For someone who claims to love mountains, it's a bit embarrassing that I didn't know about hiking in the alps. I'd thought the alps were the preserve of hardcore mountaineers only. But to my great pleasure, this turns out to be completely wrong.
The price of access to this high alpine world is either deep pockets, if you are willing to pay for chairlifts and gondolas to get you to the top, or very strong legs. If the latter, you also need a cool head for exposure and a degree of comfort with crossing, ascending and descending scree and boulder slopes. You need a sense of humour for the unfunny amounts of ascent and descent. You probably also need to be an early riser, since the rain and thunderstorms if they come usually arrive in the afternoon.
Naturally I chose the morning legs option. The first day of this incredible section was an enormous ascent from Le Châble up to Cabane du Mont Fort, via a series of villages then up (what will be when the snow comes) a tree-lined ski route.
This was the warm up for the main event, which was to cross four passes the following day (Col de Termin, Col de Louvie, Col de Plafleuri and Col des Roux). The mountains and glaciers took my breath away, especially Mont Blanc de Cheilon and the Glacier de Plafleuri. But the terrain was unforgiving, requiring attention to footwork, and I had to race through the final leg to avoid incoming rain so didn't get to indulge in the scenery much, nor celebrate my highest altitude yet.
The next day was another early start to get over the Col de Rietmatten before any weather came in. At the pass you can chose either a scree slope or steel ladders bolted to the rock. The ladders are probably the safer option in my opinion (having been recently upgraded) and certainly faster and more fun. Descending into Arolla was a knee-wrecking delight, with the first sight of the Matterhorn, where this trail will end in six days' time. I pushed on to Les Haudères, so shattered I could barely get the billy on for tea, let alone make it to the shop for a resupply. But so filled with happiness from the wonderful places I've been.
So this is what the alps are all about. Why did no-one tell me?
HOW I SPENT MY DAYS
Day 5: Le Châble to Cabane du Mont Fort 9km 1640m ascent, 6hrs
Day 6: Cabane du Mont Fort to Refuge des Ecoulaies, 17km 1235m ascent 9hr15, alas including unnecessary long-cut of 90 minutes and about 200m ascent. Nb! Pay attention to the track markers in the first ten minutes. See a little track that goes towards a house? take that one….
Day 7: Refuge des Ecoulaies to Les Haudères 21km, 600m ascent, 8hrs30.
STATS OF THE TRACK
Ibex posing photogenically on rocks: >10
Mountain passes traversed over 2500m altitude: 5
Degrees my Southern Hemisphere compass is off: about four?
Number of times I've used my compass: about four
Mountain gawp face: permanently fixed