We wanted to combine 2 famous skitour routes: classic Swiss “Haute Route” but in inverse variant – from Zermatt to Verbie – and Italian “Haute Route du Grand-Paradis”. However, the hut Chanrion in the middle of the way was unexpectedly closed. This hut is nearly the only point to link the two Haute routes together. Together with unsure weather conditions and avalanche situation this did not allow us to connect these 2 routes by ski. Thus we connected them by car.
Part 1. Haute Route from Zermatt to Verbie
24.03 Saturday. Geneva – Randa
The plan for the fist half of the trip was to go on skis from Zermatt to Chamonix. As usual we decided to leave the car at the end of the trip, so we drove from Geneva to Chamonix, Argentier and parked the car at the end of the village. From there we took the train to Martigny and then to Randa, where we had reserved a room in the hotel Restaurant Hole in One. A curious name for a hotel, I must say! I wonder who invented it. The hotel was cheap and very basic. However they served a good diner. Hotel is located between Randa and Täsch, so you have to go 25 min by foot either in one direction or in the other to reach the train.
25.03 Sunday. Randa – Zermatt (1608 m) – Tête Blanche (3710m) – Cabane de Bertol (3311 m)
First ski day! There is a shuttle from the hotel to Zermatt, but its schedule does not start early enough, so we walked to Täsch and took the train to Zermatt. A nice start for the ski-tour — finding the way between the hotel and the road in the snow in the dusk. We used the ski lift to get to Schwarzsee at about 11:30. With demi-tarif the ticket costs only CHF14. The weather was very good and sunny but it was not that easy to go up. Probably due to the sickness that I had before, or probably just because of the altitude. Not a lot of people were going in our direction, we noticed only one group. However lots of people were skiing down to Zermatt. The highest point for the day for us was Tête Blanche (3710m). We arrived to Bertol hut at 17:00. I was tired and got blisters on my feet. Bertol is a Neuchâtel Swiss Alpine Club hut. It is located 3311 meters above Arolla in Val’dHérens in Valais. Bertol hut faces Dent Blanche (4357 meters), Matterhorn (4477 meters), Dent d’Herens (4171 meters) to the east, Tete Blanche (3724 meters), chain of Bouquetins, and Bertol Teeth to the south, Petit Mont Collon in the Southwest, Pigne Arolla to the west, north to White Staves. The hut is lovely! We had a fantastic dinner of 3 different types of ravioli gratinés with cheese!
Most of the people from Cabane Bertol went to Tête Blanche. Only several groups were descending to Arola and only 2 groups were going to Vignettes. Snow was good, visibility – normal. We descended to Glacier d’Arolla and started to go up on Glacier Haute d’Arolla. First we climbed up to the Col de L’Eveque (3386m). On our descent visibility decreased and we had to ski down very slowly – it was a pity because the snow was so good. Cabane des Vignettes is a big hut that can welcome nearly 120 visitors. However in spite of the big size it has an “old style” mountain hut atmosphere and is very friendly.
In the morning visibility was awful – we could hardly see something in 2 m in front of us. Several guides tried to find the way. One even fell down on a very steep slope. Finally with GPS we found the point from which we started to go up. Nobody was in front, nobody followed us. Sometimes the slope was quite steep, but the snow was not bad and held good. Half way up the sky cleared and we saw 2 groups following us, but they were far behind. First we climbed on the rocky summit of Pointetes du Brenay (3772m), went down along its ridge and went to the top of Pigne d’Arolla (3790m). It was windy, and the weather promised to get worse. So we made some fast photos and skied down. The first part was a bit icy (actually, this icy part is the hard part if you go up from Cabane de Dix, but is quite easy on the descent), but after Col de Tsijiore Nouve the snow was perfect!
Cabane de Dix has a great choice of bier, and personal wisky collection by the gardien! And two cute robot vacuum cleaners! It is a nice and friendly hut, but you can hear every sound coming from any other room…
In the morning visibility was zero, though the forecast promised improvement in the afternoon. Still, all the groups decided to go back to Arolla village. We were the only ones who decided to go further. We had about 40 cm of fresh snow, but avalanche forecast was not so bad, and there are no steep parts on the way except for “Pas du chat” – short and steep descend to the lake. At the beginning it was not so difficult to find the way (with GPS). The difficulty started when we came closer to the lake. First, in attempt to find the way we went far along the gorge, which was wrong, as far as teh banks of the gorge are too steep. We had to return and start traversing from the small bridge over the gorge, and finally found our way to “Pas du chat”. The visibility was slowly getting better and we saw people coming in the opposite direction from Cabane de Prafleuri. They were far and also tried to find their descend to the lake. Later we understood their problem – there were crevasses in melted snow on the way down to the lake. After we just followed their trace and they were happy that we did a trace for them. I do not know what they were going to do tomorrow, because the avalanche/snow situation does not allow much.
The next subtle part of the way is the traverse along the lake. Though not that steep, the slope is large. Half way we heard the typical “Wroom…” sound, which was not too reassuring, and we tried to reach the hut as fast as possible.
There were just 3 groups in Cabane de Praflueri. For us it was a problem to book the hut and now it was empty — everybody canceled reservations because of the weather and fresh snowfall. These 3 groups came from Verbier and now were thinking what to do next. Cabane de Praflueri is very nice and friendly. Good food and very quiet. I slept very well!
We continued our way to Verbier. Alone as usual, and as usual we had to make the trace. Other groups were scared of the avalanche situation and decided not to continue to Dix and went down. The visibility was not good at the beginning, but it was getting better with every hour. On the top of Rosablanche we met a helicopter from Verbier with freeriders. And yes, going down from Rosablanche was awesome!
From Verbier we took the train to Chamonix. In principle there was a variant to go from Verbier (2662m) to Champex by train, then to go up to Cabane du Trient (3170m), and next day to descend to Chamonix, but because of the not very good weather forecast we decided to follow a simple way – train and good food in Chamonix!
30.03 Friday. Argentier – Col du Chardonnet – Chamonix (hotel)
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We had 2 days in Chamonix and had to find what to do. The first idea was to go to Col du Chardonnet and to descend to another side, sleep in Bivouac de l’Envers des Dorées, and on the next day ski down to glacier du Tour and come back to Chamonix. This is a nice 2 day skitour, that I had already done with UniGe. In the early morning it was great. A lot of fresh snow! Skiing down from Grands Montets was really fantastic. But later the weather spoiled. Wind was awful! And it was getting stronger and stronger. We nearly succeed to reach the top of Col du Chardonnet, where I was literary blown away! Not only going up was impossible, but just standing straight was hard. Fedya crouched to me and we decided not to tempt fate and to go down until it was too late.
In Chamonix we booked the hotel in Gailland through booking.com. Arrived, settled, dried things, went to the shower… and after that we found out that we had reserved another hotel. The one that was next door. Finally we figured everything with the fiendly help from both hotel owners. No one took extra money.
All night it was snowing! Real Christmas weather on Easter!
31.03 Saturday. Argentier – Cogne, hotel, Ostello La Min
We woke up very early and went again to Argentier. The plan was to climb the cascade on Aiguille Verte. However, the Grands Montets lift was closed, so that we could only try to find and climb cascades which can be reached from the middle station of the lift. For about three hours we rummaged in the snow, trying to find the descent to the cascade and the cascade itself. Unsuccessfully. We waved our hand on this unfindable ice fall and went to Italy — pizza was calling! We were waiting for new adventures and Italian “Haute Route du Grand-Paradis“