning wore on, more people came up to enjoy this beautiful setting.

Eventually it was time to move on so I reluctantly set off downhill back into the woodland and came to the hamlet of La Gouille

Just below the hamlet I rejoined the road, where there was a car park for day walkers. I followed the road for a couple of hundred metres before turning off on to a track. This re-entered woodland and then descended, not particulaly interestingly, to the village of Les Hauderes. At one point there was a clearing and I could see the village with La Sage and La Forclaz on the hillside in the distance.

Looking down on Les Hauderes with La Forclaz (on the right) and La Sage (on the left) on the hillside behind

By the time I got to Les Hauderes I was hot and thirsty and I had drunk all my water. As is common in most western European countries, it was siesta time and the village shop and bar were shut. Fortunately, most of the villages and hamlets have a water trough for animals fed by a spout taking water from a local stream. These are often present in small hamlets as well, even when there is only a small collection of chalets.

There was a notice informing me the water is safe to drink

I quenched my thirst and refilled my water bottles. The water was cold and delicious. I have never been ill drinking from fast flowing high mountain streams or these spouts but I suppose I should add that you can get ill (sometimes from the high mineral content) so one should consider purification tablets or portable filters, you never know what is lying in the river out of sight upstream!

I joined the path to La Sage but there was a sign informing me the path was closed. I think it was only closed at night (my French is not very good) but I did not want to climb the best part of 300m only to have to turn round. I therefore took the path across fields to La Forclaz. It was haymaking time. While a truck was picking up the cut grass it was being cut with a hand held mower and other men and women were raking up the cuttings by hand with large wooden rakes into piles to be picked up by the truck

Hay making below the huts of La Forclaz

I walked between the chalets to a metalled road in the village and now I had a gentle 1 km walk down the road into La Sage and the Gite Ecureil. I had one of my nicest suppers here; it included freshwater fish ceviche which I was not expecting in the middle of the alps. I also had my own room but I missed the camaraderie of the huts.

Day 7 Monday 22 August Prafleuri to Arolla

Today was a bit shorter than yesterday and there was less climbing but I still got an early start, leaving the hut at 7:30. The path up to the first col of the day, the Col des Roux started from outside the hut so I was climbing straight away. The top of the col was only 150m higher than the hut so it did not take long to reach the top. Three rocky towers dominated the un-named peak to the right of the path

There is meant to be a superb view of the Lac des Dix from the top of the col but it was hidden by cloud. The mountains across the valley were dramatic

Pointe de la Vouasson, the Vouasson glacier and the Aguilles Rouge d’Arolla

As I dropped through the cloud the southern end of the Lac des Dix became visible.

This large lake is dammed at its lower end. The dam took 10 years to build and claims to be the highest gravity dam in the world, (there are 4 higher dams of a different design, mainly in China). A gravity dam is one where the integrity of the dam wall depends on the weight and internal strength of the concrete. It is 285m tall, making it as tall as the Eiffel tower (and the largest man made structure in Switzerland). There are other dam designs which do not rely on the weight of the dam wall to resist the water pressure, an arched dam will be seen on day 9. The water in the lake is gathered by underground tunnels from the adjacent valleys and is used to generate electricity, enough to power half a million homes.

I descended past two unmanned refuges to the service road that ran alongside the reservoir. I now had an easy 5km walk to the head of the lake above which mountains and glaciers could be seen

Head of Lac des Dix. The peak is Mont Chelion

This was a very relaxing walk, there were a few cows (with bells) and marmots. At the head of the lake the way forward was obvious

My path climbs up to the right of the river that you can see in the midground, which is the main draining river for the Glacier de Chelion. It then climbs to the right of the rock seen in the centre of the picture to enter a region of glacial morraines and debris and pass towards the dip on the crest.

As the ice on the glacier slowly moves downhill it drags rocks that are deposited on either dside forming banks called morraines. The path follows the morraine on the left. As I got higher it seemed impossible that there was a path through the wall of rock on the left side of the valley

The path dropped down to cross the river on a bridge and then wound its way up past the first band of rock and across a boulder field to reach the base of the cliffs on the far left. There was then a fairly easy but exposed scramble, protected by ropes and chains, to a 25m series of fixed ladders leading up to the Pas de Chevres

According to a climber I met at the Europahut a few days later, these ladders used to be somewhat precarious. They were replaced in 2016 and felt very sturdy. There are 3-4 flights with a platform and a rail at each junction and the ascent was straightforward. Ahead, the top of the Arolla valley looked equally as desolate

The mountains to the east of Arolla are lower so there was no snow or glaciers. I now had a long 850m descent into the village of Arolla. This was a little steep at first but there was a good path across the scree. The ground became grassy underfoot at a plateau and I then descended further over grass and rocks. At one point a lazy marmot sitting at the opening to its burrow watched me pass, usually they run away as human approach. It is said that they can sense the vibrations in the ground from animals (including humans) walking nearby.

Above the treeline, the path continued to run gently downhill. There was a small area of ski tows. Behind me was the Pigne d’Arolla and its glacier

Once I passed below the treeline the path got steeper and began to zig-zag down through the woods to Arolla. I was booked into the dortoir of the Hotel du Glacier but I was the only one staying there so I was able to have a shower, do some washing and enjoy a quiet evening.

Day 5 Saturday 20 August Le Châble to Cabane du Montfort

Many of the Haute Route guided treks suggest getting the cable car up to Les Ruinettes followed by a short walk to the Cabane. It would be quite easy to get to Montfort from Champex if you don’t have a leisurely lunch and take the cable car. Reynold’s guide said the walk is quite nice so that is what I decided to do. A 1600 metre climb would also test my knee.

Le Châble has a modern centre adjacent to a river but once you get into the rambling side streets there is a mixture of new houses and old wooden chalets. One old wooden chalet was resting on saddle stones

After winding my way between chalets I took a path that ran steeply up through the village of Fontenelle. Someone had built a ramp to allow their cat access to a catflap in an upstairs window

I continued to gain height and reached a small mountain road. I followed the road to the chapel of Les Verneys

I continued down the road for a couple of hundred metres and then turned on to a path that entered woodland. The path climbed steeply but continued in the general direction of the valley, presumably to curve around the cliffs that I had seen yesterday. Every so often there were gaps in the trees allowing me to see the valley.

Looking down the Bagnes valley

The path flattened out and I continued for about 2km to a path junction. Here I turned steeply uphill. The climb seemed to go on forever but eventually I emerged into a clearing by some chalets. The path curved round to the west and contoured around the valley to another junction where I turned steeply uphill again to reach the hamlet of Clambin

I stopped at a restaurant here for lunch. On a clear day Mont Blanc is visible but it was hidden in the cloud today. So much for meteoswiss forecast for the cloud to clear by 12:00. There were good views to the ski resort of Verbier and down to the valley. This was a popular place and it was soon full. I had a delicious duck salad and a beer. The salad was huge, it would have fed Angela and I. Of course I managed to finish it. It was expensive though, the bill was 28€.

I returned to the trail and continued steeply uphill. For the next few kilometres the path went alongside a very narrow and steep mountain bike track. There were a lot of bumps and tight turns. The bikers attempting it had a lot of safety gear on including full face helmets. I will stick to walking.

Eventually I arrived at a ski run. Something must be wrong! There is no snow, I have no skis and I am going uphill. I took the ski run up to a path junction. Visibility was poor here because I was in the cloud. I took a path that ran alongside a bisse (artificial water channel) on a fairly level course.

There was the sound of cow bells coming out of the mist. Then I could hear drum beats. A little further and techno music filled the air. I mused on the idea that the cows were having a rave. Back in the real world, there was a dance music festival, an annual event, at the base of one of the Verbier ski lifts below me on the east side of the ski area.

The cloud finally started to lift showing the grassy mountainside that I had been walking across. Soon the path began to climb again, gently this time, and I had my first view of the refuge of Montfort

The mountain huts are very variable. Some are unmanned and just offer shelter, a bit like a Scottish bothy. The ones I will stay in are all staffed and offer dormitory type accommodation, food and usually a fantastic view. Washing facilities are variable. Montfort does have showers but at a cost of €6 for 2 minutes. The food is usually wholesome and plentiful, apparently it is brought up by helicopter.

Inside of Cabane du Montfort
Looking towards Mont Blanc at dusk

Walking in the alps is popular the world over and there is isually an international clientele. Today these included an English group with small children who had just walked up here for the night but most were doing the Haute Route or part of it. I met a Maltese man who did a lot of trekking and was partly camping and partly staying in huts. I would see him on and off for a few days. I also met Felix (German), a software guru, and Thora, an Icelandic viola player who live in Amsterdam. We would see each other continually over the next 10 days as they were doing the same Haute Route stages as I.

Day 4 Friday 19 August Champex to Le Chable

I slept much better last night. There were only four other people in the dorm and we had the window open. When I awoke it was raining. Fortunately I only had a short valley walk today. I would leave the Tour du Mont Blanc behind and head deeper into Switzerland. Once I had put my wet weather gear on my first task was to walk uphill to Champex Lac. This was only a 10 minute stroll. Even in the rain the lake is beautiful.

I walked alongside the lake to its south east end. From there I took a minor road that led to three hotels, one of which was aptly named the Splendide. It looks like is should have come straight out of a French movie.

From here I took a track down the hill. A sign, in French, suggested that this was the old road from Champex to the valley. It was steep and I would not have felt safe in a horse drawn vehicle. Perhaps that is why, at the bottom of the steep section, there was a shrine

These are common in Catholic Europe and, particularly, in the Alps. I presume they were for travellers to say a prayer for a safe journey. It is thought that the medieval crosses in England had a similar purpose.

At intervals there were good views across the valley and down to Sembrancher but the tops were covered in cloud. I walked through a few villages,all of which were pretty. The wooden chalets were often decorated with flowers, as this one was which I passed in La Garde

The walking was easy at a gentle gradient and I arrived in Sembrancher in time for a leisurely lunch. By the time I had finished the rain had stopped and I set off across fields along the Bagne valley There were steep cliffs up to the left, the ski resort of Verbier lies at the top, and it was hard to see how a path would find its way up there.

The path then entered the forest you can see on the right. It gently undulated through the wood. Unlike pine forests in the UK there is plenty of room between the trees for undergrowth so it is very restful wandering though the different shades of green. Suddenly I was disturbed by two gunshots that seemed to be very close to me. Then a picture of an animal went past me above my head on a pulley. Then two more shots rang out. I assume I was next to a shooting range. I hoped they aimed high and i passed through unscathed.

The path dropped down to the river but just outside Le Châble it detoured around a quarry and a gravel pit which was not so pleasant.

I wandered round the centre of La Châble looking for my B and B. Even with Google Maps I was struggling as it didn’t seem to be on a road. Then the penny dropped, it was under a shopping precinct extending into a hill. It was a nuclear bunker. About 20 000 were built in Switzerland during the Cold War. It had a fairly solid door

It was actually quite comfortable but I do not think I would want to sit out a nuclear war in one.

Day 3 Thursday 17 August Trient to Champex

I have not slept well in the Gites. I Do not know why, I never had any trouble before. Once again the dortoir was full. This one was a little more basic, pairs of mattresses side by side on bunk beds. My mattress mate was a French woman, so no communication was possible. Lest you think anything salacious occurs in these establishments let me re-assure you it doesn’t. We all have sheet sleeping bags (in my attempt to save weight I bought a silk one, v v comfortable). We then have a duvet each. The pillow is rubbish, maybe that is why I can’t sleep.

At 6am people start to get up and pack their rucksacks ready to start straight after breakfast. I was on my way by 7:30, heading in the other direction to the TMB walkers who usually circumnavigate the mountain in an anti-clockwise direction. The church was outlined by the Trient glacier

I walked through the village and crossed the road to start the climb up to the Col de la Forclaz. The track was the original ox road between Trient and Forclaz. It cost 4,100 francs to build. In 1912 cars were allowed on the road, but only at certain time and not at night. They were limited 18kph except when going round corners or through villages when they at to travel at the pace of a horse’s step.

I reached a path junction and had to decide which way to go. I chose the easier (Bovine) route rather than the Fenetre that I alluded to in yesterday’s blog, partly to protect my knee and partly because rain was forecast for the afternoon. Visibility would have been poor. I continued up to the Col de la Forclaz alongside a bisse, which is a man made stream used to divert water from a glacier to a village or for irrigation. There was a good view down to Trient.

From the col the path continued through climb through meadows and woodland. There were good views down to the Rhone valley in the distance with Martigny in the mid-ground. In the distance mountain tops could be seen peeking above the cloud inversion.

The path now went through woodland on the north slopes of the Croix des Prelayes climbing, usually with a moderate gradient, up to Alp Bovine. The view down to the Rhône valley was often visible through the trees. I came to a clearing in the forest and it was obvious that the cloud base was thickening and descending. I re-entered the trees, climbing more steeply now. Martigny and the adjacent farmland could be seen through a gap in the trees

I emerged from the forest at Alp Bovine, the highest point on today’s walk at 2049 metres. Down below, in the pasture land was the building of Alpage de Bovine and in the distance I had my first view of the sniw covered Gand Combin massif.

I descended to the hut and had apple pie and coffee.

The owner was impressed that I could speak some French. Now, my French is pretty awful so that must mean most English speakers do not even bother to try. A cow bell had been recycled

Presumably it clangs at dawn rather than crows. By the time I had finished eating the tops were all in cloud. I set off hoping to reach Champex before the rain that was forecast for late afternoon. The next group of walkers to come up the hill and pass me were from Saudi Arabia, a truly international day. I re-entered woodland and began to descend steeply. My knee tolerated this much better than yesterday, even though it was another long descent.

I crossed two waterfalls but managed to keep my feet dry. Eventually the path became a farm track. Just below the farm I took a path that climbed gently through woodland to emerge at Champex d’en Bas. I walked through this village and then began the gentle climb along road to Champex d’en Haut

The refuge was at the top of the village. Another international evening was spent eating fondue with two South Africans, one of whom now lives in Neufchâtel, and a man from the Chinese/North Korean border who lives in Singapore. After dinner it was time to struggle with today’s Wordle (twang!) with a group of Americans.