Haute Route des Alpes (La Luette, Pigne d'Arolla, Point d'Oress)
Photos Day1, Day2, Day3, Day4, Day5, Day6

Trip Report

In June 2007, we hiked from Chamonix to Zermatt (almost) in 6 days. The weather was a bit mixed and we therefore had to cut our trip short (one day short of Zermatt). However, as you can see from the pictures and read in the trip reports, we still had a great time.

June 19, 2007
Finally, I have waited for this day ever since Christmas. June 19th was the day, I would travel to Chamonix in France, to begin a 7 day trek across the French and Swiss Alps to Zermatt in Switzerland (the Houte Route). A cousin of Catherine's father is a "Guide de Montagne" living near Chamonix and for Christmas, I received the awesome present of a mountain tour with that very cousin turned guide, Gilbert Guirkinger from Catherine's parents. However, the actual start day was June 20. Today, we would just drive from Namur to Chamonix to meet Gilbert early the next morning. The other members of our group were Jean-Marie Balland, his son Francois, his brother-in-law Bruno and his son Antione and a mutual climbing friend Benoit. So, basically one big Belgium family and a few hanger-ons, including me. After meeting at Jean-Marie's house early in the morning and cramming all our gear into Bruno's van, the six of us set off to drive south. I had the constraint that I had to drop my computer and other items at a friend's house in Basel (because I had to travel to Kiel for a seminar immediately after the trip). I had contemplated taking the train, but luckily the others had agreed to the slight detour through Switzerland (rather than taking the direct route through France). In Basel I deposited my items in a locker at the train station and then dropped the locker's key at my friend's house for later pick up. Despite that stop and an extended lunch break/picknick, we arrived in Tre-Le-Champ (near Chamonix) where JM had reserved 6 beds in a refuge (La Boerne), with plenty of daylight left. We got settled in and had dinner in the company of two men from Alsace. They tried to educate me on the virtues (or more like on the faults) of Lorraine women, as they found out that I had one waiting at home. However, the older of the two (the dad) spoke with such a strong accent that I only understood half of what he said.

June 20, 2007
After a night of pleasant sleep (9h, quite amazing for the fact that I slept in a small room with 5 other persons that kept tossing, turning, snoring and so on), we got up and had breakfast at the refuge. One has the option of either paying for just the bed or with dinner and breakfast included. We met Gilbert Guirkinger at a Sport's store in Chamonix after breakfast at 9am in order to check up on a gear and rent the necessary equipment. After strolling around Chamonix for an hour or so and enjoying the nice weather and the beautiful sights of Mount Blanc towering over the city, we packed our stuff and headed up to the trailhead near the village of tour. After a final check of all the equipment we took the chair lift to an elevation of 2100m and then had a nice leisurely stroll to mountain hut Albert 1. our home for the night. Along the way we had impressive views of the Glacier du Tour and at one point even saw a big chunk of ice breaking of the mountain. The trail was mostly on snow-free but just below the hut we hit 100 meters or so of fairly steep snow. This proved to be the only workout for the day and I was breathing pretty hard when I reached the terrace of the hut. A few other people were already there, some of them with binoculars, which they used to check up on progress of a party of two on nearby Aiguille de Chardonney (which looked pretty steep from our vantage point). By the way, the hut is named after the Belgium king, who inaugurated the hut after it was financed by the Belgian Alpin Club. Dinner consisted of fish and noodles and after that and plenty of wine we went to bed early for a 4am start. After dinner I spent a few minutes sitting outside and writing these lines and while doing so, I could see clouds moving into the valley and over the where we were. I wondered what the morning would bring.

June 21, 2007
Well, after spending a night in one room with about 25 other snoring and farting men, I was happy to be getting up at 4.15. Men in the mountains like this just don't know any mercy. I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and when I entered the bedroom on my way back, I almost suffocated. I really wondered if it would have been this bad if a single woman would have been present. Maybe that would be the case later in the week and I could conduct a behavioral study. After a quick breakfast we started hiking in the general direction of the Col de Tour. Pretty soon after setting off we put on crampons and also robed up. I got roped up with our second guide Henri who had arrived the previous evening, and Antoine and Francois. The other three were with Gilbert. At a not too fast pace we went up to the col, but non of the ascent was too steep. It was a bit scary, since it was my first time on a glacier and clacier travel useusally means crevasses potentially looming everywhere and all sorts of memories about what I had a read in adventure books flared up again. Roping up was definitely a good choice. When we got to the col, where it was fairly cold and windy, we still had fairly good visibility and could look over to the other side. We had especially nice views of neighboring L'aiguille de Chardonnet. But pretty soon after arriving the other side of the col, low hanging clouds moved in and visibility went down to 10-20 meters or so. We continued to walk up the gradually inclining slope towards where we thought the summit should be. Other travelers prior to use had left well marked traces in the snow. However, it started to rain and to snow/hail, and although we had already dropped our bags on a sort of flat plateau and advanced to where the rock-climbing would begin, we decided to call it a day. Well that is, Gilbert decided to stop the ascent and descend to the next cabin. After we had taken of the crampons and moved 10 feet up the fairly straightforward rock (scrambling is the better word), we had thunder and lightning all around us and at this point, Gilbert thought it wiser to get down quickly. Good decision, I don't believe I have ever been this close to the heart of a thunderstorm. I don't know how severe they can be in the Alps, but considering the casualties you get in California on a regular basis, it can only be worse. Thus, down we went. We picked up our bags again and descended along the long glaciers of Trient and Orny, passed the Cabane de Trient and down to the Cabane d'Orny, where we took our lunch break with hot soup, tea and similar good things. We were pretty much soaked at this point (at least I was), and the short break did little to dry my clothing. So I wanted to keep on moving and we left about 45 minutes later. Gilbert and I heeled/glissaded some of the way and were soon ahead of the others. Gilbert decided to wait for them and sent me on the way to the Breya ski lift. The trail now basically followed the mountain without too much up and down, but the visibility was worse now than before. In addition, when walking in the clouds, so to speak, I could not hear anything, except my own walking and breathing. After about 45 minutes I arrived at La Breya where I only waited a few minutes for the others. We took the chair lift down and arrived in the village of Campex. Actually on the way down the clouds were still around us and we could not see the village and its beautiful surroundings until we were basically on top of it. Only when we were sitting at a restaurant, sipping a glass of the Swiss national drink, Rivella, and waiting for the taxi to drive us up to the Cabane de Chanrion, did the clouds finally break up and we could dry some of other clothing. The taxi drive to the Cabane was quite something. Fortunately, I was lucid enough to pick the seat up front next to the driver, because not only did the drive involve never-ending switchbacks (and I surely would have been sick in the backseat of the van), but it also offered some fantastic views of the scenery. We passed a big reservoir, the Lac de Mauvoison, was walls were so steep that they did not bother to pound a round into the rock, but simply constructed a fairly long and very narrow tunnel. Actually if was more like a system of tunnels, as there were numerous intersections and turns. The ride took about 90 minutes, and although I kept falling asleep, the views of the area were terrific. The lake is about 4 kms long and at its end the valley ends with a semi-circle of fantastic looking mountains. Very beautiful, I will have to bring Catherine. The Cabane is also located at the end of the lake, although still a few miles further and higher up than the lake. As I was writing this, I was sitting in the Cabane, waiting for dinner. The guides were discussing tomorrow's route and JM was yawning. The refuge must like Albert 1. was not too crowded. This I find the surprising as I took June to be the main season, but apparently, it does not get really busy before July. We had only about another 10 visitors there. Ok, dinnertime, today we get soup, red beets, rice and "Geschnetzeltes." It was deliscious. During dinner we could still enjoy the views, also 'delicious.' I will have to ask Gilbert about the names of the surrounding mountains.

June 22, 2007
We got up pretty much with sunrise, at around 5am. After the usual breakfast consisting of bread, jam, hot water and an assortment of dried milk powder and cocoa or coffee powder, we were on the way at 6:15. The easy to find trail rose steadily up to the Col de Lire Rose. There was no snow on the trail and we moved up fairly quickly and reached the Col at 8:15. Benoit realized at this point that he that he had left his 300 Euro jacket at the refuge. He could have used it as it was getting quite windy and cold up at the Col. Luckily, Henri had a spare jacket in his backpack that he lend Benoit. After a short break we continued up to the Col de Mont Rouge. The final 50m were quite steep and we roped up. At the Col we reached a bit plateau/glacier, but unfortunately, the visibility at this point was a gone poor and we could hardly see anything. Until now we had had fairly nice weather, but the clouds had moved back in.
We split up, Benoit, Bruno and JM stayed with Gilbert and the rest with Henri. We moved down the glacier (called Glacier de Gietro) fairly fast and stopped at a spot just below the route up to Mount Blanc de Cheilon (3700m). We waited for Gilbert's group, which was still far behind us. The clouds had lifted again and we could see them approach slowly. As they caught up with us, the two guides bent over the maps and muttered about their breaths about the strategy due to the unstable weather.
The decision was to let Mount Blanc de Cheilon be, and do either Luette or practice some ice climbing. I really wanted to do my first Alpine summit and opted for the first option. I thus roped up with Gilbert and his group, while Antione and Francois went with Henri to do some ice climbing nearby. We went with Gilbert down to the last col of the day (Col de Cheilon), from where we could already see the hut, our eventual destination later in the day. We went down the col after briefly arguing about which was to take to ascend Luette. I argued that it would be better to follow the crest instead of losing altitude and ascending again from the other side. Gilbert argued that the lower elevation start would be compensated by the absence of wind (which was blowing pretty hard at the col and along the crest). So we descended and at a nice sunny spot at the base of Luette took another break consisting of delicious cheese, sausage and bread meal. Benoit then decided that he would call it a day and descend to the Reguge de Dix, which was still in plain side just a kilometer away. The remaining members of the group, Bruno, Gilbert, JM and I then turned the other way to ascend Luette. After traversing a bit we went up to the ridge, dropped our bags and after encountering a fake summit reached the true high point. The way up was quite stenuous, because the snow was at least ankle-deep and I found out the hard way that breaking the trail (I took over from Gilbert for a few meters) under such conditions is quite hard. When I led, I was out of breath quite quickly, while following in Gilbert's footsteps was no real problem. I don't envy Gilbert for his job of dragging idiots like us up these mountains.
We spent about 10 minutes on the summit and took pictures every which way before descending back to where we had left out bags. Still roped up we descended crevasse-laden territory, and reached the refuge at about 16:30, where the other four were already waiting. The weather was beautiful now and we could already see our goal of the following day. We had dinner accompanied by the usual two bottles of wine, before we crashed early to be ready for another exciting day.

June 23, 2007
Another 4am start, at least that's what I thought. Although announved the previous night as our official starting time, noone gave a damn, and I was the only one sitting in the dark breakfast room. I therefore stretched out and slept for another 15 minutes or so before the refuge's guardian began clanking pots and pans in the kitchen indicating that breakfast was in the making. I rose a second time, and this time for good. The others showed up soon thereafter and after a delicious breakfast (the best so far, along with the previous night's dinner) we set off, already in daylight. The snow was frozen und we made quick progress up the gradually inclining slope. We roped up from the beginning due to the danger of hidding crevasses, but only began using crampons up the steeper slopes later on. It was fun climbing as I was roped up with Henrich, Antoine and Francois and we quickly left the others behind. We reached a plateau with excellent views of Moutn Blanc de Cheilon, which now, like us, was basking in sunlight. From this point we also had nice views of our highpoint of the day, Pigne d'Arolla. It was quite windy on the plateau and we worked our way to a somewhat protected headwall at the end of the plateau and close to Pigne's summit plateau, in order to wait for the others how were about half a km behind.
When they caught up, Gilbert suggested for us to keep moving instead of waiting for them, which we did for the rest of the day until we arrived at the refuge that night. We now continued up the headwall, which was consistet of 50 meters on a fairly steep slop. The snow was soft though, and we therefore had no problems. After another 30 minutes or so, we reached the summit of Pigne d'Arolla, which consisted purely of a bunch of snow (at least at this time of the year). Considering that this was supposed to be the time of the year with the most stable weather conditions, we did not encounter many people (just two other groups) that day, and we therefore had the summit to ourselves. We had very nice views from the top, with Mount Blanc and the Grand Jorasses in one direction and the Matterhorn in the other. We descended a few meters from the summit for an extended break in a wine-protected spot. When we set off to descend to the refuge, we saw the others making their way up to the summit. I led the descent and found the snow obnoxiously soft for 10 am in the morning. We sank in to the ankles and often even to out knees. The descent therefore turned out to be bit strenuous and it was soon transpiring intensely. But the descent did not take long and pretty soon we could see the refuge in a pretty exposed spot along a steep drop off. We descended the last 80 meters or so with Henri leading a steep and very soft section and of all us were falling and sliding in the soft snow.
When we arrived at the refuge at 11 (our shortest day yet), the helicopter had just delivered a load of firewood, which was lying all over the place. So we helped put it away and chatted a bit with the local swiss guys who had come up with the helicopter in order to descend by food into the valley. For lunch we then had a typical Swiss plate, Rosti, and naturally, two bottles of wine. In the afternoon, we played Trivial Pursuit, at the end of which JM's group somehow cheated its way to victory. At the time of writing this, the others were preparing for a nap and I too was wondering what to do until supper. A nap seemed like a good idea, especially since I had not gotten much sleep the previous night, but considering my inconsistent sleeping patterns,
I opted against it and explored the surrounding of the hut. A male mountain goat attracted lots of interest by being fairly tame and approaching the hut on numerous times very closely. Amazingly, the animal had no problems getting some descent footing on the 30-40 degree slopes leading to a precipitous drop off. I took about 2 million pictures of it and also inspected the nearby bathrooms, through whose holes one literally had an impeded view of the 800 meter cliffs below. Well, to say the truth, the view was somewhat impeded by lots of toiletpaper and tons of shit. Not the most environmentally sound and sanitary way of handling the human waste of lots of visitors coming through, but lots of construction equipped (all brough in by helicopter) hinted at an impending extension of the refuge, which would likely also include decent bathrooms. I for once already dreaded my nightly habit of going to the bathroom. I hoped not to freeze to the seat with the subzero temperatures.
Dinner was good and we went to bed early.

June 24, 2007
Another strenuous day. After a night where I did not wake once (not even to do my dreaded bathroom visit), I woke at 5am along with lots of other people. It was the weekend and therefore the refuge was almost complete. Our host Jean-Michel after breakfast kicked out a few Italians because the argued about the payment for their stay. Something about the tea being included in the price (the Italians thought this), which it was not, and that was also clearly stated all over the cabanne. Interesing early morning entertainment. Don't mess with Jean-Michel, I told myself.
We set off after breakfast and quickly worked our way up the Glacier due Mt Collon to the Col de Leveck. We had switched groups and I was roped up now with Bruno, Antoine and Gilbert. Up at the col, we could again see the Matterhorn very clearly. The weather was great and the wind had quieted down completely. The nicest day yet in that regard.
We reached a small peak to the right of the col, Point d'Oress. An obvious trail through the snow led up the the highpoint, and about 300 Italians keep coming up and down it. Gilbert had never been up that hill and suggested to go for it. Another approach to the summit was a 50 degree "North Face", which I quickly volunteered for. However, I was already too late, as Francois and Antoine were quicker than me, and Henri would only take two people with him on the ascent. Well, there you go!!! Anyway, rather than following the Italians, we also decided to go a different route. Separating the steep wall Henri and Co were taking and the fairly easy class 2 approach the Italians were taking was snow ridge, which we aimed for. Gilbert led and after about two pitches, during which he secured us from high above, we reached the summit, which just minutes ago had been busy with lots of other climbers, and which we now had almost completely to ourselves. We took nice shots and a film of the other three, who were already descending as we went up. At the summit, again, nice views of the surrounding mountains, although Mount Blanc was now covered by clouds.
We descended to pick up our bags and went down the Haut Glacier d'Arolla", and then further down after deroping and releaving our feet of the crampons. For the first time in a few days we got off the snow until we reached the intersection, where a trail led 600 meters of elevation up to the Cabane de Bertol. Here we took a break for an hour, finishing most of our supplies (bread, cheese, sausage and chocolate).
After the break, Francois, Antoine and I went up quickly to the Cabane de Bertol. Unfortunately, we had to wait for our guides, when we hit snow again, because we were unsure about using crampons and roping up. Our fearless leaders contended, however, that it would suffice to put on a helmet. So we did and set off again. Francois stuck to the left and I to the right, where I encountered some soft snow before climbing up about 20 meters on some sort of via ferrata. I go to the col only a minute or so behind Francois and together we went up to the refuge. The Cabane de Bertol is located in a fantastic spot. High up on an exposed rock, it can only be reached via a system of steep metal stairways. It is located at 3311 meters.
The hosts cooked us a delicious dinner (Sahnekartoffeln und Kasslerschinken), and we spent the evening seeing rather bad weather move in (it was snowing as I took these notes). We were not sure what to do the next day. In only knew that I had to be in Zermatt by 7pm. We were still hoping for one more summit the following day.

June 25, 2007
At 4 o'clock the next morning the weather had not gotten better at all. We tried again at 6, but it still looked pretty dismal. After an extended breakfast, we eventually set off, but after one hour of marching through we clouds (we were soaked by this time), Gilbert decided that we had enough and turned us round. On our way out, we hiked passed an impressive crevasses before reaching the Col de Bertol. We descended the way we had come up the previous day, but went down all the way to the Village of Arolla. I got to the village bus station first at about 12 and could have caught the bus to Sion, from which I knew a train would bring me to Basel (where I had to be that night for my next day flight to Kiel). But I had not mentioned my plans to anyone, and so I let the bus go and waited until the others showed up. Everybody trickled in after a while except for Bruno and Gilbert who had already hitched a ride back to Tour to pick up their cars.
We had a fondue lunch, which was delicious, at a restaurant in Arollo, and then took the 3pm bus to Sion. Here I split up from the others. I hoped on the train to Basel and the others waited for their respective rides. I arrived in basel for dinner with Ralf and Jatti and spent the night at their house too. The next day I prepared by talk and took the evening flight to Kiel.