Haute Route Day 5 – Cabane du Mont Fort to Col des Roux – Wait It Out Camp to Damp Camp
Kilometers hiked: 15-ish
Total Kilometers: 202.5
Haute Kilometers: 61
Cols crossed: 4
Buttons pushed: 9. That’s a lot!
This was the day when the Haute Route really lived up to its name. The views were stupendous the whole day as we either gazed across valleys or stumbled across passes between incredible mountains. The trail was rugged at times with only cairns and paint to mark the way through scree and boulders. Passing through this terrain on such primal footing enhanced the experience beyond anything that a photo can evoke. We were in it today. We are still in it.
The morning dawned bright and clear. The rain moved on in the night, stars made an appearance. I’m glad we decided to wait. The views from camp across the long miles to Mont Blanc were spectacular. It took us some time to get moving between drying everything out and everyone wanting to take advantage of this tremendous opportunity to poop with a view. Alamo was packed and ready way before I could consider hiking, so we sent him to fetch water from that stream over there. By the time he got back, down one bottle cap, the whole crew was ready and eager to see what we had earned with all the tough climbing of the day before.
The trail delivered immediately. We traversed around a steep shoulder mostly draped in green, crumbling stone in other parts. Slick with rainwater, the steep drop below the trail would guarantee no repeat attempts if one of us were to slip. This was definitely no-fall terrain, but the trail was in good shape for the most part. I don’t think any of us were freaked out. We rounded a corner, from shade to bright sunshine, and the world opened below our feet.
Val de Bagnes where Le Châble and Sembrancher nestled, cut a deep gash thousands of feet below. Across this, the mighty Combin massif erupted skyward as an island of ice and rock. The shimmering snowy peak rivaled Mont Blanc in it’s blanc-ness. Huge caps of ice terminated at sheer walls of black rock soaring thousands of feet above a massive glacier that poured ice and rubble into the green world below. A natural quarry, helping rocks on their tireless quest to reach the ocean, on a geological capacity and timescale that very few of us little humans have the brains to comprehend.
The walking was good. It was slow moving though, not for the trail being arduous or dangerous, but for the views. We took numerous breaks, whenever there was a flat enough section to find an excuse to drop our packs. We ate gummies and channeled our inner Joe’s, working in a button factory. The ridiculous traversing continued for a blissful hour and a half across the grassy slopes, teaming with literally billions of butterflies doing their fluttery thing. Then we reached Col Termin(2648m) where things got even better.
We took a hard left above the bright blue waters of Lac de Louvie and plunged into the mountains. More gentle traversing across rugged terrain brought us from grassy slopes to crumbly scree. Mont Fort, the peak, loomed high above as we approached our second pass of the day, Col de Louvie(2921m). We wouldn’t make it there before lunch, however, as our dogs were barking and stomachs a grumbling. We stuffed our faces with the usual cheese, bread, cookies, peanut butter, and other treats and took turns soaking our feet in the coldest water on planet Earth. A fine break. Before we could get overly sun burnt we dunked our shirts then headed for the pass.
What greeted us at the top was a view of such a desolate nature that we were confused, as we had just come from a land of life and green things. When did we fly to the moon? Nothing but crumbling mountains and dirty glaciers (sad). Chocolate milk lakes fed by rivers of the same delicious substance. Erosion at work. We had a grand ole time glissading down from the pass into this bumpy basin. Painted waymarks guided us on our way. Progress was quicker than expected because, with no living features to lend scale, the basin had looked much bigger than it actually was. It turned out to be pretty easy going. But again, the views made it slow going.
Alamo and I took a plunge in a small, clear tarn rimmed with snow. Good idea, morons.
Down a little bit, then up a little bit more than the down and we were on our third pass of the day, Col de Prafleuri(2965m). This one reminded me of looking south from Forrester Pass in the Sierra. We were essentially perched on a cliff, the path down to the valley below invisible and assumed to be nothing more than a ladder. At the bottom of this wall spread a flat plain of grass and stone, braided all over with more silty streams. We watched a mystery ungulate doing its thing from our lofty perch while we munched some more delicious snacks. Building clouds prompted patches of light to dance across the whole scene, in ever changing ripples of gold. With an eye on the next pass, we shouldered packs and cruised down the surprisingly un-ladder like trail, then across the plain, to Cabane de Prafleuri. I only dropped the guidebook in one river on the way.
Our desire to be camped high for sunset and sunrise views was strong, so we cleared from the cabane with barely a fart and tackled the final pass of the day, Col des Roux(2804m). It was a short, fast burn to the top. Alamo scorched up in 10 minutes or so. I skated at the edge of the setting sunlight listening to Paul Simon. Gryllz and Spice finished strong, unleashing hearty cheers upon topping out. As the soggy guidebook had warned, I was literally stopped in my tracks by the view on the other side. Not as in-your-face beautiful as other things we have seen, but grand in the most epic meaning of the word. The valley ahead was filled with the five kilometer long cappuccino reservoir of Lac des Dix, rimmed by green slopes that gave way to high ridges draped with occasional glaciers. Stormy looking clouds covered the sky everywhere, but overhead. We found camp a short traverse from the pass on a flatish grassy shoulder high above everything. Set up for a risky cowboy, more bread, cheese, and things for dinner with a show as sheet lightning flashes through the clouds all around.
Best day yet, I think. And I feel confident the others agree. Spirits are high despite creaky legs. It’s all worth it. More than worth it. Haute stuff.