Refuge de Chesery, Switzerland, Sunday, June 3
Apologies in advance for typiing: I'm still not used to this keyboard, and diacriticals are hard to achieve. Also I'm well behind in writiing, of course, partly for exhaustion, partly for distraction.
My knee fully restored after a rest day in the marvelous family hotel Le Vieux Moulin — in the same family for 300 years, I'm told! — we set out from La Chapelle d'Abondance at 8:45 on a pleasant morning. We'd have preferred earlier, but breakfast isnt served here until 8 am. The day was pleasant but recent rains have left the ground muddy, and after the easy walk along the Dranse, when the trail climbs through forest, the going is tough: gnarled tree roots, stones, and slippery mud make for treacherous footing.
The compensation: fine fields of flowers. It's hard not to burst out laughing with pleasure at them: yellow buttercups, trolius, and dandelions; blue gentians and occasional crocuses, lots of white flowers I haven't identified. They're all scattered generously throughout the alpages; but now and then there'll be a patch so compactly arranged you'd swear they were gardened. And of course the fragrance is marvelous.
Another compensation, a little before the trying climb from one of those alpages to the col de Mattes: a brief stop at a milk-barn chalet for a cup of milk, given freely — quite fresh but already cooled, full tasting, sweet.
De Mattes is our first "real" col, in the sense that here for the first time was an abrupt break between kinds of terrain, I think, and that sudden view of magnificent mountains beyond, and the sobering realization that somehow we were going to thread our way among them — and no refuge, village, or road to be seen, nothing but space, green alpages, blue skies, grey serious mountains laced with snow.
We dropped three hundred meters over the next couple of hours, then took another treacherously muddy climb through "orchids, butterwort, alder scrub and mud," as we chanted, and finally reached the Refuge de Bassachaux where I had a pleasant dinner and night's sleep eight years ago.
Alas it is under new direction and no longer accommodates overrnighters. Regulations, they say; I'm not sure I buy it. We had a pot of tea and resumed the long road to tonight's stay: the broad dirt road rises easily most of the way, then gives way to a stony path throuh the last alpages before the frontiere.
The refuge was reasonably pleasant. I was too tired to negotiate the civilities of the one shower, and anyway it was almost time for dinner. We had lamb in tomato sauce with pasta, a grated carrot salad, and a nice dessert; then I piled into the lower bunk, accommodating seven other sleepers though fortunately not all had appeared and I had only one neighbor. I slept well.