Crossing the Alps on Foot

This year the adventure group, of which I am a member, decided to walk the Haute Route from Argentière in France to Zermatt in Switzerland.

We started as a group of eleven plus two Swiss guides. Five of us (Pierre, Catherine, Denis, Christian and I) had climbed Kilimanjaro two years earlier and the others had joined at various times since then. Here are some of the party

The trek falls conveniently into two parts with a short taxi journey in the middle. (Yes, I have to say there was a section where we went down one valley and along in a mini-bus so we could climb up the other end.) We started just outside Argentière climbing to Cabane d’ Albert (2,702 m) on the first day and staying there overnight; that was Saturday 25 August. On the Sunday we hiked over the Col du Tour (3,238 m); into Switzerland and stayed the night at the Cabane de Trient (3,172 m). On the 27th we descended to Campex passing the Cabane d’ Orny and took our transport to the Mauvoisin dam. It was at this point that Janet decided that the conditions were not for her and we put her on a train at Orsières. You can follow our progress on this map with our route in red.

Resting at Cabane Albert……………………Cabane Trient (the most comfortable)

Pierre and Gerald view Sunday’s climb from Albert___Glacier d’Orny

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The second part of the walk took us along the east side of the Mauvoisin dam and then down a scary path (Pierre enjoyed this!) before crossing more rugged terrain to Cabane de Chanrion (2,460 m). This was described as a 3.5 hour walk by our guide, even the leaders took longer than that and I walked flat out and took just over 4 hours! The next morning (28 August) we set off, in the shadow of the Grand Combin, to walk up the Otemma Glacier.

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These four pictures are all taken on the Otemma Glacier. The first two look back to where the glacier ends in its terminal moraine. The walk up the glacier seemed to go on forever without appearing to get anywhere.

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From a distance glaciers look white and, after fresh snow they are, but in the summer the surface melts and there is a flow of water over the surface. You can see many rocks, even boulders on the surface which have been carried down from the mountain sides. Sometimes (as shown here) the water becomes a stream and suddenly disappears down a crevasse.

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The reward for our trek up the glacier was a night at the worst mountain hut in which I have ever stayed. It is the Cabane de Vignettes (3,157 m). When we were there it was being renovated and there was no water other than bottles to drink and there were only two, longdrop WCs 30 metres from the main building. During the day people queued at the door of the main hut and waited till someone came back and then set off in the rain. I anticipated the problem in the morning when 50 people wanted to empty their bladder at the same time; I took an empty bottle with me to bed and peed into it in the morning before I got up!

That night (28th) Pierre confided to me that he didn’t want to continue the journey. The plan was to walk to Cabane de Bertol on a route to the north of Mt. Collon but, in order for Pierre to catch a bus at Arolla, we had to come down the mountain to about 2,000 m and then climb up again to Bertol at 3,311 m. It was a tough day’s walking, up and down over 1,100 metres, and I nearly died. That’s not a figurative description of my tiredness but the fact that a rock broke loose as the guide and I made the final ascent to the hut and missed us by three metres. We ran to the left to avoid it, but on its next bounce down the mountain the rock made a mid course correction to line up with us in our new position. The experience and the exhaustion were more than I could take and when I finally got to the hut I burst into tears.

Cabane de Bertol from the North

Bertol from the South

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The weather on the Wednesday (29th) was poor and deteriorating so when we reached Bertol that evening Gerard advised us to have two nights there because the forcaste for Friday excellent. We had the luxury of having the whole cabane to ourselves and I was happy to have a day to recover. On the Thursday Allan and I chopped wood for the manageress of the hut while the others did some rock climbing. Our guides selected the rock pinacle at the back of the hut and Gerald climbed to the top, solo, and secured it with ropes. With varying degrees of help he pulled/supported the others, one at a time, up the rock. Christian went up with little or no help, MC bruised her knees badly on her way to the top and Bertrice got up without even breaking her finger nails! Here are a couple of views taken from the cabane that overcast day.

Looking back to Vignettes…………………………………..Dent Blanche

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We set off before dawn (06.00) on Friday for what I thought was the most exhilerating day of the whole trip. The visibility was outstanding, with bright sun and little or no wind. It was a nine hour hike but well worth it; gaining hight to Tête Blanche and then a descent to the Schonbuhl mountain hut.

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Allan and Denis setting out in moonlight on Friday morning

Some views from Tête Blanche

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The line here joins Tête Blanche and Schonbuhl but is not the route we walked. The lower end of the Stocki Galcier was broken up so we had to get off higher up and take the lower route and then climb back up to the hut. When we got there Anton bought us all a stein of draft larger……we were back in civilisation! Thank you Anton.

This is a view from Schonbhul; our route was along the lateral morraine in the bottom right and then down into the valley floor.

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Most groups walk the two hours from Schonbuhl to Zermatt with a sense of proud satisfaction of a job well done……but not us. We take the cable car outside Zermatt to the Klien Matterhorn and climb to the sumit of the Breithorn 4,165 m and only then go into Zermatt. This is Breithorn from the north, the oposite side from our ascent.

No pictures of Zermatt would be complete without images of the Matterhorn.

Finally, Sometimes Nature is pure Art

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