The Swiss canton of Valais is home to potentially the best known hut-to-hut trek in the Alps, the walker’s Haute Route. In August I spent six days in the Valais on a trek that meandered around the Haute Route. Sometimes we walked along the well known route, sometimes we skimmed just past it, and at times we filled the meanders of the Haute Route with more walking.
We (that was this time just Constantin and I) decided to start the trek from Sion. There is a direct post bus link from Sion to the Lac des Dix, where our trek really started, and it is easy to come back to on the train from Sierre – the last stop on the bus from Zinal back into the valley. We stayed at a camp ground the very first night, where we could also leave our car for the rest of the week for no extra charge. Bonus.
The weather forecast for the whole week was pretty sketchy. There were thunderstorm warnings for the weekend and a cold front was about to pull in from the West at the start of the week. We had already decided not to walk on Saturday, delaying our departure by a day. A lot of time in the next six days would be spent checking the weather.
There was a light rain when we peaked out of our tent on Sunday morning. At least no storms were expected until the late afternoon. This was ok, because when we decided to start a day later, we effectively lost two days of the initially planned trek :-(. When we were leaving the campsite in a usual rush to catch the bus into town, we knew that we had a short day of walking ahead of us. Either we would walk to the Praflueri hut or a little bit further to the Cabane des Dix.
Day 1: Lac des Dix (2,437 m) – Cabane des Dix (2,928 m)
Walking time: 3.5 hrs; Ascent: 500 m
Everything became clear over a coffee at the bus station in Sion. I called up the Cabane des Dix. They still had two spare beds for us. Next thing we were off on the post bus to the Grande Dixence – the tallest gravity dam in the world. At about half eleven, having admired the dam, we were finally ready to get going.
The walking was really easy at first – just a stroll along the Lac des Dix. At the other end of the lake, where we joined the Haute Route, the path starts climbing though. First higher above the lake and then onto the moraine of the now tame Glacier de Cheillon. The uphill climb wasn’t all too easy. It was our first time this year in altitudes above 2, 000 m and it had also been a while since our last hike in the Berchtesgadener Alps at the beginning of June. Our backpacks heavy with food for the next tree days didn’t help either. The climb was over soon enough though and we were standing at the Pas de Tete Noire (2, 957 m). From there it was just a short walk to the Cabane des Dix perched on a piece of rock in the middle of the Cheillon valley.
In the end we were lucky with the weather. There wasn’t a drop of rain and while there were many clouds, the sun came through several times. We were at the hut at about 3pm with plenty of time to settle in and plan the next day. I even managed to read a short Poirot story in French!
Day 2: Cabane des Dix (2,928 m) – Arolla (1,998 m) via Pas de Chèvre
Walking time: 3 hrs; Ascent/ descent: 150 m/ 1,100 m
We started day two by oversleeping. The night in a big dorm was a little bit loud, with many getting up early to storm the surrounding peaks like the Pigne d’Arolla or Mont Blanc de Cheilon. But we didn’t miss anything. The weather was awful. It was grey outside and it was raining. And so I read another Poirot story after breakfast. At some point though the stench of the dry loos that were being aired (or something) after breakfast exceeded the discomfort of the bad weather outside and so we set-off.
Luckily the stench seemed to have driven the fog and rain away too, or at least for a short while. We crossed the Glacier de Cheilon in good visibility and headed for the Pas des Chèvre (2, 855 m). A shortcut to Arolla, kitted out with a set of metal ladders. The glacier was easy to cross. It is mainly covered in scree, the path is clearly marked and there are no real crevasses – just two shallow streams carrying water down the glacier towards the Lac des Dix. There’s a bridge to cross both streams.
The ladders at Pas de Chèvre have been overhauled this season. In fact the pass “re-opened” just a few days before our trek. The crossing is now supposedly a lot easier than it used to be. We didn’t find it too easy, but neither was it difficult. There are three short ladders to climb now and a couple of bridges to cross.
When we reached the ladders it was raining again, but the weather changed completely not too long after we started descending towards Arolla. The clouds dispersed, the sun came out and the 4,000 m peaks and their glaciers surrounding us started popping out all around us.
We reached Arolla at 2pm. After a coffee in one of the hotels there we got on a post bus and headed down the valley to Evolène, leaving the Haute Route for the first time. Unlike my Rother guidebook, I would not recommended staying in Arolla. The hotels seemed nice enough, and on a good day you will probably be able to enjoy some splendid views (by the time we were in Arolla it was overcast again), but if you’re actually staying in a village and not in a hut, the village might as well have a supermarket where you can buy some supplies and a restaurant or two. Evolène was so much better in that respect.
We stayed at Hotel Ariznol, which was comfy and good value.
Day 3: Evolène (1,381 m) – Lac de Moiry (2, 250 m)
Walking time: 5.5 hrs; Ascent/ descent: 1,500 m/ 700 m
+ additional ascent along the Sasseneire ridge (+/- 200 m; 2 hrs)
We had been watching the weather for Tuesday for days. We had some 7 or 8 hours of walking ahead of us and really didn’t feel like that much rain.
Whatever we won in distance by taking the bus all the way to Evolène the day before, we had to make up in altitude. We had 1,500 m to climb before lunch. If we could make it and the weather was good we would also attempt the Sasseneire summit (3, 254 m).
We had breakfast as early as it was possible and really managed to leave before 8am. It was easy to find the steep path to Villa just outside of Evolène. At Villa we rejoined the Haute Route trail and continued up towards Col de Torrent (2, 916 m). The weather wasn’t bad, but it was far from good. It was cloudy and foggy with occasional short showers. I did somehow enjoy it though, as it seemed to have given the whole landscape an air of mystery.
After three hours of climbing through the mist we got above the low cloud in the valley and actually got to see some sun. When we reached the Col de Torrent it was largely sunny with clouds rising from the valley and rolling over the ridge every so often. The timing was just perfect. Now that the weather had cleared up we could try to hike up further along the ridge to Sasseneire.
Finding our way up onto the ridge path wasn’t so easy, as we had to navigate quite a steep scree field. The walking on the ridge was OK, but very exposed. We continued until we reached the final summit section. This looked like a little bit too much exposed scrambling to us. We just took in the amazing views from there and went back to the pass. The d-tour was definitely worth it for all the birds-eye views of the val d’Hérenes and the unbelievably turquoise Lac de Moiry.
The descent from the pass to the Lac de Moiry was relatively short. Though after all this walking, the last meters felt never ending. We stayed at the Gite de Lac de Moiry, which is a simple hut about 100m above the restaurant at the lake. It belongs to the same landlord, so food is served at the restaurant. Hot showers and a nice living room make up for the slog to and from the restaurant.
Day 4: Zinal (1,675 m ) – Cabane d’Arpitetta (2,786 m) via Pas du Chasseur
Walking time: 4.5 hrs; Ascent: 1,100 m
The weather this morning was horrible. The sky was grey and the rain gave the impression of never intending to stop. When we walked down hill to the restaurant to grab some breakfast we were still determined to carry on up the same hill towards Sorebois and Zinal later on. After breakfast we only needed a minute longer in the rain to change our mind. We decided to bail.
What is the point of climbing 600m uphill just to descend to the cable car station on the other side of the mountain and take the cable car further down into the valley, if you are not going to see anything else than fog? There is none. We walked back to the Gite, grabbed our bags and descended back to the restaurant where we waited for an hour until the first post bus arrived. In forty minutes it took us around the mountain to the cable car station in Zinal. It even stopped raining by the time we got there.
In Zinal we abandoned the Haute Route. Instead of continuing along it we hiked “inside” the arch it creates from Zinal to Zermatt. Hence from Zinal we headed to the Cabane d’Arpitetta. The hut that is “really cool because they don’t serve any food there!” That’s how I tried selling Arpitetta to Constantin. And I really meant it. No dinners = small secluded hut = very cool … At least that’s how I see it.
To get there we had to make our way through the Pas du Chasseur first. Our Rother guide described it as a steep ascent spiced up with some easy climbing. Well it turned out to be an easy via ferrata. Fortunately enough we had via ferrata sets with us, as we though we might need them for the Pas de Chèvre on day 2. A light rain started just before we reached the pass. The rock was wet and slippery, making the climb a little tricky, but all went well. It was a nice challenge that mixed things up a little.
From the Pas du Chasseuer we continued the climb towards Arpitetta. At first we continued through fog and rain, but the closer we came to the hut the better the weather got. When we arrived at the small hut just under the Glacier de Moming it was mainly sunny, with the occasional cloud pulling up the valley towards the Zinalrothorn.
We were welcomed by the hut guardians right at the door. They were obviously a bit excited to see us and immediately brought us peppermint tea. As we then found out, the Cabane d’Arpitetta is too small to be run by a permanent hut guardian. Instead volunteers from the Valais man the hut for a week at a time.
This all gives the hut a much more personal, homely feel. Receiving guests was a special thing for the two men and running the hut was a much more improvised affair. While the guardians were playing cards with some friends that were visiting them, we were let into the kitchen to make our dinner ourselves. That was despite the fact that it turned out that they served food, just not big dinners like in other huts. It was all just very relaxed.
Day 5: Cabane d’Arpitetta (2,786 m) – Cabane de Tracuit (3,256 m)
Walking time: 3.75 hrs; Ascent/ descent: 750 m/ 250 m
The next day we woke up to a chilly morning. This time the weather had a pleasant surprise for us though. The sun was out, and everything was covered in a thin layer of snow and frost. It was magical, but also slippery. Again we used the abundant time we had on this trip and waited until 10.30 for the sun to thaw most of the iced over rocks around us.
We then set off to the Col de Milon (2, 990 m) and the Cabane de Tracuit. The path quickly finds the ridge of the side moraine of the Weisshorngletcher and ascends to the rocky pass. Walking along the ridge we came across an ibex perched right on top of the ridge in the middle of the path. With his impressive horns and stoic calmness he looked like an emperor graciously surveying his empire.
After I took a million photos he moved off the path and we could carry on. The last section to the Col turned into an easy scramble. The descent from Col de Milon on the other side of the pass was a bit more difficult. The path is secured with chains and only gets the sun in the afternoon. Hence the rock was still pretty icy and slippery. Everything was fine though and a piece of cake in comparison to the Pas du Chasseur.
It took as a while to cross the Tracuit valley and start the ascent to the hut. I think wasn’t drinking properly again and at one point felt really weak. An apple and a good drink of water sorted me out though. It was just in time ahead of the final scramble to the Tracuit ridge and the super modern Tracuit hut built in 2013.
We arrived at the hut at 3pm giving us a plenty of time to relax and nurse our emerging ailments. Constantin was struggling with an altitude lassitude (maybe the effect of reading the Ascent of Rum Doodle at Arpitetta). I was nursing my aching feet that were ceasing to like my new very stiff hiking boots.
Given our condition, I was only a little bit envious of all the other groups preparing to ascend the Bishorn the next day.
Day 6: Cabane de Tracuit (3,256 m) – Zinal (1,675 m)
Walking time: 3 hrs; Descent: 1,600 m
The last day was a relatively short affair. We set off from the hut at 8am, keen to make it to Zinal in time for the 11.20 post bus to Sierre. The descent was with the exception of the initial scramble and some rain a pretty uneventful affair. We made it well in time and were off on the bus down the valley.
In Sierre we got the train to Sion and then had to walk for over an hour to get back to the campsite! A little downside of our “base camp” location. On a plus side we took a cheeky shower at the camp. Smelling fresh we set off for Lausanne were we were visiting some friends.
- Difficulty: the trek was physically easy, with the exception of day 3. However technically it was somewhat difficult with all the different secured sections. Pas du Chasseur is definitely tricky.
- Cost: 60-70CHF per Alpine Club member per night, including half-board
- First impressions from an impromptu trek in the Swiss Valais
- Hiking in the Valais
- What I did last summer: Tour des Combins on the Swiss-Italian border