Category Archives: Mountain Hiking

The Summer Haute Route Glacier Trek

I have just returned from one of the finest summer Haute Route’s I have ever done. Thanks to Meteo Suisse’s pessimistic forecast and our Friday departure from Chamonix, we found ourselves virtually alone the whole way. Conditions remain excellent, with snow still covering the glaciers on the steep, higher sections. Climbing the last 200 meters to Berthol was a dream without crampons to the ladders. There is still have space available for the last Haute Route of the season, in a week. (September 9- 15) Please send me a note if you would like to join.

The last few weeks have seen perfect weather almost every day. 0 degrees was above 4000 meters, so it was hot, and the sky showed an intense, bright blue above these alpine peaks. Visiting the less popular peaks and valleys with wonderful people, who appreciated the solitude, was enlightening. These past seven days with the Kamendys, who seemed to recognize every detail along the way, gave me an appreciation for people who are not out to climb the most popular routes, but rather the less frequented areas in these Alps. The week before with Ton, climbing the Arete de la Gouille on the Mont Velan, was another one of those very special climbs, alone, slowly, appreciating every move and whisper of change.

Autumn is in the air. It’s cool in the shade and dark at 6. What weather is in store for us, as we look forward to winter? I’m happy to enjoy these next snow free months, perhaps another 2 of pure rock and sailing. Then a bit of ice and some early skinning above Verbier. Enjoy!

Hiking in the upper Val du Bagnes and the Pleureur

A hike into the upper Bagnes Valley offers a trip into the wilds within the reach of all hiking enthusiasts. A new educational trail through the mountain tunnels leading to the dam shows us how the dam was built. This new didactic hike uses photos, examples of the old tools, and a final video to show what was involved in the construction of the Mauvoisin Dam in the 1950s.

From the dam, one can hike along the right or left banks to the end of the lake. From there, trails leading over the Col de Crete Seche and Fenetre de Durand offer beautiful and remote hikes to neighboring Italy. One can even climb up the Otemma glacier and down to Arolla in a day. Circling back to Mauvoisin offers a great day out with a stop at the Swiss Alpine Hut Chanrion for lunch.

With light mountaineering boots, light crampons and axe, Frank and I left from the Hotel Mauvoisin to climb the Pleureur at 3704. The trail starts a few hundred meters from the dam on the right bank, and climbs strait up into the sky. If one is well acclimated, the climb takes 5 hours. The elevation gain is close to 2000 meters, and the quickly changing views are spectacular. The steep trail is equipped with chains and iron steps to get through the cliff bands at 2400 meters. At 2900, the trail dwindles onto the Serpentine Glacier, but here we head strait up the grassy slopes towards the Grande Ashle. A light ice axe helps sure feet stay on these greasy slopes. After deep, loose rock and scree, one follows the ridge to the summit.

Here are 7 shots form our trip into nature.

Summer has arrived in the Alps

After an incredibly cool and wet spring, summer has arrived to these Alps. For the first time this year, steady daytime temperatures at 1500 meters are above 20 degrees. It warms the soul to see the look on everyone’s face and feel the relaxed attitude as people sit outside socializing in the evening. Verbier is filling again with people as the Music Festival gets into full swing.

After a 2 week rock climbing trip to the sea, I’ve had the opportunity to do some guiding on a few alpine routes and hikes. Vadim and I climbed the north face of the Tour Ronde between Chamonix and Courmeyeur before spending some time in Zermatt and Grindelwald. Then I did a mini Haute Route with the Summers over 3 days, alpine trecking from Mauvoisin to Chanrion, over the Pigne d’Arolla and down to Arolla. The conditions on the high glaciers are better then I have ever seen them in the 30+ years I have been here. Snow remains low on the glaciers and above 3000 meters, the skiing is still excellent!

I will be in Verbier all summer offering introductory climbing camps to people of all ages, leading people on a number of Alpine Hikes around this and neighboring valleys, and of course guiding on the 4000ers. Please contact me for detailed information.

The Haute Route – Chamonix to Zermatt

We hiked the classic summer Haute Route in early September in almost perfect weather. What a treat it was to enjoy the company of other motivated people whilst traversing over frozen glaciers, roaring streams and mountain passes. Originally called the High Route by the English, the Haute Route is the ultimate glacier trek from Chamonix to Zermatt. Taking 7 days, we started with the lift from Le Tour and hiked to the Albert Premiere Hut. This short trek allowed us to slowly get in touch with our gear, and break the feet in pleasantly. After lunch at the hut, we moved onto the glacier to practice the crampon skills needed for the Haute Route.

Day 2 took us over the Tête Blanche and across the Trient Plateau to the Trient Hut. This area, from Trient to Arolla, is a special place for me living so close, in Verbier. Most of the next 3 day’s trek took place in the Val de Bagnes, my commune. A small snow storm broke out on the way up the Tête Blanche. I figured this was not bad, since it meant my clients would not clearly see the rappel off the corniche to the lower slopes below. It went well though. Obviously most people were a bit nervous since most they had never done anything like this before, but it appeared they were beginning to gain confidence in their guides! The Trient hut was quite comfy with the new addition. No water for a face wash though. Hopfully this will be corrected in the future for those dry, end of the season spells.

Day 3 we cruised down to the chair lift at Champex Lac. I spend a lot of time skiing  here in winter and absolutely love riding down on this chair. The view towards Lake Geneva, the lake of Champex, the Petit Combin and Verbier, peals away as one lowers to Champex. A taxi took us to fresh supplies at the new Coop in Sembrancher, then to Mauvoisin for a picnic on the dam. We then hiked 4 hours along the beautiful path and over the Col de Tsofeiret to Chanrion. Marvelling at the roaring waterfalls crashing into the Mauvoisin lake, the views of the east face of the Tournelon Blanc, and sighting all the Bouquetin (Ibex), Chamois, and Marmots in this protected reserve, made this one of the more memorable days off the glaciers.

Day 4 is a long one, 8-9 hours: up the Ottema glacier and down to Arolla for a civilized rest at the classic Kurhaus Hotel. Whenever I get this far up the Val de Bagnes, I am always reminded of the ambiance of the Himalaya. It is so wild! The Crete Seche combe sees so little traffic, that you will not see any other footprints in the whole valley. Everything looks close, but when you start to walk, it’s like you are on a rolling carpet. You walk for an hour and it appears you are still in the same place. Trekking up this long glacier is a wonderful feeling though. The huge mountains all around ask you to detour and climb: the Bec d’Epicoune, Aiguille de la Singla, the Petit Mont Collon, the Pigne d’Arolla, and, and… we were so happy to drink that beer on the Kurhaus lawn!

Day 5 is 5-6 hours, straight up to the Bertol hut. I am always a bit concerned when clients ask me how many kilometers we will hike. This day is 4 kilometers, but why didn’t they ask about the vertical meters?  This one is 1.3 kilometers…. up!  If taken at a nice, easy pace though, this day is super rewarding for the group. Getting so high so quickly makes one feel like superman. Our progress is apparent with each step as the valley floor drops steadily away. The last few meters up the ladders open into one of the most adorable huts in the Alps. Cabane Bertol is perched upon it’s own eagle’s nest, with stunning views of the Matterhorn and the Dent Blanche.

Day 6 is another long one of 6-7 hours to the Schonbiel Hut. I love this day for its early start. Watching the sun rise and choosing my line over the convoluted glacier to economically get to the sun early, makes this day so special. There are heaps of crevasses to contour, then the slopes to the summit of the Tête Blanche. It really feels like one has arrived. It’s the end of the trek. The shoulder of the Matterhorn starts to peak out ahead and the  Mattertal comes into full view. From the top, heading down, it’s like flying over in a small plane. Looking down at the glacier and rivers, the walls of the Matterhorn’s north face and the tiny chalets above Zermatt. The sence of relief and exuberance charges your whole being and drives you forward towards your next big challenge, the enormous boulder field separating you from the Schonbiel Hut at the bottom of the valley. A good fun test of balance and endurance before your next beer on the terrace!

Day 7 is a fine cruise down to town. Through cool old chalets and little hamlets, stopping at cute bistros and trying to speak Swiss German! It’s like Hobbit talk. Really quite difficult to believe it’s a real language it’s so cute! Zermatt here I come. Let’s go for a climb up the Breithorn, or another day to Saas Fee!