Day Seven: Boys' Own Adventures
When we woke in the mono-Francophone hotel in the Swiss hamlet of Ferret, Alex could hardly walk. Yesterday's knee homicide had turned, overnight, not to recovery and reduced swelling, but to lameness. (No, not that kind of lameness, smart aleck.) It became clear he was going to have to throw in the towel. It had been a hell of an effort, and an attempt to try something well out of his usual comfort zone, and not to mention that some total maniac/idiot/sadist had suggested to him that anybody ought to try this as a his very first long-distance hike. But he'd gotten in a good few days, and seen some pretty amazing things he otherwise never would have, and the others really enjoyed having him along.
We all walked him through town to the stop for his bus (Ferret only had one), which would take him to a train, and thence to a plane. I briefly considered accompanying him back to civilisation and hooking up with the others further down the path; but it turns out I'm not that good of a human being. We bid Alex a tearful farewell, and carried on.
And then there were three. Today we would be walking through more undramatic forest and hillsides and river paths. But it made a change. And it would end at Champex-Lac, a village on a lake way higher up in the mountains than you'd expect to find any kind of lake.
After not long, we rocked up into the little village of La Fouly, and popped into their outdoors store. Mark needed new sunglasses, Tim needed I'm not sure what, and I just boggled that they were able to fit so much cool kit into such a tiny space.
Evidently, along here, Mark admired a dam with a big log-grabbing claw, but this tragically failed to make it into the photographic record. The climbing wall we stumbled upon, and which of course Tim had a go on, did.
In that last photo above, Mark is admiring a bulldozer across the river. Note the 14 raindrops an unanticipated problem with panoramic photography. Also, I clearly slightly lied about Day Six having the only rain; we got a little drizzled on today, as well. (And here's the smoking gun: the writing in my notebook on this page is smeared with raindrops.)
Michael: “I guess there's no point in me taking a video.”
Tim: “If we had two hours, and you did a time lapse.”
Mark: “Escar-go, go, go!”
We climbed up from the river to some steep, forested hillside, still being drizzled on.
I was still toting my old boots, strapped to the outside of my pack which was now problematical, as I tried to get the damned rain cover on. Simply, it wouldn't go over one pack plus two big boots. Moreover, it had started to become clear that I was carrying this whole keep-the-old-boots-just-in-case thing too far.
Mark: “Four-Boots Fuchs!”
Unbeknownst to the others, I had secreted away a panettone nocciola from Rifugio Bonatti, saving it to break out at a low moment.
Mark: “What an apple? Screw you, Fuchs! Not enough calories to justify the weight in my stomach.”
As usual, the food politics on a long-distance walk were very special. I have a line in my notebook here that says: "The Four-Hatted Franco-Germans!" If anyone who was present there has any idea what that means, I'm sure we're all dying to know.
We rolled up into the pretty (and tiny, and sleepy) village of Praz de Fort. The guidebook said there was nothing here for us but some great pizzas at Café de Portalet. That sounded pretty good to us. Food generally sounded good.
But after lunch… alas, the moment had come. I couldn't tote them around forever. It was time for the Garmont Vegans to go. And, having passed up the opportunity to make them immortal on top of the mountain, now I had to nip into the alley and leave them in a dumpster. <sniff>
Michael: “Terribly. Endings and farewells always make me very sad. It's a reminder that eventually you say goodbye to everything.”
We ambled out of town, then down a stretch of road, before climbing up into more forested hillside. It was easy to forget we had been fighting for our lives on ice-covered cliffs so recently.
On the ensuing climb, we passed some nice older French people. One of the women button-holed me, asking where we were going, where we'd come from. Then she wondered if she'd seen me before just after Col du Grand Ferret, perhaps? I said I didn't know, sorry.
Michael: “Ah! Oui, c'est moi!”
As you can see, the theme of this forest was aside from mushrooms these clever carvings that had been done right in tree stumps.
And then and then! the adventuring boys found a cave! We raced one another inside, drawing our various flavours of high-lumen LED torches/flashlights.
We got a text from Alex. He was safely in Chamonix. (Which, with his utter inability and/or unwillingness to speak even a single word of any language not English was a damned miracle. ;^)
And then we came upon… the Swiss fortress. I feel like we learned a little about this I think later, from the lovely hotel keeper in Champex-Lac but I can't remember quite what. But, basically, this was the sort of place the Swiss hung out, practically begging Hitler to invade. In any case, with the weather nice now, and this being a short day, there was no reason to blast on through. We decided to explore. Specifically, Mark and Tim decided to climb up to the top of the thing. I stayed and guarded the bags.
Mark: “Forget guerrilla warfare. ‘Go ahead and invade us. Well sit in our mountain fortress and laugh at you.’ It's probably been here since the 13th century.”
We had a some minor follies finding the hotel wandering in the back door of a much posher one and doddering around looking confused but our actual one was just as beautiful, and the manager graciously acknowledged my fumbling French before switching unobtrusively to charming English. We'd had two twins booked, but they happily downgraded us to a twin and a single. Me being me, I snagged the single. (First real privacy in over a week, which is much like the Apocalypse on Planet Michael.)
On the downside, I found that skin was now coming off both my lips and ears in chunks - and I noticed raw, peeling patches on my face that might reasonably be described as 'sores'. To paraphrase Bette Davis, long-distance walking in the Alps isn't for sissies.
That aside, this had definitely been the easiest day of the trip so far, as the guidebooks had indicated. I kind of wished Alex had stayed he'd completed three days of walking, and it's generally after day three that you break through. But a walking tour really is no fun when every step brings terrible pain.
Since we were in so early, we decided to head out early for coffee and cakes at the hotly tipped Boulangerie & Tearoom Café Gentiana. Soon after, it was time to head out for drinks and awesome conversation at, I seem to recall, a couple of places overlooking the Lac.
Over drinks, the conversation ranged across topics such as SETI, complexity theory, Agile development, film and screenwriting and Mark's love life. Perhaps needless to point out (or maybe it isn't), this last topic was most transfixing, at least to me.
Check out my stylin' camp shoes in the second photo below they may be super 80s espadrilles, but they're also light as hell and squish down to nearly nothing in my pack. And, mainly, getting out of the boots at the end of the day is bliss.
Another thing we discussed was whether or not to do the Fenêtre d'Arpette tomorrow. This variante is described by one guidebook as "more spectacular, and more demanding" and by the other as "much tougher, but more spectacular… should only be considered if the forecast is for calm, settled weather." The forecast being dodgy, that probably settled that. (Though I, typically, wasn't willing to totally throw in the towel until we saw what the morning looked like.)
We finally had to have dinner at the only place left going our own hotel.
The hotel restaurant turned out to be pretty sublime (or maybe it was the miles talking). We had respectively, veg pizza (without fish) for Mark, veg pizza (without fish or cheese) for me, and risotto for Tim. We finished with glace including an amazing passionfruit and apricot sorbet:
(asskicking music by Celldweller - "The Wings of Icarus")