I decided to go hiking in Valais due to the rainy weather forecast in central Switzerland. I wanted to do a nice, long hike. My plan was to start just north of Verbier at the télécabine station Les Ruinettes. From there, I wanted to go to Cabane du Mont Fort, follow the Sentier de Chamois to Lac de Louvie, and finish in Fionnay.
Because my proposed itinerary would take 5.5-6 hours, I wanted to start early. I arrived at Les Ruinettes around 9:30. Although it was clear when I first arrived at Les Ruinettes, no less than 5 minutes later clouds rolled in. It wasn’t too long after the clouds arrived that it started snowing. As I climbed higher into the mountains, the snow started coming down harder, until it was coming at me seemingly sideways. I guess I was technically standing IN the cloud too.
Undeterred, I continued. I descended into a valley and looked up, trying to gauge where the trail went. I saw some large patches of yet unmelted snow on the side of the mountain ahead. “Please let the trail bypass that area,” I thought. Well, you guessed it. The trail did NOT bypass the snowy sections. The first snowy patch of the trail that I hit, I proceeded cautiously but relatively quickly, thinking “this isn’t so bad.” As the trail went up, I came across several more areas where the trail was still covered by ice and snow. I was afraid of slipping and sliding down the mountain, so each time I came across a snowy patch, I bent down to lower my center of gravity and trekked step by step through it while digging both my hands into the snow. Each snowy pass became harder to cross as I lost feeling in my swollen fingers. (I stupidly didn’t bring gloves, assuming it was the “summer” hence gloves were not needed.) After crossing each pass, I held my freezing hands against my stomach to rewarm the tissue.
After about 6 of these patches of snow, the trail curved along the side of the mountain, hugging the steep cliffside. I finally relaxed as there was no snow in sight. The clouds started to lift, and I had better visibility. Happily, I continued. For about an hour, I heard and saw no one save for a single chamois. The trail is called Sentier des Chamois because it is frequented by chamois, ibex, and other creatures.
Then, I hit another patch of snow. However, this time, the snow patch extended for 3-4 times the length of the other patches. I could see the trail on the other side of the snow, and ahead was a second patch of snow. From there, the trail took a bend around the mountain, so I had no idea what would lie ahead. I started through this very long patch of snow. I was about halfway through when I started to slip. I tried to use my fingers to dig into the snow, but couldn’t get a good grip. I slid further. I dug my ankles as hard as I could and caught onto a rock jutting out from the snow. I stopped sliding. My heart was pounding and an internal voice started talking, “Kristie, this is madness. If you continue like this, you might get a sprained ankle or broken bone or worse. Time to call it quits, OK?” Ok. Gingerly, I inched my way back across the way I came. When my feet hit the trail, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Safety. I made my way back the way I came. It was easier on the return because I could follow my footprints that I had made just an hour earlier.
On my return to Les Ruinettes, the clouds truly started to lift and some sunshine peeked through. I sat on a rock and ate one of the best lunches of my life. Nothing builds an appetite like 4.5 hours of hiking, almost sliding down a mountain, and feeling “safe” again. While eating lunch, I heard a loud sound. It was a chirping sound like that of sparrows, but it was much louder. I looked around and found the source of the noise: a groundhog (marmotte)!!
The rest of the hike was uneventful. I made it back to Les Ruinettes. From Les Ruinettes, I hiked to Verbier. At this point, I was exhausted so I paid for a lift ticket down to Le Châble, and from there, I took a comfy SBB train home to Lausanne.
I love the mountains. The mountains are reinvigorating. Most of the time, I come back from the mountains happy, tired, and satiated. Sometimes, I come back with a lesson. This trip’s lesson was one in humility. I thought I was prepared for the hike. Although I was solo, Emily had my hiking plan and times of when I planned on leaving and returning. I was dressed warmly (except for the gloves) and was wearing good shoes. But I wasn’t prepared for uncleared trails. Switzerland takes really good care of its trails, and I had just assumed that all trails would have been cleared of snow and ice. Obviously I was wrong. I probably should have turned around after the first several patches of snow, but I thought too highly of myself. I thought, “Don’t be a chicken and turn back at the first adversity.” But after slipping on that last patch of snow, I realized I have nothing to prove. Who am I trying to impress? Who am I trying to show that I can cross ice and snow without the proper equipment? Yes, I was a little upset that I didn’t make it to Lac de Louvie. Yes, I was a little upset that I did not finish my hike. But at the end of the day, mountains and nature are so much more powerful than I will ever be. It is more important to know when to let go of my ego–when to call it quits. When to acknowledge that, no, I’m not the shit. I need to respect the limits of what I CAN do (which isn’t everything) and respect the enormity and strength of nature. Thank you, Mountains in Val de Bagnes, for giving me a reality check and reminder to let go of my ego.
On a different note Last Wednesday we had our lab summer BBQ. We took everything down to the lake and grilled sausages, chicken, and RIBS. The ribs were delicious! It was a lovely evening with good food and good company.