Friday, April 8, 2016

Day 6: Switzerland!

August 31: After the previous two nights of very heavy condensation, I changed things up this last night by setting up my tarp. The chance of rain may have also been an excuse, but it never rained during the night. The heavy condensation, however, returned once again and my tarp was soaked with it. But only my tarp--not the rest of my gear! =)

As the sun rose, so did the nearly full moon set! =)

So I didn't linger in camp this morning. I enjoyed the sunrise then hit the trail, climbing steadily towards Grand Col Ferret and the Italian-Swiss border. Switzerland! Technically, this wouldn't be my first visit to Switzerland--my first for this trip did land in Geneva, Switzerland, after all. It's right next to the French border and all I saw of Switzerland was the airport in Geneva and the road out of town. I wasn't in Switzerland for more than two hours max. This would be a more relaxed visit and I expected this visit to last two or three days.

It took about an hour of hiking for me to reach the border. Several hikers and bikers were already there basking in the sights. I approached the top, eager to see the other side.... and found it kind of anti-climatic. The snow, ice and glaciers and sheer granite walls I'd been admiring for the last few days were nowhere to be seen. Don't get me wrong--it wasn't ugly or anything! But the jaw-dropping views I'd been growing so accustomed to were nowhere to be seen. Must have been part of the African plate, I thought. (I felt so smart with my recent geology lesson.) Not what I imagined when the words "Swiss Alps" come to mind, though.

Moonset over the Alps!

Behind, back in Italy, is where the jaw-dropping views of the European plate were located. Anyone walking in the other direction would probably feel like they reached the gates of heaven reaching this point.

From the Grand Col Ferret, the trail descended at a pleasant pace and I paid more attention to the smaller wonders around me. The flowers, and grasses and still impressive (although not snow-covered) mountains.

I stopped briefly at the Alpage de la Peule refuge, after which the trail turned around the curve of a mountain and the dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Mont Blanc Massif appeared back in view. Yes! That's what I'm talking about! =)

The trail continued it's long descent, eventually landing me in the small town of La Fouly. I had two important things I wanted to do: Get a new weather forecast for the area and buy some food for the next section of trail.

The tourist office, alas, was closed for lunch, so then I found the local market which, alas, had also closed for lunch. Drats.

I found a comfortable place in town to lay down and rest, reading my book and killing time until they opened.

A couple of hours later, they opened. I did the resupply run first, browsing through the shelves for another day or two of food. I noticed two things: First, everything here seemed way more expensive than it did when I was in France and Italy! Holy crap! At least I think it was expensive. Being in France, everything was price in Swiss Francs which I was less familiar with, but if my exchange rates were right, this stuff was expensive!

Second, they seemed to be out of a lot of things with many shelves completely empty. Even the selection of sodas seemed like leftovers that they couldn't even give away. Not even a Coke? I wondered if the ultra-runners and spectators had cleaned out the shop of all the good stuff and they hadn't had a chance to restock it yet.

I repacked my disappointing take into my pack. I paid with a credit card since I didn't have Swiss Francs. Well, I had a few that Amanda gave me before I arrived from her layovers in Switzerland, but it was nowhere close to covering my bill!

Then I trotted over to the tourist office and asked about the weather forecast. They had a forecast already printed out, but it was written in French. I could understand the icons--a picture of rain clouds and lightning is the same in any language!--and an occasional word that looked much like an English one, but most of the text I couldn't understand anything about and I wanted more details. When was the rain expected to start? Was this a 10% chance of rain, or a 90% chance of it? What time would it start tomorrow? Early morning, or late afternoon? I couldn't tell.

So I asked the woman manning the counter the details about the forecast, which consisted of two days of rain, followed by two days of sun. The rain wouldn't start until tomorrow afternoon, however, giving me hope that I could get most of my hiking done before any rain started. And there was a chance of thunderstorms--a good reason not to set up camp on a high, exposed ridge! =)

Supplied with food and knowledge, I followed the trail to the edge of town and back into the woods.

The trail for the rest of the day became positively flat, sticking mostly in forests with few views. This was perhaps the longest, lowest section of the entire trail. It followed more-or-less alongside an energetic creek that signs warned not to swim in because a dam was upstream and water levels could change quickly and dramatically with no notice.

Grand Col Ferret marks the Italian-Swiss border. Everything to the left of the marker is Italy while everything to the right is Switzerland.

The trail went several miles following almost entirely flat terrain, eventually spilling out into the small towns of Praz-de-Fort, Les Arlaches and Issert. Where one ended and the next began was someone unclear since the towns seemed to be all pushed together. The trail wasn't always well-marked through the towns either, and I'd find myself at intersections wondering which way to go before noticing "UTMB" with an arrow spray-painted on the ground. I assumed the "U" was for "Ultrarun" and it was spray-painted for the ultra-runners, and I started following them whenever the route wasn't clear.

From Issert, the trail stopped it's long, slow descent and started an energetic climb towards Champex.

Then I saw it: a mountain goat! Not a real mountain goat, sadly, but one carved out of wood and stuck on a rock over the trail. How cool! I didn't know it then, but it would prove to be the first of more than a dozen different wooden carvings along the trail. Squirrels, hogs, rabbits, picnic baskets, and more. What a wonderful surprise on this otherwise relatively dull section of trail stuck in the trees!

I didn't make it to Champex. By now, the sun was starting to set--much earlier than I had been expecting having forgot that the 15,000-foot mountains to my west would accelerate sunset dramatically. (On the plus side, it would help the sun rise much earlier than it had been.)

Another aid station for the ultra-runners that had yet to be removed.

This was a tricky part of the trail for me. According to my guidebook, camping in Switzerland was illegal except in designated campgrounds, but I hate designated campgrounds. I like being aloof and alone, away from crowds of people. So I decided to take my chances and camp illegally. There was no way I could hike completely through the Switzerland portion of the trail in a single day and since I couldn't reach a legal campsite, I'd just have to camp illegally and hope nobody would pass by to bust me. And maybe plead ignorance if I did get caught. =)

I found a nice, flat spot that already looked like a campsite--fire ring included. Clearly, I wasn't the first person to camp out here, and I proceeded to set up camp. I didn't make any campfires--I'm too lazy to do that anyhow, but knowing I was camping illegally, it seemed prudent not to. A nearby sign explained the history of the area including that I was now camped in a former mining camp. How about that! I did see a giant hole in the side of the mountain nearby--presumably where mining activities once happened.

Then I spent the rest of the evening writing in my journal and reading my Kindle. Life was good! =)

The mountains in Switzerland were still large and impressive, but I was already missing the dramatic granite slopes covered with snow, ice and glaciers.

Alpage de la Peule

A short ways past the Alpage de la Peule, we got back into some of those snow and ice-covered mountains. That's what I'm talking about! =)
I'd be following near this creek for miles!

The streets of La Fouly--and pretty much everything was closed when I arrived.

I picked up a Kinder Egg when the market finally did open. How many of you are familiar with Kinder Eggs? I gotta admit--the main appeal to me is knowing that they're illegal in the United States! Try to smuggle them in and you could get yourself into a whole lot of trouble!
What is a Kinder Egg, you might ask? It's a chocolate egg. =) At which point you might think, why would that be illegal in the United States?! We have chocolate eggs!

This is not just a chocolate egg--oh no! It also has a toy inside! =)

And understandably, the toys are considered choking hazards for children.

And thus, they are illegal in the United States. Despite that fact that we have plenty of stuff that can choke children, but putting it inside a chocolate egg is just too much. Even though I live in a household with no children!

(The toy in action!)

The trail crosses over a dam shortly outside of La Fouly, and this is looking down the face of it.

If climbing the mountains around here are too ambitious, they have a climbing wall you can use instead! =)

Although the trail itself is almost completely flat, the terrain it runs through is most certainly NOT flat! =) See the chain on the left that hikers can grab onto if they're nervous about falling over the side?

At some intersections that weren't well-marked, I followed the spray-painted markers for the ultra run.

The houses in this town stocked enormous quantities of firewood!!!!

The main road through Issert seems to be under construction!
If this little slug can hike the trail, anyone can! =)

The first of many wood carvings along this next stretch of the trail.

An old mine shaft. I don't know what they were mining, though! (The sign about it was written in French.)

1 comment:

Mary said...

I love the photo with the bright yellow daisies contrasted with the rugged gray Alps! The rock the carving of the ram is sitting on looks like a dog's face!