A wonderful hike that takes in sylvan glades of pine, open moorlands and windswept barren ridges. Leaving the small pretty village of Zinal (there's a single pedestrian street with very old, but well maintained wooden cottages and mazots) we head up steeply on a wide track through a pine forest before reaching a small cottage - what a start - it definitely wakes up your heart, your lungs and legs! This is a good place to gather one's breath - using the excuse of looking at the wonderful scenery behind - - Pigne de la Lé, Grand Cornier and Dent Blanche. The path now traverses a more open hillside at an easier gradient.
As it nears the treeline the scenery is reminiscent of Scottish moorland.
Some 3 hours or so after leaving Zinal one begins the final climb up to the Forcletta pass, a barren saddle with stirring views of Bishorn and Weisshorn ahead and the jagged outlines of the Aiguilles Rouges.
The highlight of the descent down towards Gruben was a meeting with a local shepherd with 2 wiry, fun-loving Kelpies (Australian sheep dogs) and 2 very large (they were almost the size of a Shetland pony), shambling Central Asian Mastiffs. My hiking companion being from Australia immediately recognised the Kelpies, this is how we spent a great half hour talking dog. The Shepherd proudly demonstrated his whistle commands and how the dogs worked in tandem to make sure the sheep stayed together in a flock. What a wonderful way to break a long wearying descent.
A final note for this section of the Haute Route - we found route-finding a bit tricky first at Zinal itself, but later at Alpe Nava.
View Haute Route: Zinal - Gruben in a larger map