Saturday, November 5, 2016

Six Days Hiking In The Vaud Alps Switzerland

Monday October 24th;

Its been a pretty busy year so far and I seemed to have packed in a fair bit of travelling. My latest exploit has been a six day hiking trip to the Vaud Alps in Switzerland.
I stayed in Dublin on Sunday Nov 23rd so as to be able to catch my flight on Monday morning to Geneva. We were supposed to land at 12.10 but it was after 12.40 when I exited arrivals but thanks to the super Swiss train system I didn't have long to wait until the next departure for Aigle from where I caught another mountain train to Leysin. Leysin is situated at 1300mtrs and this would be a fine elevation from which to start my hike.I must mention the beautiful train trip between Aigle and Leysin. It is a small tram like train that initially trundles through the narrow streets of Aigle before reaching a terminus where a change of direction sees it join a cog railway and it climbs steeply up through vineyards initially and afterwards some beech forest at an angle of up to 20degrees. The views over the Rhone valley and across to the Dents du Midi are breathtaking and one immediately feels that a special journey has begun. I alighted at 15.20 but I had to walk to the local sports shop (Hefti Sports) which was about a 10 minute walk and all of it downhill. I had previously been in contact with the shop and they had some gas for my stove already put aside for me and I also got the map I needed for the tour. Between getting everything sorted it was almost 16.00 before I was starting on my walk proper.
Down in Aigle. The train to Leysin rises from the centre to the notch by the peak.

High up looking at Tour d'Ai

The impressive restaurant atop Berneuse


My first objective was to try and reach somewhere where I could pitch my tent and begin to experience these wonderful mountains at their best. The weather was good and all going well I would have well over two hours of daylight left before the long night drew in so a quick look at the map and I settled on heading for Lac de Mayen which at just over 1800mtrs would make for a do-able target for the time I had available. I set off back up through the town and soon found the path that led up to the open ground above. The climb wasn't too bad as I was quite sensible with how much I was carrying (about 16kilo) and the path zig-zagged its way up the hillside. Initially I was on open pastureland but soon the climb wound its way up through the forest. The views just kept getting better and better and by the time I emerged above the trees it was hard not to keep stopping and turning back to look at the scenery that lay there. The one disappointment was that the hillside was clearly a ski area with all the paraphernalia that that entailed and therefore the wild feel wasn't to be found but it was still undeniably beautiful. I decided to head for Berneuse (2045mtrs) from where I could easily drop towards Lac de Mayen. This path was fairly direct and above the trees sometimes a little steep but I made good progress. I was surprised by how big the edifice of the restaurant was on the summit and that coupled with the ski lift buildings meant it felt more akin to reaching a small town rather that a mountaintop but it did offer extraordinary views and a water source, plus it was deserted so I opted to camp here for the night. I had been on the move for a couple of hours and gained over 700mtrs in height so it was a reasonable start, I was content.
Over the Rhone valley towards the Dents du Midi and beyond the mountains near chamonix

Les Diablerets

Setting sun over the Chablais Alps

A lovely view over Lake Geneva

There was a stiff-ish breeze blowing and here at over 6500ft it was also a bit chilly but I soon had my tent up and the stove heating some water for a brew. With views stretching from as far as the Mont Blanc massif on one side all the way to Geneva on the other and the impressive twin peaks of Tour d'Ai (2331mtrs) and Tour d'Mayen (2326mtrs) looming nearby I was like a kid in a sweetshop running from one vantage point to the other as I soaked in as much as I could before the darkness arrived. A lovely sunset over the Chablais Alps followed and I settled down to relax and enjoy my long night to come. At around 21.00 I could see the occasional flash of light and I reckoned that there was a storm over the high mountains down by Chamonix so I went out to have a look. I was a little surprised to see it was over in the direction of Geneva instead and it seemed to be growing in intensity. Indeed at one time there seemed to be a flash every few seconds. Still I wasn't too bothered as it was probably over sixty miles away so I settled in to watch the show. I was a little less sanguine when it gradually got nearer and nearer and when I could see bolts striking down on Lausanne I became a bit more worried. I was very aware that my tent was pitched practically under a ski lift and with so much metal about on the top of a mountain I began to think I hadn't picked the best spot to spend the night. I had a quick look around to see if there was anywhere I could retreat to and I was pleased to find a basement door to the restaurant that has around a six foot recess that would offer some cover. I returned to the tent and waited but although rain arrived shortly after the electrical activity stayed away and I slept reasonably well.

Tuesday October25th;

I was woken up at 07.00 by a bright flash which was followed a few seconds later by a resounding bang. I guess I wouldn't escape the lightning entirely. I sat up and waited bleary eyed for developments. I debated heading towards my bolthole but the driving rain and cozy sleeping bag made me a somewhat fatalistic so I slumped back down and was soon asleep again. I woke again just 20mins later and things had improved considerably. The rain had stopped and thankfully no electrical activity was around. It was still very dark and I had to check my phone and watch to be sure I had the time correct. I decided it was time to get up anyway and I set about getting breakfast ready. I was only able to get "Campingas" in Leysin so I brought a different burner than my usual Primus and boy o boy was it slow. I know the Primus is fast to boil water but this yoke took an age and over the trip I didn't once wait for water to boil before making tea etc. Anyway on the plus side the wait gave me more time to be getting on with the complexities of packing up. By the time I was finished my meal it was light and I could start getting myself sorted in earnest. Alas the rain had also returned and I had to pack up a wet tent and some gear got damp as well. It always seems to take longer than you expect and it was 08.30 before I was on the move and dropping down towards Lac de Mayen.
A change in the weather

About as clear as it got on the summit of Tour d'Ai


Across the gap to Tour de Mayen
The first thing I noticed, aside from the weather, was just how slippery the muddy little track had become. The second thing was that my boots were really on their last bits of sole rubber and in places were in danger of wearing through completely. Getting traction with almost non existent treads was almost impossible and I quickly had to stick to the grassy ground to avoid falling on my backside. I made it down to col and I spotted a blue and white marked trail that led towards Tour d'Ai so I decided to have a look at it and see how far I would get. I knew there was a straightforward way to the summit of Tour du Mayan but it was a pleasant surprise to find this track. The trail was quite straightforward and had some ironmongery wherever there was a steep or narrow section. I had dropped my bag at the start and it was lovely to be able to walk so freely up the slope. The rain had stopped at the start but returned again as I got higher and unfortunately the cloud also descended so it was more akin to a walk at home but it was still good fun. I made good progress and it took me just over an hour to climb the 400 odd meters and reach the top and return to my bag. Loaded up again I set off back down the trail. Unfortunately I had to return most of the way to Leysin to rejoin the trail that led to my destination for the day, the campsite at Col des Mosses. Again great care had to be taken on the descent and I cursed my stupidity in not having checked my boots before I came. Still I was stuck with them now and to be fair on most of the ground it was okay.
Despite the weather it was still very beautiful

On reaching the path the signpost said it was almost four hours to the col and as it wasn't yet 11am I had plenty of time. I was now well under the cloud and despite the rain the landscape was an enchanting delight of rolling alpine pastures, mountains and stunning forests that displayed their autumn colours. A fair bit of the way was on little roads that wound their way from chalet to chalet and seemed to be completely devoid of cars. I'm not normally a fan of walking on tarmac but it was never for too long and things varied between forest trails and also pasture. Eventually I was nearing a col ahead but as I neared it I was surprised and confused to find that the trail contoured around around the mountain as I had assumed that this way the col I was aiming for. Trying to look at the map in the pouring rain wasn't a big help but I realized that I was indeed in error and I still had a fair way to go. On the contour the trail went along a forest road before climbing quite steeply for a fair while and then re-emerging into alpine pastures again. It was lovely to come across a few hinds as they grazed and we enjoyed a short standoff before they vanished into the nearby woods. It buoyed my ever dampening spirits and by now I was pretty damp right through and there was no let up in the weather in sight. The cloud now covered all views but I actually like walking in these atmospheric conditions. Eventually the trail dropped under the cloud and I reached a rather bleak settlement at the Col des Mosses.
Back towards Leysin

The "Tours" in cloud


Col des Mosses

As I arrived at the col I was delighted to see a hawk swoop from a nearby chalet over the meadow and suddenly drop into the grass and emerge with an unfortunate something in its talons. It took my mind off the rain for a bit as I set off up the broad road towards the campsite. It was a bit dismaying to find the campsite was closed but the toilet block were open as it was a place that had resident caravanners. There was precious little space anywhere to place even a small tent so I turned and walked back to the tourist office to inquire if there was anywhere else to stay. My almost non existent French and her almost non existent English made for difficult communication until an elderly English lady came to our rescue and I was directed to a nearby hotel which I was assured was "normal" priced. I walked as far as it but from what I could tell only the restaurant was open and with main courses costing over 50francs I dreaded to discover what a bed for the night would be so I turned and resolved to find somewhere to pitch my tent by the campsite. As I walked back the English lady offered me a place to stay but I declined (I will never know πŸ˜‰) and went down the lane to the site. I found a flat spot in a stand of evergreen trees on the edge of a play area and put my tent up there. Oh dear but a fair bit of what was in my sack was a bit damp but at least my sleeping bag was dry (I had put it in a plastic bag) and I was soon reasonably comfy inside. After a while I gathered up all my wet gear and walked to the toilet block which was well heated and I spread out my wet gear in the spacious laundry room and it was crispy dry the following morning 😊. I relished a long hot shower that got rid of the chill that had seeped to my core and went and settled back in my tent somewhat refreshed. It had been over a six hour wet day and I had gained almost 1500mtrs of height so I was glad of the rest. A long wet and fairly grim evening and night followed but I was hopeful of the weather improving tomorrow.

Wednesday October 26th;

My hopes of waking to a dry morning were soon dashed as I listened to the heavy rain hit the tent. Daylight brought no improvement but eventually at around 9am there was a lull and I set off for the bakery in the village centre. Just my luck that the rain returned with a vengeance as I entered the village and my dry clothes were thoroughly soaked by the time I got back to the tent. On the plus side as I have said everything I hang up in the laundry room the previous afternoon was now dry so things weren't too bad. I feasted on croissants and tea and hung on as long as I could in the tent before finally getting going at 11.45. Leaving the site and once again rising across open pastureland brought me into the full force of the weather which was fouler than yesterday as there the addition of a stiff wind thrown into the mix. It was still nice to be on the move though and today didn't have to be a hard day as I was heading towards Chateau d'Oex which was about a four hour walk away. The landscape was more of the same with pasture and forest in equal measure and when I was able to get a glimpse of the nearby tops through the mists I could see that it had snowed down to around 2000mtrs overnight. A gentle gradual rise was soon followed by a drop to the settlement of La Lecherette with what I guess (or hope) was a military base guarded by a tank parked by the roadside. Switzerland certainly is different. I should say that I was now following the "TAV" or Tour des Alps Vaudious which gives an eight day circuit through these mountains. It offers plenty of options to extend or cut it short and there are very good public transport links at the end of each stage. http://wanderland.myswitzerland.com/en/routes/route-046.html
Boom boom baby

The weather hadn't exactly improved

The route undulates gently through mostly pastoral lands after this and I was delighted to see in the distance a little bit of blue sky appear and with it the promise of better weather. It finally stopped raining at 14.45 but again I was fairly damp by then and I resolved to find a B&B or hotel to stay in at Chateau d'Oex so I could get all my stuff dry. My spirits improved with the weather and as you would expect so did the views. I could see my destination for most of the second half of the walk and it made for a pretty sight as it nestled in a beautiful valley. The path left the open fields and entered forestry once again as it descended towards the little village of Les Moulins. Once again my boots were proving a liability and great care was required to avoid slipping. Eventually I emerged onto a tarmac road which was actually a delight as it wound its was down into the village. There followed about another hours walk through well tended farmland before I eventually entered the tourist destination of Les Chateau at around 3pm. I found the tourist office in the town centre and they were super helpful and found me a B&B in the Les Granges which was around 45minutes walk further on and printed a couple of maps for me. I bought some groceries in the nearby Co-op and walked to my home for the night. The walk was predominantly alongside a fast flowing river with several places en-route where it would have been possible to pitch a tent but the ground was pretty saturated and the comforts of a nice dry warm room were too enticing. I found my home for the night which was excellent   http://rooms.myswitzerland.com/chambres-d-hotes/ChateaudOex/BBLesPromenadesenmontagnes-51089 and as I had the place to myself I was able to spread out all my stuff and get it dry and a very pleasant relaxing evening and night followed.
Finally brighter skies ahead

Beautiful autumn colours

Towards Chateau d'Oex


A not untypical chalet with stunning shingle work

We're going to need a considerably bigger sledge



Lovely church in Chateau d'Oex


Home sweet home

Thursday October 27th;

The rains of the previous couple of days were gone and I emerged to a beautiful crisp dry morning. Thanks to the excellent WiFi available I was able to find out that the weather looked set to be stellar for the remainder of my trip so I was in excellent spirits as I set off up the narrow road that eventually morphed into a forest track that would eventually climb to the Col de Bas 1857mtrs from where I would head down to L'Evitas. The shaded valley walk was delightful and as I got higher the ground had a coating of frost. It took a long time but eventually I reached the sunshine and I walked through the ever wilder landscape to reach the col. It was lovely to finally arrive in wild mountain scenery that from this vantage hadn't been despoiled by skiing paraphernalia and I sat and soaked up as much vitamin d as I could. I had hoped to climb the nearby peak of La Dovre 2170mtrs but there didn't seem to be any easy way onto the ridge and as I wasn't interested in any heroics on this trip I settled for where I was. Eventually I dropped from the sunny col into the shaded forest where the narrow trail twisted down. Again I had to be super careful as the ground at times was steep and the result of a slip would have been serious but I managed to stay upright all the way down. The path emerged from the trees just a few hundred meters from the little village and it was lovely to once again be in the sunshine. I relaxed a little while and enjoyed a bite of lunch near the charming little church (the nearest thing to one from "Little house on the Prairie") before deciding that I would continue on the trail for another couple of hours and hopefully find somewhere nice to pitch my tent.
Stunning morning and inviting view


Beautiful roof on and old "Alpage"


Up by the col and unspoilt beauty

Les Diablerets

No easy way to the summit


A quirky refuge on the descent

Simple chapel in L'Evitaz

I headed out of the village towards the Grand Cle on a little road that rose gently and once again morphed into a forest trail before re-emerging into sunny farmland at Pasquir Mottier where the track climbed steeply up through the woods until an easy traverse led to the perfect camping area at the Grand Cle 1837mtrs. It was nearly 16.00 and I had plenty of time to chill out and enjoy my surroundings. Through the nearby pass of Fenetre d'Arnon a glorious glimpse of the white mountain tops of Les Diablerets was to be seen while in all other directions peaks in excess of 2000mtrs soared. It felt so good to be able to relax outside and the rain of the previous days was a quickly receding memory. The sun eventually set over the hills to the west and then the temperature started to drop pretty rapidly so I entered my tent and read and ate and listened to music and enjoyed a long peaceful night.
Cooking the bacon

Looking back towards L'Evitaz


Excellent camping spot

Friday October 28th;

Another crystal clear morning greeted me when I emerged from cover and I set off on my way at 08.45. Other than the rainy Wednesday morning I was pretty consistent with my departure times which were largely determined by the rhythms of day and night. Easy walking saw me pass through the Fenetre d'Arnon and drop easily down to the shaded lake of Arnensee. One curiosity was that once in this valley I briefly entered the German speaking area of Switzerland but once I had passed over the next col (Col de Vore 1918mtrs) I was back in French speaking territory again. As I progressed today I was getting nearer and nearer the quite spectacular massif of Les Diablerets. I could see the big cable car (Glacier 3000) that led up to one of the tops but it wasn't running at this time of year. I had thought of climbing up to the CAF refuge and trying to bag a summit but it was clear that crampons and axe would be needed so I decided not to. As I descended towards Col du Pillon I was treated to the magnificent sight of an eagle soaring high above me. Once again it brought home that when you see an eagle there is really no mistaking them for anything else. They are truly huge and the harrying accompaniment of Alpine Choughs were tiny by comparison. It was just another delight on a delightful morning in a delightful setting. Once at the col with its lift station the trail crossed the road and descended all the way to the pleasant town of Les Diablerets (1150mtrs) which is so dominated my the same named massif that soars above it. Bright, clean and obviously a tourist town it was also in the middle of a farming valley and a herd of happily grazing dairy cows went musically about their business right next to the train station in the heart of the town.
The view east from the col

Arnensee


Possibly a Lammergeier??

The Dents du Midi again...I love em


Les Diablerets town

Leaving town

I soon found myself alone again on the outskirts of the town on a trail that rose up through yet another skiing area. Skiing is obviously big business but its fair to say that the mountains are also (in my humble opinion) spoiled somewhat by the extent of development right across the whole area. My next target for today was Col de la Croix (1776mtrs) where I hoped once again to find somewhere to set up home for the night. As I said the trail was initially up through a piste and then I was on a roadway for a kilometer or so before once again climbing up through forestry before once again emerging on high open ground that offered stunning views across to the Les Diablerets massif. The day was also quite warm in the sunshine and I actually got a little sunburned as I walked directly into the full force of the sun all the rest of the way to the col. The col itself was quite busy but I turned to the right and made a tortuous way through the very weird little area called Pyramides de Gypse which is a convoluted collection of little pinnacles of I guess gypsum that are surrounded by little hollows. I thought it was due to some sort of mining activity but it seems that it is a natural phenomena. Anyway I emerged from the pyramids out onto open ground and it was immediately obvious I had found a wonderful place for my tent. There was a fair few hikers about but that didn't bother me as I knew they would all be gone by nighttime. What was more important was the simply stunning views that were to be had. Behind me the massif I had enjoyed looking at all day soared but it was the view across the Rhone Valley and beyond to the Mont Blanc massif that took the breath away. Warm windless sunny weather allowed me to bask for a couple of hours and revel in this my last night in the mountains. As the sunset approached I was left in blissful isolation and allowed to enjoy the spectacular spectacle in complete peace. One of the best wildcamps I have ever had.

The passing of wolves. Impressive artwork at the col

The pyramides de gypse

A room with a view..again


Sunset


Saturday October 29th;

I had expected it to have been cold last night but there wasn't even the hint of frost on my tent in the morning. Indeed it was crispy dry and totally dew free. Whilst it was very nice the sunrise wasn't nearly as spectacular as the sunset but its fair to say I wasn't complaining as today promised to be another perfect weather day. All I had to do today was get as far as Aigle from where I would be able to catch my train to the airport that evening. I was in no particular hurry because even if the trek took longer that I expected I had the option of catching a train at several places along the way. I was a little sad that this short odyssey was coming to a close but I was also so grateful that I had been blessed with such wonderful weather over the last few days that made the grim couple of wet days well worth enduring. I had looked at my map and decided that the best course for me to take was to head first to Bretaye (1806mtrs) and then towards La Forclaz (1260mtrs) from where I could descend to Aigle (400mtrs). Despite being in no rush I still found myself all packed up and on the move by 9am. What a delight the walk to Bretaye was!. Those views towards Mont Blanc only got better and better there was little or no height gain or drop on the way so it was easy and pain free. Once again I found that Bretaye was a ski area but by now I was used to it and anyway I soon left it behind as I turned and descended towards La Forclaz. If I thought my difficulties with my boots were behind me that notion was soon dispelled as once again I entered forestry and the trail descended steeply and was narrow and slippery but thankfully I emerged onto easier ground unscathed.
What a morning and what a view

If I was to return to golf it would be to here


The hamster wheel seemed like a good thing to try at the time..my exit from it was less than dignified 😨

This roof was a work of art

A view back to the start of the trip.
You looking at meπŸ™€

Entering the little village at midday I was greeted by a surprisingly robust cacophony of bells from what must have been two churches. It was nice to also see (now that the weekend was here) families out and getting lunch ready to be eaten outdoors. I was also afforded good views across the valley to Leysin where my journey had begun and to the twin peaks of Tour d'Ai and Tour de Maven. Exiting the village the trail followed a road that gained around 100 mtrs in height but thereafter it dropped down into the extensive beech woods that covered the deep deep valley that stretched all the way to the Rhone Valley and so to Aigle. A long gentle descent followed on mostly a forest road which afforded snatched views to the colourful treescape opposite where autumn colour painted the forest in a multitude of rusty hues. As I went down in the shade it got a bit chillier but when I eventually emerged into the sunshine in the town I was surprised to find that it seemed much cooler than in the mountains higher up. I couldn't help but wonder if the layers of pollution that were clearly evident when viewed from the hills was causing a temperature inversion to form and was reflecting the sun and trapping the chillier air. All conjecture on my part of course but all I knew was that it was a little colder than expected when I got into town. I passed some time exploring the small but pretty town that was surrounded by one one side extensive vineyards and on the other a wide expanse of farmland that covered the full width of the valley.As evening approached I decided to head into the relative quietude that this area provided where I sat and cooked my final meal and enjoyed the stunning panorama of mountain scenery that totally surrounded me. Eventually I had to pack up and I walked back into town where it was an easy thing to catch a train to the airport.
Finally turning towards Aigle..The pollution in the valley clearly visible

Walking in the woods can be magical

Wonderful autumn colour


The train from Leysin nears Aigle



The very interesting 10th century church in Aigle

Alas the barrels were empty

I had enjoyed the experience immensely and considered myself very fortunate to have gotten such wonderful weather for the latter half of the trip. Switzerland is at times achingly beautiful but I would have to say this area is bordering on being over developed. Skiing dominated the Vaud mountains but they are still very beautiful and worthy of a visit. That said I think I would head to somewhere a little wilder if I had the choice again but at this time of year with autumn giving way to winter perhaps the option of public transport links and various accommodation options isn't such a bad thing.