Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

Sunday, 17 January 2021

The Walker's Haute Route (10)


Early morning at the Col de la Forclaz (click on the image for a slideshow)

A cloudless start, and it remained that way all day. Bleary-eyed for breakfast at 8 am, the dortoir occupants - Gaynor, Hilde and Dave, complained of lack of sleep due to overeating last night!

A view down the Rhone Valley

It was too nice not to go over the Col de Fenetre d'Arpette, so Dave and I did that, but the other four were 'tired' so they went by the Bovine route to Champex. 

Over breakfast, Hilde, to my amazement, admits to being unable to map read, so having offered to navigate the four girls, demands a guidebook as the map is no use to her. Meanwhile, Gaynor, fresh from her night in the hotel's dortoir, inquires "Is this a hotel then?" Surely a wind-up I think, but no!!

So it was with some relief that after a half hour wait I set off with just Dave at 9:15 for the three hour ascent to the col at 2665 metres (from 1526 metres). Very pleasant and not too hot, with frost lingering in shady spots until mid morning.

Setting off with Dave

The Col de la Forclaz

Wonderfully clear views, and lots of photos to make up for the slides destroyed by Jessops following our Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) trip in 2000. 

Dark blue monkshood glimmered as the sun got higher.

The path beside the bisse

9:50 - at the top of the bisse - groccles and English people with dogs.

The Trient Glacier


By 10 am it was time for shorts and suntan cream. Reached the col by 12:15 after chatting to the Americans (seen yesterday) who live in a mountain town near Boulder. They are quietly spoken and have chosen a quieter life with quite a big commute. They smile at my remark that it's quite nice to have escaped from the shrill squeals (normally associated with Americans) for today's walk. [*** was particularly shrill at Forclaz last night.]

On the Fenetre d'Arpette

We also pass a number of Brits - members of the 'Over the Hill' club (OTH), some of whom have reached the busy col before us. Fresh snow is lying in the shade above 2400 metres - it disappears over the next few days.


We spend a good 45 minutes in a lovely position here - before heading steeply down towards Champex (13:00 to 16:10) via Relais d'Arpette (15:10 to 15:35) where a cafe au lait in bright sun went down perfectly.

Descending from Fenetre d'Arpette

Purple Gentian


Approaching the Relais d'Arpette

Tame chamois frolicked / slept in a compound here. 

Very hot and sunny for the final lap into Champex, where we arrived before the girls, whose walk was supposed to be two hours shorter than ours. We eventually bumped into them and ended up at Plein Air dortoir, where Sue and I stayed in 2000. Gaynor and Hilde went elsewhere and saved SF2. 

Everyone disappeared for a couple of hours whilst I chatted to the Over the Hill Club people, who have a mascot, Meringue the Orang-utan. He has a website - meringueontour.com. (Now defunct.) 

Boats at Champex

"I presume you are Mr Miller" said someone connected to a Ramblers TMB trip that was here overnight, mistaking me for their leader. Quite a different group to those where everyone knows each other, like ours and the OTHs. 

Nice meal - salad, pork with mushrooms and carrots and rice, then ice cream. That, after David E (Sue's husband) has arrived, without his rucksack, which is still on its way from Geneva. (It still is, 24 hours later.) 

I enjoy a walk into the village, mountains silhouetted attractively against the dark sky, with lights of aircraft pottering across it. Then to bed by 10 - can't face any more beer. (Dave Skipp and 'Waggy' were setting a fine pace.)

Saturday, 16 January 2021

The Walker's Haute Route (9)


Wednesday 30 August - Argentiere to Col de la Forclaz 

The rain had just about blown itself out by morning, but the mountains were shrouded in cloud. 

Bread, jam and coffee greeted us in the Salle a Manger at 7:30, after a slightly disturbed snooze in the dortoir, Hilde's snoring being a bit distracting. So I have a single room booked at Forclaz tonight.


Mist over Argentiere

Starting at 8:40, give or take a short supermarket halt for food, we spent the day on Kev Reynolds' Cicerone guide's "Alternative Stage 2". It was a warm climb through mist laden trees, as the narrow gauge toy train rumbled far below, and Gaynor panted for breath.

The village of Le Tour appeared through the mist at 9:50. After passing some jolly campers in 'mizzle' (but waterproofs were not quite needed) we found ourselves at a nice cafe, Le Pcheu, near the gondola station. Surprisingly only Sue, Caroline and I succumbed. (This was the first of several 'walk past' incidents where the majority of the group are too stingy to buy coffee.)

Outside the cafe in Le Tour

It was 10:15 when we left to join the others on a now sunny day with cloud clearing on Mont Blanc, though the summit failed to appear. Then on up past the gondola station, with marmots whistling in the distance - noises floating over the breeze - and on uphill under the relentless rumble of the 2-person gondolas.

Looking back to Le Tour

Lots of harebells, buttercups, rosebay willowherb, eyebright, and other delights such as Nottingham catchfly, alpine eyebright, yellow rattle and a variety of bellflowers.

Rosebay Willowherb

Ling (Heather)

The 2204 metre Col de Balme was reached at 11:55, and we lunched nearby in 10°C, with virtually no wind, but some needed gloves. Fleeces were definitely required.

Col de Balme

Nice brew of tea, plus cheese and tomato on a roll. Hawk on a wire. 12:50.


Looking down the valley towards Martigny

Trient Glacier backdrop

Descend towards Forclaz, meeting a couple in sandals before bilberry delays, and an undulating route to Les Grands at 2113 metres, 14:35. The refuge was shut. We caught up with two girls from Colorado who are on our route. 

There is a very fine new bench here at Les Grands. From the route to this place, the final descent along the bisse to Forclaz looks a steep haul. It's an optical illusion, as it is actually downhill. 




The old bench!

And so we ambled down to the bisse (an irrigation channel) by 15:50, passing the Americans who were most impressed by the control I exercised over the group, who all waited whilst I chatted! (They may have got lost otherwise.)




On past noisy nutcrackers in the pines, to reach Forclaz by 16:30. I got a single room for €49 half board - nice to get away from Hilde's snoring. Showered and washing done by 17:30. I sat outside the hotel with a coffee, then a beer, until 18:40, when the sun went down. It was lovely and warm until then.


The view down to Trient

The others slept inside, tired after the shortish day. However, they resuscitated themselves by 19:30, and we enjoyed a meal of soup, chicken and ratatouille and gnocchi (Hilde insisted it was polenta!) and chips, then ice cream. That was excellent. 

Uno finished at 10 pm, when we all went to bed - Sue and Caroline having gone nearly an hour earlier.

Friday, 15 January 2021

The Walker's Haute Route (8)


Walker's Haute Route - Phase 2 - 29 August to 7 September 2006 

Tuesday 29 August - Travel to Argentiere 

The most stressful part of today's journey was finding Paul and Hilda's house in West Hallam, between Derby and Nottingham. I bombed down the A50 to Nottingham before realising I should have turned towards Derby

Anyway, I arrived in 2¾ hours which should have been 1¾ hours, and Paul got Hilda and me to East Midlands Airport in plenty of time to check in on easyJet's Airbus A319 flight to Geneva - 13:40 to 16:30. But we left late at 14:00 and arrived early at 16:15, in plenty of time for our Alpybus transfer to Argentiere, in pouring rain. 

UK weather had been warm and showery, so we disembarked at Hotel (Gite) Belvedere at 19:10 in our t-shirts in pouring rain. But it had been an easy journey. Here we joined Sue E, her twin sister Caroline, Gaynor, and Dave Lonsdale (all of whom had arrived earlier and walked in purist fashion in rain from Chamonix), for a short but pleasant evening. 

Tuna and potato stew followed Greek salad and preceded apple slice cake, all washed down with plenty of red wine and followed by a game of Uno - only three hands - some participants were tired.... "my mind wandered for a moment" - Gaynor when upset at forgetting to shout "Uno". 

So we went to bed before 10 pm (9 pm in the UK). 

Note: This 'phase 2' trip was attended by those on phase 1 in 2005, except for Betty. Dave E arrived a couple of days later, and Hilde and Caroline just came on phase 2.

Thursday, 14 January 2021

The Walker's Haute Route (7)


Meadow above Bendola. Click on any image for a better view and access to slideshow

Monday 11 July - Grimentz to Geneva 

Gaynor and I shared a twin room and were woken by loud bells at 6 am. Slept on until the usual stomach cramps rushed me to the loo (only one more day and they were gone). It was sunny outside but quickly clouding over. I said my goodbyes to the others who were having a lazy day back to Geneva, went to the shop for provisions, missed the 8:15 cablecar (by a lot), and idled the time away until the next car at 9:15. 

This got a diary entry (for last Tuesday) done, and got  me up from Grimentz at 1440 metres to Bendola at 2112 metres, from where I headed off on a well marked path (on the ground if not on my placemat map) signed to Roc d'Orzival - 2 hrs 10 mins.

The path wound pleasantly up through ski pistes. I kept passing and re-passing an elderly Swiss gent on this pleasantly warm day. After an hour I reached a lovely spot by a lakelet at 2475 metres - ideal for a high camp. There was a snow patch at 2525 metres, and shorts and t-shirt were still in order despite swirling cloud. The place was lush with pansies and gentians, forget-me-nots, daisies (ox-eye), kidney vetches, asters, black vanilla orchids, bellflowers, etc. A yellow carpet of flowers with blue, purple, and other colours neatly woven in.

By 11:25, after less than two hours, I was at an orientation point at about 2800 metres below Roc d'Orzival. I spent time here with the Swiss man. There were pointers in all directions, from the nearby Breithorn and other 4000ers, to Mont Blanc in the distance.


We watched a fellow 'hiker' unload his rucksack, neatly arrange the contents, don a windproof suit, and then jump off. I got a video clip of the start of his 2300 metre descent to the Rhone valley far below.




The Swiss man and I scrambled up to the Roc, or a nearby summit which I took to be the Roc - though that may have been a less accessible point further east. 

Then the route I had spotted at the Tourist Information place - it was signposted - 2 hrs 30 mins to Crete du Midi. I set off at 12:00 after texting Sue Emmett to brag about what they were missing. (Sue B also got texts every night, unfortunately details not retained.)

It was calm and warm, saxifrages were abundant, and the walk along the airy crest, past occasional pinnacles, was delightful. Sheep bells tinkled in the distance, otherwise I was completely alone.

Round-leaved Saxifrage

I halted from 1 pm to 1:25 pm on a broad plateau at 2575 metres in sun and swirling cloud, for my final mountain brew stop of this cameo trip. Snow finches fluttered on rocks nearby. 

There was a peak with a post on it nearby ahead (see above), and clear views down to the Rhone valley, with helicopters buzzing in the distance. A warning triangle painted on a rock signaled trouble ahead?! It was an aided section, with new chains fastened to the rocks - not necessary in these benign conditions, but perhaps there have been accidents here. A few people were seen here, and this short aided section led past the peak with the post through an optional hole in a rock on the crest of the ridge, to a col at La Brinta - 2610 metres, with Crete du Midi signed as 45 minutes away.


Looking back along the ridge



I continued a few metres before descending steeply NNW on a marked path towards the ugly scar of the cablecar station. There were people with downhill scooters - trotinettes - here, having ascended the cablecar to Crete du Midi at 2331 metres, they would be freewheeling down to the village of Vercorin at 1325 metres - helmets and brakes compulsory. We also saw these at Zermatt - looks like great fun - Sue and I must try it next month. (We didn't - it remains a treat in store!) 

On the way down my attempt at a photo of a Trumpet Gentian failed due to lack of camera battery power - the battery had just lasted long enough! (Perhaps that's why there are relatively few photos from this trip - I had no spare battery or charger for the S70, and it was before the days of camera phones, so I was conserving the battery.)

I reached the cablecar at 2:25 pm after the 6 km stroll, and got straight onto the continuous system of small cars. Reached Vercorin, 1325 metres, at 2:45 pm. Passed over a herd of bulls with loud bells. No charge for this trip, but SF5.80 for the next stage down to Chalais at 500 metres, during which I chatted to a gent who gave me a lift to Sierre station in his BMW, saving me up to an hour. 

And so, I got a SF51 ticket to Geneva and hopped on the 15:26 train, only an hour after reaching Crete du Midi. 

It was an enjoyable, scenic journey for two hours, then I managed to walk to the Stars Hotel (Motel) over the French border. I rested up here before strolling out for a meal at the Buffalo Grill nearby. 

Next morning I strolled back to the airport. EasyJet Airbus purported to be late but ran on time, back to roasting hot Liverpool for 11:30 and a pick up by Mike to return home in the heatwave. 

An excellent short trip. 

Flora and Fauna: 

Blackbird
Chough
Heron
House Martin
Linnet
Nutcrackers
Pied Wagtail
Siskin
Snow finches
Stonechat
Swallow
Swifts
Wheatears
Whinchat 

Alpenrose
Alpine Aster
Alpine Bartsia
Alpine Birdsfoot Trefoil
Alpine Bistort
Alpine Clematis
Alpine Lovage
Alpine Pasque Flower
Alpine Toadflax
Beaked Lousewort
Bearberry
Bearded Bellflower
Birdseye Primrose
Black Knapweed
Black Rampion
Black Vanilla Orchid
Bladder Campion
Common Butterwort
Common Chickweed
Common Columbine
Common Cow Wheat
Common Dog Violet
Common Eyebright
Common Houseleek
Common Kidney Vetch
Common Mouse Ear
Common Rockrose
Common Stinging Nettle
Common Storksbill
Common Valerian
Corn Mignonette
Cotton Grass
Creeping Lady's Tresses
Cypres Spurge
Dark Mullein
Dragonmouth
Dwarf Alpenrose
Early Marsh Orchid
Early Purple Orchid
Edelweiss
Field Forgetmenot
Fragrant Orchid
Germander Speedwell
Glacier Crowfoot
Globeflower
Golden Cinquefoil
Greater Stitchwort
Harebell
Herb Robert
Hop Trefoil
King of the Alps
Large flowered Leopardsbane
Marsh Marigold
Martagon Lily
Meadow Cranesbill
Moss Campion
Mountain Avens
Mountain Cornflower
Mountain Houseleek
Mountain Milkwort
Mountain Pansy
Mountain Sheepsbit
Mountain Willowherb
Nottingham Catchfly
Orpine
Oxeye Daisy
Pinks
Purple Vetch
Red Campion
Rosebay Willowherb
Round headed Rampion
Round leaved Saxifrage
Rue leaved Isopyrum
Silverweed
Small White Orchid
Snowdon Lily
Spring Gentian
Tofield's Asphodel
Treacle Mustard
Traveller's Joy
Trumpet Gentian
Viper's Bugloss
White False Helleborine
Wild Strawberry
Wild Thyme
Wolfsbane
Wood Anemone
Wood Forgetmenot
Wood Stitchwort
Wood Sorrel
Yellow Bellflower
Yellow Rattle
Yellow Wood Violet
and many more... 

Cost of trip:

 

£

Air fares

71

Geneva Hotel

28

Zermatt Hotel

41

Train fares

40

Hutting trip (5 nights)

267

 

447

[To be continued]