Wednesday 18 July 2012

Tour des Muverans

Leaping Julia
Tour des Muverans

I have just spent a very pleasant week with my wife June and daughter Julia walking in the mountains of Switzerland.
Julia has been working at a Swiss boarding school being an assistant house parent and taking the children on various expeditions, walking, skiing, canoeing and all things outdoor.
Julia organised a walking tour for us, over four days, staying in huts for the three nights. 

The Tour des Muverans follows a high level route around the impressive peaks of the Muveran Massif (which Julia can see from her balcony at the school).  It is apparently one of the wilder parts of the Swiss Alps, and we’ll be walking through a couple of nature reserves en route.

June and I left a very soggy UK on Sunday and were told to bring Clothes for all weather conditions. Things were looking up as we flew south across a sunny France but the clouds thickened as we started our decent into Geneva. A very pleasant train journey around Lac Leman to Aigle, followed by a bus ride up the mountain to Villars sur Ollon at 1300m, we were met by daughter Julia. It was raining but we were prepared.

We were staying with George and Carol Logie, who are the parents of Julia's fiancé Mark. They are house parents at the same school as well as teachers. Normal school life had finished for the academic year the week before and Summer school was about to start.

On Monday the weather was even worse but we decided to go on an acclimatisation walk up in the mountains. We walked into town to the telecabine station where nothing was moving due to lack of customers but it was started just for us. The telecabine took us from the town up to Roc d’Orsay for a lovely walk up Grand Chamossaire (2000m), along the ridge to Petit Chamossaire and down to the restaurant at Lac des Chavonnes. The decent took us via the ski resort baby slope to Bretaye, where we caught a train back to Villars. Full waterproofs were required most of the day but it was still a very pleasant walk.
It was funny seeing the baby slope again, where George had tried valiantly and very patiently, to teach me to ski 18 months previously. I did eventually sort of master this slope after a week but I am not a natural to say the least and did not progress to anything more technical. I think my main problem is lack of confidence caused by a fear of heights. Is walking in the Alps really a good idea?
On Tuesday, Carol kindly gave us a lift to the start of the walking tour at Pont de Nant (1253m). It wasn't raining but cloudy, which was a bit of an improvement on Monday.
Day one of the walk took us from Pont de Nant, up a lovely valley, through forests, open pastures and crossing snow patches up to the Col des Essets (2029m) then dropping down into Anzeindaz (1876m) for a coffee stop.  From here a gentle climb up over the Pas de Cheville (2038m) and finally a fairly steep descent to Derborence (1450m) where we were to spend the first night. We got there in the evening sunshine, dropped off our bags and went to test the water with the idea of having a swim. It was very cold and there were some large snakes near the water, so we decided on a paddle and wash rather than a swim.
The Hut at Derborence
The first hut was an interesting mix, with a fantastic menu, great wines but no showers and one shared dormitory which was basically split into one large lower and one large upper bunk. Fortunately, the dormitory was not full and there were no loud snorers, so we got a good night’s sleep.
Ascent: 940m              Descent: 750m           Distance: 13.5km
Giant Swiss Flowers
The second day started sunny and warm but ended with a violent thunderstorm chasing us up a glacier to the Rambert Hut at a height of 2580m. We met our first serious amounts of snow during the day.  Now, I don't mind horizontal lying snow but when it is at an angle, I start to panic. Julia and June went ahead of me and made deep footsteps for me to follow and as long as I didn’t look up or down the slopes, I was just about OK.
On the final scramble up to the hut, with the thunderstorm chasing, we thought that June was hallucinating when she reported seeing three monks in their habits running up above us. However, her sighting was confirmed later that evening by a couple that saw them climbing the Grand Muveran earlier.
The delicious evening meal was soup, stew with rice and fruit salad for pudding, with a bottle of red wine to wash it down. We ate our meal together as a group that included a German / Mexican couple, two Dutch lads and eight Swiss. The Swiss parties’ age range must have been from about 20 to 70 and they kept us entertained during the evening with their singing. They were walking in the opposite direction to us around the tour and I was amazed to find that their following day was to take them well beyond where we started that morning.
The facilities were even more basic with a drop toilet and no running water but the dormitories were a little more private.

Ascent: 1240m            Descent: 150m           Distance: 9.5km
The third day started downhill, all the way to Petit Pres (1598m), and then a climb up to the Col de Fenestral (2453m) with a picturesque view down to the Lac de Fully.  We headed down to this lake (2135m) and then finished the day with another climb up to the Col du Demecre (2361m) for the last night on the Tour.
This hut was run more like a youth hostel where we cooked our own meals with supplied ingredients (spaghetti Bolognese) and did our own washing up. The warden made his own bread and jam which we had for breakfast. Julia asked how they got their provisions up from civilisation and the answer was by helicopter.
Continuing the toilet talk, this hut had a very modern but distant composting one, with solar powered lighting and we were given a bowl of warm water for washing, which was very welcome.Ascent: 1120m            Descent: 1400m         Distance: 13.5km
Hut at Col du Demecre
Outside Hut
Day four started and ended wet, with a cloudy middle. We were advised not to take the high route that Julia had planned because of the amount of rain and the likelihood that the narrow and precarious path would have been washed away. This meant a long detour down 500m and then back up 500m to a hut for lunch. This was a fantastic newly built hut, with an amazing view over the valley and it had flushing toilets and a shower! However we weren't staying and after a steep climb and the crossing of the scariest snow slopes so far, the rest of the day was a 1200m decent back down to Pont de Nant, where George was waiting to pick us up.
Scariest Snow Slope of the Tour
The only other problem on the way down was crossing the stream in the valley, which normally would be possible with a couple of stepping stones but because of amount of rain we had to go quite a way up-stream to find a crossing point.
Ascent: 900m              Descent: 2100m         Distance: 15.5km
Back at the school and having had an enormous feast and a shower for the first time in four days we all felt re-vitalised and ready for a trip to Montreux the following day.
We were fortunate with our timing, as the Montreux Jazz Festival happened to be on all week, so we spent a very sunny and warm Saturday being entertained by free music, entertainers, exotic food, a swim in the lake and an all-day paraglider demonstration. The paragliders were leaping off a distant mountain, doing loops and tricks above us and then trying to land on a floating pontoon in the lake.
A Successful Landing
All in all a wonderful trip, slightly beyond my comfort zone in a few places but that’s probably not a bad thing. The weather was a nice temperature for walking, it’s only a shame that some of the views were hidden in the clouds; we should have been able to see much more including Mont Blanc.
Oh well, next time.

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