From high green pastures and across precipitous slopes with dramatic views of Mont-Blanc and Grand Combin glaciers to the turquoise Lac de Louvie and its charming hut and down to the village of Fionnay, the hike to Mont-Fort hut is impressive.
From Verbier to the Mont-Fort hut
Lesson learned: my socks don’t dry overnight. Lesson number two: check before you go.
Our hike starts in Verbier, a village perched at 1,500m on a steep hill. With countless wooden chalets, luxury hotels, fancy bars and restaurants, and sport stores, it’s no longer a quiet alpine village but a world-famous ski resort. It’s now summer, and hikers are wandering around its bustling streets geared up for adventure.
We start from Les Ruinettes, one of the main ski areas of Verbier. But in summer this cable car and restaurant are full as well. As we approach Les Ruinettes, mountain bikers are flying down the dirt road, and paragliders are launching and soaring above the valley.
The trail leads through lush pastures with panoramic views of Verbier below the valley, where we have started earlier this morning. The trail is easy, wide, and mainly flat but the heat starts to make its presence felt. Bright alpine flowers are in full bloom on the gentle slopes and bell-ringing cows grazing on the meadows. Do you look at them or avoid eye contact? I wonder.
In the distance, the mountains appear dark and rocky. The blue sky is now out, fog is in. The mist rolls up from the valley, which looks beautifully mysterious, and it thickens as we wind our way around. High in the clouds, trapped by fog, we see almost nothing. According to our calculations, the Mont-Fort hut must be nearby. Walking almost blindly through the thick fog, we finally spot the hidden-away hut built nearly a century earlier by people, who understood our needs.
As we approach the hut, some strange sounds and noises come from nowhere. At first, we think it’s the wind. We climb up to see … weird, eerie heads mounted on stone blocks. The heads are strange but the sounds are even stranger. Later we find out that there is a motion sensor that triggers the heads to start singing when someone approaches.
Mist has now turned to light rain and made everything slippery. We arrive just in time when the rain starts to pours down. Tonight, there will be no sundowner on the hut’s enormous terrace-with-a-view.
The hut made of stone sits high up on the slopes of Mont Fort. Located at a mighty 2,457m on the top of a rock overlooking the Alps, it lies on the Haute Route connecting Chamonix to Zermatt. For almost 100 years the Mont-Fort hut has been a refuge for weary hikers offering warm beds and creamy fondue. Climbing up and staying at a secluded mountain hut became a popular trend, and the hut was renovated in 2001 to accommodate more people.
The Mont-Fort hut offers a little more luxury than traditional mountain huts. There are showers and private rooms. We decided to go for a “luxury” and booked a room just for the four of us. But it still remains a rustic experience – the accommodation is simple and the views are gorgeous. We hurry to change our clothes, put the socks outside to dry before heading to the dining hall’s warm interior.
We share a table with other hikers, who traded in the luxury hotel to fall asleep at quite possibly the best spot in the world to see the splendour of the Alps through the window. The dinner is hearty traditional Swiss dishes and a bottle of wine to boot. All with the views of Mont Blanc. At the next table, an old couple play cards, and at another a family of four reviews a hiking map.
Chamois Trail (Sentier des Chamois)
We wake up to a sunrise that makes mountain peaks glow pink. The ghostly mist and rain are long gone, replaced by bright blue sky. But my carefully researched hi-tech socks didn’t dry in a prolonged fog, and today I hike with socks hanging off of my backpack.
We take the “Chamois Trail” known as “Sentier des Chamois” in French, which goes through the Lac de Louvie and down to the village of Fionnay. Starting as an easy hike, the trail becomes narrow and scary, with the extremely steep drop-off. I can’t help but think it’s only for chamois, not hikers.
We go along a balcony path high above the valley, with groups of chamois scattered throughout the slopes. These nimble-footed animals feel perfectly at home on this steep terrain, judging by the ease with which they negotiate the steepest rocks. But for me, the aerial passes bordered on one side by certain death, some with falling rocks, feel too precarious under foot. I am seriously jealous of chamois.
The slopes are steep and narrow, the views are dramatic, and the chances to roll down hundreds of meters are real. “Be careful”, “be careful”, I tell myself as if I was reading a mantra. At places, the path is maybe thirty or forty centimetres wide, and completely exposed on one side. “Don’t look down”, I keep talking to myself nevertheless peering down. There are panoramic views of the villages dotted over the Val de Bagnes, which is to say we have a clear view of that stomach-churning drop.
I learned my second lesson today – plan carefully before you go.
The blue and white markers painted on rocks guide us through the terrain. At places, we are hanging onto chains as we go along vertiginous slopes. For someone who considers herself a decent hiker, I am struggling. Forget the photos, I focus on my steps. “Is this rock stable? Will it hold?” I place my foot on some loose rocks testing each step. Slowly, I make a step, watch, make another step. There is no margin for missteps.
Lac de Louvie
The scenery becomes rockier and wilder, and the views more dramatic as we approach the giddy section around the Col Termin. At 2,648m, it’s the highest point of the hike opening the spectacular views of the Val de Bagnes, the shimmering Lac de Louvie, with a backdrop of the sparkling Grand Combin glaciers.
On top of the jagged ridgeline, we are met by a stream of hikers of all ages, nationalities, shapes, and sizes. As the Swiss mountain etiquette dictates that the downward hiker gives way to the upward hiker, we say “Bonjour”, step aside to let them pass and keep going.
The descent twisting down to the Lac de Louvie runs along the valley side in tight and very steep switchbacks. After a while, we contour the turquoise lake to reach the Louvie hut located at 2,250 m. The hut seems like heaven-sent salvation. Nestled amid green meadows, the charming Louvie hut with its idyllic lake is a perfect stop. The smell of fondue and cheese crust, or “croute au fromage” in French is to awaken the kundalini. We order both plus some wine. The fellow hikers have exactly the same idea – the sunny terrace overlooking the emerald-coloured lake is full.
From the Louvie hut, we follow the path that zigzags down the steep slopes to the village of Fionnay. All of a sudden, we realize that we left our car on the other side of the valley. The Swiss transport system is highly efficient but at these late hours, it fails. The last PostBus has just left. Errol decides to hitchhike. We are sceptical but a car stops and takes us on board.
While the picture-perfect scenery is unfolding before our eyes, we notice that the young man behind the wheel …. has no legs. Are we hallucinating? After all, I won’t be surprised. It turns out, the young man lost his legs in an avalanche while skiing, and now his car is equipped with a special system allowing him to drive. Most amazingly, he remains a bon vivant. Thank you very much again for the lift and for the lesson of optimism! A third lesson for today.
Access: The Mont-Fort hut is located at 2,457m in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, in the Val de Bagnes region. It’s accessible from Verbier by a well-marked trail. You can shorten the hike by taking gondola from Verbier to Les Ruinettes or you might even prefer the shorter 45mins walk from La Chaux.
To avoid the Chamois Trail for the return, you can descend to La Chaux and hike to Les Ruinettes via the Bisse du Levron. An alternative is to descend from La Chaux to Les Tsexaux and return to Verbier via Clambin.
Hiking Time: The hike from Verbier to the Mont-Fort hut takes 3h and from Les Ruinettes it takes 1h45. The return from the Mont-Fort hut to Fionnay using the Chamois Trail is 5h45.
Difficulty: The hike from Verbier to the Mont-Fort hut is easy: T2 (medium difficulty, mountain hiking), 6km, 320m of elevation. The Chamois Trail (from the Mont-Fort hut via Col Termin to Fionnay is difficult: T4 (alpine route), 9km, 1’565m of elevation.
Accommodation: The Mont-Fort hut website is guarded only in summer (from end June to mid-September). Accommodation is in dormitories with mattresses, pillows and blankets provided. For hygienic reasons, all visitors are required to bring a light sleeping bag. The hut offers half-board (dinner, overnight stay, breakfast). In both winter and summer, the Mont-Fort hut is very popular, reservations are required. The Mont-Fort hut belongs to the Swiss Alpine Club (CAS), offering a discount to its members.
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Written by ANYWAYINAWAY
Olga and Errol are the Swiss-Russian couple behind ANYWAYINAWAY. Passionate about unique culture and traditions, they decided to take career breaks and explore the world with the intention to expand awareness and provide new perspectives to the understanding of ethnic minority people, customs, traditions and culture. They also show the beauty of our planet and try to find something interesting in the ordinary.