Part Two: Trient to Cabane Brunet

Story and photos: Saskia Wehler
http://www.saskiawehler.com // @alpenlust

Translated by: Stephanie Kotz
@adventuroushomebuddies

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Day 2

The next morning two mules are waiting in front of the harborage and get loaded up heavily with the waterproof bags of a tourist party. As I also intend to travel together with my horse in the mountains I prick my ears. Those heavily loaded “horses” with long donkey ears actually master the Tour du Mont Blanc! Chapeaux!

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The hiking guide marks today’s tour BLACK. Early in the morning we begin our tour underneath a bright blue sky. Many meters of elevation gain and a heat that even reaches to the glaciers are waiting for us. We pass the Bisse du Trient, a historical place from the 18th century. On the tracks of an old railroad, ice of the Trient glacier had been transported to the pass of Forcla and from there to the cities and even to Paris! Before the invention of the refrigerator business was going well and tourists were able to admire the white blue glacier tongue way deeper than today. That’s the reason for the faded glamour of manorial mansion culture.

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The ascent of the Fenetre d’Arpette on 2665 meters is exhausting. After we had been able to revel in the view of the Trient glacier and its shining white ragged surface, the way became increasingly steeper. Lin and I are struggling. Heat like this and steep ascents are a real challenge for me and my thickly coated malamute. Lin battles boulder by boulder, has to heave herself up chin first, the hindpaws get pulled after. I push her from behind as far as it’s possible, but my energy is also used up. I can’t offer her a lot of encouragement anymore! Shortly before reaching the notch I want to go on strike. My circulation is weak – Lin pulls on the leash as if she wants to drag me up the last few meters. What a dog! Having arrived on the top she drinks greedily the water she had carried in her packs. Thanks to Ruffwear for this useful gear. Tiredly, she’s lying on her side, huddled to a cold rock and stretching, her paws splayed out.

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We enjoy the view of the Glacier du Trient from the eastside on the Val d’Arpette. There’s not a lot of space in this Fenetre to discard the hiking bag and take out your snack. Every hiker crouches into a rock slot and admires together with the birds the panorama of the valleys. The wideness of the view restores the power quickly. A long descent into the Val d’Arpet follows. Now we’re walking downwards as steep as we had to walk up before. We pass snowfields and small lakes of liquefied ice. Then the gradient becomes more moderate, the plants compensate the minor steepness with wild, lush and rarely seen growth. We meet familiar faces. Israelis from the Auberge des Mont Blanc walk in the same rhythm. We smile at each other, we near and veer away from each other consistently like on a connected ribbon that lengthens and tightens. In Ralais d’Arpette we stumble upon them for the last time. Everyone enjoys cold beverages, cake and coffee. Blissful relaxation. Whereas we’re not at today’s destination yet, it seems like the Israeli group is going to stay there. They wash their clothes in water buckets and hang them over a fence. Our destination for the day is in Champex. This encounter was fleeting – but sometimes I reminisce about them. Yesterday just a part of this moving group, smiles. Everyone hikes on, further, in other countries, worlds, to other destinations.

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Days 3 & 4

Starting in the small tourist place Champex at the Lac de Champex our route leads us on the valley line to Liddes, to Cabane Col de Mille and to Cabane Brunet today. We shorten this very long stretch of way to Liddes by driving in a post van. While in earlier days Liddes was the penultimate village before the pass summit and therefore the most important station on the Grand St. Bernhard, the village appears to be extinct and lifeless now. We’re happy we chose Champex over Liddes as today’s accommodation, against the recommendation of the hiking guide by Rother. There’s nothing to be seen that looks like a possible accommodation. We probably would have had to sleep in the open. The only attraction of the place, which looks like a postcard subject with its old wooden barns in front of a bright blue sky, is a real Swiss cheese vending machine. Yes, a cheese vending machine! You can find everything you need for a raclette including potatoes in this machine. At least we wouldn’t have had to starve.

We enjoy every step of the ascent to the Cabane Mille in clear, cold air. Coming from the Val d’Entremont at 1346 meters we ascend to the grassy saddle west of the Mont Rogneux in pleasant grades on roadways, forest and pasture slopes. Again and again we turn around and enjoy the scenery of the Alps on the other side, the white dusted peaks of the Grand and Petit Combin, Mont Vélan and St. Bernhard just to name a few. A huge slab offers the perfect picnic spot. We soak in this view of peaks standing next to each other like pearls on a ribbon. In front of them are green mountain pastures, black cattle grazing on them like small toy animals, the comforting sound of their bells drifts upward.

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When we take the crossing to the Cabane Col de Mille at 2473 meters, I see the Israeli group again. Like us they walk towards the slab on which we had paused before. We never met them again.

The Cabane Col de Mille was built with 59 sleeping spots following the latest standards in 2013/14. The old hut was taken down. We don’t have a lot of time to enjoy the modern hut and the airy view on the patio. We still have to master a leg with an elevation decrease of 1000 meters and an elevation gain of 600 meters. In addition the weather is changing. It’s getting colder, clouds are covering the blue sky. We speedily pass the sides of the Mont Rogneux, the Plan d’Arolla, the alp Servay. The sky is getting darker and darker, but the path still leads up and down across the mountain pasture La Ly and its numerous cattle herds. The cattle seem to have it in for Lin. I always have to bypass them quickly in a wide curve as the animals feel threatened by her wolfish appearance. While I’m walking I think about all the possible escape routes and defense reactions so I will be able to react quickly in case of an attack. To this day I have been untroubled by them.

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Finally we ascend the last distance and arrive at the Cabane Brunet. Ragged clouds leave room for a view of the wonderful, archaic, broken terrain. A small lake in front of the hut looks idyllic, the view of the Becca de Sery and Petit Combin is truly amazing. It’s a spectacle how the clouds drift around this peak.

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In this hut dogs aren’t allowed like in almost all the other Swiss huts. They give me a woolen blanket and show me Lin’s place for the night underneath a chimney protrusion. Lin curls up compliantly. In the night a thunderstorm is rioting. The sky outpours torrents brightened by flashes of lightning. I wake up from an ear-piercing howling, feel my way in the darkness to the other room. Lin stands furiously on the table next to the protrusion as far as the leash allows her to go, annoyed by the amount of water. Using my headlamp I feel my way into her little cave. The blankets are completely soaked. I wring them out as well as possible and lure her into the furthest corner of the cave, where there’s still a little piece of dry wool. It’s 2am and the night is still long. I don’t know anything else but to whisper pleadingly in her ear, she may endure this, I wouldn’t know another solution. I lay a shirt of mine in the small hollow and tiptoe back to bed. Every second I’m waiting for another ear-piercing howling. But everything stays quiet. The whole night. There’s going to be a second night for Lin in this hut. This time on dry blankets. Dense fog, hazy vapor drift like ghosts above the grassy hills, dance around the Combin. The whole day the weather is going to be like this until the next morning.

Continued in Part 3…

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