Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs

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.

<i>I'm melting…</i>

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.)

Snail sex!
Mark: “Look at this! Snail sex!”
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.

Michael: “I will forever be… the Man Who Walked the TMB with Four Boots.”
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.

Michael: “I may have a little food surprise for you.”
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.

This weird, high, narrow ridge that ran right through the forest was evidently left there by a glacier

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.

This amused me for some reason No comment Nom nom, food…

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>

Tim: “You look lighter.” [He then caught my expression.] “Were you sad?”
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.

“Absolutely <i>badasses</i>!” - Sergeant Apone

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.

Frenchwoman: “You were the one taking all the photographs.”
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.

Dude with a weedwhacker/strimmer, touching up the path after a big storm Cave!

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. ;^)

Mark bought these fabulous replacement shades at that outdoors joint back in La Fouly I think one of us actually climbed this – most likely Tim “Absolutely <i>badasses</i>!”

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.

Michael: “I wonder if this was going to be a center of guerrilla warfare if Hitler invaded.”
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.”
Back door, we thought, to the fortress

Just like that, much sooner than expected, we pop out into Champex-Lac. One just doesn't expect a lake to appear at this altitude. But it's very pretty.

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.)

Awesome shower (both hottest and coldest I can recall) & LAUNDRY SERVICE. Rock.

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.

He made a great effort. I hope he got something out of being here, as we did from his presence.
The lovely patio of Gentiana's Tearoom

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.

Despite its numerous flaws, I love this photo

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:

Best sorbet ever – real passionfruit chunks. As always, at conclusion of dinner, am already looking forward to breakfast. These trips are great – I'm literally eating anything and everything I want and still losing weight. :)

(asskicking music by Celldweller - "The Wings of Icarus")

  alex     hiking     pitely     tim     tmb     walking  
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Operators, Volume I - The Fall of the Third Temple by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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