Hope and Peace and Pain – Part 3
The Walker’s Haute Route takes trekkers through the alps from Chamonix, France, to Zermatt, Switzerland.
Day 7 | Arolla to La Sage
We must travel back up to Arolla in the morning for its grocery store. A granite staircase makes for a fine breakfast nook, around the town square of ten quiet buildings. The day starts calmly, with a grassy stroll past Lac Bleu to Les Haudéres in the rain. I think we both miss our friends, though we don’t mention it. Without any large ascents this day, we’re each left strolling at our own pace, with our own thoughts, memories, and questions. Will we ever see our friends again? Should we plan a trip to Scotland to see our friends? Are they on Facebook?
We make it to La Sage in the mist, and stay at an interesting cafe/restaurant/dortoir with few rooms, the only place in town. Is this a town? It’s maybe a hamlet, but it feels like the perfect place to have a home, and make a fire, and celebrate friendship.
Well, you can’t have it all so early in life. Brianna gets grumpy after seeing a man walking around in his underwear and walking in on another in the shower room who forgot to lock the lock. She is more bashful than the wrinkly old men from the Old World seem to be. She also just doesn’t like seeing naked old men.
Day 8 | La Sage to Cabane de Moiry
We climb and climb out of La Sage, through more rain and mist, among long silky grasses, past shepherd villages, and weathered shacks with rock roofs. We climb above the cows, their pastures, and their shepherds, and find ourselves in a scree-filled basin near Col du Tsaté, at 9,400 feet. We eat what must be the world’s finest Snickers bar. My god, it is so…satisfying. Finally, we see the sumptuous sun down in the valley of Moiry.
We work our way under the clouds, down to incredible views of the Glacier du Moiry, frozen in mid cataract from the rough-hewn slopes of the valley’s head. Our elation doesn’t last long for once, as we notice the depressing views of the parking lot and bus stop that comes up from the other side of the valley. Our five hours of climbing should be rewarded with solitude, we vehemently argue. Instead, we find eroded trails and those evil bus-riding cheaters strewn about, relaxing with their picnic lunches. I find little satisfaction in thinking about how much less satisfying their Snickers must taste since they haven’t climbed 5,000 vertical feet to get it.
We try to relax; we remind ourselves that this isn’t the middle of Flat Tops Wilderness area. The Alps possess other qualities that make up for its lack of solitude. After lunch, spent off the main trail but directly in front of the majestic moraines and frozen milk of the catatonic glacial cascade, we forge up the short but relentlessly steep final pitch to Cabane du Moiry. An early 20th-century stone hut fused with a 21st-century iron and glass dining room, anomalous among the rocks and ice and organic vistas, the hut sits just in front of and over the most sheer slope of the crystalline blue glacial ice. The juxtaposition is difficult to comprehend, especially when you’re enjoying a vegetarian meal of beans and beets and beans with 12 other very hungry hikers. That evening, a few days removed from losing our Scottish friends, we form a new bond with “The Irish Ladies,” Kay and Nora. We had seen them for a number of days; unfortunately, we were focussed on another territory of the Commonwealth at the time. Kay is probably 45; Nora maybe a decade older. They are tough and tenacious and Irish.
Day 9 | Cabane de Moiry to Zinal
We set out early, down the jarring slopes from Cabane de Moiry and out along the belvedere, hugging the contours high above the Aquafresh-colored waters of Lac de Moiry. Brianna is so excited by the color of the water that she decides to do a somersault off a cliff. I kid, of course. She was once prone to clumsiness; it happened to return here. Luckily, a rock stopped her from plummeting the 2,000 feet or so to the lake.
We climb amongst the clouds and cows, to the Col de Sorebois, with glimpses of the ferocious Weisshorn. It’s another fine vista from which to enjoy Snickers and chips while perched on a rock.
We end today, as we have many days in the past, with a descent into a small village in a picturesque valley, the chimes of church bells and the tinny thud of cow bells calling to us. Today, it’s Zinal. And, today, the descent is dizzying, with 100 switchbacks or more. I can only think, “I’m glad I’m not Brianna’s knee.” She looks a bit pale by the time we reach the town, but we find a market, and its entire aisle devoted to chocolate (a solid 30-foot section), is enough to revive her.
Whereas in the U.S. you might be overwhelmed by the number of, say, toothpastes that you must choose from, the Swiss have flipped the paradigm on its head. You only really need one kind of toothpaste to brush after you’ve chosen from the 500 kinds of chocolate. I like it here.
We search for the campground that’s said to be in town. No luck. We place a call to the tourist information office.
“Is the campground still open?” I ask.
“Um, it’s the summer.”
I’ll take that as a “no.”
We find the small but lovely Auberge Alpina, whose windowsill flower boxes neatly frame our views of the surrounding cirque.
And then it was time for lasagna.