Monday 12th September
Distance: 14km Time: 6.5 hours
Another late start this morning, this time very deliberate as we are desperate to take the alternative TMB route through the Fenetre d’Arpette pass, but not if it continues to rain! We are extremely lucky in that as the morning goes on the rain clears up enough that we think it worth trying the more difficult route. Our gite for last night (Auberge-gite Bon Abri) was pretty amazing and very quiet with only 2 other people staying there. We have no problem spending a bit of extra time there before leaving. We leave to light drizzle, and after a short discussion decide to go for the high route in the hope that by the time we get to the pass the sky will be clear and we’ll get the spectacular views the route is famous for.
We trace our steps back along the road a little to the turn off up the Val D’Arpette (Arpette Valley). The climb starts off gently enough up to Ralais d’Arpette, a mountain hut that we would have possibly stayed at last night if the weather had looked good for this alternative route. We find ourselves some drinking water here and stock up as much as possible for the route ahead – the next water stop is our accommodation tonight, and we are in for a very steep climb between here and there.
As we continue up the valley the landscape gradually changes from gentle wooded slopes, to shrub, and eventually to steep bolder-strewn scree slopes. Ahead jagged peaks seem to block our exit from the valley head, and we spend some time speculating on which pass we are headed to. The clouds clear faster than we could have hoped for, leading to a very hot day and an uncomfortably hot climb. Looking back it becomes clear that we are very high up despite still being in the valley.
Further up the valley the path becomes increasingly steep and hard to follow, before becoming nothing more than a scramble over boulders guided by regular red and white markers. With the pass (or window as its called in French) comes into sight, we have one last hard steep scramble up a near verticle grassy slope before emerging onto the pass. The views are breathtaking!
We stop for a substantial amount of time on the top, taking the time to have a good lunch, scramble up some rocks for a better look at a nearby glacier, and watch the birds who seem to make their living off the scraps left by hungry hikers enjoying the view. The jagged rocks are no less spectacular up close, and must make climbing the mountains on either side near impossible.
We probably start going again a little late, thinking that it’s all down hill from now on and shouldn’t take too long. We were wrong in this assumption as the path going down is so steep and precipitous that even after the dangerous slopes are passed, some of us are still feeling very wary about going too fast. Another problem facing the group is having to ration our food due to not buying enough at our last food shop due to the expensiveness of Switzerland. We look forward to crossing back into France tomorrow and being able to properly stock up.
As we head down the mountain, we are passed by some very rude Americans (from Alaska) and some older guys from Switzerland who have been completely insulted by them. A sudden rumble of thunder gets our heads turning, to find the sound is coming from the glacier. Some huge chunks of ice have just melted off and crashed down from the head of the glacier!
Fish, while deeply engrossed in a conversation on animal welfare, manages to slip and cut his leg, but is not badly injured. Jen, our first aider takes good care of him insisting on cleaning the wound. This makes everyone that little bit more wary of the steep slopes.
As it gets later in the day we realise that at the pace we’re going we may get to our accommodation too late, so we split into two groups, with two of us with experience going fast on rough ground going ahead. We make sure that each group has a map and essential equipment. We need not have worried though, as the gite at Le Peuty is unmanned and open to all, with payment given through an honesty box system. As it is low season there is no danger of the beds filling up.
Both groups arrive within half an hour of each other, and we settle into our super cheap accommodation for the night – payment is only 10 euros! It seems ironic that our cheapest accommodation for the whole trip should be in the most expensive country, and that payment is in euros instead of swiss francs. The gite has a self-catering kitchen on the lower level a large group dormitory on the upper level, which means we don’t have to sit out in the cold to cook!