Sunday July 30, 2017
Cabane Bella Tola to Hotel Schwarzhorn
Elevation: +3,065 / -4,802
Total miles: 61.35
We woke up naturally without alarms this morning. Actually Laurie did, but Andy slept without his earplugs and woke up around 5:30am to the sound of the floors creaking as other hikers walked down the hallway.
Eventually both of us were up and at the breakfast table at 7:30am. Laurie had already put 2 pieces of bread in the toaster when one of the guys who ran the hut walked over with a little loaf of gluten free bread.
Without hesitation Andy offered to eat the pieces in the toaster and Laurie proceeded to cut and devour the entire gluten free loaf.
Today we will walk over Meidpass, the lingustic border between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland. In addition to having passes called “Pass” rather than “Col,” we have been offered ham and cheese for breakfast rather than just jam and butter. We are enjoying noticing these subtleties as we wander through this magnificent country.
Without a feeling of urgency we packed, payed and started walking around 8:30 am. Last night’s storm contributed to clear morning vistas including a nice view of the Matterhorn along with many other high snowy peaks.
We headed out on a grassy road. It was already warm and humid and we both immediately started sweating.
There are many roads and small buildings, some for cows, some for people, scattered across this hillside. The multiple roads make path finding more challenging, but it allows access to these homes from the town of St Luc.
We both dream of finding a little mountain hamlet someday where we can escape the hustle and bustle of city life and wake up staring at mountains and breathing clear fresh air.
We got the junction where the trail to the peak of Bella Tola veered steeply off to the left. It was 9 am. The sky was partly cloudy but the forecast for this afternoon called for thunderstorms yet again. “Afternoon” is vague so we had to rely on our inner barometers.
It is hard for Laurie to pass up an opportunity to climb. Even as a little kid she liked to be “queen of the mountain” (a pose you have seen quite frequently in our PCT blog with her arms raised over her head.)
“Screw it, let’s do it” chimed in Andy.
And we were off, steadily making our way up to our first Swiss peak.
By 10:00am we were at the top of Bella Tola. We shared the summit with 3 Swiss with whom we swapped pictures and Laurie practiced her Swiss German. They helped us identify each of the major peaks on the horizon.
They were each in their late 60’s or early 70’s. We have been surprised and inspired by the age spectrum of hikers along the Haute Route. The infrastructure supports this with punctual, efficient and convenient transportation and comfortable huts allowing families and older individuals to enjoy the wonders of the natural world.
“I think the secret to healthy aging is eating full fat yogurt, whole milk and cheese” said Laurie with a grin. “Perhaps if I eat that way too I will be climbing mountains into my 70’s!”
As we took in the 360 view from Bella Tola Laurie noticed a gazebo looking thing across the ridge. The trail we had planned on taking down looked rocky and sketchy so we decided to backtrack.
This took us closer to the ridge with the gazebo and Laurie couldn’t resist the temptation to go there also. We both looked at the sky, the clouds were gathering over the peaks but were not yet dark. So we chanced it. It is unlike Laurie to gamble but here in the mountains she has a different type of confidence than she does in everyday life.
In about 20 minutes we made it to Rothorn Peak. The 360 view from both peaks were definitely worth the effort.
At 11:15 we were back on the trail heading for Meidpass. We knew the storm was coming and with our detour we were resolved to get wet but hoped to be over the pass before the thunder and lightening started.
The trail to the pass was a combination of grass covered roads, smooth sailing dirt curving through green meadows and a rock scramble.
We got water 20 minutes from the top of the pass. The clear and crisp water was flowing under some rocks. It still feels like we are doing something wrong when drinking straight from steams without filtering. We try to choose steams whose source is above where cows graze and so far, so good…
On our descent from the pass we skirted around a lake. “I have never swam in a Swiss lake…” said Laurie. One could hear the temptation in her voice. “As long as it isn’t as cold as the water we drank right before the pass, I’m doing it.”
We joined the 2 other groups of people near the lake and Laurie jumped in. Surprisingly it wasn’t as cold as many of the lakes she swam in on the PCT.
We didn’t dilly dally after that. It was a long downhill and the sky darkened by the moment. But then we saw blueberries.
We stopped to pick, once again wishing we had our talenti containers to save some for later.
Two British women we have leap frogged the last few days passed us as we picked. They referred to the blue berries as “bilberries”
“Blueberries, bilberries, huckleberries…I don’t care what they are called as long as they are edible and delicious!” proclaimed Laurie.
As we got close to tree line the drops began to fall. We could see the town of Gruben down in the valley below. The trees protected us for the most part but we still stopped to put on our pack covers – our rainpants and raincoats stayed in the pack since we wanted to do laundry anyway.
We got to the Hotel Schwarzhorn, wet but not soaked. As we showered loud thunder clapped overhead and the rain pounded on the roof. We were quite happy to be inside.
Prior to dinner we went down to get a stronger internet signal and ran into many familiar faces. The Haute Route, like the PCT, is a traveling community. We spread out during the day and convene in town. It is wonderful to share stories and hear other’s experiences.
The rain continued most of the evening and it was nice to be cozy under down comforters watching the storm from the comforts of a bed.
Today we hiked 10 miles. On the PCT that would be considered a nero but here it is a full day’s effort. It is amazing what a difference trail grade and elevation gain/loss can do to one’s legs.
Tonight we are grateful for surprise peak bagging opportunities and clean communal showers.