Wednesday, January 2, 2019

TMB Day 7: La Fouly to Champex






Day Seven
July 23, 2018

Starting point: La Fouly, Switzerland
Ending point: Champex, Switzerland
Distance: 9.9 miles
Height gain: 2192 feet
High point: Champex (4810 feet)
Lunch: Cafe du Chatelet, Issert
Accommodation: Hotel Mont Lac

The guidebook said that this stage was definitely the easiest day of the trek.  Even though there were still many miles to cover, we would not be going over any mountain passes or into any valleys. We were excited for an easy day, but by the middle of it I think that we were both really over how easy (and monotonous) it was. After an initial climb out of the Swiss Val Ferret, we walked along the mountain in the trees, gaining snatches of views of the river and the little Swiss houses to the right. We stopped into a random cave that was not mentioned in the guidebook with some Ukrainian trekkers, one of which really wanted to take a picture with us afterward.  After this little jolt of excitement, it was a mostly flat walk through three quiet Swiss hamlets until we came to a small refuge that was the only thing in operation at the end of Issert, the last of the three hamlets. A simple but hearty country lunch there gave us the energy to trudge up a steep ascent to Champex, a surprisingly idyllic lakeside resort town.  We had no idea how nice it was going to be, it felt a little bit indulgent for a trekking trip!  After ninja-ing the only market in town (like, making it in literally as they were closing), we soaked in those resort amenities and treated ourselves to a bomb lakeview dinner.









We started the day with a pretty good breakfast of yogurt, muesli, some butter, and homemade jam with bread.  On our way out of La Fouly, we stopped into the little market and contemplated buying some food to go, but decided not to.  That turned out to be a bad decision, though...









We knew that we could walk on the road to get to Champex faster, but we stuck with the TMB trail and found that it led us to a higher vantage point along a balcony trail across the river, with a nice view of the farmland and little brown Swiss houses spread below. It was nicely shaded and pretty empty. We passed a group of three guys, who turned out to be from Ukraine, but other than that we did not see anyone else.  It seemed like a good majority of the trekkers opted to use the bus option or something.













 







We eventually got right up to the mouth of a dark cave - it was definitely not mentioned anywhere in guidebook, so we were not sure what to make of it... it was huge though, so it almost seemed like a landmark that should not be missed.  I pulled out the headlamp and shined it in, to see if we could see anything. Before we knew it, one of the Ukrainian men walked right in! The other two guys followed. We were pretty taken aback by how brave they were, but we followed too. It was cool in there and very eerie, as any cave would be. The vaulting ceiling was textured and high, but the cave itself did not go much deeper. We all had a good laugh with the guys and then we came out, one by one, back into the Swiss sun.






The next few miles seemed promising at first, since we’d be passing through three towns. Supposedly, they are hamlets that look like they hadn’t been touched by the passing of time, says Kev Reynolds. Still, we expected these towns to be lively and fun, but the first town (Praz-de-Fort) was essentially deserted and the second one (Les Arlaches) was just as dead. This was not good because we were banking on getting lunch in one of these establishments. Literally, not a door or window was open, and some of these houses looked like they were going to fall apart.







 We were ready to whip out a Kind Bar when finally at the very end of the last town (Issert), there was a door open with a small blackboard menu of Swiss country food. It was literally the only business open, and there were a couple of backpackers eating outside of it. Compared to the crowded refuges of France and Italy, we were almost a little bit uncomfortable with walking in and settling down for lunch. It was really quiet, too quiet save for the seemingly out-of-place American music that was playing softly, but the hostess was a very cordial Black woman and the chef (who came out with our food later) was jolly.








I had a very good omelet with ham in it and a small salad, and Wes had a croute en fromage jambon oeuf- a bubbling white lake of cheese in a cast iron pan with an island of grilled bread and a fried egg on top, garnished by two mini pickles (cornichons) and a couple of strips of ham. He said that it was essentially hangover food, but he said it in a good way. The bread that came with the meal looked boring, but it was really good- hard crust and soft innards, shaped like how a cartoon toast would be shaped, haha.






While we were eating, two other girls with English accents had come in and were eating and reading their Kev Reynolds book as well. They were clearly debating whether they should attempt the Fenetre d’Arpette the following day, which was a very challenging mountain pass that should only be attempted if the weather was totally clear. I kept overhearing their conversation and it sounded like they were afraid of it, but up for it. We weren’t sure what we were going to do yet.
























After this very homey lunch, we hiked uphill for about an hour and a half, walking by wooden tree carvings mostly of mushrooms, squirrels, and ibexes. Apparently, this route is called the Sentier des Champignons, or “trail of the mushrooms,” and the various statues and plaques along the path were set up by the Mycological Circle of Entremont to raise public awareness of these unknown living beings.  We found the displays entertaining and comical, and it made the climb into Champex much more fun than we would have imagined, but the statues were only amusing for so long.  The terrain today was not as physically demanding as the other days, but these switchbacks seemed endless, and by the time we finally got into Champex, we were about ready to collapse.






We were surprised to see how nice of a town Champex was. The guidebook definitely does not go into how lovely and sort of high-end this place is. The owner of the hotel was extremely welcoming and he spoke perfect English.  He personally showed us to our room and also showed us the amenities, which had our jaws dropping. There was a large indoor swimming pool with massage jets and a sauna, as well as some workout equipment that we swore we’d never touch.  Our room had its own patio space with a view of the lake, a mini fridge, a hair dryer, and an actual bathtub.












We showered liberally and laid out our still-damp clothes from the day before in the sun to dry, and then went downstairs at 6:00 PM to see if we could hit up the only market in town to pick up some picnic food for the next day, since we had a mini fridge in the room. The people downstairs told us there that the market was about to close, but we speed-walked past a bunch of Chinese tourists and young Swiss boys with fishing rods to the market. I charged through the automatic door before anyone could say anything and immediately began grabbing anything in sight that looked good. We made it out in about five minutes with 2 sausages, a soft cake of goat cheese, 2 terrine packets, 2 yogurt cups, a pack of seedy crispbreads, 2 Roma tomatoes, and a bag of greens. Yes!!! We wouldn't have had time in the morning to do this market run, so it was a relief that we were able to get it done today. Wes was impressed with my decision-making skills under pressure and commented that we should strive to shop like this all of the time.







Oh yes, this is random, but the market had some marijuana-infused chocolate next to a potted marijuana plant.  I was wondering why they were charging so much for that chocolate at first!





We stopped by another bakery in town to see what they had there before heading back to our hotel for dinner.  We grabbed a croissant and some jam.  Then when we got in front of our hotel, we saw the couple from Toronto sitting right out front - again!  It's so funny how we wound up staying in the same place for all of these days in a row.




Hotel Mont Lac had its own full-fledged bar and restaurant that was actually pretty busy, but I felt like we were probably the only trekkers there besides the Canadian couple.   It seemed as if many European families come up to Lac Champex for holiday, just to fish, swim, and boat on the lake. The restaurant was called Mimi’s Lounge--what a very American-sounding name! It turns out that the chef lived in Los Angeles for half a year; he worked as a personal chef in Beverly Hills.





This place seemed pretty classy, but all of the places around the resort town of Champex seemed to be like this.  It was immediately obvious based on last night and tonight that we'd be spending more money in Switzerland than in any other country during the trek.  But we felt really good about supporting the chef and his wife at Mimi's Lounge, and their brother, who ran the hotel.  Despite how fancy this place seemed, it seemed homier and more family-run than many of the other refuges we stayed at.  They all took time to converse with us and truly held themselves to such a high standard for their guests.


Vitello tonnato - cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavored with tuna. It came with fries!


Toast aux chanterelles - we figured that we had to get something with mushrooms after all those wooden statues and cartoons!  And it was maybe one of the most memorable foods from this entire trip.  It was just loaded with these fresh chanterelle mushrooms!  Such a simple dish, but so great. 


  
Filets de truite du Lac Champex - trout from the Champex lake.  We realized that we hadn't had seafood this entire trip, since we've been in such a landlocked part of Europe.  It was good to try, but the fish was honestly nothing to rave about, probably will continue to stick with cheese and beef!




Housemade strawberry and chocolate ice cream.  Ice cream...I could never tire of eating ice cream in Switzerland.



They gave us some complimentary chocolate after the meal.  The Swiss love their milk chocolate.





We went to the sauna and pool after dinner and it was so nice. The pool was too cold for me, so I spent more time in the sauna while Wes tortured himself with the uber-strong massage jets. Our extremely comfortable stay here was coming to an end - it was a little breath of fresh air leading into the last third of the TMB and almost made us forget that we were still on this crazy trek. 


It seemed as if most trekkers skip the walk from La Fouly to Champex and don't spend the night in Champex.  We knew that there was a bus that ran from the start to the end of this stage so that it can be bypassed completely for those who want to get on to the next stage, but we were committed to walking the whole route.  Looking back, we wouldn't have skipped this day even if it meant saving money or getting ahead.  Despite being hangry and rather bored, this was still fun in its own, laidback right, and we met people who we never would have met before.  The Hotel and entire town of Champex was a welcome surprise, providing respite that we hadn't realized that we needed.  It also set us up for the next day, which would possibly be the hardest day of the whole trek, if we decided to take the Fenetre d’Arpette route. This was a decision that needed to be made first thing in the morning, because it depended solely on the weather.  We knew we’d have the willpower, but we would need the weather to be clear.  So, we settled into the comfortable bed, set a very early alarm, and crossed our fingers for tomorrow.

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