I woke this morning with a feeling of excitement tinged with a little trepidation at the thought of the day ahead. This was the beginning of the climb to the Great Saint Bernard Pass and I had read that this first day of the climb was difficult and a little scary. I have never been a great climber so I knew it would be a difficult and slow day. The pain in my foot that has kept me company now since Chateauvillain is now gone Tiger Balm and Ibrufen have kept it at bay, so physically I have no excuses.
I joined Jean-Pierre for breakfast at 7.00 am in the hotel restaurant, it was a good breakfast as was the hotel generally. The town was quiet as we walked out of Martigny just after 7.30 a.m. and soon we came to the first sign to Sembrancher which was intended to be our first stop of the day. The path to Sembrancher goes via Bovernier and at this point, we had a choice of taking the lower route or the higher route – we chose the latter over the narrow Les Trappistes pass
You will see from today’s photos it was not an easy route, more akin to rock climbing than hiking! The descent into Bovernier was for me one of the most difficult descents I have ever experienced, especially with a rucksack. The track was narrow and twisting and there were chains attached to the mountainside to assist. There were blind bends in the narrow track with the rock face on one side and a significant drop on the other.
We reached the small community of Les Valettes and Bovernier with its river Dranse and small vineyards just after 11.00 am. We stopped briefly here for a coffee break before continuing our walk to Sembrancher. From Bovernier to Sembrancher the path continues to climb but is easier with no difficult descents and passes through woodland before it opens up into a beautiful valley with spectacular views of the mountains ahead and soon after we arrived in Sembrancher. We stopped and rested here for a while in the small church of St. Stephen (Église de Saint-Étienne).
After Sembrancher we joined the Napoleon Route and continued to climb through pastures and woodland with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. A few kilometres before reaching Orsieres on a particularly steep section there are wooden signs depicting the “Stations of the Cross”. We arrived in Orsieres just before 4.00 pm, having walked close to 20 kilometres with an elevation gain of 950 metres, and with the help of a young teenager, we found our accommodation for the night. Located near the church, it is provided by the local parish. The facilities included a kitchen, bathroom with shower and mattresses on the top floor. We met the local priest who gave us the access code. The cost was 15 euros. It is located close to the Church of Orsières dedicated to St. Nicholas.
Later that evening we walked to a nearby hotel where we enjoyed a good supper before retiring for the night. Laing on the mattress just before sleep I reflected on the day and thanked God for our safe passage. I thought how important it was for this particular stage to have the company of another walker and I felt a sense of achievement and relief on completing this most difficult stage of my pilgrimage so far.