Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Failing into Success (part four of more)

Switzerland. A country that, to many, immediately evokes images of The Alps. They do love their mountains. It also often evokes images of money. They certainly do also love their money. I know this because during this event they took most of ours!

Tired and hungry, we didn't think too much of the 130 euros La Cabane Panossière charged for two plates of pasta and the use of two beds for 3 hours. The next morning we were a more conservative paying just a few more euros for a bit of hot water to mix our own coffee. It wasn't a long sleep, but it was deep and the coffee never felt so good as it went to work. We'd need it to help warm us up as well since we'd be heading out into the dark pre-dawn and our clothes hadn't much opportunity for drying. This being a very "properly" run Swiss refuge, there was no drying them inside by the hearth.

The best way to stay warm is to keep moving so we headed out quickly along with another group. I think we were all anxious to get over the pass and out of this glacier-chilled valley no matter how beautiful it would probably look at sunrise. We had some difficulty finding the route, but eventually we marched our way up and over and onto the ridges above Lac de Mauvoisin as the sun came up. The rain stopped and things were looking up as we descended amongst the rocks.

The valley with Lac de Mauvoisin (photo Harry Walther)
Heading out along the hills above the valley, a tiredness crept over me. I think I mentioned before how Harry and I have different sleeping patterns. For me, the time right around dawn is the toughest. I began having trouble keeping up and found myself becoming annoyed that Harry hadn't noticed I was fading. I was getting cranky. I sat down on a rock, lay back and let myself drift off for 5-10 minutes or so. It was just enough.

I eventually caught back up with Harry who thought I had been on a bio-break. We continued up and down the hills, just going and gazing about and wondering. When and where were we to cross the river? The next checkpoint was on the other side. The rain returned and our path wound back on itself and headed down. It seemed the trail-makers had overshot the direction to the bridge. On the other side we welcomed by the next bit of PTL misery. A trail heading directly up the side of the hill with mud streaming down as the rain continued to increase.

We arrived at Cabane de Chanrion soaked once again, tired and hungry. I dispensed with what Swiss Francs I had for some food and we laid on the benches and took naps. We couldn't stay here too long as we were set to pass up over the Fenêtre de Durand and into Italy. There was really no point trying to stay dry anyways as the weather called for showers off and on all day. We descended back down to the river, over the bridge and then headed up again.

The climb to just over 9000ft was relatively gradual by Alpine standards and quite uneventful. At the top there was a plaque marking the spot and explaining something about this border between Switzerland and Italy. I took a picture, but it would be the last one I would take as my camera is likely still sitting some place along the trail leading down. There were a couple groups who'd caught up to us and we all made good time running down into Italy. It was somewhere along this somewhat exuberant descent where I lost my camera and all the photos I'd taken.

Near the bottom, Harry and I stopped off trail to have a bite of lunch. Ahead of us was some pretty easy terrain above the town of Ollomont, a place remembered fondly as the last major checkpoint before the final 50K of TDG the year before. In fact, the next refugio on our current path was the one place shared between the two races. I was looking forward to a little familiarity. However, here in PTL we were just barely past half way done.

We traveled for some time along a wide dirt road where farmers were herding their cattle. My recollection of this section is a bit sparse. I know we were both getting a bit loopy. I remember there were nonsensical conversations, some frustrations, a bit more rain and just a lot of tired walking. It is often this "less difficult" sections that where the mind starts to fade or break down lacking the physical challenge to keep oneself focused.

Eventually we came to the familiar trail heading up from the road. I recalled taking this in the heat of the day during TDG, now it was right around dusk. It was steep, but relatively short. Somehow I still managed to get off track even while staring at my GPS which sent me into a small fit. Night was setting in and I was tired and hungry. Arriving at Refugio Champillon lifted my mood a little and then it did a full 360 once we entered the main cabin.

The place was packed, bustling with activity and energy. It felt like the entire race was here and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. We found Beat and Daniel sitting at a table near the stove finishing off a meal after a little rest. They highly recommended the risotto with sausage and raved about the eggs. After Switzerland we were a little worried about our funds, but were excited to learn how cheap the meals were here. After finishing off two plates we ordered a third to share. We also bought sandwiches for just 5 euros each to put in our packs. The staff here was so wonderful and welcoming, I cannot say enough.

It was loud. Everyone was friendly. We were stuffed with food. We were in Italy. Life was good.

We went to sleep, happy.

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