Haute Route, Day 10: Clash of the Ibex

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The only downside of a night spent at the Cabane de Moiry is that it is a popular place with climbers, who generally get up a lot earlier in the morning than hikers. We can hear them start packing up around 4:30, and, for the next hour or so, they are banging around all of their gear. Even so, the beds in this Cabane are so cozy that we manage to block it out and enjoy our comfy little spots until 6:30.

When the alarm goes off, we get up as quietly as possible and head downstairs to the dining room for breakfast, where we get to admire the magnificence of the Moiry Icefall yet again. The skies are blue this morning, but it is going to take a while for the sun to illuminate the glacier evenly. Right now only the top fourth of the scene is lit, while the rest is in shadow. Maybe the sunlight will come while we have breakfast or finish packing up.

By the time we set out around 8:00 or so, the situation hasn’t changed too much, so we just enjoy taking a final look at the icefall from this incredible vantage point. If there is any refuge to splurge on during an Haute Route experience, you must take our word for it when we say that this is definitely the one.

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Today’s hike starts by retracing our steps back down the boulder field and then down all the switchbacks we came up yesterday to get here. Going downhill at the beginning of the day is not my favorite way to start hiking, especially when the trail is a little technical like this, but it goes by quickly enough.

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About halfway down the switchback section, Matt notices that the Aussie gang is all stopped at the bottom and looking up at something. We look to see what has attracted their attention and notice three male ibex on the mountain slope. They are at eye level with us and only about 50 meters away! One has a huge set of horns, and he is grazing in the grasses, not paying a bit of attention to the other two who are duking it out on a big boulder.

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Every 15 seconds or so, the two feisty ones rear up onto their haunches and then crash down ramming their horns into each other. Horns locked, they square off, trying to push each other off the boulder. The crashing sound from the contact is unbelievably loud, and it’s a wonder that they don’t crack their heads open, much less fall off the slope they are fighting on. We all stand in awe as we watch this behavior happen over and over again for nearly five minutes. We live for National Geographic moments like these!

For the next hour, we are on a nature high as we go back down the ridge of the moraine and then pick up the trail to the Barrage du Moiry that will lead us towards our pass for today. The trail is a nice, undulating balcony walk just above the trail next to the Lac du Glacier that we took yesterday. From high above, the lake looks even more glacial blue, and it’s difficult to take our eyes off of the glacial outflow and then the long, dammed lake at the end of the valley.

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At the end of this trail, we pick up some grassy, loopy switchbacks that take us up the mountainside and through a large herd of cows. After our encounter with the attack cows yesterday, we are a little wary of them and try to give the bovines a wide berth whenever the trail brings us close to them.

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We are getting hungry, so we hike a couple switchbacks above them and then drop the bags for a lunch break with Graham, Simon and David, whom we have named “Aussie Matt Damon” or AMD for short. Maybe it’s the fact that our lunch spot isn’t all that inspiring or the fact that we have a lot of elevation to go before we reach the col, but we’re all feeling a little unmotivated as we put the packs back on and start hiking again.

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Simon and David decide to switch things up by doing a little interval training, and their method is to hike to the end of a switchback or two as fast as they can and then rest until just before Matt and I reach them before they take off again. David is super fit and pushes hard when he hikes, but Simon is definitely having a hard time keeping up with the strapping AMD and begs us to slow down as we keep on our slow and steady pace.

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Eventually we make it to the top and take a short break while we wait for Graham to catch up. Simon offers to take a rare shot of the two of us, and we end up with all of the photos below. Such a rascal! Graham finally arrives cursing and swearing that “uphills after lunch are pure sh*t.” We all crack up and start the descent.

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The mood picks up a bit because we have all agreed to take the cable car down from Sorebois to Zinal. Matt and I hate to skip out on part of the trail, but the book describes this section as being a knee-breaking 1000-meter descent right underneath the cable car run, which definitely doesn’t sound like a must-do in our minds. On top of that, we got a free pass from the front desk at the Cabane de Moiry for the ride down, saving us 14 CHF ($14) each, and who doesn’t love a free ride?

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The trail to the cable car station descends at a gentle grade, and it only takes us about half an hour to get there. We just miss the ride, so we kill the 30 minute wait until the next departure by grabbing a coffee and a soda at the restaurant next door.

It only takes 10 minutes to get down to Zinal on the cable car. We can see the trail beneath us the whole way and decide that it would have been at least two hours to hike down—definitely a good trade off after so many days on the trail.

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We are staying at the Auberge Alpina tonight, which is at the opposite end of town, and Matt spots a coiffure where he grabs a quick haircut before we head to our hotel. His hairdresser speaks only French, but we are able to convey his wishes with our very basic French. (Thank you, Coffee Break French!) Zinal is super cute with traditional Valasian architecture and more red geraniums and colorful flowers than you can swing a cat at.

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“If every little man in his little world does a little thing, then the world will change.”

The Auberge Alpina is a funky little place that reminds us of the Cafe-Restaurant L’Ecureuil in La Sage. There is a homey restaurant downstairs and bedrooms to rent upstairs. The woman who checks us in asks us if we would like to upgrade to a private room instead of the dorm space we have reserved. It’s only 8 CHF ($8) a piece more, and there are lots of people already in the dorm, so we jump on the opportunity.

Our room is really funky. Its L-shaped with a twin bed on each end of the room. There is wood-paneling, built-in cabinets and crazy wallpaper and matching curtains with peacocks all over. It definitely feels like we are staying at grandma’s house.

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After a shower, we make a quick run back to town to get some food for trail lunches for the next few days. We buy fresh cheese at a small market where the cheesemonger lets us try all the cheeses first. Each time he gives us a slice, he cuts off a generous piece for himself. Win, win!

Simon and Graham are staying at the Auberge Alpina, and David walks down from his hotel to join us for dinner. The food is tasty and filling, and the group of misfit Aussies is really starting to grow on us. Many laughs are shared before we finally call it a night. Tomorrow we will cross from French-speaking area Switzerland to the German side, and we are eager to see what that will be like. For the last time, Bonne nuit!

4 thoughts on “Haute Route, Day 10: Clash of the Ibex

  1. What a trip. I always wanted to do something like this. Probably won’t anymore. Glad you are getting to do it.
    Bob Hutson

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