These two stages have blended together in my memory, even though they’re fairly different. I suspect it’s because they have the same “feel”: relatively easy, no sweeping mountain views but lovely and pastoral. The first half of Stage 7 follows a river, and it then runs right through several quaint Swiss villages. Stage 8 lacks the river and villages, but does have a nice long section of walking right on the edge of a ridge above the Swiss city of Martigny.
Much of Stage 7 is in a valley running north-south, so we were several hours into the hike before the sun reached us. Not normally a big deal but Tom and I had camped and our tents were absolutely soaked (the condensation had started as soon as the sun began to sink the day before). As a result, we had to stop when we finally felt the sun and drag everything out to dry. It was a pretty spot, a bridge right on the river we had followed since starting out. The water had the milky froth typical of a glacially fed river. It was certainly nice to have a long flat section to start the day, especially after the previous evening’s “pub crawl.”
Shortly after we left the river, we reached a cattle fence (which I touched, shocking myself, as it looked like string, not wire – cattle fences have changed since I was a kid!) and a group of chalets and farms. For next few kilometers, we followed mostly paved roads past pastureland and through villages. Walking through a town with a backpack on is a unique experience for me! (Check out this video for a feel of this section.)
After walking through the village of Issert, we finally cut off the road and began our only real climb of the day, through pine forests up the side of the valley toward Champex du Lac, the end of Stage 7. While a nice hike in its own right, it’s made more interesting by a local artist who’s created statues next to the trail, carving trees into mushrooms (this section of the TMB parallels another trail known as the Sentier des Champignons, or Mushroom Trail), animals, and some more whimsical creations. We also passed a rock formation with several doors built into it, plus a long metal ladder up the side. Tom and Laurie climbed to the top of the ladder but couldn’t see anything more. Our assumption is that it’s an old military installation. I imagine the Swiss mountains are full of these. Hard to remain neutral unless you’re very well armed and fortified!
Champex du Lac is a classic alpine resort town, built around a small lake. We found a nice gite and then got a lesson in Swiss economics: 7 Swiss francs (more than $10) for a beer! Then we discovered that there’s no law against public consumption of alcohol in Switzerland so we bought cans of beer (for 1 Swiss franc) at the grocery story and went for a walk around the lake!
Stage 8 started with another 45 minutes on the road as we passed through meadows and a couple of satellite villages of Champex before leaving the road and winding through a combination of trail and track before starting the only climb of the day, a steep switchbacked section up a gully with several creeks running through it. I worked up quite the sweat as it had become rather muggy.
At the top of this section, we left the trees behind and traversed right up an open slope. From here we had a long and enjoyable flat section that followed the side of the valley through continuous pastureland above the Swiss city of Martigny. It was a bit of a shock to see an urban area below and hear occasional car and truck traffic. It was still a lovely bit of walking and mountains were starting to reappear after a couple of days of being in the valleys.
Lunch was spent at Alp Bovine, shut for the season but with the picnic tables still out. From here, it was mostly downhill to Col de la Forclaz. The only road between Switzerland and France’s Chamonix Valley passes through this col. Even though it’s only two lanes, it’s quite busy so the road noise increased as we got close. We arrived in the col to find a large hotel and restaurant sitting right on a sharp curve in the highway, with dozens of cars and motorcycles parked on both sides and people everywhere. It was a little overwhelming for dusty backpackers! As the official end of Stage 8, we had planned on staying here but the traffic and noise discouraged us. We instead decided to drop steeply into the village of Trient, 30 minutes away, where we found a quiet dormitory.