Switzerland 2012

Wednesday August 22, 2012
Grimentz to Les Haudères

Thursday August 23, 2012
Les Haudères to Cabane de Prafleuri

Friday August 24, 2012
Cabane de Prafleuri to Bern

We asked at the hotel where to catch the bus.  The bus stop is in the small main square; we hadn't been far enough south to see it yet.  Kent, Paul, Ray and I took the 7:55am bus to Arolla.  Mike decided to take the ground crew route - he waited for the 8:55am bus to Vex and then on to Dixence, Le Chargeur - the base of the huge dam.

Arolla (elevation 2006 meters / 6581 feet) is a very small ski town in the shadow of the mountains.  We didn't have any problem finding the hiking path, it was clearly labelled.  It followed the road uphill briefly before heading into the trees.

arolla switzerland

Paul's pic

Once we were out of the shadow of the mountains it was another gorgeous day.

We had the trail all to ourselves except for one older woman who kept pace with us pretty well.

Paul's pic. of the Tsijiore Nouve Glacier. I have one just like it but without any people in it :)

Pas de Chevres is in the middle of the picture.
We're near the turnoff to the path to Col de Riedmatten, which heads off to the north / the right in this picture.

Once we reached the Pas de Chevres (elevation 2855 meters / 9366 feet) I was not at all happy. 
I hate heights and don't like ladders. 
Pas de Chevres has three ladders totalling 60 feet.
I had braced myself for this for months, but the ladders were much more intimidating than I was anticipating. 
There were several reasons for this
- You need to transition from the bottom of one ladder to the top of another, and the ladders are perhaps 18" to 24" apart - you need to swing out over the void to do this.
- From the top you can't see your destination - the bottom of the ladder at ground level.
- Looking over the edge, the glacier is hundreds of feet below you.  It looks and feels like you will be climbing down hundreds of feet of ladder.

I climbed most of the way down the top ladder, about where you can see Ray in the pictures below, and came back up scared out of my mind. 
Ray quickly scrambled down the top ladder a ways to try it out and had fun with it.
I was convinced I was going to need to backtrack the way we came and take the alternate nearby Col de Riedmatten.
I assumed this would take perhaps 90 minutes.
I would have started on this route immediately, except the route description for the Col de Riedmatten isn't much better than the ladders.  The Col is supposed to be a very steep talus scramble.

Ray offered to take my pack if I chose to go down the ladders. 
I knew there was absolutely no way I could do the ladders with any pack or gear on, especially MY pack that weighed approximately 40-45 pounds with 5-6 liters of water

I took dozens of pictures from the summit, knowing that I would need to quickly take action in one direction of the other.

Paul's pic

Paul's picture of me wishing I was already at the bottom of the ladders

Looking east, the way ahead.
Cabane des Dix is in the background on the left.  What a desolate spot to spend the night.

Looking west, back the way we came.
This was our last glimpse of the Matterhorn - the top is barely visible in the middle of the picture.

After I was done taking pictures I packed all my gear into my pack so Ray could bring it down the ladders, then I essentially threw myself at the ladders. 
I stood up, walked toward the edge and started down without much comment.
Part of my mind and body were forcing the rest of my mind and body to do something I was quite afraid to do.
I'm not sure I have ever been more physically and mentally conflicted.
With everyone else's encouragement I managed to make the transition to the other ladder.
At this point, in theory the hard part was over.
The reality was I was still very high up on a ladder.
I came down slowly, one rung at a time, with a death grip on each rung.
In the middle of the ladder, the ladder bounces back and forth against the cliff since the brackets holding the ladder to the cliff are loose.
There are a couple of rungs on the ladder where you can't get your feet all the way on the rung since the ladder is too close to the cliff.  I had read about this and was prepared for it, so it wasn't a real concern.  It was a non-issue compared to everything else.
Lower on the ladders you transition again from one ladder to another.  This transition is a non-event as they appear to be the same ladder.
Eventually I got to the ground and very, very slowly started to relax.
After a while I determined it should be easier going up the ladders than coming down, since you're coming down blind.

Paul's video of me going down the ladders. Fortunately the wind is blowing so hard you can't hear me.

Kent's video of Paul coming down the ladders

Ray followed me, then Paul followed Ray.
Ray then went back up for my pack.

Kent's video

my video of Kent coming down the ladders.
Kent made a comment comparing the ladders to climbing the Matterhorn which put the ladders in proper perspective.
Fortunately I've picked my friends well and no one gave me too a hard time about my fear of heights and ladders.

Paul's video

Mike had to take the bus to the base of the dam at the north end of the Lac Des Dix, then ride the gondola to the top of the dam and hike up to Cabane de Prafleuri

All those storm clouds in the background of this picture were above Mike, and we assumed he was getting drenched.  We were wrong, Mike missed the storm.

It seemed to take forever to get away from the glacier and down to the lake. 
In some ways it was like hiking the Grand Canyon - very large perspective, and you don't seem to move quickly when you're walking since there are no identifyable landmarks close by.

my video

Kent's video

It started sprinkling once we reached the path that runs the length of the Lac des Dix (elevation 2372 meters / 7782 feet)
We all changed into our rain gear, and I packed my cameras away to keep them from getting soaked.
It never really started to rain, so eventually we stripped off most or all of our raingear since we were overheating.

We passed a family with a two children and a stroller that had hiked the length of the lake.
They didn't appear to have any raingear.

Once we approached the intersection where our path headed up to Col des Roux (across the lake in the distance on the middle right hand side of the picture above - NOT the extreme right hand side) storm clouds gathered again.
It was clear we were going to climb the Col in a thunderstorm. 

Kent's picture of us shortly before the thunderstorm

I had never owned proper raingear before.  For this trip I bought
- a Mountain Hardware Dry Elite rain jacket that was 'gortex like',
- rainpants that I knew upfront were not fully waterproof (they were 'only' $60 rainpants), and
- North Face Hedgehog III GTX XCR Hiking Shoes that were supposed to be fully waterproof.  These shoes are too narrow - I wear 10-1/2, I bought these in 11 and lace them loosely.  The stiff soles are ideal for support in rocky terrain, though they aren't as comfortable as my non-waterproof Merrills.  Kent bought the waterproof Merrills only to have them start to fall apart on him quickly, which is what everyone else on REI's website says about these shoes (which is why I avoided them)

I was the only one who had purchased a rainfly for my backpack, and suddenly everyone else wished they had.  This was probably the only one of the many, many extra items I carried that everyone else wanted in retrospect.
Kent, Paul and Ray struggled to pull ponchos over their backpacks and keep them in place.

I led the way up the mountain as the thunderstorm started in earnest. 
Kent was left behind as he struggled with his gear.
Ray expressed concern about getting hit by lightning, but I assured him the lightning was hitting the peaks thousands of feet overhead and was not going to hit us.
I most certainly was not going to spend the night on this side of the mountain in the rain.

We found Refuge des Ecoulaies and took refuge.  A lone Italian man was inside taking shelter from the rain.  He was eager to practice his English, but we could barely understand him at all.  He left us after a while to continue on his way.

We were drenched on the outside. 
Ray was not at all pleased with his raingear.
I was very pleased with the jacket and shoes.  I still felt somewhat wet, especially my legs, but I knew my rainpants weren't fully waterproof, and I assumed I was sweating under all those layers.

I decided not to get out of my raingear, since I'd only be putting it right back on in a few minutes.

We worried that Kent wouldn't find us in the shelter - we were still ahead of him, and none of us wanted to stand in the rain to check on him.
He wisely took the slight detour to the refuge and found us.

From the refuge we watched at least one family out for a day hike with no rain gear struggle down the mountain, drenched to the bone.

Kent's picture of Refuge des Ecoulaies.  The door is shut behind me.  Blankets are literally hanging from the rafters to keep them away from rodents - you can see one of the shelves at the top of the picture.

Kent's video

We resumed hiking up the trail that was now more of a muddy stream.  We had very low visibility and eventually were hiking in the clouds.  The rain let up slowly. 
Near the very top of Col des Roux (elevation 2804 meters / 9199 feet) the clouds parted briefly and we were treated to a gorgeous sunny glimpse of mountains around us.  Unfortunately Kent's GoPro was nearly out of batteries, and the rest of our cameras were packed away so they didn't drown.

Kent's video - warning R rated language

Kent's picture

Kent's picture

Kent's picture

By the time we reached Cabane de Prafleuri (elevation 2624 meters / 8608 feet) it was sunny again.
We were very pleased to see Mike was already there - he had missed the rain.

I was exhausted and moved very slowly to remove all my wet layers and leave them in the front room.
We were assigned what may have been the nicest room they had - we had a window on the 1st floor (2nd floor US) on the end. 

Our room was on the right side above the green folded up umbrella.
The open area was on the left wing ground floor.
The unisex bathroom was under our room.

Col des Roux

Paul's picture of our room

Paul's pic

Life in Cabane de Prafleuri is very structured and scheduled.
Dinner is served at 6pm(?),
Breakfast is served whenever you like, as long as that time is either 6:30am or 7am.
You must leave your room by 7:30am.  You may linger in the common area as long as you like.
Signs tell you to order your drinks before dinner, and to pay for your room and board immedately after dinner
Beer was reasonably priced.
Water is sold for 8CHF for 3 liters. 
I bought 9 liters assuming we'd be hiking onward the next day. 
Kent and I also bought 29CHF T-shirts - mine is bright orange, and it is my new favorite shirt cause it has an Ibex on it.

When we arrived there was a pair of couples seated at another table.  One couple was from Alaska - he was a mountaineer, and he was very interested in Kent's description of the Matterhorn climb.  The other couple had moved a few years ago to Geneva - she works for the UN.  They told us of all the unwritten rules one must adhere to living in an apartment in Switzerland.  For instance, you must not flush your toilet after 10pm to avoid disturbing your neighbors.

Kent's picture of dinner.  When they announced they were serving dinner, we were instructed to all move to this table.  Dinner was served family style.  I was at the head end of the table so I didn't take too much food for my first serving.  Once it was clear that there was plenty of food, I ate seconds and thirds.

Once the sun went down there was little to do.  We were all exhausted so we went to bed.  Our room was dark since we hadn't paid for electricity.

I had never stayed in a cabin before.  I had purchased a sleeping bag liner just for this night, but foolishly sent it back to the States with Kent's climbing gear from Zermatt since I was carrying way too much gear already.
The bedding was a mess and I felt really gross lying in bed.

A few other couples arrived before and during dinner - they kept to themselves for the most part.  I later talked to one of the couples - they were from Isreal.  When I told them I was hiking with my college friends, they told me how lucky I was to have friends that would go on such activities.  How true.

Wednesday August 22, 2012
Grimentz to Les Haudères

Thursday August 23, 2012
Les Haudères to Cabane de Prafleuri

Friday August 24, 2012
Cabane de Prafleuri to Bern