Haute Route, Day 4: In Search of the Matterhorn

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Sleep is tough to come by in our dorm room overnight. A trio of snorers makes it nearly impossible to drift back to sleep after my 2 am trip to the bathroom. Oh well. Sleep is overrated. Who needs it? I try to convince myself. By the time the alarm goes off at 6:15, I am relieved that the night is over. At least we can get up and start packing for our next classic hike: the Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt.

If you are paying attention, you may be wondering why our first blogpost on the Haute Route is beginning with Day 4. The Walker’s Haute Route officially runs for 125 miles through the French and Swiss Alps, beginning in Chamonix and ending below the Matterhorn in Zermatt. The first three days of the Haute Route are more or less the same as the last three days of the clockwise route around Mont Blanc (TMB Day 8 = HR Day 1, TMB Day 9 = HR Day 2, TMB Day 10 = HR Day 3), so for the past three days we have simultaneously been doing both walks. Pretty efficient, huh?

Before we can go anywhere, though, we have to deal with our suitcase of stuff that we left here in Champex Lac at our pension ten days ago. The original plan was to restock toiletries, ProBars and what not for the last two hikes of our summer and ditch anything that was leftover including the small suitcase I picked up from the Salvation Army in Chicago for $15. But, with two hikes under our belts, we realize that we have way too much stuff. We brought over lots of good, valuable gear that we have learned we don’t need for these hut-to-hut treks, which is great, but we definitely don’t want to ditch it either.

There are taxi services that will deliver your bags each day around the mountain on the TMB, so we thought we may be able to get one of them to take our bag from Champex Lac to Zermatt. We looked into it and were quoted 250 Euro for the service! We are not sure how much it will cost to mail it, but it has to be a lot less than that. So, we’ve decided we are going to give it a try.

We have a quick breakfast at our pension (the best one on the TMB) and then wheel our heavy suitcase down to the grocery store, where there is a little post office inside. We show our bag to one of the women working there, and she tells us in French that we will need a box for it, that we can’t just mail a suitcase. We ask if they have one we can buy, and they say not anything that large. She makes a phone call while we are waiting there, and then tells us that we can mail it as is as long as we fasten all of the zippers. We have a lock for the big compartment, but there is nothing in the outside compartments, so we tell her not to worry.

She instructs us to place the bag on the small scale in the back of the store, and it weighs a whopping 18 kilograms, but, for some reason, the price comes up as 15 CHF, which is roughly about $15. That is obviously way too cheap, and she seems as confused by the price as we are. She tells us to take the bag off and put it on again, but the price comes up the same the second time. This woman is ready to be done with the crazy foreigners who want to mail a super heavy suitcase sans box, and she is going with it.

Matt gives me a death glare when I start to question how that could possibly be correct. I bite my tongue, and she prints out the postage label. We fill out the info for the address for the hotel in Zermatt where we will stay at the end of our trek and use our Champex Lac hotel as the return address just in case it doesn’t work out. We tape the label to the suitcase as best as we can and say our prayers that it will all work out. Who knows? Maybe we will get lucky, but, if not, Matt is going to be in big trouble!

We buy some food to eat for lunches for the next few days. It seems we won’t be in any sizable towns where we can pick up more food until four days from now, so this is our best option. After a quick run back to the hotel to pay our bill, pack up our bags and lace up our boots, we are walking back through Champex Lac to officially start the Haute Route (for us). Hooray!

We head in the same direction as the TMB until we reach the end of town and then take the trail towards Sembrancher, which heads in the opposite direction. The trail is wide, and we can walk side by side as it eases us gently downhill past farming fields and through small towns. The skies are blue, and the fields are vivid green, giving the whole pastoral scene a definite mid-summer vibe. We have the trail to ourselves today, and it is quiet. Even the few small towns that the trail takes us through seem practically deserted.

At lunchtime, we stop at a grassy field overlooking the town of Sembrancher and find a patch in the shade where we can eat. We take out our damp clothes and hang them on the fence to dry in the sun. A few Haute Route hikers walk past, and we watch them make their way down and under the train tracks to enter the town.

After lunch, we follow in their footsteps and take a quick look around the cute, stone-walled town before heading on to Le Châble. Following the hiking signs and twists and turns through the villages proves to be a little challenging, so we double check each turn against our guidebook and the maps.me app.

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The farther we get out of town, the more rural it gets. We pass farm fields with wheat, corn and other crops before we drop down to a river that we follow towards Le Châble. We can tell we are getting closer to the town when we come to a dirt bike track on the outskirts of town. There is a rider there who is racing all along the track and catching some major air as he jumps over some of the hills. It’s pretty impressive to watch, and it’s clear that he enjoys having an audience.

Next up are some factories and warehouses, but before long we can see the quaint town and a church with its sharp, pointed steeple pointing high in the sky like a beacon for us, and we start heading directly for that.

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The main road takes us directly to our home for the night, Hotel De La Poste, a really cute little Bed and Breakfast, where we are super excited to have our own room. We ask the owner, Marc, if it is ok to wash some clothes in the sink in our room, and he offers to let us wash our clothes in his washing machine. What a treat!

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We take everything that we didn’t hand wash the day before and throw it in the washer in the basement before heading into town to visit the supermarket and scope out the dinner scene. Before too long, we head back to the hotel to hang our laundry, reconfirm some of our reservations for the Haute Route and relax a little before dinner.

Before we know it, it is already 7 o’clock, and we head out to the neighborhood of Villair, where there happens to be a little street festival going on. There are a few food and beer tents set up and a guitarist playing some American rock tunes over a loudspeaker. We grab a beer and walk along the streets for a bit before going to the restaurant Cantaloupe for dinner.

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The restaurant is billed as being Mediterranean, and it definitely has a strong Greek slant to it. We order a mix of appetizers and are in heaven eating the best eggplant dip that we have had since traveling in Greece over 20 years ago. Not a bad way to celebrate my birthday this year!

It’s a five minute walk back to the hotel after dinner, and we both pass out within minutes of putting our heads on the pillows. Tonight we are both due for a long, deep sleep…

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