Haute Route Day 7 – not quite Arolla to Mayens du Motau – Icefall Camp to Deck with a View Camp
Kilometers hiked: 14.5-ish
Total Kilometers: 231
Haute Kilometers: 89.5
Loaves purchased: ½
More loaves needed: ½
Brain freezes: 1
“You Belong With Me” plays: ~30
We made it until morning safe and warm despite heavy condensation and loud crashing coming from the icefall in the middle of the night. This woke those of us who were not still up, filling us with unexplainable awe and respect for this landscape of crumbly representations of geological forces. A lightning show kept me awake for a few minutes longer before exhaustion extinguished my day for good.
So yeah, heavy condensation in the morning. This was a familiar excuse to make another leisurely start to the day while we waited for our things to dry out once the sun finally jumped above the far ridge and clouds. Chocolate granola and peanut butter again. It will never get old. The show for this morning was a helicopter flying laps to Cabane des Dix with dangling nets of supplies. It made maybe five trips while we watched and selfishly thought it might be the Man looking for camping bums like us to ticket. Yeah, like Swiss authorities don’t have anything better to do than waste helicopter time patrolling for hiker trash. I’m not even sure we’re breaking any laws. Bellies filled and stuff dry-ish, we left camp for the trail at 9:30am. Casual.
Finishing the descent to Arolla was a scenic stroll down through more green stuff. Similar to pretty much everything else in Switzerland. Flowers, grass, dirt, rocks, streams, cow poop. We scanned the tumbling icefall for evidence of new destruction, but couldn’t pinpoint any specific piles of ice as the source of the menacing mumble from the night. Grumpy day hikers sweated up the trail while we bounced down, full of love for the morning and cowbells. Through a parking lot and into picturesque Arolla.
There wasn’t much in town, but they had everything we needed except for flat forks. Between the two grocery stores we were able to provision ourselves for the next three days to Zinal. The cafe had ice cream, wifi, and a toilet. There was a water fountain and garbage can. We ended up heavy on the mayo, chips, and Toblerone. Everything we need indeed. Full, after the usual gorging of town beets and bananas, we struck the hot pavement out of town at 1:10pm to finally do some hiking.
The trail was not kind to us, just as we had not been kind to ourselves by eating all the things. It was hot and the trail was a roller coaster. Traversing across a steep hillside of cliffs and trees, we slipped up and down the trail, breathing in the scent of warm pine that reminded Spice and I of the western mountains in the US. Of course all us Americans can think of in Switzerland is how similar it is to America. That is home after all. How can we not find comfort in the familiar?
Sweaty and hungry by default we panted up the last rise to Lac Bleu, and finally understood why the trail had been so busy with day hikers. Humble in size, but flamboyantly hued, the lake was a sapphire gem sunk into a grassy depression. A wide and gentle cascade filled fresh water from up slope. The deep, clear blue instantly reminded Spice and I of America again, this time Little Crater Lake along the PCT south of Mt. Hood. We were surprised, then suspicious something was going on because none of the beautiful Swiss hikers were swimming despite the mostly sunny skies. Still, we didn’t think too much about it as we claimed a patch of muddy grass and stripped down to take a plunge. It turns out that Lac Bleu is the worst lake ever. It’s way too beautiful not to swim in, but way too cold to enjoy. Step in. Feet burn with cold, then numb. 5 seconds. Dive in. Gasp as diaphragm spasms. Give a couple of good faith stokes that mimic swimming. 10 seconds. Dunk head again on way back to shore. Big mistake. Brain freeze. Reach shallows. 15 seconds. Try to stand. Numb stumps aren’t good for standing. Crawl/fall out of the water using hands for support. Stand gasping and laughing. Eyes wide. 20 seconds. Brutal. For some reason Alamo and I did that twice. We coaxed the others in for a quick splash as well, but they had learned much from our foolhardiness and smartly limited themselves to the 10-second treatment. While Alamo and Gryllz scrounged up a lunch, Spice and I worked to consolidate the acroyoga progress we made the previous evening, putting on a bit of a laugh show for anyone interested in watching. An hour after arriving, thawed and a little muddy, we saddled up to finally get a move on.
The trail from there left the contour to bring us way down to the floor of Val d’Arolla. Easy going on pleasant trail through a mixture of pasture and forest. After a dog petting session, we dodged traffic up the road for one hundred yards before turning right onto a parallel path that would take us to the next town. The next few kilometers passed warmly. A few berries here, a really big grub thing there. Though we were walking in sunshine, splashes of warm rain fell, pushed our direction by winds blowing over the ridge tops high above. Half a lollipop later, we crossed the bridge into Les Haudères.
The village was preciously traditional. So Switzerland. Dark wood chalets with exuberant flower boxes, perched atop precarious looking log and stone post foundations. This style wouldn’t do in California. The village was small, so after a brief detour up a hill then back down again (my fault), we were soon climbing back up the other side of the valley on a forested dirt road. Warm rain continued to patter and music drifted from somewhere below. We continued to sweat in the humid warmth. A final steep drive deposited us at the water fountain at the foot of Le Sage.
Group energy seemed pretty low at this point. It hadn’t been a particularly trying day, but hiking past 6pm without dinner pushed our blood sugar to new lows. I know for my part that I was pretty gassed. Trails are steep out here. Switchbacks rare. Looking at the topo map and thinking about camp, I could see that we were in for at least an hour more of steep, relentless up. Fortunately, we had the cure for such letharg within our packs. We traded bites of snickers and gummies to turbocharge the final push. Singing Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”, we coaxed our tired legs into motion, practically crawling out of town.
Individuals found their own places and paces as we hiked up more, steep dirt road in the forest. No more sign of rain. As per usual, Alamo was out in front where he would disappear with a deceptive smoothness that left me wondering if I really could have lost a step in the three years since the PCT. I followed with a measured pace, timing one pole push per step, focusing on engaging my arms for a full body, ultrafatburn interval HIIT mega workout, while I looped the same Taylor song on my phone, singing along between gasps. Spice churned up after me, freely giving smiles while lost in a whokowswhat podcast or something. Gryllz birddogged, making sure we didn’t miss any raspberries. We passed through a small community perched too far up the slope to be convenient for the residents who watched from their decks, drinks in hand and smiles on their faces, as the cow they thought they heard coming turned out just to be Spice. Another fill-up at a water fountain, then a final push up a creek to get above the tree line. Hopefully we would find a flat spot suitable for camp. Alamo and I gave everything we had to scout ahead, finally reaching a grassy hump where we dropped our packs.
The flat-grassy-spot-over-there turned out to be bumpy, boggy, and full of cow poop. Not ideal for camping, but it would do. The cows responsible for the poop also seemed to be coming back for round two, so I jogged uphill, under an electric pasture fence, along a dirt road, up the trail a bit, across a creek, and over a small hill where I found home. A ski cabin, boarded up for the summer, with two huge wooden decks that sported sweeping views across, up, and down valley to pointy peaks, smoother jigs, and crumbly jags. Definitely home. I called down to the trio of tiny hikers below with a hearty “Ciao-oww” and gave the OK sign with my arms. I caught them coming up the trail with my pack and poles. Sweet. They jammed a bunch of delicious chips in my mouth. Sweeter.
Juiced up from my exertions, I stretched and tried headstands on the spacious deck in an attempt to calm down and let my sweat dry while the others set up for the night and prepared dinners. Spice did some balancing on the railing over a sketchy landing of stinging nettles, Gryllz did some drawing in her journal, and Alamo did some reading from his kindle. All of us did some ogling at the never-ending sunset. Our Sun refused to go away, dodging cloud and rock, to extend our golden hour at least a tiny bit more than usual by our figuring. Dinner was a hearty pot of salty couscous deliciousness with bread and cheese all mixed with mayo, chili sauce, and peanut butter. Spice’s stove has been a welcome addition to our livery, providing us with warm drinks morning and evening, but never more than for this meal. Hit the spot after a tough day of hiking, swimming, and eating candy. Hiker hunger, once it starts, is never satisfied, but it was reduced to just a gurgle or two tonight.
Everyone is reduced to just a gurgle or two tonight. Exhausting day. Great day. Great camp. Keeping it baby.