Haute Route Day 4 – Le Châble to Cabane du Mont Fort – Hot Ant Camp to Wait It Out Camp
Kilometers hiked: 7-ish
Total Kilometers: 187.5
Haute Kilometers: 46
Mouth bouquets: 1
Leftovers scavanged: 1 or 2
Light streaking in the sky was a welcome sight after a fitful night’s rest. Ants, the heat, rolling downhill, ants, and the heat made for a pretty crappy night. I was happy to get up and I think the others were in the same boat. Especially Spice who was totally convinced that ants had chewed one of her fingertips raw. I’m dubious and I think Alamo and Gryllz are with me in that boat too. We compared bad-sleep stories, ate breakfast, and packed up. On the trail and hiking at 9am. “Early.”
Besides losing my bottle cap in a stream, the morning was uneventful. We continued the steep climb from the evening before, thankful to have taken out a large portion of the 1600 meter gain already and happy to take it slow in the cool morning shade. My pack still felt way too heavy and the trail still climbed way too steeply to make this anything but a physical and mental slog. Occasional stops to pick raspberries helped motivate my tired legs. I know the others were suffering small personal battles of their own, though we all remained cheerful, guessing shoo-doos and shoobie-doobies. Spice also had fun confusing the heck out of two cows along the trail with her bell. Cow or human?
We passed by a group of hikers doing our same route, coming down to avoid some thunderstorms that may or may not show up this afternoon. The news wasn’t going to turn us around as we consider ourselves hardy folk, capable of having fun in a thunderstorm, and it made me thankful to be in charge of our own trip with no real deadlines to make, outside of an international flight in a couple weeks. Walking where we want, camping where we want. Freedom to get caught in a thunderstorm if we want. Freedom.
The steep trail continued up the forested hillside crisscrossed with terrifying mountain bike trails. Gummies, blueberries, and emerging views in the clear morning kept me going. The Mont Blanc massif was fading behind us, but still looming large on the horizon shining as a bright beacon of snow and jags in the distance. The Combin massif was now in view and provided yet another postcard perfect vision of glaciers too big to fathom, crumbling over dark rock cliffs. Good stuff.
We took our earned lunch break on an open ski slope with some benches overlooking Le Châble and our valley walk from Champex, a pleasingly long distance below us. Bikers skidded by us after unloading from the conveniently placed gondola. With so much cheese and peanut butter to eat, we took our sweet time eating it and enjoying the views. I think my hiker hunger finally hit me last night. It’s a satisfying feeling, corroborating the story that the ache of fatigue in my legs is telling. I am now a bottomless pit, a blazing furnace, ravenous, and hungry for anything with calories. Maybe I don’t have too much food in my pack after all.
While we were lounging, the heat turned up and the clouds began to build. We got moving to discover that the steepest climbing was behind us. This was a pleasant and welcome surprise as we traversed wide open ski slopes around to the east, lightly gaining altitude, but mostly gaining more incredible views. Combin. Huge. I fashioned a mouth bouquet to mimic local fashion, and although I looked good, the flavor wasn’t quite right. An hour and a half later we reached Cabane du Mont Fort, perched high like Edoras on a solitary hill. This wasn’t home, but it was close.
We swooped a bench on the wide patio, but were soon forced inside by a light rain. Looks like the weather prediction was right. I also swooped some leftover spaghetti and brownie that some thoughtless individual had decided to waste. My hiker hunger couldn’t let this pass. No shame. It was good. We used wifi, played cards, and pooped while we tried to wait out the weather. The next section that we wanted to get started has famously splendid views that we didn’t want to miss in the clouds so the hope was that the stormy conditions would miraculously evaporate. This seemed less and less likely as dusk approached. The rain actually got worse, so at 7:15pm after failing miserably at a couple rounds of Harambe, we shouldered packs to find camp in the steady rain.
We hiked a few minutes downhill to a meadow that we had scouted earlier. It was soaking now after the endless showers and the tall grass wetted us up to our knees. The rain did the rest. I wasn’t in bad spirits, but we were tired and beat down after a tough day, so I forced my most positive attitude. I hoped it was believable. I had to remind myself a couple of times that I would be warm and dry again eventually. The weather was going to be great tomorrow. Sunny and warm. Purple rain continued to fall as we set up our shelters and snuggled in for the evening, surrounded by cow pies, serenaded by drumming on the tarp. I found a dead ant on my sleep shirt that had its jaws firmly sunk into the fabric like it was trying to get a piece of me. Maybe Spice was right after all. Rain falls. Purple rain fades to gray. Gray fades to black. Camping in Switzerland. Amazing.