Stage 6 – Cabane du Mont Fort to Cabane du Plafleuri – bouldering through it!

It had been a wonderful night in Cabane du Mont Fort. I’d enjoyed meeting some of the other hikers. We’d also had the pleasant surprise of having a dorm room to ourselves and the five Swiss francs (just over $5) we paid for the two minute shower seemed plenty to get us feeling fresh again.

We were once again faced with needing to make a decision – the shorter rocky col of Col de las Chaux or the Col Termin, which would take an extra hour and give us cliff edge path across rockslides BUT better views. Our notes suggested taking advice from the warden of the Cabane. On questioning he said that there had been no rain the last two days so the Col Termin was less risky than usual unless it rained overnight – great help – we went to bed sleeping on it.

The weather forecast was for a storm to hit at 4pm so we hit the sack early for an early start.

By the morning I had decided that a twisted ankle this early in would really ruin my holiday so voiced my preference for Col Termin. Thankfully Karyn was of the same mind so off we ventured.

The first part of the hike was across a lot of large rocks with an accompanying smell that signalled animals were about. We started to search the hillsides as we hiked, which was indeed risking a twisted ankle, and we spotted a few chamois. They obviously had no trouble darting over the rocks.

We encountered a sign in French only. No idea what it was telling us but the universal danger symbols indicated it was some sort of warning – another bit of helpful advice! In another 30 minutes we encountered another sign with similar symbols this time the English instructions letting us know that there was the potential for rockslide for the next 300m so don’t stop walking. That doesn’t sound much of a distance but I can say it is when it requires you to hop and climb over boulders.

This post is testament that we reached the Col without being taken out by a landslide! The views of the valleys either way were terrific and we were perched above an emerald body of water. A brief stop and then on to make the pass at Col de Louvie. We bypassed the author’s suggestion to take the hike up the hill to see views of the lake – we were doing enough ascents to reach our destination without building more in! We arrived at the main track the same time as the NZ/English group who’d chosen the Col de la Chaux route. There experience confirmed we’d made the right decision. It had taken the the same time as us and one of their party had come a cropper on the icy rocky paths. My mind again turned to Keith.

At the base of the path up to the Col de Louvie we were instructed we would need equipment – I was hoping they meant lip balm! Another mammoth climb. Gerry and I heard a rockfall above as we were approaching the Col giving us a little hurry on!

On reaching the Col we were greeted with our first icy path; it was quite a novelty and it was quite a contrast to what was to follow.

Karyn and I headed in the direction of the Grand Desert to take reprieve from the icy wind to enjoy our lunch. The view was like something out of a Mad Max or sci-fi movie because what did it have…..more boulders!

As we crossed the basin adjoining the glacier we marvelled at the pretty little flowers growing in contrast to the rocky, almost desolate terrain. I was also impressed by the mother of all waymarks when it was finally reached; we’d been told about it and it sure had been a useful marker from the basin below.

We continued passing a number of lakes and patches of snow. We rounded one corner to find the Americans we’d met the night before (Kit and his brother Mike) down by a lake. Mike was in his swim shorts making his way into the lake while his brother took on photographer duties. We were shocked when he actually dived in. It’s warm ice Kit advised and his adventurous brother emerged saying “actually, it’s not too bad”. There was no doubt it was cold by our standards after all the lake was fed by a glacier – these guys were mad!

A few more hairy corners up and around a boulder patch and we were on Col de Prafleuri.

As we commenced the final section into the quarry where our Cabane was perched Karyn suggested it was starting to spot with rain. I stayed stoic – it doesn’t rain when I hike and I was right!

Our accommodation was quite a contrast from the last Cabane. This one had us sharing toilet and shower facilities – it was rather disconcerting coming out of the shower to a guy at the urinal. We also couldn’t drink the water (we think because of the heavy industry that had come before it during the quarrying for Lake Dix (the dam)) and our beds were lined up like the ‘five bears’. Thankfully I went to sleep in the dark and woke in the dark so had no idea who I actually slept next to!

We enjoyed dinner sharing conversation with a Montana couple, Gail and Tom, and a paraglider who was part way through a 10 day competition. I was fascinated by the paraglider’s tales of how the competitions were run notably that there was no prize for the winner as it would encourage dangerous acts so they had a lottery for all of the competitors. Turned out our new Belgium friend spent part of his year in paragliding competitions and the other part working to pay to go in paragliding competitions – the lure of a passion!

I was glad to see Keith had arrived in, albeit later than dinner. He said he’d had a rough time over the ice but that his ice tags had really helped.

It had been another big day, we had reached 2964m with a 990m gain and 820m loss. I was feeling quite sore from all of the up and down, particularly over the boulders.

Over dinner, the Cabane owner provided an announcement of the weather report for the next day – rain in the morning and then patches of rain and sun through the day. Needless to say I said….

Departure from Cabane du Mont Fort.

Departure from Cabane du Mont Fort.

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Danger!

Danger!

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Lip balm?

Lip balm?

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Grand Desert that way!

Grand Desert that way!

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Northern Territory that way?

Northern Territory that way?

Mother of all way marks.

Mother of all way marks.

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Mike taking a refreshing dip!

Mike taking a refreshing dip!

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Sooni showing us the way!

Sooni showing us the way!

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Glimpses of Plafleuri and the Col to be encountered the morning after!

Glimpses of Plafleuri and the Col to be encountered the morning after!

Left my momentary mark in the snow!

Left my momentary mark in the snow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stage 5 – La Cable to Cabane du Mont Fort – cable cars, cable cars, cable cars!

We knew this was going to be a big day – we would reach 2457m elevation after hiking 9.5km, which doesn’t sound much but it was the most sustained uphill section of the Haute Route with the notes advising there were few steps that were not uphill!

We left at the same time as Charlie, Gerry and Sooni through the hamlets of Cotterg and past the Chapelle des Vernays (another example of the challenges of going to church).

It was more uphill to the hamlet of Clambin.

It was wonderful having the para gliders swooping overhead and beside us. As Karyn said you felt you could almost reach out and shake their hands.

Our picnic destination was Las Ruinettes (beside the cable car station); it was to be reached via a snow season skiing piste full of hairpins and a final climb through the woods. It was a lovely lunch spot with a view over the huge town of Verbier. It was obvious this was a major winter escape for skiers.

We made our way along the bisse (water irrigation channel), which had been built in 1454, high above the trees with the cable cars buzzing overhead. It was a lovely meander traversing the countryside until of course we thought we were close to the Cabane and were then forced to overshoot it in two different directions before making the climb up to it. It was certainly worth it, the views were fabulous over the Pennine Alps.

Over celebration beers we met a lovely Yorkshireman, Keith, who had taking up hiking again after his wife died six years ago. He didn’t reveal his age but we were hazarding a guess he was around 75. He admitted he took a little longer to get to the destination but that he did get there. He was totally tech savvy with his electronic devices and carried an emergency transmitter he could engage in the event the need should arise – he did have a bit of a heart condition and was yet to kick his pipe smoking habit but thankfully the need to use the transmitter had not yet arisen. I wondered if I would be so fit at that age.

We were chuffed to have made it in the time nominated in our notes and were relieved to not be in too much pain after such a bit day. We had somehow arrived earlier than Charlie’s group who were ahead of us earlier in the day – Gerry commenting that we’d taken a short cut on our brooms!

Now that's a horse with a view!

Now that’s a horse with a view!

Farewell La Chable

Farewell La Chable

A bit disconcerting to confront these faces on the sign post - no guessing which way we're going!!!

A bit disconcerting to confront these faces on the sign post – no guessing which way we’re going!!!

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And up we go!

And up we go!

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A 'pack down' moment.

A ‘pack down’ moment.

Doing the ski piste in another way!

Doing the ski piste in another way!

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Enjoying the proximity of the paragliders.

Enjoying the proximity of the paragliders.

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A good spot for lunch!

A good spot for lunch!

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Excited to see the Cabane in sight!

Excited to see the Cabane in sight!

They are really making us work for our supper!

They are really making us work for our supper!

This seemed more like The Pirate Ship ride the way it had stopped and just did a pendulum swing!

This seemed more like The Pirate Ship ride the way it had stopped and just did a pendulum swing!

Enjoying a chat with the inspiring Yorkshireman, Keith.

Enjoying a chat with the inspiring Yorkshireman, Keith.

Do they really need to instruct on this??

Do they really need to instruct on this??

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Stage 4 – Champex to La Chable – short but painful!

This was meant to be an easy going day …..

We left Champex alongside its lovely lake and headed to the pastures of the Swiss enjoying a semi-rural life. Karyn was fascinated by the agricultural equipment – trying to work out which piece did what and the movements of the equipment to achieve its intended purpose. An industrial designer at heart me thinks!

We were heading to La Chable via Soulalex and La Garde and Sembrancher but of course we couldn’t get to Sembrancher without making a climb up a mountain to visit the Chapel of St Jean – have I mentioned I’m aethist – why was I doing this to myself??? If there was one thing that the little detour provided it was a confirmation of how the Catholics love to ensure their parishioners practice penance even if they don’t realise they’re doing it!

Trekked down to Sembrancher to see some wonderful barns built in the 17th century – Karyn was also able to make out the signs for the local bell maker. On our way out of town we passed a barn hiding Santa’s sleigh (obviously no great secret in those parts as it wasn’t terribly well hidden) and a tannery perched above the river.

On our final substantial ascent toward La Chable we passed a large timber cross bearing the phrase “Jews frappe a ta Porte” – I knock on your door. The way I was feeling I felt I may be close to converting and knocking on the door!

It was a relief to arrive into La Chable. I had really questioned along the walk whether I was going to make it through the days to come given how I felt after this ‘easy day’.

Karyn took the opportunity to go up the cable cars where she got a birds eye view of where we were heading the next day. I chose to stay in the room and stretch!

The weather was delightful. I was confident it would stay for our next stage, the big walk up to the Cabane du Mont Fort – anything with the word ‘mont’ in it had to mean it was going to hurt….

 

Farewell Lac Champex

Farewell Lac Champex

We liked the slate roofs.

We liked the slate roofs.

The smell of freshly cut grass!

The smell of freshly cut grass!

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We surmised there was a bit of veggie patch rivalry!

We surmised there was a bit of veggie patch rivalry!

St Jean's Chapel

St Jean’s Chapel

Great views of Sembrancher from St Jean's Chapel.

Great views of Sembrancher from St Jean’s Chapel.

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The start of cute barns.

The start of cute barns.

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Don't tell anyone but I found Santa's sleigh in Sembrancher!

Don’t tell anyone but I found Santa’s sleigh in Sembrancher!

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Destination La Chable.

Destination La Chable.

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Stage 3 – Trient to Champex – cows over glaciers!

Decision time. We could take the Fenetre Glacier route or the Bovine Route. The Bovine was reputed to give big views of the Rhone Valley and Swiss Alps in contrast to the Fenetre, which is largely on open and rocky, boulders, steep and loose terrain. Karyn was conscious of the recency of the food poisoning and I was more than happy to take a less hairy route so we settled on the Bovine.

The track was rather muddy from the rain last night but no slips so far.

We ran into Charlie and his walking group at the junction of the routes. We conferred over which was which given someone had decided to turn the post from its original position (our first day of deferring to a compass for navigation). During discussions we exchanged stories on the routes we had take. Both had arrived into Col de Balme and they asked us if we ran into the Dragonlady. We laughed – she’s clearly infamous on the Mountain!

This was the first day we found the necessity to get out a compass. The notes had us taking off from a particular marker, which we were having trouble locating – of course it turned out it was within 10 metres of us!

From here it was up, up, up – a common theme for many days to come! We reached Col de la Forclaz and made our way onto the Bovine track – was evident how it had gotten its name, with its narrow little trench to walk in. Along this track we had fantastic views of Martigny and the Rhone Valley.

Further along we had views of the Bernese Oberland in the distance – hiking for another trip!

It had been a long day but we finally made it to the cafe at Plan de l-au, which was perched high above a valley with beautiful views. Thinking we were close to Champex a decision was made to reward ourselves for our efforts of the day with an icecream/coffee. We were to come to realise the reward was somewhat premature – there was still a way to go!

During our ascent into Champex we passed some of the bomb shelters Karyn had told me about (on their rest day in Champex on the Tour de Mont Blanc, Rod had done a tour of one). They had been built during the Second World War to protect the citizens of neutral Switzerland. They had now moved onto being used as shelters in the event of nuclear fallout. It was a requirement that all communities had one.

We finally wandered DOWNHILL into Champex to find our hotel had a lovely verandah overlooking Lac Champex. It had felt like a long day and I was pleased to arrive.

We finished the day with a meal at a restaurant where our waitress spoke no English – we managed to communicate two red wines please….

Early morning departure out of Trient.

Early morning departure out of Trient.

Au revoir Trient!

Au revoir Trient!

A different perspective of Martigny.

A different perspective of Martigny.

Still smiling but back starting to feel it!

Still smiling but back starting to feel it!

Looking over to the Bernese Oberland

Looking over to the Bernese Oberland

A welcomed respite!

A welcomed respite!

Communal shelter - protecting against nuclear fallout.

Communal shelter – protecting against nuclear fallout.

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Champex Lake

Champex Lake

Some squatters on our balcony!

Some squatters on our balcony!

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Stage 2 – Argentiere to Trient – thems dragons in these mountains!

Farewell to Argentiere and the lovely views of the glaciers.

It was lovely to hear the bubbling brooks and chirping birds as we made our climb towards Arguillette des Rossettes.

A little animal scurried off in front, we concluded it was likely our first Marmut.

We arrived into a cute little place with campers and were unsure if we should be crossing the bridge or walking ahead. This was our first lesson that sometimes it pays to walk a little further (even though neither of us wanted to hadpve to walk more than necessary) – a few steps and there was the sign we spent five minutes wondering if we were close to it.

As we exited this lovely little hamlet of Tre-Le-Champ we spotted some totem poles – it took me back to Easter Island.

Karyn had been telling me since we started walking how we were likely to come across wild blueberries. As we sauntered up one hill I heard from the rear “I see blueberries. I see more. Oh I see lots!”. “No Karyn, not more food poisoning”. Karyn’s a little more adventurous than me choosing to have a feast but thankfully with no side effects.

High into the hills we spotted people with bags collecting something from the ground. An emu parade perhaps? No, turns out the Swiss will go to quite a bit of trouble to collect mushrooms. I had my suspicions that the younger coupled were looking for gold tops!

More trail runners – these guys are incredible!

We were moving into the cloud cover and the clouds wee moving at an incredible pace but thankfully the sun was still peaking out to help the mineral I the rocks glisten.

We were very excited to reach our first peak – Aiguillette des Rosettes – it was like being on the top of the world. I’d had a couple of gasps getting there given the drops from our path approaching the peak but had done it without tears so far.

Unfortunately the views down to the Chamonix wee momentary thanks to the clouds swirling at an amazing pace but we still had views of a number of mountain glaciers.

As we headed down to the Col (‘col’ being a pass) we had a “The hills are alive with the sound of music, la, la, la, with songs…”. As we walked a few steps we found a bunch of female hikers having a rest in the grass who would obviously enjoyed/endured our rendition!

We then had a short uphill to the ski cable car station (that’s how high we were) before traversing down to Col de Balme – actually felt I could have got up a it of a jog.

This was the border crossing into Switzerland so we decided to head for the refuge at the col for a hot drink. As we walked in with our best “Bonjour” we encountered what I would later describe as a witch (Karyn preferred dragon lady). She yelled at us in French, we couldn’t work out if she wanted us to take off our packs or shut the door so we walked out. She slammed the door behind us. Once over the shock Karyn realised she wanted us to close the door – which was open when we arrived!

We were now into the homeward stretch. It was all down hill at a pretty steep gradient and my knees were feeling it. Any idea of jogging had well passed.

We arrived into Trient with the glacier spilling down the surrounding mountains. Our notes had us heading for Nante Noir and the only black thing I could see were the cows in the distance. Of course I was way off with Nante being the river!

On arriving at the auberge we thought we were being told to put our luggage in the garage. We were somewhat puzzled but compliantly made our way to the garage. In the garage we found only bags for those who were doing assisted hikes (their bags being taken ahead for them by either car or donkey). We had a laugh when we realised why she had looked at us funny when we asked if we could take bags of clothes and toiletries to our room – ahh language barriers.

This was our first night in Switzerland and I was wrapped when we were served a tomatoe fondue. A an extra twist we got ice cream that had the Swiss cross running though it.

The place was full of Australians but we managed to get placed with a group of non-English speaking Spanish – at least they were doing a good job of being non-English speaking! I managed to chat to a few including Charlie from Maitland who was doing the hike with brother and his late son’s fiancé.

We reflected on the day – it had taken us an extra hour and a half than what our notes had indicated it would. I was expecting to wake a bit sore and tomorrow’s hike was a black grade so it was an early night for us if we wanted to arrive at Champex at a reasonable time.

We went off to sleep with the rain falling outside and a very cool 5 degrees. No need to worry, it doesn’t rain when I hike!

 

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Revisiting the Moai from Easter Island!

Revisiting the Moai from Easter Island!

Karyn doing a sterling job deciphering our hiking notes!

Karyn doing a sterling job deciphering our hiking notes!

Are you sure Karyn?  We could take the shortcut straight to the Col!

Are you sure Karyn? We could take the shortcut straight to the Col!

Chamonix disappearing behind the clouds.

Chamonix disappearing behind the clouds.

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Up, up, up!

Up, up, up!

Perfect spot for a pack rest.

Perfect spot for a pack rest.

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All worth it once we arrive at Aiguillette des Posettes!

All worth it once we arrive at Aiguillette des Posettes!

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Down to the Col before another hike up the hill.

Down to the Col before another hike up the hill.

Destination Trient finally in sight!

Destination Trient finally in sight!

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Hello little Citroen - will you fit our packs???

Hello little Citroen – will you fit our packs???

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Mission buns of steel – Stage 1 Chamonix to Argentiere

Okay, steel might be too optimistic but I think brass might be achievable!

The valley of Chamonix was swamped in clouds when we woke for the first day of our Chamonix to Zermatt hike (the Walkers Haute Route). Karyn gave me the good news there was 20% chance of rain up until 9am and no chance for the rest of the day. I did happen to mention again “it doesn’t rain when I hike”.

I spent an hour getting the contents of my pack sorted. I was relieved when it all fit and felt like I’d kept it to around10kg with a litre in the water bladder.

First stop the boulangerie for some baguette for lunch and then we were on our way. It was clear we were going to have to get into the head of the author of our hike notes if we didn’t want to get lost on the mountains – Karyn was doing a sterling job as our navigator having done a similar hike around Mont Blanc.

Our journey took us up some small rises in the woods and through delightful little hamlets before passing pastures with grazing cattle wearing their lovely sounding bells.

We had a couple who were clearly trail runners join us on the path; needless to say they passed us even when they were walking!

It was rather neat passing under the cable cars and having Mont Blanc in clear view from our rear.

We happened on a serene little playground, which made a perfect spot for our first hike lunch. We figured the lovely little lagoons fed by the crystal clear creek would be brimming with kids in the summer.

Not long after lunch we wandered into our first night’s town – Argentiere. It was full of charm and we were pleased to have arrived in three and a half hours (a little less than the notes’ estimated time). Today we’d only ascended about 200m and descended 100m – a big contrast to tomorrow when we’d ascend around 1 100m and descend almost the same.

In the end we had been blessed with a lovely warm sunny day and to celebrate enjoyed a Belgium beer on the hotel terrace while admiring the mountains that we would confront tomorrow.

Karyn informed me the phone app was indicating 80% chance of rain tomorrow and 70% chance on Monday. I was tempted but didn’t mention “it doesn’t rain when I hike”.

The only annoying thing from the day was that in my haste of packing I’d manage to pack my condensed toiletries bag into the bag meeting us at the end of the hike…entree well equipped shops! Although, I really wasn’t happy paying EU 9,50 (AUD$15) for my deodorant!

We finished the day with pancakes in the small village. Karyn turned in early and I tried my best to not wake her with my laughter from reading Jim and Don’s blog from their Camino de Santiago de Compostela – thanks for sharing your great story – I wonder if I’ll encounter the American female or Australian male in the huts in the days ahead?

Tomorrow we start with this quote firmly in our minds “Mental fitness is as important as the physical and the two often go hand in hand. If you gaze with dread at the amount of height to be gained in order to cross a pass, no doubt you will suffer in consequence. Let every day be greeted with eagerness. Find joy in the steep uphill as well as the downward slope. Draw strength from the beauty of the scenes around you. Enjoy the movement of clouds, the wind and wilderness as much as the gleam of sunshine; the raw crags and screes of desolation as well as the lush flower-strewn pastures and distant snowscapes. Each is an integral part of the mountain world; a world of magic and mystery. It’s a world through which it is a privilege to move in freedom. Don’t take a moment of this experience for granted.

 

Off we go...

Off we go…

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Not a bad view from the balcony of our hotel!

Not a bad view from the balcony of our hotel!

 

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Living in the shadows of Mont Blanc.

I used to love the French accent but my fellow shuttle bus passenger of 75 minutes from Geneva to Chamonix changed all of that. He paused every 15 mins in order to ask the fellow passengers a question but alas if they weren’t quick enough he was off again. The Herd, at a harrowing volume, was all that would drown it out – I noticed 10 mins into the journey that the driver had also resorted to his earphones. I know what you’re thinking -“she can talk” but this guy didn’t engage in conversation it was purely one-sided!

Ok enough of my whinging! Here I am in the beautiful French town of Chamonix. I had arrived at nightfall but the high shadows made it very clear I was in mountain territory.

I arrived to find Karyn asleep trying to push through her jet lag. I was excited to see her when she awoke with us both exclaiming how lucky we were to have arrived in the middle of the ultra trail marathon event, which was seeing people everywhere in the streets. If only I’d known I would have registered – the 162km trail sounded right up my alley!!!!

After breaky we headed to the boulangerie for some lunch snacks to enjoy while we visited the lookouts for Mont Blanc. The town was certainly alive with many spectators geeing on the runners of the many events as they made their final journey through town.

We caught the various cable cars of the Aiguille du Midi right to the end where you could see the mountains of Italy in the distance. The views of Mont Blanc and other parts of the massif were magnificent. There were plenty of mountaineering adventurers out in the snow – most roped together in the event of a fall into one of the crevasses.

We stepped out to get one of the cable cars and I heard a familiar voice – the talker and what was he doing??? That orange jacket and beret would become a beacon for me.

The hikers were like ants from our vantage points. Apparently when the skiers jump off in winter they are again roped at the early sections with narrow trails so that if necessary one person can throw themselves to the other side of the ridge to prevent the other plummeting down the mountain. We saw a few guys mastering their rope skills off the side of the viewing terrace.

The views down to Chamonix and the opposite mountain were fabulous. It was also lovely watching the para gliders float between the mountain tops and village.

As we walked back through the village the 55km trail event was well underway with 160 of the competitors already having finished.

Karyn had been hit with a terrible bug (food poisoning the most likely culprit) and so spent the afternoon and evening in. I just wandered around the village soaking up the atmosphere. While it had been gloves and beanies up at the lookout the village was delightful with a lovely Brisbane autumn/spring feel.

With Karyn wanting to recover sufficiently for the start of the hike I ventured off again on my own the next day.  Karyn had suggested a visit to Montenvers on the train to see Mer de Glace.

On arrival to Montenvers I could hear a grumbling and crackling sound. I kept looking up at the adjacent mountain but couldn’t see any action and then all of a sudden a land slide started – it lasted about 10 minutes. It was a little disconcerting as our hike guidebook had warned about small segments of our hike that should be done with haste as they’re in known landslide areas – now I appreciated what we would be trying to avoid.

One of the interest points at Montenvers was the ice grotto. Each year a new ice cave is cut and sculptors come in and set up some ice sculptures – they have to maintain them daily because of the movements of the glacier.

I took the trail down to the start of the 400 plus steps. Was an interesting walk with markers for the change in the level of the glacier over the years. The glacier has receded 2.5km since 1852. I would defy anyone to see the markers for the glacier and say that global warming is a fallacy.

Down to the second platform and who should I be following (and what was he doing?) – the talker! Okay, I must admit I was starting to wonder if this was some weird life lesson I was experiencing!

This ice cave was set up a little differently to the ‘all you can drink in 30 minutes’ Glacierbar I went to in Argentina last year – the French are a little classier!

I had some time to kill and still had the Mont Blanc Express in my head as something I wanted to do so I decided to use the afternoon to travel to Martigny.

Before heading off Karyn and I did a quick comparison of what we’d be taking on the hike – I was suddenly getting worried that my ever increasing pile was not going to fit in my pack! Oh well, that was for tomorrow – I had to remind myself we were heading for civilised places that would no doubt have well equipped shops!!!

The train trip was as picturesque as the guide books had indicated it would be. There were lovely little villages perched up on the hills of the mountains, which left you wondering how they travelled to those spots. Waterfalls spilled down the mountains into the rivers below in the ravines.

I had thought it might be nice to have dinner in Martigny but I had forgotten to bring some Swiss francs and my travel card so instead quite happily settled with heading back in the daylight to appreciate the views from the other side of the train.

I loved the way it was announced that they’d be stopping only if you requested it – treated like a bus rather than a train. This applied even to the border stop of La Chatelarde! It was funny how the organisation of the train changed between the French and Swiss sides – the Swiss running their usual tight ship.

The ride back clearly indicated rain was shifting in (rain predicted for the next two days) – this was really going to test my protestations that it doesn’t rain when I hike!

Given Karyn was still feeling a little fragile from the recent illness we planned to take the valley route as our first stage, which was four hours hiking rather than the seven required if going up around the mountain. I was quite comfortable with the decision as I had no desire to hike the mountain on my own (Karyn had the good map reading skills) and I knew there was every chance I might have to call in an easier route at some point over the next 14 days.

The leg we had chosen was reputed to be the one that lets you know if you’ve done enough to prepare for the walk, i.e., should be feeling good after only a four hour hike. This would also be a good tester as to whether we were likely to hike at the paces estimated in our guide book and notes.

Off we go….

 

 

 

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Living in the shadows of Mont Blanc.

I used to love the French accent but my fellow shuttle bus passenger of 75 minutes from Geneva to Chamonix changed all of that. He paused every 15 mins in order to ask the fellow passengers a question but alas if they weren’t quick enough he was off again. The Herd, at a harrowing volume, was all that would drown it out – I noticed 10 mins into the journey that the driver had also resorted to his earphones. I know what you’re thinking -“she can talk” but this guy didn’t engage in conversation it was purely one-sided!

Ok enough of my whinging! Here I am in the beautiful French town of Chamonix. I had arrived at nightfall but the high shadows made it very clear I was in mountain territory.

I arrived to find Karyn asleep trying to push through her jet lag. I was excited to see her when she awoke with us both exclaiming how lucky we were to have arrived in the middle of the ultra trail marathon event, which was seeing people everywhere in the streets. If only I’d known I would have registered – the 162km trail sounded right up my alley!!!!

After breaky we headed to the boulangerie for some lunch snacks to enjoy while we visited the lookouts for Mont Blanc. The town was certainly alive with many spectators geeing on the runners of the many events as they made their final journey through town.

 

We caught the various cable cars of the Aiguille du Midi right to the end where you could see the mountains of Italy in the distance. The views of Mont Blanc and other parts of the massif were magnificent. There were plenty of mountaineering adventurers out in the snow – most roped together in the event of a fall into one of the crevasses.

We stepped out to get one of the cable cars and I heard a familiar voice – the talker and what was he doing??? That orange jacket and beret would become a beacon for me.

The hikers were like ants from our vantage points. Apparently when the skiers jump off in winter they are again roped at the early sections with narrow trails so that if necessary one person can throw themselves to the other side of the ridge to prevent the other plummeting down the mountain. We saw a few guys mastering their rope skills off the side of the viewing terrace.

The views down to Chamonix and the opposite mountain were fabulous. It was also lovely watching the para gliders float between the mountain tops and village. 

As we walked back through the village the 55km trail event was well underway with 160 of the competitors already having finished.

Karyn had been hit with a terrible bug (food poisoning the most likely culprit) and so spent the afternoon and evening in. I just wandered around the village soaking up the atmosphere. While it had been gloves and beanies up at the lookout the village was delightful with a lovely Brisbane autumn/spring feel.

With Karyn wanting to recover sufficiently for the start of the hike I ventured off again on my own the next day.  Karyn had suggested a visit to Montenvers on the train to see Mer de Glace.

On arrival to Montenvers I could hear a grumbling and crackling sound. I kept looking up at the adjacent mountain but couldn’t see any action and then all of a sudden a land slide started – it lasted about 10 minutes. It was a little disconcerting as our hike guidebook had warned about small segments of our hike that should be done with haste as they’re in known landslide areas – now I appreciated what we would be trying to avoid.

One of the interest points at Montenvers was the ice grotto. Each year a new ice cave is cut and sculptors come in and set up some ice sculptures – they have to maintain them daily because of the movements of the glacier.

I took the trail down to the start of the 400 plus steps. Was an interesting walk with markers for the change in the level of the glacier over the years. The glacier has receded 2.5km since 1852. I would defy anyone to see the markers for the glacier and say that global warming is a fallacy.

Down to the second platform and who should I be following (and what was he doing?) – the talker! Okay, I must admit I was starting to wonder if this was some weird life lesson I was experiencing!

This ice cave was set up a little differently to the ‘all you can drink in 30 minutes’ Glacierbar I went to in Argentina last year – the French are a little classier!

I had some time to kill and still had the Mont Blanc Express in my head as something I wanted to do so I decided to use the afternoon to travel to Martigny.

Before heading off Karyn and I did a quick comparison of what we’d be taking on the hike – I was suddenly getting worried that my ever increasing pile was not going to fit in my pack! Oh well, that was for tomorrow – I had to remind myself we were heading for civilised places that would no doubt have well equipped shops!!!

The train trip was as picturesque as the guide books had indicated it would be. There were lovely little villages perched up on the hills of the mountains, which left you wondering how they travelled to those spots. Waterfalls spilled down the mountains into the rivers below in the ravines.

I had thought it might be nice to have dinner in Martigny but I had forgotten to bring some Swiss francs and my travel card so instead quite happily settled with heading back in the daylight to appreciate the views from the other side of the train.

I loved the way it was announced that they’d be stopping only if you requested it – treated like a bus rather than a train. This applied even to the border stop of La Chatelarde! It was funny how the organisation of the train changed between the French and Swiss sides – the Swiss running their usual tight ship.

The ride back clearly indicated rain was shifting in (rain predicted for the next two days) – this was really going to test my protestations that it doesn’t rain when I hike!

Given Karyn was still feeling a little fragile from the recent illness we planned to take the valley route as our first stage, which was four hours hiking rather than the seven required if going up around the mountain. I was quite comfortable with the decision as I had no desire to hike the mountain on my own (Karyn had the good map reading skills) and I knew there was every chance I might have to call in an easier route at some point over the next 14 days.

The leg we had chosen was reputed to be the one that lets you know if you’ve done enough to prepare for the walk, i.e., should be feeling good after only a four hour hike. This would also be a good tester as to whether we were likely to hike at the paces estimated in our guide book and notes.

Off we go…. 

 

 

 

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Playing it safe in Frankfurt!

Arrived without any trouble to my Frankfurt accommodation. I knew when numerous hummers passed by that I’d obviously inadvertently picked the party side of town!

I had arrived early enough to go for a bit of a look of the city. It was Saturday night so the streets were brimming in the mall adjacent to St Katherine’s and the rebuilt 1729 police station.

A walk around again on Sunday highlighted how much of Frankfurt had been destroyed during the war. The facades of the Romer (town hall) in Romerberg gave you a feel of what this area of settlement would have looked like with its half timber half brick buildings. The fountain of justice in the centre a reminder to the city’s representative to treat all citizens fairly.

Nearby was the Cathedral perched high enough to be protected from the flooding of the Main River.

Wish I could have taken a photo of the nun I saw chowing down on her whopper at Burger King!

It was then time for a bit of work; off to the OHS World Congress. A very impressive opening signalling the quality of the three days to follow. I managed to find a consultant from Darwin while chatting with some attendees from Armenia during the opening reception.

There was a wonderful display of traditional dress highlighting the array of attendees from around the world. Another indicator I was in for an interesting few days.

The conference had been great – so much to see, do and learn but I had concluded the Germans had a long way to go in getting a culture of prevention given every second person (and that’s not an exaggeration) smokes.

The drive back to my accom after the ‘German evening’ was eventful – the cab driver nearly ran over a traffic controller who thought it necessary in the rain to wrap himself in a glad bag – unfortunately in the process he had blocked his high viz stripes! A quick stop in the Merc and all tragedy was avoided!

I was very grateful for having had the opportunity to attend the conference and left with a desire to get to the next one in Singapore in 2017. Hoping the closer proximity might see some fellow Brisbane OHS professionals join me!

Next stop Chamonix – now to test if my daily exercises had helped me retain strength before the big hike!

The fifteenth century Eschenheimer Tower, a former city gate

The fifteenth century Eschenheimer Tower, a former city gate

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Romer (town hall)

Romer (town hall)

Romerberg

Romerberg

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am Main

am Main

 

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Thinking of you Jan!

Thinking of you Jan!

The Cathedral

The Cathedral

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The rap congress theme song!

The rap congress theme song!

Found Martyn from the NT!

Found Martyn from the NT!

Redefining safety boots.

Redefining safety boots.

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Combining your work and exercise!

Combining your work and exercise!

Had to have a pretzel before I left!

Had to have a pretzel before I left!

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The former prison

The former prison

St Katherine's

St Katherine’s

St Paul's

St Paul’s

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Finding Sleeping Beauty in Bavaria!

Onto a train again, this time heading for Munich. The train ended up having to take a big detour due to an accident on the track (sadly it was likely to be a suicide). We then had an unexpected train change due to the long delay caused and the toilets not coping. There goes my theory about Germans being super organised!

I finally arrived at my accommodation around 9pm. I made a quick trip to the local beer hall to bring me down after the long day on the train. It was a lovely old hall with dark rectangular timber tables and chairs and chandeliers. I could imagine it in full swing for Octoberfest!

Up early for my castles tour!

First stop Oberammergau – a cute little town which has a 5 000 seat open air theatre. The theatre was created in 1633 after the community made a promise to god to forevermore hold a play depicting the last years of the life of Jesus if the bubonic plague, which had taken 82 of the 300 population, stopped – therein begins The Passion Play.

The buildings in Oberammergau were quite cute – painted with murals depicting fables or biblical stories.

We then arrived at Linderhof (farm house near the Linder tree) Castle. The baroque style castle was built by King Ludwig the second, the King of Bavaria, in a style mimicking Versailles – apparently King Ludwig adored the 16th century French kings.

It was a cute castle, which you could actually imagine being lived in (it only had 10 rooms), which Ludwig did for eight years after it’s completion in 1867.  Ludwig’s architect had a friend who was a stage director who was alluded to have influenced the design of the castle.

The castle was full of beautiful vases, one being a gift from Napolean. Ludwig didn’t dig the general custom of royalty to hoist a flag while in residence, preferring instead to have his servants place two decorated porcelain peacocks at the entry to indicate his presence.

Ludwig was a lover of music, Wagner being his favourite composer. He obtained an unusual instrument, a combination piano and harmonium, which was intended for Wagner’s use had he ever visited the king.

The three dimensional fresco ceilings were quite unique.

Ludwig had become a King at the young age of 18 in 1864, but given his castles he obviously dreamed big! He was known to be a night owl, breakfasting at night and riding on his sleigh through the surrounding forests.

The grounds held a Moroccan pavilion, which had been purchased at the Paris fair in 1878.

The next stop along the a Romantic Road was the Neuschwanstein castle, the lovely castle that had inspired Walt Disney’s castle for Sleeping Beauty. Further construction of the castle stopped on Ludwig’s death on 13th August 1886 – plans were for it to be much bigger.

It was a bit of a walk up to the castle and then onto Marien’s bridge. I found it a little daunting on the bridge suspended over the valley – there were lots of people on it so it was swaying quite a bit.

The interior of Neuschwanstein was very elaborate and a display of Ludwig’s interest in technology – he had batteries to run the lights in his artificial grotto and a telegrapher. His throne room was another example of his worldliness with Byzantine decoration and a lovely floor illustrating the Buddhist circle of life.

Poor old Ludwig was finally arrested in June 1886 on the basis of being paranoid but he was likely just depressed – a gay fat man living a very solitary life who wasn’t able to obtain the compliance from his people that he expected. He also had rotting teeth to the extent he held a handkerchief over his mouth to disguise the smell – can’t have been too pleasant!

He was found drowned in the lake the day after his arrest – he was only 40.

Before exploring the town of Munich Manuela, my Airbnb host, invited me to breakfast with her. It was lovely to chat about life in Bavaria – turned out I was staying in the ‘west end’ – another bohemian area of a city!

I found my way to the main square, which was surrounded by shops. Had a chuckle seeing a dog in the Dior cosmetics section while it’s owner made her purchase!

I wandered into St Michael’s in Marienplatz, where King Ludwig is buried – the omnipresent sun symbol indicating his presence.

The glockenspiel in the tower of the town hall was very cute.

This town, founded in 1158 by Henry the Lion of Saxony, was ruled by the monarch until 1918. Munich (and the other parts of Bavaria) had been a nice surprise – the towns so clean, the air so fresh.

The holiday was about to go on hold as I made my way to Frankfurt to attend the WHS World Congress.

 

A castle or two in the distance of the train!

A castle or two in the distance of the train!

Tailings from a quarry perhaps?

Tailings from a quarry perhaps?

Oberammergau

Oberammergau

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Linderhof Castle

Linderhof Castle

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Approaching Neuschwanstein - the Castle inspiring Walt Disney

Approaching Neuschwanstein – the Castle inspiring Walt Disney

Hohenschwangau Castle - occupied by Ludwig's parents.

Hohenschwangau Castle – occupied by Ludwig’s parents.

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A little hairy from Marienbrucke!

A little hairy from Marienbrucke!

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Can you see the bridge?

Can you see the bridge?

The mothers of Munich are helped with their shoe shopping

The mothers of Munich are helped with their shoe shopping

St Michaels

St Michaels

The glockenspiel in the town hall.

The glockenspiel in the town hall.

 

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No, it's not a selfie!

No, it’s not a selfie!

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A bit of Bavarian fashion for Octoberfest!

A bit of Bavarian fashion for Octoberfest!

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Gotta love a train that lets you BYO!

Gotta love a train that lets you BYO!

 

 

 

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