Haute Route, Day 7: Hiking on Thick Ice

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After scrutinizing the itinerary for tomorrow and opting for the alternate Stage 7 of the Haute Route, we agreed to get going early. The alarm goes off at 5:15, and we start moving right away. I had a solid night of sleep even though the room was a bit on the warm side. All of these bodies packed into a tiny space are bound to raise the room temperature, I guess. 

We pack our bags, carry them downstairs and set them outside the Cabane before heading into the dining room for breakfast at 6. Dinner last night was, in my estimation, adequate and filling, but not particularly impressive. Breakfast, by contrast, is a pleasant surprise. In addition to the usual bread, butter, jam, etc., we have crepes with a variety of options to fill them, including peanut butter(!), Nutella, and honey. Naturally, I try all three options in various combinations. There is also yogurt with cereal. I load up because I’m increasingly conscious, three plus weeks into hiking, of how much fuel my body needs to keep going each day.

We are out the door by 7 and heading straight up hill to the Col des Roux (2804m). It’s a short climb, by Swiss standards, and we are rewarded early today with a plethora of photographic opportunities. The clouds are billowing up from the valley below creating an interesting gauzy effect.

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Tony and Jenny have spotted a lone ibex standing proudly on a rock above us in perfect light. Alison is training her long lens on three young ibex who are playing a game of King of the Hill, and she gets some nice silhouettes. I’m trying to photography the Lac des Dix and the Glacier de Cheilon off in the distance.

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We spend the next few hours making our way down to the lake in the golden light of early morning. We cross a few small streams and make our way past grazing cows, before finally strolling along the right side of the lake for several kilometers. The views are non-stop impressive.

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At the end of the lake we pause for a brief break where we run into the Aussie Gang. David decides to join us on the alternate route up to Cabane des Dix and across the glacier, while Graham, Simon and Nev opt for the traditional route.

We head straight up hill for half an hour or so and then split right. It turns out that our alternate brings us back to a pass very near the regular route and then rejoins the route to Arolla on the other side, so why go the other way? We ask ourselves this question at several different points during the day. The answer, we will soon discover is the views, the challenge, and the thrill!

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As we climb higher, we come closer and closer to the Glacier de Cheilon, which is stunning in its breadth and the size of the sheer rock walls it has left behind. We stop for lunch at a spot that brings us to a viewpoint overlooking the glacier and Cabane des Dix, perched precariously on a rock outcropping blanketed in yellow poppies.

We observe with fascination a helicopter flying back and forth repeatedly dropping off supplies and taking away items and occasionally moving large items up the valley. The skill and speed of the pilot are amazing. After a few runs, the helicopter lands right beside the refuge. It must be time for his lunch break, too. We walk downhill and then up to the Cabane for a quick view.

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After a quick bathroom break, it’s off to tackle the glacier. We make our way down the first of many boulder fields to the edge of the glacier, which, at first, is covered in dirt and boulders. David runs point and sites the path for us which is marked by red paint on stones and boulders. At first, things seems alright, but a couple of times we have to negotiate some quick flowing streams. David and I help Alison across, and she is grateful for the assist.

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The exposed ice with small stones embedded in it turns out to be the easiest surface to walk on. The snow fields are slushy and slippery in the afternoon sun. There is one last big stream to cross and we work our way down quite a bit until we find a suitably safe crossing.

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Alas, we are now faced with a huge climb over a steep boulder field to make our way up to the ladders. It’s slow going and we are definitely feeling fatigued after the glacier crossing. The worst part is climbing up the scree wall up to the firm trail. It’s super steep, and the rocks give way under the pressure, exposing the solid ice below. The three of us spread apart, taking care not to cause an avalanche of rocks to come down upon the person below us. It’s a struggle, but we all finally make it.

From there, the narrow, steep trail clings to the side of the mountain as we carefully make our way towards the Pas de Chevre, Pass of the Mountain Goat. What an appropriate name. You definitely need to be part mountain goat to feel comfortable on a trail like this one!

Finally we make it to the ladders, which turn out to be the easiest part of this stretch. After our TMB and Kosovo via ferrata prep, we are feeling like pros. Up, up we go, and, in minutes, we are greeted with our first glimpse of the Matterhorn and another impressive view to Mont Cheilon Blanc.

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We don’t pause for long but keep moving down the other side. It’s been a long day, the feet are hurting ,and we are looking forward to finishing. Still, we pass several incredible glaciers as we descend into the valley over rolling green fields and eventually down into the forest before arriving at Arolla, a tiny mountain hamlet with a small grocery store and a few cute places to stay.

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Hotel du Glacier greets us with an abundance of petunias everywhere, amazing views of the mountains and some well placed outdoor tables. DSC03638

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After a shower and laundry, we grab a well-deserved beer to relax and reflect on today’s adventure.  All is well after a good long day!

4 thoughts on “Haute Route, Day 7: Hiking on Thick Ice

  1. Incredible adventures, incredible photos — love the helicopter above the house, the belled heifer, the silhouettes, the ice walking. Compliments, once again. Your faithful reader, La Zia

  2. Alison and Matt… what a breath of fresh air and especially during times like these. Your beautiful photos put a smile on my face and ignite my imagination. Thank you for sharing your adventures!

    1. Thank you so much, tk! We are glad that our blog can provide a little pleasant distraction during these stressful times. We appreciate you reading and hope that we inspire some future adventures!

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