Haute Route, Day 9: Holy Cows and a Hut with a View

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After a pleasant and restful sleep, we hop out of bed at 5:15 and begin the usual tasks to get ready for the day. Our intent is to get going early, for three reasons. First, rain is expected by late morning, and we are hoping to miss some of it. Second, we begin today with an enormous 4700′ climb up to Col du Tsaté, and we want to give ourselves plenty of time to get up to the pass. Third, the Cabane de Moiry is supposed to be quite a swanky hut set in an unbelievable location, and we want as much time as possible to enjoy it!

Gite L’Ecureil (The Squirrel), with its fierce stuffed rodent tacked above the front door, is quiet in the morning, even with the creaky wooden floors. Breakfast is self-service in the small kitchen on the third floor: yogurt, bread, jam, instant coffee (thank the Lord for my Starbucks Via packets which save me from the unpleasantness of Nescafé!).

We let ourselves out the back door and step out into the cool, morning air. Luckily, the rain is holding off for now. We have the usual difficulty of finding our way out of town, but soon enough we locate the path. Maps.me comes to the rescue again. Within minutes, we are huffing and puffing our way up hill, past the last houses, through the larch forest, and into mountain pastures. The flowers are abundant.

Before long, we notice that we are getting wet. At first we think it’s starting to sprinkle, but then we realize either we have walked into a cloud or a cloud has walked into us. Every few minutes, the scene before and behind us changes radically. Mountains disappear and reappear, as do cows, buildings and fellow trekkers. The effect is rather ethereal and creates (I hope) some interesting photographs.

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Notice the sign warning about the free-range cows. We didn’t!

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It takes a very steady stride! Matt is crossing an electrified fence. These are very common in the Alps.

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At one point we run into a herd of cows grazing in a field. We can hear the farmer/cowherd shouting somewhere nearby, but we can’t actually see him. We stop for a quick snack break, when a few of the cows start acting aggressively toward us and we grab our bags and keep moving. Luckily, the farmer sees this and motions for us to move in one direction, while he shoos the cows in the opposite direction. We think we are in the clear, but the cows come after us yet again when they get closer. The farmer saves us again, and we finally take the hint and move on.

Shortly after we come across an abandoned dairy farm building with an odd sign on it “Mountain yaks in the area. Beware of danger!” (This shit just got real!) Fortunately we do not stumble into any of these mythical creatures. If the cows are this aggressive, we are happy to skip this wildlife sighting.

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The clouds begin to lift and, to our surprise, we see blue sky and sun peaking through. Every 5 minutes or so, the clouds take over again, but, gradually, the weather is turning in our favor. A few hundred meters below the Col, Jenny and Tony catch up to us, and so we get another opportunity to hike with them. We trade crazy attack cow stories and chat about the trail, backpacking food and life.

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Soon we reach the pass, pause briefly for pictures, but opt to keep moving to keep warm and get out of the wind. The view down, which slowly reveals itself, is stunning in its scope. We can see down to a grassy plateau with a tarn, then down to a glacial blue lake and up to the mountains beyond.

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After a short and steep descent the trail levels out and slowly the Lac de Moiry Dam and the Moiry Icefall begin to emerge to our left and right respectively. The views are awesome. We decide to pull off the trail on the grassy slope heading down to a parking lot to take in the views and have a relaxing lunch, surrounded by flowers in the sun.

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We switchback our way down to lake level and begin making our way up the other side of the glacier. We can see the Cabane de Moiry way atop the hill, but we know it will still be a few hours of uphill grind before we get there. Luckily, there are flowers and stone cairns and ever-improving views of the glaciers to distract us and give us reason to pause and catch our breath.

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We climb up the moraine on the left side of the glacier and then descend briefly before tackling several hundred feet of switchbacks. One foot in front of the other and before long we are cresting a rock pile and staring directly at our mountain abode. Cabane du Moiry is perched atop a rock directly opposite the face of the Moiry Icefall. Seriously, just look it!

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A night spent at the Cabane de Moiry is touted as being a highlight of the Haute Raute. It consists of an older stone refuge that has been improved by the addition of a modern wing decked out in light wood and surrounded on three sides by glass which affords everyone an incredible view of the glacier right from the dining room.

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We have dorm space in the old building and share our room with David and an American woman we met on the way to La Sage. It’s not much to write home about, but all of the modern spaces definitely impress!

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After a muscle-soothing warm shower we join the gang in the glass room and spend the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying the company of our fellow hikers in this impressive alpine hut. We already don’t want to leave!

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