September 14, 2007

Dispatch from Le Châble, Switzerland

I'm getting into the swing of this a little more. I got my stuff organized yesterday and I got a good night's sleep last night (the end of jet lag, I figure). Breakfast hasn't been a problem, including today, with the usual selection, and my taking mueslix, orange juice, a few slices of excellent bread with cream cheese and jam, and coffee. There were about a dozen people for breakfast.

Malcolm was headed south on the next leg of the Tour Mont Blanc (TMB), while Rob was taking the bus to here, Le Châble, to get a jump on the climb I'll take tomorrow, to Cabane du Mont Fort. He only has a week, so he wants to stay in the mountains.

Because, I suppose, I've left the TMB, the numbers of hikers are way down. With the exception of two trekkers just entering Champex as I was leaving, I didn't see another all day, at least along the trail. While I was having a beer (OK, two -- I was re-hydrating) this afternoon, a couple I'd last seen at the Fenêtre d'Arpette (the fellow had taken my picture) walked into the café. Seems we're on the same itinerary.

The day began as the others have, with clear skies and warm temperatures. (I have a report that this will continue through Friday.) I strolled through town, which seems to be doing very well, thank you, with a number of nice-looking resort hotels and another being built right in the center. There is a lake, with paddleboats, rowboats, and canoes for rent -- and fishing, as evidenced by the fishermen this morning. It's a small lake, though, so I wonder how many fish there are.

At the edge of town, I plunged down a steep, if not killer, path which alternately crossed and followed the old road to Champex (there was an interpretive sign). Soon the path moderated and I began to see views to the east, from above Osières, up the Val d'Entremont. Absolutely gorgeous! At the head of the valley is the famous pass of St. Bernard and flanking it are the Grand Combin massif and Mt. Vélan, on the Italian border. The sunbeams, the glistening snow, the green pastures: it all made me glad I wasn't carrying a film camera.

The guidebook's directions were very useful, but I got a bit confused above Sembrancher, at St. Jean. I tried the path to the right, then the one to the left, hitting gates on both, and never seeing the chapel, which was hidden in the trees at the top of the bluff. No road to it that I could see. Rather than return to the junction for the third option, I went through the gate, and down the meadow, where I saw a pedestrian sign. I followed that down to a wide path, which came from that third option. It was straightforward from there.

Sembrancher is a nice little town -- I made a circle of it, to the amusement of some street-hangers-out -- and headed out. The path went on roads past houses (one man was mounting his horse for an afternoon's ride with his friendly dog), the power station, and out into fields of corn along the La Dranse de Bagnes, draining the next valley on my journey. From there, I climbed through woods, around a ridge-edge, and back down to the river, where I learned what Kev, in the guidebook, described as "working Switzerland." I'd thought he was referring to the views of roads and farms (and sunbeams and greenness) from the ridge along the La Dranse d'Entremont.

No, he meant this -- and I have to agree, it was interesting. As I walked along the river to Le Châble, I passed a small logging landing, in the river bottom; a road expansion, again, into the river; a gravel pit, partially converted into a large dirt bike track; a municipal composting operation; and several other operations that I couldn't sort out. Accompanying these were a series of big display boards describing the various demographic, economic, and political aspects of Switzerland's regions. Why along this road, on which I saw nothing moving? I don't know.

I have a large room in the hotel, so I dried out my clothes, took a shower, and am charging up the electronics, as the next two nights are in mountain huts. As the day was easy, I had time to wander around town, too, and replenished my Swiss franks (do mountain huts take VISA?) and enter a grocery store to buy some fruit, bread, and cheese -- another milestone.

I had a superb dinner at a very nice and expensive) restaurant up the hill a ways. There weren't a lot of people eating there, so it was quiet and I got to use the no smoking section (there isn't always one). I had a big, varied salad and a wonderful entrée of a bunch of little perch fillets, wonderfully cooked and seasoned, on a bed of vegetables, including cooked potato wrapped in cabbage.

At this point, the wheels began to come off the cart of good feelings. I returned to the hotel to find it locked and empty. Ringing did not work. I looked, the only lights on in the whole building were in my room. I thought to call and easily found a phone both that would take a VISA, but there was no phone book -- all of my such information was locked in the room, of course. So, I went next door to Max and Milly's B&B, where I heard English spoken earlier. The guy there (was it Max? If so: Thanks, Max.) knew the people who ran my hotel and even had their mobile number (since no one answered at the hotel). Only a few minutes later, the owner showed up and let me in. The door was supposed to be left open.

Phew! Still a bit crabby, I entered my room and noticed that my PDA was still charging, which was strange because it was nearly done a couple of hours earlier. When I unhooked it and tried it out, it wouldn't come on. Damn!

I have a lot of information I use on the card in the PDA and am recording much of the information about the trip on it, as well, not to mention writing these posts up each night. While the PDA isn't essential, like a rain coat and hiking boots are, it is important.

My previous annoyance, once diminished, now returned. Fortunately, I brought paper backup for writing and was pretty sure I could remember where I'd planned to stay by referring to the guide book. Still, it was annoying.

Sept. 10 from Hotel du Giétroz, Le Châble, Switzerland: map, 821m; accum. 48 km, 2657m gain, 2873m loss (2694'; accum. 21.7 mi, 8717', 9426')

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

Link to photo album

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