September 14, 2007

Dispatch from Cabane du Mont-Fort

Since no one had been around for me to ask, I assumed that breakfast might be ready as early as 7:00 AM. So, I got up and, just one more time, checked the PDA. It came on! It only needed to have its time reset and it was good to go. One annoyance removed.

The next was removed when breakfast was indeed ready at 7. The whole dining room, with one cup and plate, was ready for me. Compared to the standards of the last several days, it was meager (two good rolls with butter and jam, a small glass of juice, and coffee), but tasty. The coffee wasn't the typical, more acidic drip-style I'd gotten before, but was made with espresso, what we call an Americano in Starbucks-land. I liked it. The last annoyance was removed when I checked out and the owner apologized several times for locking me out the night before.

The weather clear, with some clouds on the peaks dissipating, I started up, through town, into a field, and through another town, through some woods and along a road, to another town. At this point, the trail entered the woods and climbed (and climbed -- this is the biggest vertical day of the trip) to a small village called Clambin. The guide mentioned an attractive restaurant -- even had a picture with the panoramic views available from the deck -- at which I'd hoped to get a lunch. At this point, I'd been going three hours and the meager breakfast was running out. Sadly, the restaurant was rather less attractive to me, on this day, as it was closed until mid-December. So, I took a break and ate some of the food I'd bought in the grocery below. The views are nice: across the valley to the mountains I'd come through the two days before. Down the valley to Sembrancher, showing its amazing glacial valley walls, and also showing the little chapel at St. Jean, above Sembrancher, where I'd been unable to see it, though only 50m away. Down the slope into a basin, where the surprisingly large town of Verbier lies. It's the big town around here, with Le Châble providing access and overflow capacity for what is an enormous ski area.

The trails today were steep, but much smoother -- and therefore easier -- than those a couple of days before, so I made better time. Above Clambin, the route follows a bulldozed ski track, switch-backing up the slope. Until the last turn, there had been signage to Mont-Fort, but once in the ski area, that changed and I missed the turn, traversing out of the basin I needed, and heading too far north. I knew there was trouble when the descriptions failed to match. I didn't see the trail features, the views didn't match the guide's, and the GPS was nervous about the location, too. Still, I wasn't sure I'd hit the right points if I turned back and I'd already climbed too far to go all the way back, so I continued climbing.

Eventually, I realized that I was too far north and worked my way around the top of the ridge to the south and saw the hut. I hiked across the meadows, through clanking cows, to the road leading to the hut. I probably added a good couple of kilometers and a couple of hundred meters of gain to the trip.

Still, I made it, and in good time. The "hut" is amazing, big and beautiful. It started, clearly, as a refuge, offering refreshments and rescue services. At some point, not too long ago, a dormitory addition was made, with very nice little rooms. There were even showers, with excellent, hot water. I hadn't expected that, but it was something I didn't pass up, especially since it came with a towel. (I know, it seems like a good idea, but it hasn't been universal at dormitory places. That's the one thing I have realized, so far, that I should have brought: a towel.)

This is the hut where, when I called to make a reservation and mentioned that I couldn't speak French, his response was something about how that was a problem. He did give me to understand that, since there was just one of me, there would be no problem. I was reminded of that when he reacted similarly when I arrived. Still, we've worked out the important things: the shower, hot chocolate, menu approval, breakfast time, etc.

The couple I met in town, Glyn and Elena, were here when I arrived and we're the only ones here for the night. There were a couple of motorbikers up for the views, and who stopped for a beer. One of them knew the trip we're on, having done it two years before.

Dinner was good and filling. It started with soup, which we all liked, as it was hot. The hut is cold. Next, a big mixed, green salad, then spaghetti bolognese, and pudding for dessert.

We closed the evening on the terrase, watching the sunset lighting up Mont Blanc, her acolytes, and the Grand Combin, while clouds filled the valley.

Sept. 11 from Cabane du Mont-Fort, Switzerland: map, 2457m; accum 57 km, 4293m gain, 2873m loss (8161'; accum. 35.4 mi, 14,085', 9426')

Updated for spelling, links, and photos on 10/30.

Link to photo album

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