Monday, September 11, 2006

August 22nd, 2006 Chamonix to Col de la Forclaz
Chamonix to Col de la Forclaz in Kev Reynold's guide book (which we have no idea how we'd survive without) is broken into two stages. The first day is usually to Argentierre (2 hours) and the second day of hiking is from Argentierre to Trient or Col de la Forclaz (7-8 hours). Because we had Bill Russell book all of our hotels/cabannes we essentially had to figure out how to get to each one every day. Since our hotel was in Col de la Forclaz we knew it would be a long day. At least 10 hours. "10 hours" you exclaim? Exactly. We knew it would be brutal, especially since our work out regime prior to this trip wasn't exactly consistent. We're no couch potatoes but being 'always on the go" isn't the same as always going.

The hike to Argentierre we did in 2 and a 1/2 hours from our hotel in Chamonix. We stopped for more euros and to take some last minute pictures. We were in good spirits. Kev's directions were genius. I can't imagine getting through bigger towns without his 'pass the buss station, turn left at the second trail (no not the one with the wooden cross)" kind of directions. Very specific and in general really saving time.

During this valley walk we got our first look at Les Drus. A snowy white cap of 3754 meters. The hike itself was mostly beautiful - in hindsight. I remember the up-hills kicking my butt. Then we arrive in the little village of Argentierre and stop by a patisserie/boulangerie for lunch and treats. I got a brioche sucre and it was superb. I"m still craving it. Then we crossed the street to a little cafe called 'the office' (yes, in English, sadly). I think the owner was British. When I started talking to her in my high school French she looked at me like I was crazy. Then we just spoke English to one another and all was well.

From there we hiked up to La Tour (ascending 200 meters), an even smaller village then Argentierre. Then, like naughty children, we took the gondola and chair lift to Col de Balme. This turned out to be a genius move. It's a 700 meter height gain of in-the-sun switchbacks under the gondola. We had a lovely ride above the other hikers. What would have taken us 2 hours took us 15 minutes. Which is good because I can't imagine us doing a 12 hour day of hiking (this is suppose to be fun, right?). In my journal I wrote at this point "ugh, I hope I don't eat those words." But I didn't. 10 hours turned out to be our longest day.

The Col de Balme is magnificent. It's a pass into another valley--another world really. And, incidentally the border between France and Switzerland (celebrated by one stone and no border patrol to stamp our passports). We look back at Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles and say goodbye (for now, we'll see them later from farther out). Shawn had a beer at the Cabanne there (picture above).

Shawn's knees were still hurting him so we took a leisurely pace down the mountain. There were a lot of paths that we went down that we looked back up and thought 'wow, that looks dangerous." At one point we stopped at a barricade blocking our way straight. A fence all tied shut but there was a path on the right so we went right. We walked all the way down to the glacial torrent (yes, you read that looked like a river to me) and crossed the bridge when Shawn was like 'this isn't right.' Kev's book says cross a bridge after a fork in the road and turn right but Shawn was looking at our map and saw that we didn't cross until two glacier torrents joined (I'm serious). So after some team Martin discussion -and this may seem obvious to you reading this -we figured out that the barricaded path IS the path so we went back, untied the rope and opened the fence. On the other side, of course, there was a sign that could only be seen coming from the opposite direction of where we were coming from confirming our deductions. Hooray--off again.

Finally we got to the real bridge over the joined massive torrent and we booked it to Col de la Forclaz (by this time we had been hiking for over 9 hours). We wondered previously why Bill didn't have us staying in Trient which is the more common village stay. Now we know why and thank you, Bill. Trient is technically closer but DOWN in the valley where Col de la Forclaz is a little bit farther but level with the trail. Trient looks like a cute pretend village, like a train set village or in Beetlejuice.

As soon as we spotted the town, we spotted our hotel (creatively named Hotel Forclaz). Shawn stopped to get batteries (for the camera of course) and I checked us in. The girl at the front desk knew as much English as I knew French but we got along just great. I forgot to leave my boots at the door (hikers etiquette). Oops. She was nice about it. Then she showed us to our room. It looked more like a dorm room then a hotel room. Still it had a shower so we were elated. Later I found out there IS actually a dorm room. We were separated from these bunk bedders during dinner. What does that mean?

During dinner we saw another couple reading the Kev Reynolds book at dinner. We laughed - in our long day of hiking exhausted way. In Chamonix I had seen a commercial for French Survivor (I don't remember the actual title but it wasn't 'Survivor') - it was the same concept but French castaways. Hilarious. It was to air tonight but we unfortunately we didn't have a TV. But since I almost fell asleep in my soup, it didn't matter. Maybe next week!

Shawn was still finishing his beer (his 2nd) when I went back to the room. I was in bed asleep by the time he knocked on the door - 10 minutes later. 9pm. We slept hard.


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