After our chill out time by the lake we wanted to head back to Leysin to conduct some unfinished business. It also gave us the opportunity to fill and empty Bertie.
Tour d’Ai Via Ferrata
The Tour d’Ai is one of the limestone monoliths that rise from the hills above Leysin. There is a via ferrata that climbs it’s western flank and it had been playing on my mind for the last few days. The reason? It was a K4 via ferrata, so a grade more difficult than the ones we had done so far. On one hand people claimed it was easy for it’s grade. On the other there were all sorts of warnings about the level of exposure on the via ferrata and on the return footpath. We hadn’t been able to decide whether we should take it on and it had taken a few days mulling it over and reading reviews to convince us it was going to be fine.
So we returned to Leysin on the Sunday evening, paid our dues, performed the usual motorhome services and prepped ourselves for the following morning.
First was the slog up through town to the cable car station where we waited for the Tete d’Ai chair lift to open. Rather incredibly we realised this was our first ever non-skiing use of a chair lift. The weirdness of sitting on a chair lift without skis on made me a little clumsy as I tried to manoeuvre my rucksack and almost lost my sunglasses.
From the top of the lift we walked over to the Lac d’Ai and past the collection of huts and chalets at the lake’s edge. Someone was walking out of one of the chalets with a climbing harness and via ferrata kit so we weren’t going to be alone on the climb. I’m never sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
From the lake it was a further uphill trudge to the base of the cliff. We didn’t want to wear ourselves out so were taking it slowly and it became a bit of a race with our new companion to be the slowest. Halfway there another person overtook us and she was the first on the via ferrata. Paul and I sat and had a bite to eat and a drink at the start of the climb hoping that our companion would take the hint and start. I didnt want to feel as though I was being chased up, but it was obvious he wasn’t going to go until after us.
Looking at the cliff in front of me I realised that the exposure level wasn’t going to be anything more than we’d had on the via ferrata at Moléson. I was quite confident as I pulled myself up the first climb but was put off my stride when I realised I then had to down climb for a stretch. Down climbing is my least favourite thing, I think it’s because you have to look down to see where you are going and that makes the drop just that extra bit higher. I was cursing a little as I awkwardly made my way down the rocky steps and breathed a sigh of relief when I could start climbing again.
A bit like Moléson this via ferrata had a lot of hand and footholds on rock and it was a pleasure to move up the face using a mixture of staples and rocky hand and footholds. There is a chimney section part way up which was a little awkward because I had brought my big rucksack with me (and walking poles) and it definitely got in the way as I had to twist my body to get into the right position to ascend.
At the beginning of the chimney and then at a couple of subsequent sections there were minor overhangs that tested my strength. It’s amazing what your body is capable of when the alternative is falling. A look at the hand holds to plan the way up, a deep breath, and that was it. I was up.
Someone had described the via ferrata as ‘Short but Strong’ and that was definitely a good description. We climbed out of the shade and into the bright sun that was peeking over the top of the mountain and that was the signal that it was nearly over. All too soon. Or maybe just at the right point when we still had a little left in the tank.
We sat and had some more snacks and a drink at the top. The alpine choughs were so tame they would eat from our hands. A couple of walkers were already at the summit and eventually we were joined by our companion who had followed us up the via ferrata but kept a polite distance. He was an American, visiting Europe with his family after going to his sister’s graduation in Amsterdam. His mum had been at the American school in Leysin so was revisiting he old haunts. He shared a few photos he’d taken of us climbing and I wished I could have returned the favour.
What really made this via ferrata special was the combination with the walk down. It was a blue alpine path graded T3/T4, it clung to the side of the rock or took a route along the ridge. Occasional chains were in place to help or provide confidence where the path became more exposed, but on a sunny dry day the walk was undemanding and the views a pleasure. Slippery wet limestone is like walking on ice and I could imagine it being quite nasty in different conditions.
A short ladder helped with a too-high rocky step and at the end a little surprise section of via ferrata type staples and footholds helped us get down over a smooth rock face of about 3m.
From there it was a short trip down the chairlift where the attendant asked if we were sure we wanted to go down already. It was only about two and a half hours after arriving. But we had laundry to do and needed to be away.
A quick wash and change of clothes and we were off. This time we were in search of a laundrette. They seem to be few and far between in Switzerland, but we had found a revolution laundry location in Martigny and it looked like it had plentiful parking.
Paul drove us to the shopping complex where the machines were located but the bigger parking area we could see on google maps had been built on. The majority of the parking looked like it was underground. We drove out again and tried to circle the shopping centre to see if we could find anything. In the end we pulled up onto a small bit of waste ground and Paul decided to stay with the van while I used our trolley to wheel our unwieldy laundry bag to the machines. There were two revolution laundry installations here and both were busy. I had to make the most of what was available, which was one of the smaller washers, splitting our clothes into two washes while trying not to subject the surrounding people to our dirty undies.
Finally, after a couple of hours of managing the two loads of laundry while trying to stay in the shade and with queues building (with so few laundrettes its no wonder it was so busy here) I had a bag of clean and mostly dry items and was ready for Paul to pick me up so we could move onto our next location. Laundry day is never the most fun, but starting it with a via ferrata definitely improved it.