TMB Day 10 / Haute Route Day 2 – Refuge les Grands to Arpette – Slippery Slope Camp to Harambe Camp
Kilometers hiked: 9.5-ish
Total Kilometers: 162.5
Haute Kilometers: 21
Wrong turns: 1
We all feel pretty beat down after today. Listed as one of the most difficult sections of the Haute Route, we definitely earned our dinner tonight. With the exception of an easy morning stroll, we were either crunching up or down some of the steepest, slipperiest, mentally taxing trail I’ve seen anywhere. Certainly not the main TMB anymore. What a blast.
We woke up just in time to see Alamo slipping out of sight down the grassy hill. Not really, but he was totally off his pad and appropriately dazed and confused. We waited for the sun to crest the high walls then basked in the warmth as we shared warm coffee La Croix and chocolate granola. All packed up and ready to hike by 8:30am. I made sure to use the excellent toilet and quadruple ply roll before racing downhill to catch up with the crew.
Easy walking on a well maintained trail zig-zagged us down to the roaring stream of glacial melt, silty and milky. We sat down on the bridge for an impromptu second breakfast of baguette and cheese and everything else, and laundry/swim break. Refreshing. After a quick bouldering session at Chalet du Glacier we filled up on water and started the big climb of the day, or perhaps of the week. Perhaps the whole Haute.
We were surrounded by children going crazy over the wild strawberries that lined the trail. They hopped all over with bottomless energy, in stark contrast with how I felt. I could have been carrying one of these kids in my pack for all the huffing and puffing I was doing. We trudged up the open slope of boulders and flowers before getting into some trees along the crest of a lateral moraine. We were far away from the Glacier du Trient here, but at one time this would have been practically on ice. Amazing to see how shrunken it has become. Alamo and I tried to sing, with limited lyrics, many classic tunes ranging from Paul Simon to the Eagles as well as Macklemore. Spice jangled away step by step. We were quite the crew of loud Americans. The exact people I despise when I’m hiking alone. But I tell you what, being on this side of it sure is fun!
The up up up continued. We eventually ran out of things to complain about when we reached a trail crew doing some truly sensational trail building around a huge washout. Even though the steps were steep, climbing them was a thousand times easier than building them. What luck to have people dedicated to keeping this terrain accessible to jerks like us. We thanked them as best we could with inadequate French.
The heat of the day had now reached us, but we pushed higher still with views staying the same at the macro level, yet constantly tweaking to remain interesting as we gained altitude. Actually, any view is interesting when it let’s you catch your breath. Numerous hikers were coming down from the pass now, which meant, for better or worse, we understood where we were headed. Many rests later and after some very steep scrambling near the top, I crested the col to find a chilling Alamo and splendid views. Gryllz and Spice were right behind. A hearty Cioa-owww!!! to celebrate. Fenêtre d’Arpette(2665m).
What a sharp, rocky place. The col really felt like a notch in a serrated blade. Sharp peaks extended in a sharp ridge of oddly textured rock, with an oddly speckled complexion to match. Perhaps most perplexing was the big ol’ dookie sitting up there. We wondered what animal could be responsible for it. Of course, it was probably human. I don’t think they have yetis in this part of the world. Some interesting people came and went in the direction opposite to ours, then we decided to be interesting too and get out of there.
The descent was equally steep on a braided maze of dusty scree on the north side of the ridge. It was a choose-your-own-adventure kind of trail, but we let Alamo do the route finding as we skated down behind him. After a few hundred feet of that good stuff, we boulder hopped through the glacial basin of car-sized granite boulders. The “trail” was well marked however, so getting lost was never an option. Despite the bright paint graffiti, I’ve been on “cross-country” routes in the Sierra with better trails than this one over Fenêtre d’Arpette. It’s just rugged out here. It’s awesome. We exited the boulders then continued on improving trail lower into the valley. Green things returned to surround us with an occasional berry or two, but the trail remained treacherous. Slips were so frequent that we made a rule of telling a joke or fact for each one. The facts were flowing. Singing filled in the gaps and the cowbell donged constantly.
We pulled up in a flat spot of sandy stuff to recover a little bit and eat something. First dinner. A little further, we reentered the trees and found a spot nestled amongst them. Second dinner. Camp. The group is beat, but we sit around learning and playing Harambe, a card game where we’re all on the same team. We are all on the same team. Team Awesome. It was a brutal day, but we pulled it off. Haute stuff.