Geneva – watch territory!

Back on the train, this time heading for my last stop – Geneva. This was where I would buy my first Swiss watch!

You could see the famed Jet Eau from 50 kms away. Apparently it was established to release the water pressure but it was now a major attraction for the city – as the train rolled in I was thinking it was an indicator Geneva has little to offer other than watches.

I was back in French speaking territory, which was great – I really should have paid more attention in German class! I was also staying in accommodation that provided views of Mont Blanc from my bedroom window!

I spent my two free days wandering the streets primarily in the watch precinct, of course, and the old town. St Peter’s overlooks the town and the Tival Villa gives an appreciation of the old money in Geneva – that 1799 town guillotine looked well used. The reformation wall was a well visited spot in the city – the Protestants celebrating the excommunication of the Catholics. Wars and religion – I know religion gives a lot of purpose to people’s lives but you only have to look into history to see that the religious conflicts of today are not so new.

I have to say that I had always had a vision of Geneva being very stylish (must have been the watch thing) but I was certainly let down. Even on the street with the designer stores you would see better fashion down on Brisbane’s Eagle Street precinct!

I did manage a side trip to Carouge which delivered the bohemian part of town, but again it was small and not quite brimming with the charisma of West End let alone Glebe or Newtown. I knew that when I was at a point of making comparisons it was time to go home.

I enjoyed the boat cruise on the lake for a bit of celebrity chalet/chateau spotting.

Staying with the lovely Nadia and her twins (Lilia and Nio) also caused a pang of homesickness – not like me at all! It had actually felt like it was a continuation of the trip from last year – how had all those audits in the Surat Basin disappeared from my memory? I had enjoyed the oompah of Germany, the joie de vivre of France and the alpine and lakes of Switzerland. What a conference can achieve hey???

In one week I turn the big 46! How did I get here having discovered so much of the world? I don’t really know; everything just seems to have fallen into place. I’m sure love is around the corner, whether it be a man, my friends or my family to share great times, or another wonderful travel experience. As long as I have the strength I will continue to see the world. So in the words of the inspirational late Sarah Henderson “all the strength you need to achieve anything is within you”.

Thanks again to those who’ve shared the journey; I would like to share in your’s too!

Have just noticed the stars in the Emirates cabin (always pays to look up in this world) – nice touch!!! Goodnight!

Monument to the eccentric Duke of Brunswick.

Monument to the eccentric Duke of Brunswick.

 

St Peter's Cathedral poking through the buildings

St Peter’s Cathedral poking through the buildings

Jet d'eau with its 140m high spurt - visible for 100kms.

Jet d’eau with its 140m high spurt – visible for 100kms.

 

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Canons at the arsenal

Canons at the arsenal

Adornments off the Tavel House.

Adornments off the Tavel House.

Wallpaper - 1770

Wallpaper – 1770

Calico - 1770

Calico – 1770

Not sure what was going on here!

Not sure what was going on here!

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The city's guillotine - well used by the looks.

The city’s guillotine – well used by the looks.

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The old guys out for a bit of chess - seemed very serious.

The old guys out for a bit of chess – seemed very serious.

The Reformation Wall - celebrating Farel, Calvin, Beze and Knox.

The Reformation Wall – celebrating Farel, Calvin, Beze and Knox.

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Bedroom window out toward Mt Blanc - seems like a while ago!

Bedroom window out toward Mt Blanc – seems like a while ago!

Enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of Carouge.

Enjoying the relaxed lifestyle of Carouge.

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The Geneva to Cannes Classic about to kick off.

The Geneva to Cannes Classic about to kick off.

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The mermaid of Lucerne....the one in the background!

The mermaid of Lucerne….the one in the background!

The Rothschilds Chateau on the hill.

The Rothschilds Chateau on the hill.

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Au revoir!

Au revoir!

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Embracing the lake cities – Lucerne

I arrived into Lucerne with plenty of light to explore the 1386 ramparts, with its nine towers, and parts of the old city. I had been warned to not be in the clock tower when it went off as it was deafening – as the first city clock of the town it had the privilege of chiming one minute before the others. Impressive with its nine metre pendulum.

The lake and river, which eventually joins the Rhone, is a significant feature of the old town – with a weir having been established to regulate water flow. The timber needle system seemed quite archaic but it was good to see they’d established a harness safety line for the guys who took on the job of adding or removing the needles.

I ventured back to my accommodation missing Karyn’s companionship. Like an angel my wonderful cousin, Leanne, phoned so we caught up on each other’s travel tails. It was lovely to relive Italy through some of their recent adventures.

Not knowing what I was actually looking at I joined a city tour the next day. Turns out Lucerne has a fiery past with it having lost the original Chapel Bridge (named so because it leads to St Peter’s Chapel) and the train station to fires. The former was restored within a year of its destruction in 1993 using original techniques and materials whereas the train station got a complete workover in glass – only the original entry remains. I was more partial to the Mill bridge (both were part of the city’s fortification hence the outer side of the balustrade was higher than the inner) because it still had all of its original 17th century triangular frescoe paintings. The paintings each contained the coat of arms for the family that had sponsored the painting.

The old paintings on the buildings were interesting, giving you a story of the owners or what had occurred there – jeweller, weighing scales for fish markets and Goethe for his time visiting Lucerne.

The baroque Jesuit Church with touches of rococo style, constructed in 1666, had an all white interior with no stained glass windows making it very well lit. I thought the faux marble was clever – they couldn’t get marble so used a special paint technique over the timber columns.

I took a walk up to the ‘dying lion of Lucerne’ sculpture hewn into the rock face. It had been established as a dedication to the 900 mercenaries who died after being sent to Paris by the Swiss in 1972 to protect Louis 16th during the French Revolution. Mark Twain had described it as the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world – I had to agree.

I was glad I’d made the detour to this pretty little town. It is said to be the birthplace of Switzerland having brought all of the cantons together. The constitution of Switzerland had been finally established in 1848.

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A final farewell to the mountains

As we had not done enough hiking (!?!?!!?), we thought it would be good to walk the final route into Zermatt that we would have taken had the last stage of the Europaweg not been closed. To get there we took the funicular up to Rothhorn. It was a lovely day with clear blue skies so we got a great look at all of the peaks. Part of the trip was in a ‘pirate ship’, thankfully it wasn’t in full pirate ship swing when we were on it.

It was a lovely walk down (aided by the lack of packs!) with a stop in at a very cool spot in Findeln – we opted for hot chocolates but I could see it being a great spot for a long lunch!

We were keen to utilise our multi pass while we had good weather so the afternoon was spent going up to view the Matterhorn from the Glacier Express. It was starting to get a few clouds gathering as we approached and we were totally amazed to arrive as it started to snow. The summer skiers were starting to make their way down but Karyn wasn’t put off going for a ride in a tube. I hadn’t seen that it was a bowl and so had a moment of wondering where she would end up – relieved as she rebounded back up the slope.

It was the last night ‘our hiking group’ were all in town so we all caught up for drinks and dinner. There were plenty of laughs with more things learnt about each other.

The next day we had more travel aids, this time the Gornergrat cog train. We decided to walk part of the trip down (we really are saddists) and were rewarded by happening onto the Schwing Festival in full swing. There were horn players with coordinated flag throwing, wrestling (think Swiss sumo) and folk music. Very colourful with a great atmosphere.

Our final journey for the day was another trip up the Glacier Express to hopefully get onto the viewing platform that had been closed the earlier day due to the snow. We’d left it too late to reach the final station but Karyn has since informed me what I missed – a large crucifix of course!

We managed to see the museum and the story of Edward Whymper’s ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. It was a controversial ascent with there being accusations that a guide had cut the rope when another three of the party had fallen. An inquiry found no evidence this had been the case; implying the rope they were all attached to had cut under the strain.

It was a very teary farewell to Karyn. We’d had such a great trip, spending day and night together for nearly three weeks. Karyn had been the one who’d made the trip happen – organising things with our hiking agent, doing the pack lists and getting all of the necessary documents for the hike together. She had also been my motivator to get fit and ultimately make it up those mountains each and every day (not to mention applied the hike notes to get us there). Words will never convey my gratitude for the experience she has given me that I could never have realised on my own. I knew I had made a wonderful new friend.

Enjoying the views after a cruisy funicular ride

Enjoying the views after a cruisy funicular ride

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A wander down to Zermatt via Findeln

A wander down to Zermatt via Findeln

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Hard work without packs!

Hard work without packs!

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View down to last lift station - just started to snow!

View down to last lift station – just started to snow!

Whiteout!

Whiteout!

Bye Karyn

Bye Karyn

Bye bye Karyn

Bye bye Karyn

Karyn, come back!

Karyn, come back!

View down to last lift station on departure!

View down to last lift station on departure!

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Faces to the names - Keith, Karyn, Keith, Bill, Louise, Kay, Clarence and Steve

Faces to the names – Keith, Karyn, Keith, Bill, Louise, Cassie, Kay, Clarence and Steve

Views from Gornegrat station

Views from Gornegrat station

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Schwing Festival underway

Schwing Festival underway

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The yodelling was a nice touch!

The yodelling was a nice touch!

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Providing a bit of assistance to the gondola

Providing a bit of assistance to the gondola

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Graves of those who died on the first successful ascent to the peak

Graves of those who died on the first successful ascent to the peak

Climbing tools an interesting addition.

Climbing tools an interesting addition.

The climbers grave with the ever present Matterhorn watching over.

The climbers grave with the ever present Matterhorn watching over.

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Farewell - you served us well!

Farewell – you served us well!

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Stage 13/14 – St Niklaus to Zermatt – The road to Toblerone!

The day had arrived, we were off to finish this journey we started nearly two weeks ago. We were excited at the prospect of celebrating our achievement and relieved we had chosen to bypass the Europweg.

On leaving St Niklaus we encountered lots of driftwood that had faces carved into it – seemed to be a bit of thing for this area.

Our hike was undulating taking us past an impressive rock slide (although must have been terrifying for the locals at the time given the scale of it), up past horse paddocks and along past a golf course.

A donkey had started to follow us out of town but thought better of it.

We farewelled our last homeless snail – slugs had been quite prominent on the hike!

It was a beautiful day and it was lovely to see some schoolkids out in the park barbecuing and playing games. We managed to interpret what was being asked when a Swiss Army knife was thrust into our face by a group of little girls who were struggling to operate the device!

After four hours hiking we rounded a corner to see it …the long awaited views of E Matterhorn! With smiles from ear to ear we marched into town bumping into Cassie and Steve and then later Keith!

We did a little jig, which Steve filmed. A few people started to stop, I think they thought we were starting a flash mob!

We arrived to our lovely hotel to enjoy a welcome drink and petit fors; quite a contrast from the cabanes!

We ended the wonderful day with a celebration dinner at a traditional Swiss chalet restaurant – we figured we’d walked enough to earn raclette!

We had done it! I had been scared about my fitness for this hike and yet the hike turned out harder than I had I imagined (thanks for that Lee) and I had handled it better than I thought I would the lesser imagined hike!

I could not have done it without my wonderful walking companion Karyn, she had been a rock for me – encouraging me the whole way and providing stimulating and humorous conversation. We had lived in each other’s pockets for more than two weeks and had come out great friends. Already talking about the next trip!

As for the ‘mission’, I may not have finished with an ass of brass or the Elle McPherson legs I have yearned for my whole life but I had finished with a great appreciation of these legs that can take me to the top of alpine mountains and down again. The challenge from here was to remind myself of this going forward into the next chapter of my wonderful life.

What an adventure! Thanks to everyone who liked the posts and sent messages – it meant more than you could ever realise.

 

 

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Stage 12 – Gruben to St Niklaus – Gidget in the mountains.

This was the first time on the trip I had woken without an alarm – 20 odd people outside your dorm door will do that! It was just a good thing no one had snored through the night; although Karyn heard the locals calling in the cows in the wee hours.

Up the hill through the woods for our last col – Augstbordpass (we were in the German influenced part of Switzerland). It was a really pleasant hike up – stopping for quick chats with fellow hikers Mary and Sue and Kerry and Peter.

On one rest stop Karyn found a great wobbly rock and broke into ‘Wipeout’ for her Gidget impersonation – we still had our humour!

The arrival to the col was a very emotional one (I’m tearing up writing this). We had chosen to revisit ‘the quote’ at this milestone. Karyn struggled to get the words out while I stood there looking down the valley with tears rolling down my face. The words from the quote had come to be a rock for us and a constant reminder of the value of life.

It was very cold at this high col (2893m) and the clouds were closing in for the hike through the mountain valley so we made our way down for a lunch spot on a nice rock (they’d become our friends).

More boulders to cross before reaching a viewing point at Twara. Our notes indicated you could be waiting a while if the clouds were closed in. Being the ever optimist I said “let’s just sit a sec, we’ll get a good view”. Within minutes the clouds had parted to give a great view down into the townships and across to the imposing mountains on the other side of the valley.  I concluded we must have done good in our lives!

The next section was interesting crossing large slabs created for a former trade route. We soon encountered the funny goats with their half white and half chocolate coats – I told Karyn they are the goats that produce topdeck chocolate. Another sound of music moment.

We reached the lovely little hamlet of Jungen with its cable car down to St Niklaus. This option is often taken by hikers wanting to avoid the big descent of 900m down. Not us! “No cable cars” were the instructions from Lee and we were too close to cave in now!

The hike down was torturous, the gradient causing the worst strain on our knees that we’d experienced. The shrines along the track were doing little to distract the pain. I had the added joy of having bruised the sole of my left foot and so was trying to avoid the sharp rocks, which was proving almost impossible in some stretches (you were right Jim – they had real potential to cause hurt).

While heading down we had helicopters buzzing overhead. We soon realised they were part of the construction work going on nearby – imagine using helicopters instead of trucks to transport your loads!

A few spots of rain were felt but we arrived into St Niklaus without rain, because…

We arrived to a welcome note and key at our hotel – seemed it was just us and Mary and Sue staying in the place.

Wandered into town for a bite to eat but everything was closed and the place was deserted. I was starting to think everyone had taken shelter from some nuclear fallout that we didn’t know about! Thankfully we rounded a corner to find Cassie and Steve feasting so we joined them for a bite to eat.

It had been a great day, the weather superb and we were ready to tackle our last day up the valley to Zermatt and the Matterhorn!

 

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Stage 11 – Zinal to Gruben – Groovin’ to Gruben!

After some farewells to the three musketeers we were off heading out of town- via the bolangerie of course! At our marker path we found some protected footprints in the cement – a bit of a mystery.

It was a tough haul up the hill his morning. We were definitely missing the three musketeers but it seemed more than that. We found one of the Americans wavering as we ventured up – Steve, he asked to follow for a while but then fell back and eventually turned back conceding he wouldn’t make it. It was a tough morning uphill and we knew turning back was as equally tough!

The point of the the footprints emerged – the Zinal mountain marathon – another one I’d failed to register for!

Karyn had advised that her trusty device was indicating 50% chance of rain In the after noon. Shouldn’t bother au I thought.

Turned out Karyn’s melancholy mood was somewhat related to Rod – she was missing the opportunity to whinge the way up! Of course I said whinge away, opening the way for me to whinge!

We reached the sign to Forcletta but it was under repair – thankfully the parks personnel were around so they pointed us in the right direction.

The morning had been tough before the Col de Forcletta (2874m) so we made the decision at that time to bypass the Europa hut. Our spirits seemed to lift immeasurably from this decision with us both of us finding the col relatively easy.

Ok, we got rain! Not enough to warrant wet pants for me but enough to be annoying – needless to say it was a brief lunch stop with the breeze and rain at Chalte Berg.

It was quite something to be hiking at he same height as the snow on the slopes.

After our final descent we dropped into a dairy – with still great views of the glacier.

We made our way through the pastures to reach the Schwarzhorn hotel – it seemed like the Grand Budapest Hotel until we saw our dorm room! This place was definitively channelling Bill Murray with a great bar and restaurant. Unfortunately the dorm rooms left a lot to be desired – the Childers backpacker fire kept popping into my head! Definitely a business opportunity here!

The journey to Gruben leading us through a tunnel.

The journey to Gruben leading us through a tunnel.

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Yeh - I was ready for the Zinal mountain challenge!

Yeh – I was ready for the Zinal mountain challenge!

Karyn channelling a bit of energy from our Zontian friends.

Karyn channelling a bit of energy from our Zontian friends.

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Six schmix km!

Six schmix km!

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Nothing like arriving at a col and not seeing anything!!!

Nothing like arriving at a col and not seeing anything!!!

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Gruben in sight.

Gruben in sight.

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Stage 10 – Cabane de Moiry to Zinal – way mark, way mark!

The hike out of Cabane de Moiry was a little scary for me first up – it was the zigzag in reverse – weirdly I felt better going up than facing down hill on those corners. There were some groups of about 10 leaving at around the same time as us so any chance of serenity while hiking down beside the glacier was gone. I did however enjoy the guide’s stories about how much Australians love to party – he was recounting a fire alarm experience from when he last visited Sydney. He was clueless he had two Aussies in front of him!

The walk across towards the col was spectacular with the Lac de Moiry coming into view after not too long. The clouds were pretty spectacular that day. We felt a bit bad bumping into some amorous cows!

We shared the path for a while with a group of Welsh guys – I was glad it was on an undulated part as I couldn’t have answered all Dai’s questions on an uphill to a col! I had missed Karyn take a slide while on the path but both she and a spectator indicated it was pretty impressive! Thankfully she reported no serious damage – ‘just’ a bloody knee!

We saw some of the other hikers on the lower trail – my heart stopped momentarily with the thought we were on the wrong trail but as Steve and Cassie started to go cross country to join us I was relieved it wasn’t going to be a Groundhog Day!

The uphill to the col was tough. It took a lot to call on our quote to convince me to enjoy the uphills – the long hike the day before had really taken it out of us.

I saw some guys come over a ridge – Gerry later pointed out they were marmut shooters. I had no idea in the end if he was pulling my leg or was for real. I had hoped the former!

We reached the top of the Col – I was wishing I hadn’t left my broomstick in La Sage!

The weather at the top was reasonably mild so we chose it as our picnic spot before we made the hike down to Zinal.

A good part of the walk down was done on the ski piste but we soon started to make our way down through pastures and the woods. Gerry had chosen to join us in the hope our notes gave us an upper edge on Charlie and Sooni who had taken the much less pleasant option of the road down to Zinal. I nearly took us down there too with an oversight while reading the notes.

From there Karyn thought it proper to call out ‘way mark’ whenever she saw one. As it happens they were fairly commonplace in this area so she ended up sounding like one of those seagulls scrounging for chips!

The walk down was lovely although quite steep and challenging through the roots on the paths in the woods. We got to some pretty average bridges, which of course Gerry felt it necessary to shake while I was on. He felt pretty happy letting Charlie and Sooni know that he’d hitched a ride down on our broomsticks!

I was absolutely surprised when Karyn said ‘look its Keith’. He’d come to Zinal hoping to catch up with some of us before he moved onto Zermatt. It was so wonderful to see him again.

Before dinner Karyn and I made a few calls to our hiking agent in London trying to get more info to decide if we would proceed with doing the Europaweg leg. We’d just read the notes after hearing others talking of its challenges. I was concerned about the amount of exposure along the paths and Karyn was concerned about the climbs needed to reach the hut (there were two detours presently in operation). We finished undecided with the thought we would keep talking about it.

The three musketeers had finished their hike in Zinal so we took the opportunity to all gather for a farewell dinner. Gerry kept insisting on buying me beers. I was unsure if he just wanted someone to drink with or he wanted to see me hungover for a hike he knew he didn’t have to do! Clearly doesn’t know me too well.

Charlie had brought his his hiking book down to dinner, which described the Europaweg as a white knuckle ride – that pretty much sealed for me that the only option I would be considering was the one to go up from Randa. It too sounded positively back breaking! We still had a couple of days to decide….

 

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We too will get there!

We too will get there!

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Finally some ('an') ibex!

Finally some (‘an’) ibex!

 

 

 

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Stage 9 – La Sage to Cabane de Moiry – all roads don’t lead to Cabane de Moiry!

We were very pleased with our progress on this stage of the hike – although we would have been happier to be off the gravel road.

The realisation eventually hit that we had taken a wrong turn – no up hill routes on the Haute Route are this easy!!! We consulted the notes, the compass and the maps….yep, wrong way. What to do? We both felt committed to the height we had gained so decided to keep moving on in the hope the tracks would cross (even doing a bit of our own off track exploration) eventually conceding it was unlikely so we headed for a house in the distance with the goal of getting our bearings to determine our next step. Of course, when we finally reached it the house was all closed up. Karyn’s best calls of “Bonjour” didn’t lure anyone out of the houses in neighbouring pastures. Back we went to the point we knew was right.

Nothing like taking the good with the bad. We used the downhill and good telephone reception as an opportunity to call our dads for Father’s Day. Great to chat to mum and dad. I also managed to reach Cath, Camille and Greg before Camille was in bed. Lovely to catch up with everyone at home – actually made me a little homesick chatting to Camille – hoping she wasn’t getting too used to me not being home! Once again realising how blessed I am to have the wonderful life I have, surrounded by people I love dearly.

Enough of that heavy stuff….

Okay, back on the right path. A valuable lesson learnt – the notes don’t lie; follow them with precision!

We contemplated going back into La Sage to organise a taxi to take us to where we would have been had we hiked there in the first place but agreed it was risking delaying us further and at the time we still felt we had fresh legs.

The hike from thereon was notable for the butterflies we were encountering – white, pale blue, orange and green wing tipped.

More uphill of course. After passing through Le Tsate we hit a huge grassy field which had a path pretty much going straight up. Why? All this space to traverse the hill! Bloody Swiss were just masochists – way too fit for their own good in my mind!

One thing that is universal is that where there are flies there are cows; in this case dairy cows! Passed the dairy sheds and of course then it was up, up, up!

We came over the Col du Tsate to see the hike needed down to the lakes before the hike up again on the other side of the glacial moraine. Our legs were really tiring – this was one of the longest hike days (that is without our extra two hour detour).

We looked up from the lakes at the bottom to see our Cabane perched in what seemed an unreachable position. I guess not!

Karyn counted up the switchbacks so we could feel we were making progress along the way – she decided on 30 as a conservative calculation. Off we went. Distraction is the key to pain so we decided to imagine everything waiting for us at the top – cold beer, towels, free showers and electricity and hair conditioner!

We also had to come up with a story to sell the three musketeers as to why we were waylaid. We’re pretty creative between the two of us so that took no time – ‘we went up the hill to get better phone reception so we could make our calls on the downhill’.

Before we knew it (slight exaggeration) we were at switchback 26 and on the level of the Cabane. It was here we understood why the climb why so popular. We were perched above a glacier! It was truly wonderful to have made it and the view was spectacular.

It had been a hard, gruelling day…and we had made it! We looked onto the glacier in wonderment from the glassed walls of the Cabane for the long daylight hours.

This time over dinner we met kiwis Louise and Kay who have been living in London for the last decade or so. They had run into Keith at the bus stop before they came up – he introduced himself and shared his story – I was seeing he was quite the lady’s man! Turns out he is 84! On this news I admired him even more and my thoughts turned to how the recent event might affect his desire to keep hiking.

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Melding spirituality and religion at La Tsate!

Melding spirituality and religion at La Tsate!

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Enjoying lunch at Col du Tsate while look down on Lac de la Bayenna.

Enjoying lunch at Col du Tsate while look down on Lac de la Bayenna.

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Lac du Moiry

Lac du Moiry

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There it is Karyn!

There it is Karyn!

Lac Glacier

Lac Glacier

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The final part of the climb to get to Cabane de Moiry.

The final part of the climb to get to Cabane de Moiry.

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Who could tire of this view?

Who could tire of this view?

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Stage 8 – Arolla to La Sage – the day of the cuckoo clock houses!

Ran into Sooni, Charlie and Gerry as we were leaving the hotel, as well as the others who were on the same route. I was really enjoying having the camaraderie in our small group of hikers – all going on our own but catching up at points along the hike – I’d recalled reading how much Don and Jim had enjoyed this on the Camino.

Just as we were about to push off Kit and Mike (Americans from the earlier ‘warm ice’ day) informed us that the day before they had come across Keith flaked out on one of the boulders on the ascent to the ladders. They had suspected he was having some sort of a heart issue. Keith had initiated his transmitter and a chopper arrived within one hour (I guess that wasn’t a supply helicopter after all). The terrain prevented landing so they lowered a doctor and rescuer who assessed him and then they were all hitched onto a line where they were airlifted until a spot was found to safely hoist them all up. Dramatic! The boys thought he would be okay but didn’t know he had an existing heart condition. Karyn and I left on our hike with heavy thoughts of Keith and the hope he was okay.

The day’s hike was a lovely stroll, passing lovely little houses that reminded me of the houses in cuckoo clocks. We also passed lots of barns with stone discs below the bearers, which are used to keep the rats out of the feed in the barns.

We decided to skip the option of hiking up to Lake Bleu – we’d seen plenty of lakes the day before! Instead we had a nice stop in Las Hauderes for lunch; classic scenery and habitation of the Swiss Valais.

Lovely to see the locals out playing a bit of Saturday boules – took me back to some great times in the Dordogne.

Our last slog was the walk up through the woods to La Sage. Karyn ‘kindly’ pointed out a dead snake by the side of the road …they have snakes here???? Not so comforting given the amount of hiking we were doing in the woods.

Our hotel was lovely with balconies giving great views over the valley – the hosts were the best we’d had on the trail; nothing seemed too much trouble.

When we sat down to dinner Karyn received a message from Keith, which said he was out of hospital and on instructions from the doctor to rest. I was so relieved. I really admired him – he reminded me so much of grandad with his determined spirit and I could see he was extremely proud of his adventurous accomplishments.

Dinner was lovely except for the foreign object on our plates. On enquiry we were given huge apologies by the wait staff and then chef for the foi gras making it onto our ‘vegetarian’ plates. If Trevor was reading this he would no doubt claim I ordered it on purpose – I’ll never live that Montrachet experience down!

It had been a lovely day – a relatively easy hike and great company to boot. I could feel the camaraderie building within the group of us who were on the same route and timeframe.

Leaving the pretty hamlet of Arolla.

Leaving the pretty hamlet of Arolla.

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The three muskateers - Charlie, Gerry and Sooni.

The three muskateers – Charlie, Gerry and Sooni.

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Barns with slate discs to keep the rats out!

Barns with slate discs to keep the rats out!

A bit of marmut spotting.

A bit of marmut spotting.

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A residential boules court.

A residential boules court.

Cute little houses of La Sage.

Cute little houses of La Sage.

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Just doing a bit of balance training.

Just doing a bit of balance training.

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Will he turn into Prince Charming?

Will he turn into Prince Charming?

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Stage 7 – Cabane de Parafleuri to Arolla – the day of the dreaded ladders!

What is the definition of rain?

This was it, the day had arrived – the day I had to climb the dreaded ladders of the Haute Route. These ladders had almost caused me to pull out after Mia and Lee couldn’t do the hike but Karyn’s interest had kept me moving forward. This stage is apparently the toughest day of the Haute Route due to the combination of challenges posed.

We ventured out with Charlie, Gerry and Sooni with an ascent first up to Col des Roux. It was quite a heart starter at 7:00am!

On arrival to the Col we were rewarded with fabulous views of Lac des Dix (and the mountains in the distance that we would climb later).

On our descent down to the lake we partook in some collaborative marmut spotting after we’d heard a whistle in the distance (Charlie had been told the marmut’s call tended to sound like a whistle). After a few false alarms Gerry announced in his great welsh accent “yeah well I whistle don’t I but I’m not a marmut” (expletives excluded).

There were no ibex to be seen much to Karyn’s disappointment. At one point Karyn thought she could see an animal in front of a rock but alas it was merely a shadow. I took great delight in impersonating Sir David Attenborough with “what is believed to be the last remaining jaguar in Switzerland, has been spotted by explorers Karyn Lees and Letitia Robinson during their travels on the Haute Route”.

We did finally spot some real marmuts down on the lake’s edge but no ibex.

The other animal spotting involved cows. They wandered alongside Cassie and Steve from Washington and Charlie – from behind it looked like they were playing pied piper and the cows were coming with us to Arolla.

We were on the easiest part of the Haute Route – the five kilometre flat path around the lake…all was about to change. It was then up, up and up. Every time we thought we’d come to the pass we could see more people up ahead. It was tough – we were heading for Cabane des Dix, which had become so remote the supplies were now brought in by helicopter.

We chose to go in for a hot chocolate to get out of what seemed to be sleet (note – not rain). We made our stop brief as we could see the weather changing at a dramatic speed and we had yet to cross the glacier, reach the ladders and then of course climb them.

The ladders had been recently replaced due to a rock slide below their ascent so the rocky shoulders of Glacier de Cheilon had been way marked about every 10 metres so you knew which direction to take across the rocks. It was very slippery with both of us taking our first slides onto our bums – luckily no injuries. I was starting to wonder if we were actually going to cross the glacier itself and then it appeared over a rise.

It was quite novel crossing the glacier, particularly when we reached a stream running through it – of course getting over the stone slabs that had been placed to allow a crossing was a little hairy but better than the other alternative offered of stepping onto the way marked stepping stone in the actual stream, which was shaped like a luge.

By the time we reached the boulders that we would have to ascend to reach the Pas de Chevres even I had to contend it was raining but thankfully only sprinkling. The rock climb was the worst we’d encountered so far in my mind (although some of that may have arisen from my fear of what was to follow). It is impossible to find the words to describe it as I haven’t got anything else I can suggest it was like and of course the rain discouraged any photography.

On the last little bit of the approach to the ladders you were assisted by a chain rope anchored to the rock to overcome any fear of slipping to the boulders waiting eagerly below like vultures! As I was coming up Karyn exclaimed “oh my god, wait till you see what’s here!”. Of course I replied “is it a lift?”. Turned out to be two mountain bikes. We later found out that the other guys on our hike had seen two German guys bring them down the ladders on their shoulders ice axes attached (show offs!!!) but of course even these boulders were too much for them to ride over so the bikes sat in wait of their return. There was no fear of them being stolen up there!

The climb up the ladders began. There were four in total covering a height of 25 metres I believe. The drop over the boulders below was about 200m. I was petrified my shoes or hands would slip on the wet rungs. Three points of contact, three points of contact, three points of contact. Karyn was a tremendous help coaxing me all the way. At one point I had to take stock because I knew I was on the verge of tears – from there it was a lot of deep breathing and looking straight ahead at the rock. Karyn just climbed up like a monkey with a smile from ear to ear. We’d done it – I was so relieved that part of the hike was over. I think I smiled for the whole two hours into Arolla.

We heard choppers overhead – there go the supplies to Cabane du Dix!

It was a civil night with a room to ourselves again – could drink the water, order what we liked and didn’t have to pay for a shower or electricity. We had made it to the half way point – we decided to Skype Lee and Mia to update them on our progress. It was so lovely to share our news with a couple who’d already experienced that part of the hike.

We had gained 920m in height and lost 1540m with our high point of 2957m! We had even come in close to the 8 hours and 30 minutes estimated for the 17km. It had been a Black 4 stage – the toughest you can get….and we had done it!

Tomorrow promised to be a short day so we were sleeping in….

Arriving at Col des Roux - yes they are real mountains behind us!

Arriving at Col des Roux – yes they are real mountains behind us!

Lac de Dix

Lac de Dix

A bit of marmut spotting!

A bit of marmut spotting!

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Steve and Cassie leading the way!

Steve and Cassie leading the way!

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Gerry making his way toward the moraine.

Gerry making his way toward the moraine.

Karyn heading up onto the moraine.

Karyn heading up onto the moraine.

Can you see the person at out next target point?

Can you see the person at out next target point?

Up comes Karyn.

Up comes Karyn.

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Cabane du Dix almost looked like a haunted house on its elevated spot!

Cabane du Dix almost looked like a haunted house on its elevated spot!

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Following the waymarks closely - to pass some guys testing out their rescue manouvres.

Following the waymarks closely – to pass some guys testing out their rescue manouvres.

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The rock slabs to cross were hairy enough.

The rock slabs to cross were hairy enough.

Don't want to be falling into that stream!

Don’t want to be falling into that stream!

The dreaded ladders coming into view.

The dreaded ladders coming into view.

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Karyn showing me how it's done!

Karyn showing me how it’s done!

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