Date: 16th of July, 2007
Distance, Elevation Gain/Loss: 12.0 km, 1241/830 m
Map Used: 1:50,000 Martigny hiking map, 282T
Cabane de la Tsissette Coordinates: 578 049 / 89 191
Another day with beautiful weather! I was leaving the heavily traveled Tour du Mont Blanc route and embarking on two days of hiking along the much newer, and hence less well known, Tour du Saint-Bernard route. This tour is so new that I found almost nothing about it in English on the web. A pity, as it seems (from what I have read and from two days hiking along it) well worth exploring.
View La Fouly to La Tsissette in a larger map
From La Fouly to the Cabane de la Tsissette
I started a bit late (a few minutes after 9 AM) and took the route d'alpage going up to the Alpage de La Fouly. The footing was good (grassy in the center, with twin tire tracks on the sides) and the grade, while continuously uphill, was moderate. Some might have considered this section boring, but I very much enjoy rising gradually, and seeing the same area from increasing elevations.
At 10 AM, right on schedule, the chairlift started its hourly 15 minute run, and I saw many loaded chairs going up the mountain. I reached the upper station (at 1,992 m, about 400 m above the start) at around 10:15, just as it was stopping. Many of those who had come up on the lifts simply went down, enjoying the same views as I had enjoyed going up. Another group continued along the road to the upper alpage, at around 2,120 m. Beyond that the crowd thinned out substantially, as the road changed into a normal trail, and the gradient started steepening.
At around 2,400 m the gradient became even steeper, and the footing was occasionally loose and slippery. There was some (I would say minimal) exposure, and there were fixed ropes. They seemed excessive as a security measure, but I used them to help pull myself up a few steep rocky steps, and also at times just to help me fight the force of gravity. Soon the wind picked up, and I had to stop and put on a windproof jacket.
At around 12:30 I reached the col, Le Basset (2,771 m). The views were spectacular both looking west (backward to the Mont Blanc massif) and east (forward to the Grand Combin and Mont Vélan). The way up had been over barren rock for a long time, on the other side of the col was a delightful bowl, with pastures dotted with small lakes and a few remaining patches of snow.
At the col I met a young Belgian couple with two young (both below ten years) children who had made the big climb (almost 1,200 m)! We chatted a bit and looked for the trail. The map suggests that the trail starts going down into the bowl immediately; in fact it goes almost due north along the rim of the bowl for a few hundred meters before descending into the bowl. The trail is very new, and while there are many waymarks there is little visible tread on the ground. Worse, since this is an area where cows graze, there are a large number of beaten paths that have nothing to do with the trail. All in all it is not too difficult to follow the trail, but care is needed.
Where the bowl ends a the valley starts going downhill there is a newly restored stone structure (Vouasse); an old hut that has been beautifully restored. There the trail goes down the valley (Combe de L'A) at an easy grade. This valley is a nature preserve, and I have never seen so many marmots on a single day! I did not see any bigger animals while hiking.
The trail down the valley was much better defined than that across the upper bowl, and the descent to the Cabane de la Tsissette was easy. There are two restored stone structures there; the first one I went to is the home of the owners, I was directed to the second one which is the Cabane. Though it was still early in the afternoon I was asked what I wanted for dinner; the choices included rösti, fondue and a third choice that I cannot remember. Since I had eaten the related raclette the night before I chose the rösti, a dish that I love.
While the hut is quite a long way from La Fouly it is easily accessible from the Val d'Entremont, since the public can drive to within a couple of kilometers of the Cabane (the owners can drive all the way). There were a couple of groups who were there for the day, as well as a Dutch family of four that was staying overnight. Lots of good conversation; the owners told us that they had rebuilt the two buildings a few years ago; they were part of a group of half a dozen buildings that had been abandoned around 1950.
In the late afternoon the owner brought out his binoculars and started searching for chamois. He obviously knew where to look, and soon found two groups high on the opposite side of the valley. We all took turns looking at them through the binoculars; they were too far away to be visible with the naked eye.
At about 7 PM we all went in for dinner; since everyone was having fondue I joined them, and we had a very enjoyable meal. I was tired after the first big hike of the trip, and went to sleep early.