On Wednesday, June 27, 2018 I woke up in Zurich, having given a presentation at the Central Library the day prior. After 3 trains, I arrived in the French town of Vallorcine to begin my hike of the Aiguilles Rouges, which in English translates to "Red Peaks". The beginning of the hike was picturesque with benign terrain (this would change soon enough):
The first day was full of day hikers and alpine ibex (bouquetin in French). They ibex were surprisingly indifferent to humans. I was a tad bit worried that I was too close to this male, but I couldn't resist the intrigue of the shot:
After I took this picture, we ended up hiking together for a while. I guess we were both going up. Later I ran into this herd of females:
The first night, I slept outside Refuge du Lac Blanc, which was surrounded by snow and yet to open for the season. At sunset, I got the red experience from within my cocoon 2,350 meters above sea level:
For those unfamiliar with a "refuge", it's the European equivalent of glamping. With only 8 euros in my belt pocket, I stuck to "wild camping". In fact, even the water on this hike was free, a rarity for European travel! Quick aside, I filtered the water, but other hikers drank it straight, only avoiding water from areas of the mountain with ski lifts.
I departed Refuge du Lac Blanc before sunrise, as I was just a bit too cold to actually sleep. At this early hour, I had the trail to myself. Just me and a full moon looking across at the glaciers:
Click here for a more immersive experience brought to you by a photo sphere. The mountains were very much alive. At several sections, a fountain of boulders seemed to be erupting from the tectonic depths of these formidable alpine formations:
It took me to the evening to reach the summit of Le Brévent, which at 2,515 meters was also the peak of my hike. The beauty of the 360 degree view was only diminished by the presence of man-made access (a marvelous cable car) and the encroaching darkness.
The descent from Le Brévent proved challenging as the snowpack was much more formidable on the west-facing side of the mountain range. After climbing down some ladders, I reached an impasse where the trail traversed a large patch of snow at a considerable incline. While the tracks of previous mountaineers made it clear where the trail went, I took one step onto the snowy traverse, which began to crumble beneath my foot, before deciding to attempt an alternative route.
I decided to circumnavigate the snow patch by descending below the snow-covered trail via the exposed gravel. This proved to be a challenging & frightening maneuver. The gravel was extremely loose. Meanwhile, I was exhausted with only adrenaline propelling me onward to crawl across the mountain in complete isolation. While I certainly made many mistakes to get myself into this situations, I did do one thing properly: I made sure not to panic. I kept silently repeating "one step at a time" and reminding myself to take as much time as I needed. 45 minutes later I was back on the trail, delighted to be alive.
I reflected on ways the situation could have been improved. It would have been helpful to save such a difficult section for earlier in the day when I had more energy and when there were other hikers around. An ice axe would have been nice. I probably should have followed the snowy traverse like the others hikers before me. However, the confidence and experience from this snafu would come in handy the following day, when I would encounter similarly difficult terrain but for a more prolonged stretch of the trail.
I finally reached less rugged terrain. I passed waterfall after waterfall pouring down from the horrid heights that I had just breached.
I hiked late, in search of sufficient tree cover to rig a hammock. I took the first opportunity I saw, which had me laying across the trail. The next morning I awoke to a hiker crouching beneath my hanging mattress to pass.
I continued onward, hiking through a valley devoid of human civilization on either side, except for a few chalets, most of them long abandoned and turned to ruins discernible only as stone outlines of their former selves. Nothing like a bath in the fresh snow-melt of the Alps to rekindle the spirit:
However, this pleasure soon turned into a brutal ascent. Luckily I caught up to a pack of Frenchmen.
As we approached Col de Salenton, the pass through which we would cross the ridge to descend into the Valley of Bérard, the clouds reminded us of the high altitude:
However, unlike the day before, I was unwavering in my step. The Frenchmen even assumed I was a veteran, at which point I had to tell them that I had no idea what I was doing. The valley on the other side was blanketed in snow. We decided that following the buried path was a losing battle, and took to glissading whenever possible:
At the base of the slope was the Refuge de la Pierre à Bérard. Before reaching it, I had broken a trekking pole and scraped my buttock, but we eventually all made it down in one piece. I said au revoir to my hiking companions and continued on.
I slept only a couple miles from the end of the tour. The next morning, I returned to civilization:
In total, I had hiked 34.6 miles (56 kilometers). Here's my track via ViewRanger.
In retrospect, I was impressed by my packing list. While you'll find many packing lists online geared towards hiking, I needed to accommodate both my professional presentations in Switzerland and my hike of the French Alps. Hence, I had to lug around my laptop, but was still able to achieve a base weight of 14.4 pounds. How's that for an #ultralight #steemian-boss?
A big shout-out to Olivier Lessard, a French friend I met while in San Francisco, who not only told me about the Tour des Aiguilles Rouges, but also put me in touch with his siter Ann, who housed me for two nights in the outskirts of Geneva. Olivier will be happy to learn that I completed the hike in 2.5 days (3 nights) rather than the customary 4 days. This enabled me to hike the Mer de Glace the following day and complete my goal to touch a glacier.
Steemian Boss Series
This is the fifthteenth post in the popular Steemian Boss Series. Previous posts include:
- Ultralight travel to Key West
- Sights aboard a twinjet, Philly to Boston style
- How to hammock like a Steemian Boss in Cambridge
- Glory aboard American Airlines flight 501
- The Centurion PHL Challenge: 8 specialty crafted cocktails
- The Delta Sky Club ATL Challenge: all 2 specialty cocktails
- Mississippi's best hiking: backpacking in Noxubee Hills
- Epic 80-mile bike ride to Limerick's Nuclear Reactors
- The Centurion SFO Challenge: revealing 8 exclusive cocktails
- A saga of 14 friends: returning to California
- Sending my brother off to Africa with a blaze
- Liberty Bell GPS art: celebrating liberty on the Fourth of July
- A walk in Lehigh Gorge state park to Glen Onoko falls by @trang.
- Mastering the Catskills: quadrupeak bushwhacking bonanza