Thursday, September 21, 2006

August 26th, 2006 Cabanne de Louvie to Cabanne Prafleuri
6am came most thankfully. What an uncomfortable bed/slab with weak mattress. Shawn and I fell asleep with our ipods to block out the noise of the party crew of the cabanne. Both our batteries are nearly shot. In the morning the Nether men made so much noise it's a good thing we were getting up too (we were waiting for them to use the bathroom first-we're so polite). Breakfast was essentially cereal, bread and jam. We ordered our picnic lunch for the day and got ready. I felt like we got up so early but still didn't manage to leave until 8:30am. We helped the Swiss take pictures (they took one of us) and Jean-Marie gave me his card. Chef de Service? He said he was like a vice-president. Au revoir, kiss kiss. and we were on our way. Don't hate me when I tell you it was another beautiful day.

Today our mission was to go to the Cabanne Prafleuri but we weren't sure if was 4 hours or 6 hours. Kev's book doesn't actually stop at Cabanne de Louvie and his times are usually accurate. Jean -Marie said it would take us 5 hours. Two cols today. Col de Louvie and Col de Prafleuri. Col de Prafleuri is suppose to be the highest point of the entire walk at 2965 meters (on the trek, before the col, Shawn read 3030 on his altimeter).

The walk to Col de Louvie took three hours. Why? Because we kept running into ibex (see picture above). At one point I rounded a bend and startled myself and an ibex. He was probably five feet away from me and he was mammoth. Many times we were close to them today (hence the deleted pictures). There was also two guys from the Cabanne -German speaking we think-who were on their way to Cabanne Mont Fort. We kept passing each other--mainly because of ibex sightings. One of the walked down the hill to get a closer look (not necessary since later we would run into them ON the trail). The ibex watched him but didn't seem too bothered (unlike the one I startled who ran from me). We said goodbye and some crossroad and got serious about hiking again. Enough with the beautiful ibex! Who cares how fast they can walk on rock?

We are getting better at planning our day, I think. We rarely referred to Kev's book (we were back in his chapters at the crossroads) and more map reading. Still reaching the Col de Louvie seemed epic. We ate lunch there - there in the windy barren wasteland where rocks go to die. It was so cold but we downed an excellent lunch and the chocolate bars we bought in Verbier (now I'm out).

And now for the adventure. The weather was chasing us. In the distance we could see grey clouds and circles of rain patches coming from those clouds. We knew that the cross of the Grand Desert doesn't have a trail (thanks, Kev) but just a series of waymarks. We couldn't imagine no visibility. Yikes. But we stayed ahead (were you worried?). The descent of Col de Louvie was fun actually. Rock hopping. In general I didn't use my sticks but mostly off-trailed it. Not on purpose-I couldn't see the waymarks most of the time until I actually passed them. The Grand Desert is a rock wasteland. We could see Rosablanche, all snowy and deceptively easy to climb (we didn't) and then the valley below. The rock cemetery with your occasional glacier lake. We had a good time going waymark to waymark (or cairn to cairn) like it was a game.

All the way up we looked at the top-but it wasn't the col - just 2800 meters. We then walked sort of level for a while, scrambled down the side on this rock - and on a tangent here, I have to say, I love the Swiss and their obvious confidence in people, 'you can do this, no problem' - when at the bottom we saw what looked like 3 bomb shell casings - or bombs. Who knows. Shawn took a picture. Weird. Why were they there? It's Switzerland! Land of peace?

Afterward we climbed the rest of the Col de Prafleuri. Essentially a lot more rock scrambling but this time UP. We didn't have lunch as a reward but the views were interesting. On the other side was a big bowl of raped earth (I'm so melodramatic). Essentially where Cabanne de Prafleuri resides is an old mining center. Looks like they minded the life out of it. We descended and then circled the drain, as it were, before we climbed an almost vertical mini trail to the Cabanne.

Once there we got the tour and immediately staked out our beds. (me the only top bunk and Shawn below). We had learned our lesson and were now cabanne pros. We drank our customary beer and hot chocolate before we took a ten minute nap - then the Swiss German couple arrived (not the same as the ibex watching guys). They didn't encourage conversation. Then we just went over our trip to come (maps and Kev on a table in the main room) while other groups showed up. Some just in the nick of time. Three Brits and a British family that lived in Switzerland, both just coming in after an utter white-out. Fog climbed into the bowl and you couldn't even see outside the window. We were happy we missed it for the waymark puzzle.

Dinner was good, better at least then Cabanne de Louvie. First the soup, then a bowl of beet salad. Beet salad? I tasted it but I couldn't eat more. We watched the German Swiss couple take two large helpings. Insane. Then the main course was noodles and beef. Quite good, I thought. Again, Shawn and I were mostly quiet during dinner (even though we were in general surrounded by English speakers). Dessert was a pineapple slice with real whipped cream and chocolate sauce. Shawn said it was 'weak'.

After dinner we hung out in the main area looking at picture books of the Alps the hosts had on a book shelf until we thought it wasn't too early to go to bed. This would be our second night without taking a shower. In fact, I literally hadn't taken my socks off in 36 hours. I knew I smelled horrible but so did everyone else. And something else embarrassing I will confess. Shawn says although I don't snore at home it's something awful out here. In the door room he kicked my bunk (remember, I'm conveniently located above him) so I would shut up. It worked, he said (I have no memory of it).

At Cabanne Prafleuri you have to pay for showers and electricity in the dorm rooms. We didn't opt for either amenities (although we jealously looked at the German Swiss woman's ipod charger...). The 'tap water' is glacial runoff. Although, of course, pretty clean it is also completely freezing. Washing my face at these Cabannes is a bracing experience. I learned a new French word. Potable. As in Eau Non Potable. Water not drinkable. We couldn't fill our bottles with the glacial run-off tap water so we had to buy bottled water for the trip the next day (along with our pack lunches).


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