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

Day Eight: Tripping the Alp Bovine

Morning in Hôtel du Glacier, Champex-Lac. The buffet breakfast was awesome, not least because I got chocolate in my coffee. For once there was no Muesli – but they did have dried fruits and nuts, which was actually better!

Though there wasn't a cloud visible in the sky, the forecast for the day wasn't good. And, even worse, in the hotel restaurant, we talked to a nice young Japanese man who had just been turned back from the Fenêtre d'Arpette. Basically, it was too early in the season for such a dicy, glorious, adventuresome variante. I bowed to the inevitable – albeit with some vigorous ribbing of Mark about it, details tragically not preserved. But the Alp Bovine route it was.

Ex post facto observation: Writing up this day, and the prior one, I've found I had hardly any memory of them! This was almost certainly because they were a bit lacklustre compared to all the other, starkly dramatic days. But if you've followed along this far, rest assured that the two days to follow – the last of the walk – have some seriously dramatic scenery and cool exploits. (Not least the ropes and ladders of the Aiguillette d'Argentiere, and the totally amazing mountain-top Refuge du Lac Blanc.)
Gettin' out of Dodge

Leaving town, we almost immediately came upon a helicopter being rigged up with a sling-load to resupply a remote refuge. The wait for it to take flight was a little longer than we might have chosen, but it was worth it.

Then we got up and got moving again. For some reason, we talked smart phones, and upgrades, and calling plans.

Tim: “I sold my old iPhone to my mum for £100.”
Mark: “To your mom?”
Michael: “Did it work?”

The conversation through this stretch was so good I evidently didn't look up at the scenery for an hour.

We talked income generation, and startups, and passive revenue, and IPv6, and web dream-teams. Plus Tim's StoryPair project – not to mention the robotic library Mark's university is building; and the virtual browsing application he himself is doing, since you can't walk around and browse anymore (only the robot, which retrieves books, can).

Mark: “Yes. We're replacing our library with a robot.”
Tim: “You're building a whole building for a robot.”

The going was pretty easy and stress-free today.

I think we all feel like we've cracked it – we're unstoppable now.

I nominate the following for best quip of the trip (in a tough field):

Michael: “I'm going to need to call a short break soon, to change out memory cards. I'm down to single digits.”
Mark: “Who knows, a bunch of naked Swiss girls could come by riding ibexes – and you'd only have nine frames.”

We took an awesome break in the shade of the forest. I ate an apple and some trail mix; Tim busted out with this cool app for his iPhone that took photos and overlaid them with accurate geo-cords; and I changed my memory card out. I was back to having 4,000 frames, which I figured ought to stretch even to naked Swiss girls on ibexes.

We finally emerged from the treeline out onto a “lovely, flowery, streamy, grassy mountainside, with views back down into the valley.” Maybe Alp Bovine wasn't so terrible, despite being somewhat lacking in drama. According to the guidebook,

“As you round the shoulder of the mountain, the views open up down the Rhône valley. This is simply magnificent stuff. The towns of Martigny, Sion and Sierre can be picked out far below… also the end of Lake Geneva.”

Rhône Valley

A few clouds floated in, taking over for the trees in keeping much of the sun off. Tim reported that we were at 1970 metres, facing NE.

Rhône Valley closeup

We passed some French people sprawled out on the hill (last photo above). I said, "C'est magnifique." A French dude responded, "Panoramique!" So I took his advice and shot one. We then stopped at the remote, ridge-side Alpage de Bovine for CHF3.50 soft drinks and free cowbell serenading. This was, we worked out, the northernmost point on the whole tour.

We sat there in the shade talking human violence – Pinker, and Ehrenreich – and then got moving again. South.

I stopped to chat with a couple of lovely kids from Bristol, after which it took me 20 minutes to catch the others up.

We stopped on some rocks, beneath a copse of trees. Mark napped while Tim wandered off to do some bouldering.

Michael: “Wake up, Pitely. You're missing the Tour…

Didn't work. I had to try harder.

Michael: “Look! It's a bunch of naked Swiss girls riding ibexes – with a cooler full of Vingt Cinq.”
Mark [from under his hat]: “And spaghetti hair – so you can eat while you make love…”

While we were all feeling pretty happy and dreamy, I was also anticipating tomorrow's return to the stark Alpine drama of yore.

Michael: “And tomorrow: ladders! Bolted into the cliff-side!”
Mark: “What?! Ladders?”
Tim: “Awesome.”

We set off again, for the day's final leg. It involved an 1,100 metre descent into Trient – and Mark pointed out that, had we done the Fenêtre d'Arpette, we would have had a mile to descend today.

While we descended, Mark told some great story about being offered a local beer, in Pennsylvania, called Golden Avalanche. His response to the bartender had been: "Now, I've heard of golden showers. And I don't want anything to do with a golden avalanche." We laughed until we ached, and decided we were too afraid to Google it.

First glimpse of the day's stop, Trient

We got our first view of tiny little Trient. ↑ And saw our first sheep of the trip! → They had little tinkly bells around their necks.

Trient turned out to be dead, tiny, and charmless. Its major virtue was that of being at the end of both of today's possible route variantes – so booking us in here allowed more flexibility. And booked in here we were.


The hotel-cum-hostelry, Relais du Mont Blanc – which took some finding, despite being the only place in town – was a little down-market, but also cute and welcoming. It definitely grew on us as we explored the common areas, particularly the sun- and wind-swept patio. Our table umbrella blew away, and I had to go chasing it across the property.

I'm showered and redressed before 4pm – we're definitely getting faster. I do the usual evening routine: swap out batteries, charge the old set, charge phone, relax and enjoy being still and clean and the breeze through the thrown-open windows/shutters. Plus reviewing tomorrow's walk. It includes a 30m ladder climb up a sheer rock face, stunning views, and Lac Blanc. It's going to be amazing.

As usual, being in so early was a bit of a mixed blessing – it was a while until drinking time, and longer until dinner. While Mark and Tim chillaxed, I recce'd the bar, conservatory, patio, and shop – which was tiny but surprisingly well-stocked. (Probably due to it being, again, the only establishment – of any sort – in town.) I bought a postcard and stamps, two nectarines, and returned with all the info from my recce – not least that both the bar, and the shop, had cold 25 bière.

We lay around in the room for a few minutes, me filling out postcards, until I got restless again. While Mark napped and Tim played with his phone, I went back down again, hit the bar, and picked up a Marie Claire en Francais. As usual, with content of this sort, all of the headlines, and most of the text, were pretty intelligible, even if the photos weren't already sufficient. I also enjoyed the vibe and chatter of a dozen other sitters in the bar; it was hostel-like – in a good, buzzy, social way. I scribbled this, waiting for drinking time to come around.

Drinking time!

At dinner, which was communal and lively, we were seated between "Les Français" and the six trail runners who had passed us that day. They were doing the whole route in 4 days (to our 10). Dinner was proper – veg soup with big baskets of bread, salad, a main with rice, ice cream, and coffee. It was hard to complain.

Les Français Badass trail runner

After the meal, we talked at some length with one of the trail runners, pictured above. He was 43, with 3 kids (16, 14, and 12) and, again, was running this 180km mountain route in 4 days. Definitely gives you hope for middle age.

Michael: “Now we get to sleep… and then we get to eat again, immediately. It's too good.”
Mark: “It's pretty good.”

Tomorrow: the death-defying ropes, ladders, and chains of the Aiguillette d'Argentiere – and the climb up to the most remote and magical stop of the tour: Refuge du Lac Blanc.

  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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