St. Maurice to Orsieres

St. Maurice to Martigny
Leaving the church at St. Maurice was a little difficult because the music was good, and it was warm in the church. I had blisters on both heels, and my Achilles was cramping up. The weather was blustery, cloudy and foggy. Breakfast consisted of toasted bread, juice and coffee in a smoky bar with a jovial barmaid and joking customers.
The next stop is Martigny. I secured another church apartment there, and had to be there before 4 again (I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a short walk so I happened to get there at 3:30).
The first part of the walk was up, over and around some hills (in Switzerland this is a major undertaking). I was excited to ford a ravine on a rope bridge, but the directions were not clear. After the hills was a steady uphill through a flat river valley hemmed in close by mountains. If the river were a wider it would be a fjord. In a few places, walking through the woods, the valley met the mountain in a tall nearly vertical stone wall. The valley’s width varied between ¾ and two miles, but seemed to go forward forever.
I passed through a fence of concrete “teeth” that were about four feet tall, two feet wide. They were defenses put in during WWII to stop tanks from climbing the valley. The fences were placed across the valley at intervals of about one mile. Also, along those stone walls of the valley, periodically I’d come across a big steel door. Some of these had a barred window, through which I could see an antechamber with a second steel door. Surely this was some sort of munitions room, tunnel access, or something also having to do with WWII defenses. Or possibly it was for cheese making.
For lunch I had my usual—yogurt, dried sausage, hard cheese, bread. I was in a park that had a few kids playing. A dog made friends with me, hoping for a treat, I’m sure. Soon the dog’s owner, a girl of 12 or so, came along and we spoke to one another, but neither of us could understand the other. Made me think perhaps no one understood a thing I was saying the whole time!
After wandering around Martigny, I found the church. Circumambulating it 2 or 3,l I found the door with the right number. Behind it was a very friendly priest donning his robes, readying for Mass. He offered me a beer and water—for a person from the Bible Belt it was very strange to be offered a beer by a man of the cloth. But, I welcomed it. Then I sat in silence in the little apartment during mass. There was a bicycle race going on outside, so now and again I heard the cheers of spectators. Gosh that was a long wait.
Finally the priest came back with a woman who was in a big hurry to get to the apartment. We drove through a few tunnels and all I could think was: where is she taking me? How far from the trail is this?
The apartment was a fine little Modern concrete building with a gas station nearby. I was able to get some pasta and cheese and wine and cook a grand dinner. By triangulating what appeared to be the mountains that corresponded to my topo map, I was able to figure my position, and I saved a good 2 hours of walking.

Martigny to Orsieres
I didn’t sleep well in the cute little church apartment. I think the stress of the language barrier, the physical strain, and knowing I was planning to walk over the mountains that were towering over me was all adding up. I felt puny.
It turns out that the apartment was just steps from the very well-marked path. The valley to Martigny was less wide, so the path was up on the mountain. In places the trail was on metal catwalks that had been anchored to the mountain side. The VF path corresponded to an exercise path, and every now and again I passed a huffing-puffing 40 some-odd year old man in very good shape. Passing people, they’d say “bon promenade,” as though I were walking down the Levee of the Mississippi river in my linen suit trying to catch a cool breeze. Bon promenade. While it was a fine trek, it was no promenade. Perhaps that is another of those words that doesn’t quite translate exactly.
The trail crossed the river a few times and went through sections of woods that were moss covered, and I hopped from rock to rock. The river was always close by, rushing loudly. The mossy rocks and pine trees made this forest a beautiful golden green, and everything was soft to the touch. There was no underbrush, and the trail was marked every 50 meters or so by red blazes on the trees. Without seeing from one to the next, there was only one direction to go: up stream.
I sat on some logs for lunch, letting my feet air out. Just as soon as I had as much junk as possible strewn about—socks hanging from a log, my shirt hung up to dry, plastic food bags and empty containers about– a couple of horseback riders appeared.
After more walking, I passed through a couple of quiet villages. I stopped in one church that was rebuilt in the mid-1800s, that re-used parts of the stone floor from about 800. There was a little garden and water in the front. It was incredibly still and quiet.
Passing through that town I discovered a new building type: the house-barn. It looked like people wer e living above hay-filled barns. I think they bring their cattle down from the hills to spend the winter in the barn. In the summer it was a little stinky. Having grown up in a post germ-theory world, the concept of the house-barn is a little strange, but in the context of months of freezing weather it makes a little sense.
Finally the vistas opened as the valley widened. There were grass-covered hills and the mood of the place changed by the minute as clouds passed by.
In Orsieres the church was again quiet. There was fresh incense and the place smelled clean and old, but fresh. Evening rains came. The only hotel was $70, but I got a stuffed St. Bernard. It rained all night, which was good sleeping weather.


About Tarver

I am an architect living in Atlanta Georgia. In the summer of 2010 I walked from Ronchamp, France to Rome, Italy, about 1200 miles. I walked about 20 miles a day for 62 days. This blog is to recount the steps, stories, and images from that walk, with the intent of providing some useful information for those thinking about making a long walk, and those for those who wouldn't dream of it.
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