After yet another beautiful night of sleep (a private room helps!) we wander down to breakfast. Our hostess is a bit surly about where to sit, but the tasty breakfast hits the spot. The coffee (brewed) does me right. We grab our packs and hike back into town to grab fresh baguette and a few croissants for the road. Then we join David, Graham and Simon in town and set off up hill toward the pass at Forcletta.
Very soon we go through a tunnel. Conversation passes the time as we make our way steadily up through forest and across a few streams. We contour the hill and gradually gain views of Grimentz below and the town of Sierre in the far distance. We still have a backward glance at Weisshorn behind us.
Near some cows and a junction we catch up with Reinhold and Jacqueline, a Swiss couple who we met at the Cabane de Moiry, and chat for a bit. Eventually the path levels out somewhat as we climb above tree line and into a field of yellow flowers with rocks scattered throughout.
Personally, I would like to take lunch here, but there was a general agreement to go an hour further or so and a few hundred meters higher. I know it would be tempting to indulge in a post-picnic nap in this inviting meadow, but then we would face the toughest climb after lunch, which would definitely not be a good idea. So we press on.
There are two styles of trekking (at least in our group): interval hiking (which is David’s and occasionally Simon’s style) or alpine hiking, the slow and steady approach where you don’t let your heart rate jump out of your chest (which is the preference for Graham and the two of us). Given our differences, it doesn’t take long for the group to split up.
Step by step, we make our way up the hill toward the pass at Forcletta. It has turned out to be a beautiful day. The sky is blue interspersed with clouds. The sun is shining, and the temperature is, well, temperate.
It seems that Simon and Graham have stopped at the bottom of the hill for lunch, while David and the Swiss Duo are well out of sight and have likely reached the top long before us. When we reach the pass, the only people we see are two American women, perhaps in their 30s, who have opted to break there, too. We find a nice flat rock sheltered from the wind and plop down for lunch.
Ah, how to describe our dejeuner today? It’s French. It’s simple. It’s fresh baguette and tomme du herbes, a lovely cheese with oregano on the outside. A perfect combination. This description definitely doesn’t do it justice, though. Somehow, the combination is magical.
I’ve heard of French pride and their love of baguette. I’ve met people who—like Jews from New York yearning for a real bagel—wax eloquent about real, fresh, Parisian baguette. I recall, too, how, after weeks in Turkey and Greece a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away), Alison and I finally tried real baklava just before leaving Athens and, mesmerized by the experience, went straight to the ATM to withdraw more drachma (that will date us, for sure!) to buy more baklava to take back with us to Rome.
So, back to lunch. I get it now. To bite into a fresh, real, French baguette with a simple, but tasty cheese is to enter one of Dante’s early circles of Paradiso. I heard angels sing as I took my first bite—the crunch, the sound, the feel, and then the taste. They say all philosophy is a footnote to Plato. All trail lunch is now but a footnote to baguette! I have been changed forever.
Oh, where was I? Yes, back to the trail… I was in something of a blur of baguette bliss, but back to the story…we pack up and head downhill, steep at first and then leveling out as we gain views of snow-covered Bishorn and Weisshorn. After another steep section, the trail levels out yet again to a more steady downhill. This day is shaping up to be tougher than we anticipated!
We are thrilled when we can finally see Gruben down in the valley below. We drop steadily into the forest and eventually, after a 2700′ descent from the pass, we find ourselves on the valley floor.
We have a short 30-minute walk through the cow pastures and eventually on the road into Gruben, a valley that is only open in summer. The Hotel Schwarzhorn dominates this small hamlet, and it seems that this is where all trekkers are headed.
We check in by 4:45, which is not too bad for a strenuous day of hiking. We quickly take showers and settle in. The atmosphere is lively with lots of folks hanging outside, drinking beer and chatting amiably. We have now entered German Switzerland, and somehow the difference is obvious. I sure do hope we can find some fresh baguette here!
Dinner tonight is on the third floor of the hotel. We eat with the Aussie gang, perhaps for the last time, as they are taking the Europaweg high route into Zermatt, while we have opted for the non-technical lower route. After eight days of hiking together, it feels like the fellowship is breaking up.