September 20, 2007

Dispatch from Cabane de Moiry

After a good breakfast at the Hotel de La Sage, with mueslix, fruit, bread, croissant, and coffee, I started up the hill. Today would be a climb up to a pass, then down into the valley -- not too far -- and then up to the Cabane de Moiry.

The weather was very good, clear skies all day, and the trail was good all the way. That means with a regular grade, a fairly smooth surface, and good footing. It does not mean flat, for these trails are often very steep.

The day started with a steady climb through woods, small meadows with classic timber sheds, and cows. For about an hour, I heard the bells -- all different pitches -- ringing through the trees, but I didn't see the cows until I came across a group of them in the trees, with two minders and a dog. The sound is very musical and practical, as I knew there were cows ahead long before I saw them.

Once the trail reached treeline, it stretched out directly of the pass, through huge alpine meadows (which are called "alps", which is why we have the work alpine), with views back toward Pigne d'Arolla and Mont Blanc de Cheilon.

About halfway up through the alp, now traveling with Glyn and Elena, we met a couple of goats; or as is more likely, the goats met us. They immediately charmed us with their friendliness and interest in our sweaty skin. As we turned to continue up, they followed us -- all the way to the pass! They were pretty cute, but I was concerned that we'd lure them away from their home.

I needed have worried. At the pass, they showed no signs of interest in leaving their valley, yet showed considerable signs of comfort with the pass. Another couple arrived behind us and got out their lunch, which attracted the goats' interest, especially the banana peels. At that point the goats became a real nuisance for the new people and I left them to it.

I now think that the goats hang out on that path, to follow people up to the pass, where they can help them eat their lunches. Then, they head back down. Neat scam, and I bet their owner knows nothing about it.

The Col de Tsaté offered views over the next ridge to the beautiful peaks of the Weisshorn and Zinalthorn. As we dropped into the Val d'Moiry, through meadows and more cows, the view changed. My attention was turned up this valley, toward the dramatic ice fall of the Glacier de Moiry and its surrounding peaks.

The valley's and the glacier's stream is dammed to form the Lac de Moiry and at the head of the lake is a parking lot. I crossed the lot and headed up to the night's accommodation, the Cabane De Moiry, the highest sleep of the trip.

The trail works along the huge lateral moraine of the glacier, which is much larger than the glacier now creates, so it is being eroded, in places, by the glacier's action. Near the base of a cliff, the trail leaves the moraine and begins a steep, switch-backing climb of the cliff to a truly dramatic location for a cabane, on top of a rock, looking right at the upper ice fall of the glacier. Whew!

Because the walk is only an hour-and-a-half from the parking lot, the cabin gets a lot of day use, but there were probably forty people there for the night, too.

This night's stay was a reminder of the challenges of running these kinds of places in the locations that they are situated. The other cabins had made it look easy, but this one had its difficulties, not the least because of its dramatic and relatively inaccessible location. There was no road possible and I didn't see a suitable place for a helicopter pad. How they got stuff up there, I don't know.

This question became important, because the bathroom facilities were the most primitive. The toilets were holes, with nice porcelain, but dropping down the cliff. There were shower stalls, but there hadn't been any water for two weeks. That meant they had water for cooking, but none for washing or drinking. First day without a shower.

The location was a significant compensation, however, and they did have beer, so I wasn't without hydration. I spent the afternoon leaning against the stone building in the sun, staring at the glacier and its many peaks: Couronne de Bréona, Pointe de Moiry, Tsa de l'Ano, Pointe de Mourti, Dent des Rousses, Pointe de Bricola, Pigne de la Le, and, way in the back, Grand Cornier.

Dinner was good, family style with all of the English-speakers at one table (and in the same room upstairs), so Glyn and Elena, the Australians, and I spent our time together. We had a warm, salty, and tasty soup that we couldn't quite identify, a main course of rice, peas and baby carrots, and stewed beef, in nice, big pieces. Dessert was a canned, half-peach.

Sept. 15 from Cabane de Moiry, Switzerland: map, 2825m; accum. 107 km, 7613m gain, 5825m loss (9268'; accum. 66.5 mi, 24,977', 19,111')

Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 11/10.

Link to photo album

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