TMB Day 11 / Haute Route Day 3 – Arpette to Le Châble – Harambe Camp to Hot Ant Camp
Kilometers hiked: 18-ish
Total Kilometers: 180.5
Haute Kilometers: 39
TMB circuits completed: 1
Eyes mascaraed: 2
Ice creams eaten: 6
Cheese bought: ~35lbs
Spice Rack’s usual 5:30am alarm wakes me up, but not for long. I’m beat after yesterday’s exertions and quickly doze of again, finally waking just before 7am. Chocolate granola for breakfast. Yum. We’re out of camp by 9:30am, strolling slightly downhill along a gravel road, through a veritable painting of Swiss country living. Spice manages to confuse all heck out of some nearby cows and has a conversation of sorts in the ancient language of cowbell dongling.
Road gives way to flat trail through the forest. It’s hard to make progress with handfuls of blueberries to be picked and we gorge ourselves, fingers and lips turning purple in the process. Gryllz and I are a little more enthusiastic in our grazing and fall behind the others as we greedily stuff our faces without shame. Blueberry heaven. Blueberry frenzy. We finally catch up at the ski lift on the outskirts of Champex. Just down the road, we reach the campsite where I spent my first night of this trip. Back when I was the clean one. Where Spice and I first crossed paths. Where I added her to the long list of hikers I’ll never see again. Huh.
My TMB circuit is over. I feel strangely triumphant. Considering what I already have on my hiking resume (yeah, I know. I’m super cool), I didn’t expect the Tour to mean much to me besides being the inspiration to hike a beautiful hike in a new range. What’s 110 miles to someone who’s hiked 2,700 in a summer? Turns out, 110 miles can mean a whole lot. What a place. What incredible mountains. What amazing company. This means a lot. I am humbled. Bigly.
Back on the familiar road through Champex, we make a quick stop in the bakery for some provisions. However, we are overwhelmed by choice and are only able to acquire two slices of delicious queesh (pronounced quiche) that don’t last long. Quickly down the road to the less-whelming grocery store. We are still overwhelmed though. We buy a few things, most importantly a tube of harissa spice goo. Mucho sabor. Spice tries to mail a bunch of non-trail stuff home, but the post office kiosk isn’t working today. Must be out picking blueberries instead. She looks trashier than usual now with a cardboard box strapped on her pack.
The day is another beautiful one, much different than my first time through here, and we cannot resist a swim in the inviting waters of Champex Lac. It is really our duty to go for a swim on such a nice day. We line up in the shallows, scrubbing our stinky clothes optimistically while kids and families float by on rented paddleboats and SUPs. We follow chores with a lovely swim, somehow managing to avoid getting stuck in the bottomless mud, then flop on the green lawn to sun our physical forms. Spice and I make some more progress with acro yoga before we eat a well-earned lunch, then pack up to leave. 1:15pm. Time to finally start hiking.
We take a left out of town rather than the right I took 10 days ago, into Val d’Entremont. I’m on new terrain now. We’re all on the Haute Route. The walking is smooth, contouring gently downhill through working Switzerland. Green pastures, tremendous jets of water from sprinklers, many berries and cherries for the picking. It’s warm, bordering on hot, at 85F so we’re appreciative of the easy hiking. Pairs form then break, individuals hike solo in their own worlds, the four of us all share stories and jokes. Casual hiking. We are free to interact with our world on our terms. Peacefully. Despacito.
We make it to the town of Sembrancher where I transferred trains on my travel day to Champex. It’s different walking through, and we struggle to find the grocery store we need to resupply for the next section to Arolla. We get a little bit lost, but make it to the Migros, the largest grocery store any of us have seen in a long time. Positively American. We line up our packs outside, then eagerly enter like moths to a flame.
The post office works here. That’s the good news. The food selection is great here. That’s some more good news. The ice cream is cold here. Better news. They sell crunchy peanut butter here. That’s the best news. There is no bad news. The next store is three days away, so this becomes an important resupply. Can’t afford to screw it up. They say that in backpacking you pack for your fears. Turns out, I’m really afraid of going hungry. I’ll be sharing a lot of rations with Spice, but even two people isn’t enough to put a dent in this bounty. Many baguettes, roughly 35lbs of cheese. A large tube of veganaisse. I am so excited.
We really trash up our corner of the foyer after shopping is complete. We eat ice creams in single bites, spoon peanut butter from glass jars into tupperware, shovel down shredded beats, spilling ruby juice on the tiled floor (then cleaning it up). Somewhere along the way, Alamo and I lost a bet and now have to wear mascara on one eye each, so that happens too. And we look incredible. We are all giddy with sugar, high on life, and filled with optimism. We are happy. Embarrassingly happy. And the locals might be confused by it, but they see it.
We leave Sembrancher around 4:15pm to tackle the road/dirt road walk up Val de Bagnes to Le Châble. We see some more cows, a horse or two, some corn, and a rainbow before being greeted to town by a water fountain at the church. As we’re filling our bottles, I’m overcome by a powerful feeling of contentedness. I just love this lifestyle of living out of a backpack, walking through the world at whatever pace feels right, laughing with friends, not a care in the world, far from the problems that plague the minds of people in normal society. It’s only temporary, a little bit selfish and irresponsible, but an excellent way to experience the world. Feet first.
We climb out of Le Châble, confused by what appears to be their town logo of two people who don’t know how to high-five sitting in ye olde hot tub. No hot tubs spotted, however. Steep town walking through quaint neighborhoods filled with classic Swiss architecture continued for an unknown time. Yep, we definitely bought too much food for this section. This was hot and sweaty work.
We pulled up for a break after gaining 1,000ft or so at a church that stood alone along a dirt road high above the valley. The water was cool and the cherry picking excellent so we sat there to admire the sunset views down the valley. We weren’t hit by stunning mountain views today, but this was an educational stroll through real, working Switzerland. And it was beautiful anyway, of course. Not as beautiful as Alamo and I with our makeup, but a close second.
Dead tired as we were, we sent Alamo running up trail to find the nearest camping spot. Panting, he returned with good news. 10 minutes later we exploded our packs and spread our groundsheets. Lots of fat ants crawling around and roots to lay on, but we’re all too tired to do much else except for eat as much of our loads as possible as dusk fades to dark. Somehow we managed to make an easy day hard. The ice cream was worth it.