St. Jacques – Gabiet (Gressoney)
Summary: Hiked up from St. Jacques (1700m) to Colle di Bettaforca (2700m) and then down to Stafel (1900m) (+1000m, -800m, 5 1/2 hours). Continued on up to Gabiet (2300m) (+400m, 2 hours). Spent night at Albergo del Ponte (hotel, half pension).
Saturday September 12
Things didn’t look very promising when we got up the next morning. The deluge of rain from the previous night had slowed to a drizzle, but the forecast remained for rain on and off throughout the day. Still, after breakfast in the hotel’s gigantic dining room, the clouds had lifted enough to contemplate continuing our trek. It was a little past 9AM when we shouldered the packs and tramped out of the hotel and through the central square of St. Jacques.
The first part of the climb was again in the trees – the same sort of steep thinly forested hillside we had passed through the previous afternoon. The hike up to the Rifugio G.B. Ferraro took us a solid hour. Slightly confused by the lack of signage, we asked a man working on the roof of a chalet for directions and were surprised to get an answer in good English (British really). The refuge itself looked a pleasant place, with a nice view down on St. Jacques despite the many clouds above.
From the refuge, we continued up a service road, across meadows and pastureland. We saw a few cows further up, and at length passed near a pond before crossing the main stream in the valley. The road more or less followed the pylons that supported electrical lines going up to the top of the pass. Indeed, as we got closer, we could see that the other side of the pass actually had a ski lift line going up to it. Along the way we found masses of purple wildflowers.
It was noon when we reached the Colle di Bettaforca. The view of the mountains above the pass was clipped off by clouds. We could see the main valley of St. Jacques well enough, but the town itself was not in view. On the other side, the ski lift line ran down to a middle lift station beyond which we could see nothing. The lift was operating, and we actually saw two people get off at the top, just before we arrived. But it was unpleasantly cold on the pass, and we were soon continuing down the road on the other side.
The way down toward Stafel was steep but open. Part of the way down, we noticed some small white shapes on a far hillside. Further inspection revealed that a shepherd and several dogs were in the process of coaxing several hundred sheep down the mountain. We also encountered a fair number of marmots who seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see them.
At the middle lift station, the valley became steeper. We had a good view down on Stafel, a town (or commune) even smaller than St. Jacques had been, and its valley. For a brief moment, we saw the end of that valley – rock and shining glacier – before clouds again blocked the view. The road went on and so did we. A bit farther along and we began to find wild blackberry bushes, still loaded with ripe fruit. At the same time, a thin drizzle began to fall.
We arrived in Stafel at 2PM, and took a lunch break on a grassy hillside above the town. The drizzle didn’t get any worse, so we opted to try and continue further to spend the night at the next refuge, a 2 hour (or so) hike farther. It took a couple of false starts to find a road going in the right direction (we had lost the official trail and its ‘TMR’ markings). Right around the time we began to enter the next side-valley from Stafel, the rain started in earnest.
Hiking in the rain didn’t prove too uncomfortable at first. For one thing it helped keep us cool as we worked our way upwards. Views changed dramatically, as fog and low clouds closed us off from the rest of the world. We met only one other group of hikers, and they were on their way down. From them we learned that the refuge (Rifugio Gabiet) had closed for the season, but that there was a hotel at the same location which was still open. So we marched on, arriving around 4:30PM feeling pretty drenched at a wide meadow which contained refuge, hotel and a lift station.
We hurriedly went to the hotel to find out if they had space for the night. They did, which was good. Unfortunately it took them nearly an hour to get a room ready, so by the time we went, the rain had stopped and the sky had started to open up and we were quite cold (and still wet). We spent the remainder of the afternoon drying off and resting.
The hotel was an interesting place – but we had arrived apparently on the final night of the season, which mean that we were the only guests, and the innkeeper and his wife didn’t seem entirely pleased to have us there. Dinner was okay, although a main course of something other than sausage would have been nice. We went to bed soon after.