Walker's Haute Route - Days 2 and 3
We packed up our tent and gear and headed out of town, stopping on the way to buy terrine for breakfast, some bread, ham and cheese for lunch.
We hit the trail again and descended once more - quite steeply. We hiked along through scenic farm lands and local gardens. So many Swiss houses have their own extensive vegetable gardens. We walked past horses, cows and farmers.
It grew steadily and more uncomfortably hot. We eventually reached the town of Sembrancher, with another couple of hours ahead to hike to La Chable. Sembrancher was a very pretty ghost town. No one was around, apart from a couple of hikers stopped in a shady spot to eat their lunch. No shops, people - nothing.
We looked at our options again. With another bus to La Chable, we could then get a few cable cars up some mountains and then would only need to hike a couple of hours to reach the Cabane Mont-Fort, a refuge high in the mountains. Doing this would effectively wipe out days of hiking in exposed areas in the heat wave, which seemed to us the most sensible idea that had occurred to either of us in days.
We just made the bus, after some initial communication difficulties where we thought it would be a train. The cable cars whisked us up over the famous ski resort village of Verbier, playground of Europe's elite. It was so petty. There were beehives on the mountain underneath us and they resembled miniature chalets. We reached the end of the cable car line and we were ridiculously high yet again. The only thing that remained was to hike the steep climb up to the Cabane Mont-Fort, two hours up. One thing I've noticed is that mountain top refuges seem much closer than they really are. I really struggled on the way up, whether it was the height or the heat, or a combination of the two, I don't know, but I thought I was never getting there.
Mark had gone ahead and secured our room, a dear little pine loft up high in the chalet. It was quiet and comfortable. We showered and changed and sat on the most scenic deck so far, with the Swiss flag flying high above us. It was a beautiful place, run by a young Swiss man who was the chief cook and bottle washer. He worked hard, preparing and delivering meals to all of us. As the sun began to set, we could hear marmots squeaking from the rocks below. We all tried to spot them, but they are so well camouflaged, we didn't see a single one. We checked the weather forecast and it was set to be another scorcher - in fact, there would be days of them yet to come.
This caused us to re-evaluate the whole trek, which was now gruelling rather than enjoyable. The hardest day, while it would have been stunning, walking along glaciers, lay ahead of us. We had a tin of tuna to sustain us and very little stamina or enthusiasm left to keep slogging it out in the heat wave. We resolved to fast forward straight to Zermatt, by train rather than our intended 9 days by foot. A little disappointed, but also relieved.
Cable cars back down to La Chable and then a bus to Martigny for connecting trains to Zermatt, we met a couple of young Aussie girls from Melbourne. They had also been doing the Haute Route and like us, had come to the conclusion it was just too hard to keep going. They were heading to Lausanne to relax lakeside before heading to Italy for a friend's wedding. This made us feel better as we had been wondering if perhaps our hiking days were numbered. Perhaps we were too old for this caper. They told us that everyone they had walked with had struggled with the heat. One Dutch woman had told them that the Netherlands had experienced their hottest day in 150 years the day before.
An American couple they had walked with had attempted the Haute Route 6 years previously at the same time and had to abandon due to snowstorms and avalanche threat. Now they were abandoning due to heat. Perhaps they may finish one year. We farewelled our new friends in Martigny and headed to Zermatt.
The train headed gradually upwards and we caught glimpses of the Weisshorn. We admired the stunning scenery. Finally, we came to picture perfect Zermatt at the base of the iconic Matterhorn. We found a great last minute deal on a little hotel right in the middle of town. The Hotel Alpina reminded me of a chalet style cuckoo clock - it was so pretty and charming, with a beautiful garden of vegetables and flowers - giant poppies and edelweiss. We would stay a couple of nights, regroup and contemplate our options.
We now had 9 days of unexpected and unallocated free time. What to do? Perhaps we could go to Briancon back over the border in the French Alps, Austria or Northern Italy (or all of the above). In the end, we decided to head to Dubrovnik from Geneva.