It was dark at 4.15 when we rose to the glare of head torches in a confined space. It can be hard to keep control over one's possessions in such places, especially when the space outside comprises a thin verandah with a metal grid and a drafty patio where choughs and snow finches search for scraps.
Sleeping in the huts is fine, Shirley, you get used to it. This trip's mountaineering huts are a little different to those we stayed in recently in the Maritime Alps, and they vary from region to region. Maybe I'll write a bit more about them one day. The piglet was alone but happy btw, and I'll contact you about walks when I'm back.
Alan, you have to remember we just walked up the equivalent of The Ben yesterday, not back down. Our wallets were of course much lighter for today's walk!
After a good breakfast and a South African faff, we were all roped up (yes, before leaving the mountain hut!) and ready to go by 5.30am.
Unfortunately a small party in front of us were blocking the stairs. It was dark. Headtorches were needed. The stairs were steep. Actually, they were near vertical ladder rungs. That's how you get to and from this hut. This morning we eventually found our way down the eastern ladders, at the foot of which we donned crampons in preparation for the next 3-4 hours.
The big group of 28 had (unluckily for Dave as their Swiss German guides didn't understand hut etiquette) risen at 3.30 and left well before us. Their head torches could be seen bobbing along the Miné glacier, gradually being extinguished as daylight strengthened.
We were soon able to douse our own lights, and the faffers from the ladders were passed. This nearly backfired on us as etiquette demands that if you pass someone on a crevassed glacier you don't immediately stop in front of them. Not even to admire a spectacular sunrise in which the overtaken party shows no interest! So we hastened along, taking photos whilst walking, until we had established a gap big enough to enable us to pause for our whole group to extract their cameras.
Sunrise from a high glacier certainly makes the early rising worthwhile. Moonset was also impressive this morning.
It took us a couple of hours to rise 450 metres or so to a 2650 metre col just below Tête Blanche. We managed to overtake the ridiculously large group, as they had diverted to a minor summit. This would pay dividends later.
The Matterhorn and Dent d'Herens filled our view to the east. Magnificent. As was the view north, pictured above as we descended Stochjigletscher, towards a plethora of peaks.
This last, seriously crevassed, glacier proved quite tricky to get off. Dave zigzagged down efficiently but I have some way to go before being able to front point down hard steep ice with any degree of confidence.
Then we spent an hour or so on rocky paths that tested our freedom from vertigo. This was perhaps the trickiest section of the whole route and included a 20 metre descent down a gully whilst hanging on to a rope.
Then we endured (I enjoyed) a cairned but pathless route across a 'field' full of big boulders.
Lunch was taken at a grassy spot (we hadn't seen grass for nearly 24 hours) at 11.30, just below a mountain hut that some of the other groups would be using.
After that good paths led down to Zermatt by 3pm, via a perfectly positioned coffee shop, in the shadow of a now cloud laden Matterhorn, though spots of rain came to nothing. The town is full. Our hotel is full. So much so that we've been 'annexed' into a couple of nice apartments. There are various festivities on the go, including a 'Folklore Festival'.
Beer/wine and a good meal has taken its toll, so we are all pretty sleepy. More on Zermatt and anything else I may have missed tomorrow, perhaps...
All good fun, but quite a stressful day for Dave, our Mountain Guide:
• Rudely woken at 3.30am
• Faffing groups blocking our departure
• I stood on his hand on the ladder section
• His rope slew to a halt just after overtaking another group on a glacier
• Someone South African dislodged a rock that just missed him
• He had to coax us down over tricky terrain
• His 'rope' wasn't very good at staying tight
• His feet are sore
• He's tired...
So that's it. We've completed one of many variants of the Haute Route. But there may be more to come...
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