When I left Champex, Switzerland on my day hike up to Glacier d’Orny I was really just hoping for some time away from tourist feel of the city. I wasn’t quite ready to commit myself to the extra bus ride that would be required if I stayed on the Tour du Mont Blanc trail, just to bail off the next day…so I hiked up, up, up.
There is a ski lift/cable car that will take you up the mountain from the edge of Champex but when you’re day hiking that is cheating, right? I tromped on past that cable car and found the single track that zigged and zagged it’s way up the mountainside one skree field at a time. Once I arrived at the top I sat myself down and ate half my stash of jelly beans while basking in the mountain sunshine.
— a sadly realistic depiction of my feelings about trails and hiking on my last TMB day + on the trek up to the cable car #cranky —
From the cable car “summit” I got onto a well-defined trail that followed a “Cab. d’Orny” arrow and followed it gradually uphill for about an hour before it shot straight up a boulder field. As soon as I rounded the last boulder at the top I could hear it — the rush of water pouring off the glacier. Once again I plopped myself down next to the trail and ate jelly beans. The glacier runoff created a twisting network of small rivers as it headed toward the edge of the mountain where all the icy water plunged down into the valley and I sat there, listening to it as I pondered how “against the rules” it was to venture down to touch the water. I opted against it since I couldn’t find an actual trail down to the river…doing my part to uphold the LNT principles!
Back on the main trail I spotted a building not far up the mountainside — presumably Cabana d’Orny. When I arrived there were polite nods but no words spoken. It sounds rather rude or cold, but it’s been pretty customary in the Alps, primarily because so many languages are spoken you never know what to expect. Inside the hut I sat for a bit then mustered up the courage to ask one of the ladies behind the kitchen counter if she spoke English. She didn’t, but she snagged another woman who did.
A few minutes later I learned that they do have bunks upstairs and they did have room for me! I committed to a bed, dropped some of my gear and headed back outside, on a mission to find the Cabana du Trient and the views it had to offer.
The hike up to this cabin weaved through a boulder field and wasn’t nearly as defined as the previous trails I’d followed. However, stripes of blue and white paint on the rocks led the way from one marker post to another. I followed the trail up the mountain with a lighter pack, happier steps and random giggles + grins. This was where I wanted to be. This is where I wanted to be. My cranky mood from the day before + morning hike had done a complete 180 and I was practically dancing along the rocky trail.
— all smiles + giggles, completely forgetting about the misery of the morning…that’s why trails rock my socks off! —
I’m not sure what it was — being off the beaten path a bit, knowing I wouldn’t be sleeping in a city or the increased technicality of the trail…I was happy again. As I hiked up the trail got more rocky, more risky. At times I truly needed to chains + climbing rope strung along the side of the trail and once I even climbed up/down a rebar ladder of sorts. It’s been days since I’ve done this and right now, as I write this, I’m grinning like a fool in a hostel common room — that is how important that single hike was to my overall outlook on this trip. It’s weird, but I’m thankful for it!
I made it up to Cabana du Trient in the afternoon sunlight and was unceremoniously greeted by a patio full of climbing gear, mountaineering boots and croc-clad adventurers. Everyone was engrossed in their own meal + conversation so I kept to myself — I was busy being happy all by my lonesome. I headed inside to explore the cabin. The main areas appeared newer/refinished in comparison to Cabana d’Orny and they had fancy toilets with images showing how they were composted…but I am no mountaineer so I felt a little out-of-place. [but I immediately wanted to drag all my mountaineering friends up to this cabin — I’m looking at you, Lynne!] My running shoes + I headed back down the mountain shortly after our arrival. There was one heck of a dinner waiting for me at Cabana d’Orny and I wasn’t about to miss out on food!
Once I returned to the cabin I called dibs on a bed [not exactly necessary, there were 10 people staying in a cabin with room for 86], pulled on my puffy layers and headed out into the mountain sun with a notebook to spend the hour before dinner scribbling away. When dinner rolled around I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I did not expect what I got! We had noodle soup, fresh salad, German brats and veggie rice. It was delicious and we all cleaned our plates!
The small group of us staying at the cabin ate together and I soon learned that a few were there for glacier rescue training before their Mont Blanc ascent and another couple was actually from New York on vacation. He, Roland, is from Switzerland and his wife, Cindy, is working on her German for her Swiss Passport interview. After a few days of very little English in my life it was really nice to just talk…and listen! I know I’m a talker, but I had no idea how much time I spent listening to voices in the background until I didn’t understand those voices!
We were just a few days past the full moon and luck was on our side — the skies were clear! I fell asleep before the moon rose but Roland + Cindy stayed up for it and, upon my request, woke me up so I could see it. It was amazing. I wandered down to the patio area and just stood there, shivering as I stared at the moon illuminating the mountains. I should have grabbed my sleeping bag and stayed outside longer — I think that is the one thing I regret about my Cabana d’Orny trek!
The following morning the day greeted us with…clouds. And fog. Lots of fog. Where I had stood the night before the brush my teeth + stare at the moon was barely visible from the doorway! After breakfast [also delicious, although simpler than dinner!] the fog turned into rain. Well, I guess the fog stayed and the rain showed up. Finally — a reason to use the silly rain gear I’d been packing around for three days! I pulled out my rain pants, tugged on my rain jacket and tugged the raincover around my Ultimate Direction Fastpack. Then off I went, into the foggy rain for a long, slippery descent into Praz de Fort where I was hoping to grab a bus that would start my journey back to Chamonix.
It sign said it would take me about 3 hours to get into the city…it took me closer to 4 hours. The wet rocks and roots made my descent a bit frustrating…as did my well-worn Pearl iZumi trail shoes. My feet love these shoes, which is why I brought them. However, I failed to take into consideration how much I’ve used + abused these poor shoes. They did not like the slippery rocks + roots and I spent a lot of time sliding + swearing as I made my way down the mountain.
When I wasn’t being frustrated I was busy staring off at the mountains around me. This trail into Praz de Fort [rather than Champex, which is the trail I brought up] followed the waterfall + river created by the glacial runoff high above. Even without the rain I would have been hiking to Mother Nature’s watery music as the river rushed by. Just across the valley the mountain shot back up into the sky, often hidden by foggy rain but still towering and impressive. I didn’t quite have the energy to entertain the idea of hiking up and around them at the moment but…some day!
I arrived in the city of Praz de Fort soaking wet from my knees down [should have left those rain pants on…] and tired. With a little help from a local I got on the “bus” that was really a passenger van and made my way into Orsieres where I threw more money than I care to think about [about $50, but it felt like a lot for a bus/train ride!] at my trip back to Chamonix to retrieve my big bag of luggage. I was being needy — I wanted my cellphone charger, I wanted to ditch the extra gear I had on my back, I wanted clean clothes. I wanted to be away from people…but I wanted the luxuries that came with a city full of people. Basically, I needed to get rid of my excuses and get out of my own head!
I ended up staying in Chamonix that Tuesday night because of my late arrival then started my trek to Zurich on Wednesday morning. Aside from getting booted off a train [or, maybe told to go run over to buy a ticket…I’m not sure, I don’t speak French!] it was a pretty uneventful trip. Train travel is fairly easy in Europe, it just gets expensive, fast! It cost me about $120 to get from Chamonix to Zurich…a flight would have cost me $150. Luckily train travel makes up for it with some pretty awesome scenery!
And, with that…I’m off to find another Swiss Alpine Club hut somewhere in the mountains near Grindelwald. There are two SAC huts on my agenda and it looks like I’ll get to put my rain gear to use again [and I’m switching over to my slightly less abused Montrails with hopes that I’ll spend less time falling on my butt!].
I have three days of random exploration left before I head further into the Swiss Alps to start my WorkAway adventure. I’m actually really excited to have some structure and routine back in my life. Right now I have too much time with no responsibilities…my time in losing it’s value! But, until Sunday, it’s all about the mountains and all that jazz! Rain or shine. Forecast says rain. Yay?
What I’m Doing in Switzerland || I’m Not Going Home, Yet
How I Got to Switzerland || #OmniTen Adventures
Links Worth Clicking || Swiss Alp Club Huts + WorkAway Volunteer Exchange + Roland Pabst Photography