These mountains are tough. Really tough. These are not easy hikes. Today’s hike is over the border to Switzerland and the Col de Foclaz... 20.5km, with 1030m ascent and 830m decent.
Last night we talked with a couple of hikers at dinner that raved about this restaurant on the trail—great food, if you can get there when they open! We pinched and zoomed until we found it, and aha, yes, it’s doable if we set out a little bit late, and don’t do that additional 200m climb to yet another Viewpoint, the Auguillete de Posettes.
So we made our way up, and up, and up, a steady 600m climb in 9km... or 2000 feet in 5 1/2 miles. It was tough, and we were facing the sun on a cool yet cloudless day, making it to the Alpage de Balme around 11:30am. Lunch was served at noon, and sounded interesting—guinea fowl with polenta—and we had a Coke and waited; the meal was a fantastic break from the trudgery.
We had a half hour road climb to the Col de Balme, the border between France and Switzerland, up barren slopes with cowbells tinkling like Balinese wind chimes. Then it was past the border marker, a flop on the grass, and which way down—the longer yet scenic way, with a nice flat walk along a water canal for the last hour straight to the hotel, or a shorter steeper drop down a ravine to the valley, then a wait for a bus to go up the hill to the hotel.. We took the scenic way towards the glaciers.
The path was a bit of a goat path, meandering up and down at just around 2000m elevation, with views down the deep valley to the village of Trient far below. Our path went more southerly towards the snows, and after an hour of tripping over rocks and the like, we rounded a corner and faced a glacier spilling down the mountain. A bit more walking took us to La Grande, a little refreshment stop selling Pepsi products, but we kept on going, and looked across the main valley to tomorrows’ trail and both said “no”.
That trail we were going on—the Fenestre trail—was a steep up-and-up 45 degree gash to a little notch at 2700m or so. We both said hell no and decided we’d seek another way around to Champex-Lac. We were beat, we were happy we’d already seen this valley, and we need something less demanding.
After the Chalet du Pepsi came the steep downhill to the Chalet du Glacier (Coke products) and we were really feeling very beat, and both continued to cruise on autopilot. It’s already been a sweaty day, and we still have another hour to walk along the canal that once delivered glacier ice to our hotel.
That last bit was pleasant but ugh, we were both just wondering when these mountains would let up. At the hotel, we found a room with a narrow double bed and a saggy mattress, nowhere near as nice as last night at the Auberge de Boeme, but sufficient. There was a nice view east too to far away mountains and a good cross breeze for drying out our overly moist clothes.
Dinner at the Hotel de Forclaz was pretty good though, as was a local white wine, yum. We looked at the maps—I was happy I’d downloaded the OpenHikingMaps in GaiaGPS to my phone—and consulted a couple of guidebooks. The ‘regular’ Haute Route path seemed like it’d work to get us to Champex-Lac, not as tough as today and that’d make us happier than yet another trudge. The weather was also a factor, but didn’t look very bad, so yay.