A treat lay in store for me on day 8. Exhausted from the previous day’s excitement, I was a bit slow leaving camp. This was a bit silly, given I had already added 200m ascent to the day by choosing to camp in Les Haudères (there being no campsite in La Sage). Facing an 1850m ascent, there was only one thing for it – a pain au chocolat and a pimped up picnic – so I procrastinated yet further at the boulangerie and the supermarché. The ascent to the Col du Tsaté was mainly tracks amongst villages and through farms, a terrain whose novelty had almost worn off now.
But descending from the Col I realised things were about to get seriously great when I got my first sight of the Glacier de Moiry. It hangs in great blankety layers from the ridge, with a purplely grey crevasse-filled carpet extending out for hundreds of metres. As you ascend the 500m to the Cabane de Moiry – across a narrow moraine wall then switchbacks up a steep hill – you get closer and closer to the ice.
The Cabane was my favourite accommodation on the whole route: a recently refurbished building with modern facilities, a welcoming culture and a variety of comfortable spots indoors and out for gawping at the glacier. The hut was filled with climbers preparing their ropes and gear racks for ascents the following day. I enjoyed pretending I was part of their world for a few hours. At dinner I met a Swiss family who have hosted two Afghan refugees for the last two years. They had spent the day practising crampon and abseil technique for a trip up La Pigne de la Lé. I asked about whether anyone climbed in the Afghanistan mountains: ‘my dad said people used to do it, but now it is not safe’. As night fell a huge prolonged crash sent everyone scrambling outside to catch a glimpse of a giant ice fall from the glacial wall.
After that the next few days were a bit more routine, settling into a rhythm of a huge climb in the morning followed by a slightly lazier descent to a village in the valley in the afternoon. The climbs had got pretty easy by now, but I had the sense that my body was taking longer to recover. A rest day would have been a sensible option, but my foolish commitment to squeezing a 14 day trip into 12 days put paid to that idea.
HOW I SPENT MY DAYS
Day 8: Les Hauderes to Cabane de Moiry: 1850m ascent 10km 8hr15
Day 9: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal, 500m ascent 14km 8hrs
Day 10: Zinal to Gruben, 1200m ascent 15km 8hrs
STATS OF THE TRACK:
Pains au chocolat: two
Effectiveness in communicating my desire to reserve a bed, after crossing into Swiss-German territory: 20%