Sunday, October 22, 2006

August 29th, 2006 Arolla to Grimentz

The weather forecast was suppose to be bad again today. Arolla to Grimentz is actually a two stage walk in Kev's book which could take us up to 12 hours. So we decided to forego the boring valley stuff that hiked criss cross along the main road and just hike from Ville to Grimentz doing the 2919 meter high (Col de Torrent with the great views, etc). When we left Hotel Mont Collon the skies were pretty overcast but it wasn't raining (by the way, CROISSANTS for breakfast). We took the 8:27am bus (stop right outside our hotel) to Les Hauderes.

The busses are really nice. Like long travel Greyhound busses. The driver put our packs in the bin underneath and we hopped on. Using those Swiss Passes finally. Yee haw! The ride was an adventure. First of all, Swiss Alps roads are like one way streets in America only they're not one way and it's not like these busses are small. Greyhound, ok? So everytime he went around of those u-bends I felt like clapping because he stayed on the road. The views were great but the death defying ride had all my focus. We also went INTO the mountain a couple of times where the sides were so obviously carved rock.

Les Hauderes is a bigger village then Arolla. We had to take our next bus from there. While we waited we purchased two sandwiches for lunch at the boulangerie (bakery). We have decided that buying sandwiches at bakeries is the way to go (as opposed to buying from the hotels). The bus to Ville was quicker. Before we knew it we were dropped off in the town square at 1714 meters and ready to go up and up.

Ville is a small place so we managed to be above the town in minutes. We were always passing stragler chalets or huts - thinking about what it would be like to own one ourselves. About halfway up we enjoyed our lunch. The best sandwiches yet. They had hard boiled egg on them! Genius. Then we're off. I walked so close to a bull (remembering the murduring cows in England) I almost reached out and touched him. Shawn took a picture but you can't really tell how close we are.

Up and up we go and it's snowing. Then it's snowing really really hard. We are coming up and we can't see the path we're walking on only the three people's footprints ahead of us (Swiss French we let them pass us earlier). And it was so windy, it was the first time I felt like the wind could knock us off the mountain. We got to the top--the Col de Torrent--and saw the Swiss people and we kind of looked at each other and were like 'that was crazy, right?'

I said a prayer at the cross and then we started our descent (see picture above). I thought we would be taking it real slow since there was about 6 inches of snow on the ground, incredibly windy and snow was still coming down profusely but I was wrong. We were in the midst of a strong storm and we shoe skied most of the way down (at least 300 meters worth). I think what would take an hour for a normal weather day took us twenty minutes. We did pause at one point to put on rain gear but it was total military style. No sitting, resting sticks, anything. He held my pack while I put my jacket on and vice versa. I don't even think he said 'be careful', it was just 'let's go'.

Eventually we looked around us and realized we were at a civilized elevation and slowed down our pace. In the distance we saw a chamois (like a deer) running along a ridge. Our first siting we realized. Lac de Moiry was clear and boy, was it blue and kinda hour glass shaped. On the rest of our descent it just kept getting bigger.

From the bottom of the valley you could hear people calling to the cows. I thought they were mocking them at first until I saw a whole heard move as one farther up the hill. Who knew they could be so obedient? Throughout our walk downhill Shawn and I discussed whether or not we would take a buss to Grimentz from the dam of the Lac de Moiry or not. It was about an hour's walk from the dam but the weather could break any minute again.

The dam looked so cool. On the west side was our trail (we were coming from the west) but the east side was where the bus stopped. I said, whatever we do we have to cross the dam and that decided it, buss it is.

The dam is a modern miracle. I can't begin to describe how high it is-Shawn says about 300 feet. Its north side faced a valley that got lower and lower. Its south side was the lake and you could see how deep the lake must be. We had coffee and hot chocolate while we waited for our buss. This bus was on the Apline ligne so our Swiss Pass wasn't good for it --so we learned. Still only 4 francs each. Again with the u-bends and the are-we-gonna-die on the edge of the road driving. We went by a construction site and I felt like the bus on Harry Potter magically getting thinner to squeeze thru. How are we not hitting other cars? Or the walls of the tunnel?

The bus drove us almost to the front of our hotel. We were glad we took it (despite the danger) because the weather had really turned wet, cold, and really rainy. Not even fun rainy anymore. Our hotel looked like every other lodge hotel on the street. Dark wood and ski resortish. But the inside was warm and comfortable. The manager was extremely pleasant and welcoming. Walked us to our room, a corner chambre. Beautiful room complete with TV (oh good, I'll be able to see French Survivor) and a balcony. Dinner is at 7pm. Shawn loved the room. He was so thrilled he did all the laundry. Wow. I flipped channels to see which one was the one for Survivor. Ah yes, the one that had French Wheel of Fortune on it (I think you can really learn a lot of a language by watching that show).

Dinner was on par with Hotel Belvedere. Wallis plate of meats, buffet salad, veal slices with apple, fresh pasta, cheese plate (you could choose your cheese from a board), and then creme brulee. Awesome. Shawn especially was really excited about the whole experience. The room is just so cozy, he says. The beds were comfortable too.

(Skip this part if you don't watch Survivor). We watched French Survivor as much as we could but we kept falling asleep. It's the same but different. They had a narrator and they had this thing that focused on one Survivor called 'Portrait of....(the person's name)'. Strange. The host did look European but no similarities to Probst (the host of Survivor in America). Everyone also seemed nicer to one another on the show. Oh, and they had cameras on the Jury House. What they were talking about and little tifs they were having amongst one another. Interesting. But that's all we stayed awake for. Just couldn't hack it past 9:30pm.

During our vacation we haven't used an alarm clock or wake-up call once. We were surprised then the next morning that we slept in until 7:30am. Ooops.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

August 28th, 2006 The ladders of the Pas du Chevres. There are three ladders. One you can't see in this picture. Ouuu, scary.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cabane dex Dix to Arolla August 28th, 2006
Kev says its 2 1/2 to 3 hours to Arolla. In order to get there you have to walk across a glacier and then you have two choices: the Col de Reidmatten or the Pas du Chevres. The Pass has three ladders you have to climb while the Col is suppose to be 'rocky underfoot.' We had our sucky breakfast of dense bread and cold oatmeal/yogurt. I keep seeing that guy on Simpsons saying 'worst breakfast ever.' Anyway, we didn't buy lunch since we would be in Arolla by noon. The Brits had to get to a buss in Arolla to get their car in Martigny to catch their plane in Geneva. Geez. Time pressure.

They left a half hour before us but we knew we'd catch up. We bought some chocolate for the road and said goodbye to our whistling innkeeper--he was nice. Outside it was cold and windy. Again I lemented my failure to bring gloves. Crossing the glacier was so cool and so strange. A lot of the glacier was covered with rocks so you couldn't tell you were walking on a giant block of ice then wow, you'd see a break - one slab of ice two feet higher then the other. Other times you could tell you were walking on it but it just felt like walking on thick ice (what, I'm suppose to be impressed it's hundreds or thousands of years old?) When we got to the end of the glacier we saw a crevasse or a hole, I guess (see picture above). It looked like a tube slide made of ice and it went so far down we couldn't see the end. I let Shawn take a picture but I had to hold on to him for fear he'd slip in!

Then we ascended the rocks. We had decided to use the Pas de Chevres because being on vertical ladders in the middle of the Alps sounds cool. Jo at one point --yes, we caught up-- turned around and said 'I hope you two aren't thinking of using the ladders. Tut, tut. The Col is much better.' I was really floored actually to hear the term 'tut, tut' sincerely used. I got a laugh out of Shawn when I replied 'you've seen one Col, you've seen 'em all.'

Turns out Chris wanted to do the ladders too (traitor) so we seperated. Jo and Sara to the Col and Chris, Shawn, and I to the ladders. A bit of a rock hop up but nothing painful. The ladders were indeed your industrial strength ladders going up the edge of he mountain side for about, oh, I don't know, say, 100 feet! No security features. Just you and a ladder and your 25 pound backpack making life interesting. Chris went up first, then me, then Shawn. I didn't look down once. I was scared but exhilarated. I yelled up to Chris to tell me how far I was to the top (when I knew I was definite bone breaking height) but he was too high up to hear me. When we had all arrived the weather was too cloudy to see the Matterhorn (a possibility Kev says). The Pas was definitely a better choice, sorry Jo, because we were way faster getting to the main Arolla trail then Jo & Sara. We waited for fiveteen minutes, I think.

The five of us walked up the valley. Soon just the four of us because Jo outpaced us so far we couldn't see him anymore. There were many peaks on the way but the most impressive was the Pigne d'Arolla and the long Tsijiure Nouve glacier (if you've seen one you HAVEN'T seen them all, trust me). There were spots of blue ice on the glacier (or glass-E-A as the Brits call it). Beautiful. We finally met up with Jo at a prime view of the Cabane des Vignettes where he and Sara had stayed for their excursion the previous year. Sara pointed it out before we actually got to where Jo was waiting and I think he was a little disappointed to not be the one. Regardless we all took turns looking through the binocs at the Cabane and peak way up there. I'm glad they pointed it out because I never would have seen the cabane on my own. Wow. I was impressed.

The rest of the way to Arolla was downhill with various path choices all leading to the town center--or village because Arolla was too small to be a town. We shook hands with the Brits and said goodbye (Chris returned the knee stuff, just in case you're worried). There was a sign pointing farther down the hill for Hotel Mont Collon, our hotel. We turned around a bend and saw this huge, old, run down hotel with Hotel Mont Collon printed in big letters. When we got to it Shawn saw two stars printed by the door. Now, if you've only got two stars, why would you advertise it?

The hotel was indeed old. Probably over 130 years (some letters and picture on the lobby wall dated 1873). At the time Shawn put a 'brave face' on it, as he says, but he really felt it was run down and haunted, frankly. I kinda liked it. The manager was a lovely and nice woman who spoke English really well and during our stay was very gracious. She gave us a key to our third floor room and we went up. Up four flights of stone stairs (the first floor is NOT the main floor) to our 1970's rustic decorated room. Pretty ugly but in a isn't-it-great-it's-so-ugly way.

Why I love it? Hot water. I practically cried when I took a shower. Washed twice. And the conditioner? No regrets. We were actually quite early. I think it was noon. We went up the hill to get some lunch. In hindsight we probably could have eaten at the restaurant in our hotel but it didn't occur to us. Instead we went to the Hotel du Glaciers restaurant because it had a giant sign that said 'OUVERT.' Again most things are closed between 12 and 3. We had a ham sandwich and a ham and cheese omlet. Delicious. The waitress did not know a lot of English. Perfect. The only confusion came when she thought we were staying at the hotel (you don't get your bill until you check out). We waited a while for a bill until we realized that's what she thought. We sat at the wrong section of tables apparently. It's pretty structured this hotel system. In the restaurant of a hotel there are guest tables and walk-in tables. For breakfast and dinner you sit at the same table (usually with your room number on it). Anyway, dumb Americans.

Afterward we went back to the other hotel for a food coma nap. Why? Because we could. Then we went to the living room of the hotel with all its stuffed animals (literally animals that were stuffed--they were everywhere in these hotels) and old old furniture. We plotted out our journey for the next couple of days and -MUSIC- folded up our Mont Blanc map. We would now be travelling on the Matterhorn map. Yeah!

Soon it was time for dinner. One of the great things on this trip is that I haven't been around a lot of smokers. I've seen them from a distance but in general and to my surprise, no smoking is allowed in most of the restuarants we've eaten at. Until Arolla. Smoker during our lunch and smokers during our dinner. Because I've been fortunate I sucked it up. Dinner was an up and down affair (remember it's an event). The soup was absolutely great. Some green vegetable thing. Really brilliant actually. But the salad was weird. White lettuce (Shawn said it wasn't cabbage) and cubes of gruyere cheese. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. Main course? Would you believe steak and fries again? The waitress asked if we wanted our steak medium or well. We said medium and they came out so rare I don't think it would be legal in the States. Shawn didn't want to waste the steaks so we sent them back to be recooked. New steaks arrived same rare. Oh well. The fires were good and the apricot surprise for dessert was ok. See, emotional rollercoaster. Sigh.

So Mont Collon was a bust, I guess. After dinner, bed. Nice to have a bathroom in such close proximity. The view was lovely too even if it was rainy. I made a concentrated effort to not be haunted while I was sleeping.

Forgotten memory: We were telling the Brits about NOISE (play we did at Furious) and that it took place in England, in the Black Country. They had never heard of it. Chris actually asked if it was where a lot of blacks lived. It's a mining area.