Date: 17th of July, 2007
Distance, Elevation Gain/Loss: 14.5 km, 1428/958 m
Map Used: 1:50,000 Martigny hiking map, 282T
Cabane du Col de Mille Coordinates: 582 023 / 95 818
This was my second (and last) day on the Tour du Saint-Bernard route. I woke up early after a good night's sleep, but somehow managed to stay in the Cabane until around 9:30. There did not seem to be any need to hurry; I had forgotten that almost all shops in Switzerland close from 12:00 to 14:00, and that I needed to buy lunch food in Liddes.
View La Tsissette to Cabane de Mille in a larger map
The route d'alpage follows the stream for about 2½ km, then continues along the crest of the ridge separating the Combe de l'A from the main Val d'Entremont. Just before the Roc de Cornet (a snowshoe destination with great views, unfortunately I only read about those views after my return) there is a road going down toward Drance, I unfortunately missed it and continued toward Chez Petit. When I realized that I was on the wrong road I stopped, took off my pack, sat down and had a good look at my map. While doing all this I found several delicious fraises des bois, small very fragrant wild strawberries. After eating them I descended to Drance by a more round about way than intended.
From Drance I followed the road across the river to Liddes. Here the yellow markers of the tourisme pédestre guided me up along a narrow street. By the time I asked where the tourist office was (they all post a weather forecast) I was told that it was lower down. Since I had no desire to go down I continued, hoping to find a food store higher up. I did, and got there around 11:45, before it closed. I bought two days worth of sandwich materials, as well as some grapes for today.
The trail leaves the road above Liddes, but there was heavy construction equipment in the area, and I did not see where the trail started. That was not a problem as the map showed that a grassy route d'alpage that went straight ahead would get me there by a slightly longer, and hence less steep, path. I then followed a better road to the tiny hamlet of Le Clou. There the trail steepened, paralleling the Torrent d'Aron. As this was my second day in a row with substantial elevation gains I felt tired and a bit discouraged. I sat down, had a leisurely lunch, and started up again feeling much better.
After a long steep section the gradient eased, as I entered a grassy bowl. First there was an abandoned stone building (Erra d'en Bas), while higher up there was a restored building, an all-stone bergerie (sheepfold) named, predictably, Erra d'en Haut. Just as I was passing the sheep were being let out in batches; it was fascinating to watch them rush out of the sheepfold and spread out across the meadows!
I was not quite there yet, but the final ascent from Erra d'en Haut to the col (and hut) was fairly easy. In spite of that I was tired when I arrived, but taking off my pack and boots, plus having a beer, soon revived me! The views from the col are splendid: the Grand Combin to the south and the Mont Blanc massif to the west. I had read that the views are even better from the neighboring Mont Brûlé; in my tired state I decreed that those I saw where good enough! Let me add as an aside that the outhouse was strategically situated; sitting on the Cabane's porch the outhouse blocked the view of the center of the Mont Blanc massif!
When I got to the hut I found one other guest, a New Yorker, now living in the UK, who spoke French as well as English. He had come from Bourg-St-Pierre, just south of Liddes, on the first stage of the Tour des Combins. We were shortly joined by a Swiss family of three: two parents and a daughter who will be going to the University in Zurich in the fall. All three spoke both English and French (as well as German; they were from the germanophone part of the country), and the conversation alternated between English and French. They had come from the Cabane Brunet by the Col de l'Âne, and were planning to go next day to the Cabane FXB-Panossière, going over Mont Rogneux. Over dinner the gardienne told us that the trail on the east side of Mont Rogneux had been re-blazed in 2005 and should be easy to follow.
We were initially sitting outside the Cabane, enjoying the views. Late in the afternoon it started raining lightly, so lightly that we initially stayed outside. The rain did not stop, and soon we decided that going in was the wise course of action. After a good dinner I quickly went to bed.