Wednesday, 24 July 2013
Our time in Nyon was thoroughly indulgent. We wined, dined and slept like kings, courtesy of our grandparents, Ted and Joan, who gifted us with travel tales from their past, as the Lac Leman waters lapped and violin strings were caressed. Whilst visiting an exhibition in the Chateau de Place, named Sicilian Summer, I lost Jake, Ted and Joan briefly, only to find them circling a map of Sicily; perhaps it was genetics that had led Jake and I through Western Europe.
We crossed the lake waters and landed at Yvoire, a medieval town bustling with lethargic tourists. Jake and I were delighted to see that postcard prices had dropped to a more wallet-comfortable 40 cents per piece, as opposed to the Swiss cards which cost the equivalent of two bowls of walkers' risotto.
We left our grandparents and the life of static living (albeit only two days) with increased waist sizes and a hard-to-rid anxiety that had been brewing for weeks. From Thonon-Les-Bains we ducked into an area of forest just south of the town. The thunder rumbled and then the rain came. Ted (the tent, not our grandfather) shows his age as drips dotted our sleeping bags.
The extra two centimetres of sole that lined our new boots seemed to be taking its toll on Jake, who was recording an uncharacteristically a large number of trips. By the time we reached the Dranse valley, it was clear that the Alps were upon us, or us upon them rather.
The peaks were high, the valleys low and the clouds ominous. At 1,600 metres we recorded our highest camp of the trip, sleeping under a fir tree on the slopes of Mt Baron.
The morning brought blue skies, revealing the jagged ridgeline of the Dent d’Oche that had deluded us one-day prior. Its gnarly peaks clawed at the low sun. But, it was a stiff climb to Tete de Faux that took my breath away; we brushed passed purple bells and globe flowers to a budging crest that dropped steeply away, only to rise with a vengeance one kilometre on in the form of pine and high pasture. The white of vertical limestone cliffs rose beyond. The scene evolved onward, with serrated ridgelines leading on to the horizon, where hundreds of snow-capped peaks met the sky. Mt Blanc, iconic as ever, felt the comfort of a single cloud that hugged its summit.
On our route to La Chapelle d’Abondance, we encountered a host of alpine animals that posed in positions too good to be true; a chamois silhouetted in the Col de la Case de Oche, a herd of bouquetin high on the ridgeline above the Col de Pavis, and the soaring, outstretched wings of an eagle. Following a brisk lunch stop, we began to ascend a mystery valley. The day had been busy with weekenders, but the close weather induced a feeling of solitude, which proved to be the creation of an embarrassing faux pas. A particularly strenuous step led to the release of a walker's trump from within my underpants. I looked ahead to a family lunching just metres in front of me. We all knew, but nothing was said.
A night indoors saw us leave Chapelle d’Abondance in high spirits. Jake sang Matt Costa songs, whilst the impeccable smell of the outdoors swamped my olfactory senses. Not long into the day, we met Kevin, who wore blue. He was hiking the Alps section of the GR5. We joined steps with the Irishman, hearing magnificent relays of his adventurous life. Kevin’s love of the outdoors also allowed us to finally understand the rules of the Tour de France, which had, until said conversation, been highly speculated on by Jake and I. The remainder of the day, according to the map, was high open pastures and rock, thus we were forced to stop early and pitch on a grassy hillside amongst scattered conifers. After watching a shield bug patter about the tent ceiling, I began to feel sick. I woke in the depths of the night and bolted out of the tent to release an impressive projectile from both mouth and bottom. The pleasure was all mine, however, as the night sky twinkled with excellence.
I was sick again as we re-joined the path at sunrise. On an exhausting day of 37 kms through the Alps, on which I ate next to nothing, we passed through a wealth of spectacular geological features, which blurred by like a monotonous cityscape through the window of a speeding car. Jake's stomach too began to cramp, but he relented in hydrating me and found a splendid camping spot just beyond Samoens.
We woke, on day 100, and celebrated with a breakfast much the same as always, save for the addition of six, in-season apricots. A deep gorge, cut out by the flow of various milky torrents, guided us up an energy-sapping 1,800-metre ascent, until we reached the Collet d’Anterne. The path ran steadily through an abundance of wild flowers that carpeted the boulder-strewn Collet. To the east, the monstrous Tete a l’Ane swept into the distance, its profundity recognised by Jake, who labelled it as, 'the best cliff face I have ever seen.' A dainty tornado of butterflies corkscrewed about a warm stone and a marmot nibbled the sweet shoots close to its burrow. The rain came as we chipped through blankets of icy snow to reach the Col d'Anterne, with water dripping from our jacket hoods. The mountains sounded their presence with deep groans of thunder. Ahead we could see the relatively flat crest of Le Brevent - which we would be climbing the following day - and towering at twice the height beyond, the peak of Mt Blanc. We slept in a flat of grass, seasoned with purple orchards and margarets. At 1.00 a.m. the tent door was unzipped. The precarious clouds had given way to clear skies. The full moon sat just above Mt Blanc du Tacul, the Aiguille du Midi and Mt Blanc itself. A butterfly landed on the open door, silhouetted in the moonbeams, proboscis curled and antenna flickering.