Sunday, September 3, 2017

All the Swiss Alps postcards...

show nothing but blue skies and puffy clouds with dazzling mountain backdrops. Well, I'm finding out (the hard way) it's not always "Joy! Joy! Happy! Happy!" weather in this European mountain range. 

Day One : 

I left Villette early to beat the heat. The day's workout called for an astounding 5,577" of relentless uphill in not all that many miles. Fortunately, the path was user friendly. No boulders, scree or other obstacles. I passed chapels and hamlets precariously perched on "Black Diamond" steep hillsides. Picnic pavilions loomed higher still. Then the eventual ski lifts and gondola stations. On top of it all was the Monte Fort Hut. Silly me, the first thing I noticed was a sedan parked outside. I could have taken a taxi there. 

I checked in, ordered a meal and got out of my sweat-wet clothes. Apparently, the high season in the Alps is a done deal. I was given a room to myself.

Other hikers stumbled in one by one or in pairs. The demographics of the Haute Route has changed dramatically. Gone are most of the Europeans. (They are back at work/school). Now the trekkers  are Yanks or Brits on harried hiking vacations. 

Outside, the  weather was changing rapidly. Sun worshipping backpackers were chased inside around 3ish. By dinner time it was raining and cool. By bedtime I could hear and see lightening, thunder and a lashing rain on the roof. Winds blew open my window and whistled through the Hut. 

I went to sleep in a snug room wondering what the morning would bring. 

Day Two: 

In the morning, the weather was acceptable. It was warm and cloudy. Rain was in the forecast, but it wasn't upon us yet. There were three distinct Cols (passes) to negotiate on the day's hike. After a megadose of caffeine and a carbo loaded breakfast I was off. The first pass was virtually right outside the Hut. Near the top the footing consisted of boulder hopping from one to another. A few moved. No Bueno. 

The next two Cols weren't all that bad. For a change I was hiking in true European Wilderness. There were no roads, ski lifts, homes or high tension electrical lines obscuring the views. Glaciers, tarns and ragged mountains were everywhere. I only wish the forecast would have allowed me to dawdle more on the passes. It was scenery worth savoring. By then, intermittent showers caught me. I manipulated my poncho up and over my head and pack. 

I was making good progress toward my second Hut when I was enveloped in an almost touchable fog bank. Visibility went from miles to feet in no time. I squinted to see the reassuring painted way points telling me I was on course. I didn't like this part. Finally the Hut loomed phantom-like. I was almost at the door before I could see it. I was happy to be there. The weather was turning more malevolent. 

At dinner time, the staff informed us the forecast was for White Death on the Cols. 

Day Three: 

My Hut mates and I woke to clouds, fog and rain. The temperature had dropped to 39 degrees (4 degrees C). On a stage called the "toughest"  of the Haute Route, this wasn't a  jolly "Good Morning!" I looked for options. With two passes to deal with, I decided to quickly go up and over the first one. From there, I would have a better view of what my hiking future might hold. 

From the top my outlook wasn't too positive. A peloton of slow moving pregnant clouds were steadily advancing towards a glacial valley. The same one I was supposed to go up. I couldn't make out any mountains, glacier or a Col. I just saw gray. I did see lots of ibex though!! 

Eventually i dropped down to a reservoir. I had to make a choice. 

People make decisions on our own personal Rolodex of lifelong experiences. Hopefully we learn from our mistakes and dont repeat asinine events that could get us killed or maimed. I suppose this is Darwinism at work. So at that moment I asked myself.

"Self! Would you head up a high Colorado pass if you saw climatic conditions such as this?" My answer, "HELL NO!" 

I turned left towards the Dam, civilization and a bus to Arolla. 

Before you shake your head and exclaim, "What a Wuss!" I'll ask you this. How many burning buildings have you crawled into in your life? 

Case closed.

Day Four: 

I had a cool, cloudy, sullen and introspective mosey from Arolla to La Sage. Fortunately, I was below the White Death line. (Snow). I helplessly watched as the white line dropped lower as the day progressed. It was snowing on the Cols on September 2nd. WTF! 

Hikers I passed along the way were dressed more for skiing than hiking. The layered look was in. I saw whimsical looking Swiss homes spouting  wood burning smoke from their chimneys. Many restaurants in the villages were recently shuttered. The few left opened are now being reclaimed by the locals. I could almost hear a sigh of relief. Ahh, the summer high season is over. Goodbye outsiders. 

Day Five: 

Sunshine returned, although the morning temperature hovered near freezing. On a so-called rest day, I decided to make up for one missed Col. So I did just that. Now you can stop calling me "Wuss!" 

BTW: The early White Death is Obama's fault too.

Onward into the German speaking part of Switzerland. 



  1. Wow! Gorgeous, and scary too! Good for you for choosing being safe over being stupidly macho! If it makes it any better it was 36F here in Estes Park yesterday at 6:15 A.M....

  2. Thank you for using good sense. Beautiful pictures, especially the rainbow.

  3. Thank you for using good sense. Beautiful pictures, especially the rainbow.

  4. I second what the others stated, used your common sense so you live to slay another day!

  5. Jeff - 52 years ago (God, that sounds like a long time ago), lacking your indubitable good judgement, I hiked forward when I should have turned around.

    Early in the morning on May 15th, I was dropped off at the Beaver Brook trail head in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The day’s forecast was for sun and a high of 85. Being totally oblivious to the sometimes hidden or unexpected dangers of hiking in the mountains, I headed up the trail in shorts and T-shirt, and wearing tennis shoes without socks. My plan was to go to the top of Mt. Moosilauke, and then hike down the Gorge Brook trail to the Moosilauke Lodge.

    After about 45 minutes, a slight covering of snow joined me on the trail. The thought that maybe I should retreat crossed my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to spoil my plans for the day. As the snow’s depth kept increasing, I must have considered turning around at least a hundred more times. But, I didn’t.

    At 9:30 that evening, with no feeling remaining in either leg below my knees, I finally arrived at Moosilauke Lodge. Soon after I was taken to Hanover, New Hampshire’s hospital. After examining my legs, the ER doc announced that I should expect gangrene to set into both legs with the result that each would end up having to be amputated below the knee.

    Fortunately for me, he was wrong. As we know, many are not so lucky. Nicholas Howe shares some of their stories in his book “Not Without Peril: 150 Years Of Misadventure On The Presidential Range Of New Hampshire”, By Nicholas Howe. (see Amazon at If you haven’t already read it, I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

    Keep your wonderful adventure stories coming!