Le grand day out. This was the hardest and longest leg of the Haute route and we all had a little trepidation in our bones, perhaps more so given the added complication of trying to catch up with Andy and Cliona on route. We made the early start and headed out in the dark with our head torches following some helpful reflective strips which marked the way. Despite the early start and freezing temperatures the climb kept us all warm so we still didn't regret sending half our gear home. With little talk and heads down we ploughed our way to the top of the slope, which looked decidedly steeper from this view point than it had in the valley. Just as we were putting our crampons on in the half light before dawn a large bolder rolled down close to our position. No time to hang around then. We roped up and Steve led us across a very steep snow slope, all aware that this was no place to be practicing ice axe arrests. With the top of the ridge obtained, and a great photo taken in a silly place to be pausing to look in bags for cameras, we stripped our gear and on a whim wondered over to the emergency hut to see where Andy and Cliona had spent the night. We were somewhat surprised to find them still there and not in fact half way down to safety where we had assumed they would be. Andy explained that he had heard an alarm but just thought it was someone else's. The hut itself exceeded our bus shelter for comfort by a long way, which is lucky because often the term emergency hut is applied to something you would only want to use in a real emergency. This hut was quite plush in comparison, with several bunk beds and warm sturdy walls.
The route now proceeded down the left side of a glacier with the guide book making much of a sharp right turn and traverse. It seemed that the timing of this was crucial, although the reasons weren't explicitly laid out but in general when playing on a glacier if the guide book sounds agitated it is probably best to sit up and take notice. As we tentatively descended trying to figure out the right time to head over the main body of the glacier we found a small track suggesting that at least one other person had decided that now was the time. With no contrary evidence we were inclined to agree despite poor visibility ruling out any more definitive navigation. Once across we descended some more and looking back could plainly see the enormous ceracs we would have plunged over had we continued down any further on the left side, very glad we didn't try that!
The rest of the day settled down into a plod. First down the valley to a road, where Andy and Cliona decided to hitch towards civilisation for a night before trying to catch us up further along the route, and then back up the other side to the next hut. The plod turned into a slog and by the time the hut came into view chins straps were being firmly tightened. We collapsed into a cup of tea outside the hut which was mainly full of day walkers. We got the first hint that we might not have been the average customers while discussing how knackered we felt when some random lady called us arrogant bastards. Tired and now slightly confused we grabbed an hour of sleep before eating and crashing out for the day.