Sunday 15 August 2010

Return to the Alps


Sat 14 / Sun 15 August

So.. return to the Alps following the previous events.

Weather shocking – constant torrential rain on arrival and since…

More to follow!

Challenges – the weather


The weather this year has been a big issue in the southern alps. Far more storms than usual, and a mix of weather patterns – all involving instability – which makes the routes very risky through high passes.

The normal pattern is for 4-5 days of stability, building to a storm, clearing and returning to stability.

This year it’s been a b*gger in the Valais region; 1-2-3 days of clear, but with storms building quickly and then settling in as storms for 4-5 days (!) leaving only narrow windows of clear each day.

As a solo walker, it is too risky to trek some days on my own with such varied conditions. The storms have been impressive and have kept me in one place for 2-3 days at a time before finding a clear window – essentially scuppering many of my planned routes.

It’s been a constant frustration and the worse year for trekking that I have seen…. :-(

Belated (brief) Update


Apologies to all for the belated update. Part computer issues, part other issues….

Many pictures to follow but not from my current web connection.

From the last posting in Cabane de Moiry - the route took the following course:

Cabane de Moiry to Grimentz – A reverse of the last section from the previous day; and then a diversion down to Grimentz.. Stunning views of the mountains reflected in the snow melt….

Grimentz – rest days + waiting for my wife and friends to join. Several epic storms, incuding one with over 200 bursts of lightning and thuinder in one 2 min period- all right above my hostel!

Grimentz > St Luc – fairly straightforward skirt around the valley to St Luc as a warm up for my wife and friends who joined me to Zermatt. First views of the Matterhorn. Nice hotel (at good price) with excellent food and sunsets. Found a lot of tendon pain – probably from a few days rest!

St Luc to Gruben – A longish haul over the Miedpass to Gruben – where you switch from French to Germsn in the space of one mountain pass. Sharp ascent initially gave way to a wider, gentler pasture with great views all around. Harder final section with switch back over scree to final saddle at about 2800m. Long descent (>1200m) into next valley was hard on all knees, with the valley seeming to fall beneath our feet. Much earned croute and rosti all round with one too many Cardinal beers!

Gruben > St Niklaus – with the planned route impassable due to the weather (heavy storms from noon),. we took an unusual variant down through the valley – which is not populated in the winter – to loop around to St Niklaus in the Zermatt valley. Forecast proved correct with torrential rain – the river nearest our lodgings was a torrent – whole trees being tossed down the flow like matchsticks! You could hear the boulders being moved by the flow of water – impressive to watch!

St Niklaus – Zermatt – a fair days stroll, again threatened by storms – 19km up the valley (about 600m of ascent) to Zermatt. Higher route enticing, but building storm clouds prevented ascent to Europaweg path. Passed the 1991 Randa rockfall; impressive for it’s scale – over 10,000,000 m^3 of rock fell into the valley; no-one killed by a miracle. The reality being that the valley is constantly evolving and reshaping – most of the peaks are crumbling at a remarkable rate!

Zermatt – rest days (planned) to catch up on washing, etc. Friends joined us and the weather continued to be very mixed – a constant threat of storms allowed some day walks to keep up the fitness but limited higher routes… except….

A highlight – Oberrothorn – the highest trekking route in Europe – a high point above zermatt at 3414m but still dwarfed by the numerous 4000m peaks. Following the route above Zermatt, an initially easy route switchbacking up the mountain lead to a couple of technical sections (scrambling) to the initial saddle at about 3200m. From this a sloping traverse around the final rocky sections to the summit at 3414m. Stunning views – a slight  lack of oxygen and the adrenaline from the exposed section amplified the view…



We had bad news at the end of Zermatt – a bereavement – so returned home for a short period.

With only 8-10 days trekking (weather allowing) left a return is intended to complete….

Sunday 18 July 2010

Day 9 – Evolene to Cabane de Moiry


Altitude gain: 2100m (!)  / Altitude loss: 600m / Distance: 21km  Time: 7.5hrs

The most challenging day in terms of ascent and descent today – quite a physically hard day.

Up early to ensure we climbed in the cool, an initial 3km along the valley was followed by a 1600m (4800ft) of steady ascent up the valley walls over about 7km.


Ascending quickly on well made track, we followed switchback after switchback, finally breaking the treeline at 2200m, we detoured from the published route to ease the ascent up to the col. We had a good turn of speed – about 4.5km/hr on the made track.- which felt very satisfying.



We were rewarded with stunning views towards Arolla as the glacier came to eye level.




From 2200m, the path to Col de Tsaté became steeper and rougher, moving from grassy basin to boulder fields, to scree traverse. The final push to the col was about 30 degrees, with constant switchback through the scree.


Reaching the col at 2868m, some snow was still present – though not as bad as the previous days.


Taking a quick 15 mins for lunch – very wild cheese, local tomatoes and bread to refuel.

We quickly descended down a steep path to the Lake above the Moiry barrage in 30 mins, before reaching the base of the glacier, a rapid 400m descent.


Pausing again to recover sugar levels, our feet were protesting and backs tired from the route, we eyed up the final section, a hard 2hrs to the Cabane – 500m of up across several technical sections.


Passing up a short ridge of morain, the route was really hard – not the terrain, but our energy levels were terrible; at each zigzag a quick pause was needed – no reserves left.


Some sections had both chained and roped sections across snow and rocks, requiring careful foot placement and slow progress – a 10kg pack is light, but it moves your balance, making it easy to over balance.

With the final boulder field crossed, red and white flashes conforming the last few hundred metres, we reached a stunning view – the new cabane, resplendent in it’s new copper structure overlooking the glacier below.


Had the most stunning view, dinner with the sun dimming towards the glacier. Day blurred thanks to altitude and a glass of wine.


Overall: very hard, enormous climb but worth it….      

Day 8 – Arolla to Evolene (rejoining the trail)


Distance: 14km

Altitude lost:-750m

After recovering from the last few days in the heat of the valley - a straightforward day that allowed me to rejoin the planned route following the challenges of the high passes – 2 of which were unpassable solo due to the snow.

The route took me from the heights of Arolla – staying in a lodge near the Arolla glacier – where we were treated to a stunning storm in night – down through the valley to Evolene.

Gentle paths all the way, tracing and retracing the river, saving energy levels for a challenging day tomorrow.


Weather has cooled down below 30c – making walking easier – even cool at night which makes sleeping easier at above 2100m – it doesn’t make much difference, but enough for a disturbed night!



Evolene is a fairly ruined, touristy village with multiple language menus, waiters in old fashioned Swiss dress and every nationality represented… Not my favourite place…

17th century barns approaching Evolene



Sunday 11 July 2010

Day 5 - Cabane de Louvie to Cabane de Prafleuri (?)


Early start. Up just before 6 after dreadful nights sleep in the dorm - why does the snorer always sleep near me? Must be the altitude.My walking colleague is still suffering from a bad cold and has decided to revert to the valley to allow us to rendezvous in a few days.

Headed off at 7am from the Cabane de Louvie, heading alongside the lake before climbing quickly; 400m to a junction before heading towards the Col de Louvie. Retraced steps from previous day, and amazing how the change in light paints such a different landscape.



Made reasonable time to the first pass  though drained from bad nights sleep - 11am to the col where stopped for lunch. Some snow on the way up but nothing too major. Seen 1 person so far today - coming in the other direction. Whole world to myself aside from them.

Some typical paths – red and white flashes mark the route:



One or two boulder fields mark the way; have to go over rather than around….


Early lunch at the Col de Louvie:




Heading down the the Grand Desert proved very hard going  - 200m down snow covered scree. Slow going as sank knee deep with each step; very technical and a lot of concentration needed.

Some braver soul had gone down on their rear (see second pic, slide shape in middle)

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Cutting across the base of the glacier, which is retreating quickly (even since 2003), there were a mix of trail signs (red and white flashes on rocks) with some buried by snow. Crossing two glacier streams completed very wet feet.

(Glacier at top left of picture)




Picked up the signs for the Col de Prafleuri and started heading up. Lots of snow, getting worse as I ascended.

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Crested an alternate col as I couldn't trace the route to Prafleuri - and headed into the alternate valley (Nendaz). Heading down from 2950metres was hard - so much snow.
Loose snow on tight turns, creating my own steps section by section, using my poles to their fullest to stabilise my descent.

Mini icebergs on the way:

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With some challenging path down (!):


With no option to turn back, I pressed on, checking the map regularly ; the path markings appearing and disappearing with the snow. Traversing scree, snowfields and creation of my own path had slowed me considerably - 2km had taken over 2 hrs.Tried two further small hills, both ending in blind drops, before skirting on a wider loop to clear the morain. The route down criss-crossed these sections, taking me from about 2900m to 2600m:



Eventually caught sight of the more major path expected below and a Cabane in the distance. Continued to descend, creating my own path through the scree and shallow streams to meet the main path. Bumped into the second person all day - a Swiss hiker camping amongst the flowers.

Given the time for day (now 3.30), and with the weather closing in (mountain storm weather), I decided that the Cabane de Prafleuri was not reachable  (a further 2.5 hrs) and decided to skirt lower after the challenges of the days route.


Once clear of the scree and snoiw, heading down fast, I felt buoyed after the challenge of the snow to complete the day. With my head down, and on a path, I pressed on, covering 6km in 1hr 30ish, with 1000m of descent in the section; probably my fastest power walk, and without a Bettys Tea Room in sight!

Arrived in Seviez with moments to spare before an enormous alpine storm started - vertical rain with drops the size of maltesers (I can't think of a better analogy) 

Thunder and lightning echoed and reverberated across the valley (I was still at 1700m)  - glad of descent as the storm was vicious (locals playing boule in the rain):


Picked up post bus to head into valley for a rest day in Sion, will pick up trail from next accessible point.

Time to recharge....

Distance:18km ish

Climb: 950m (high point 2950m)
Descent: 1400m
Time: 10 hrs



This day was by far the hardest, most technical walk I have ever done solo (in any trip)  and tested all of my walking knowledge to track and manage the day.The amount of snow in the very high passes - 3000m is very high for the time of year, and I need to pick some lower passes for the next few days to reduce risk and make days more manageable.

1) High passes with snow can cover markings, paths and significantly lengthen any route plans against predicted time. Route may not be possible and the wise think to do is not to risk it…
2) Descending unmarked paths or new routes takes time and should not be rushed. Best route can often be counter intuitive from the initial indication of the terrain.
3) Walking solo takes a lot of attention and pauses to think through and reconfirm the route.

Day 4 – Verbier to Cabane de Louvie


Hot. What a shock. 35c in the valley, cooler at 2000m where most of day was spent.


View back to Alp Bovine and Champex


About an hour in, edge of the Grand Combins

Very tough day - climb from Verbier to Col de Termin was very variable conditions - and very tough. Crossed number of snowfields and scree slopes on the way - each about 200-300m across and about 25-30 degrees slope.



Stunning view of the Grand Combins through the day - a different angle every 15 minutes brought a different take on their majesty and scale. The evolving view was a rich reward for the altitude and climb.


Lost footing in the snow a few times, nothing major but snow much deeper than expected for the time of year - needs a few more weeks before it clears.

Made Col de Termin in quite poor time (~3hrs) and then a fast 1hr 20 nins down to Cabane de Louvie on a fast mountain path. Lovely walk alongside the cool lake and 17th century stone cattle barns. Cooled down quickly but heat is causing very high water consumption - 4-5litres per day.



Cabane de Louvie very picturesque and a great view across to the Grand Combins. Very high standard - very clean dortoirs and good food - with generous portions. Useful endless water supplies (given the large lake, this was not surprising) - and all drinkable. Shower available.



This is not the cabane but an emergency refuge…

Had a good chat with a Valais couple – who mistook my pronunciation of "Anglais" for "Hongrais" - Hungarian – which lead to a confusing conversation....


Views from by the Cabane:



Distance: 12-14km of mountain path
Altitide gained: 1300m
Altitude lost: 700m
(note is a private cabane so no SAC discount)