Day 4: Cabane du Mont Fort-Cabane Prafleuri 9 miles
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.”
– Edward Abbey
It was hard to part from the wool blankets in the morning. The wooden boards of the cabin did little to keep the mountain air out. With that said, it would have been even more miserable had we stayed in the tent. Out on the trail, we forced our stiff legs into action. The first hour of the morning was spent in shadow, circling round a ridge. On the other side, the sun was breaking through the horizon.
Not only did it warm our bodies and spirits, it shone bright on the Grand Combin which would continue to be the centerpiece of most of our pictures. With a sunny outlook, we cruised to the top of Col Termin (8688 ft), the first of three for the day. For those unfamiliar with mountaineering terms, a col is the lowest point of a mountain ridge, essentially a “pass”. From the col, a fine alpine lake, called Lac de Louvie, was visible.
At first we descended towards the lake, but eventually veered to its left, choosing to circle around through the grass and over a small boulder field.
After scrambling through a second, lengthier boulder field, we reached Col de Louvie (9600 ft). An otherworldly landscape lay on the opposite side.
Large basins filled with scree and glacial runoff dotted the countryside. The source of this wreckage, the Grand Désert Glacier, rested along the top of the ridge; or, at least what was left of it.
Following painted English flag waymarks, we crossed this barren landscape and made our final climb to Col de Prafleuri (9730 ft).
We were both exhausted by the time we topped the pass and descended the gravel track down the other side. It was a relief to see our final destination, Cabane de Prafleuri, in the distance. One last push and we were on the porch of the cabin, packs off and feet up. It was another $75 to stay, though this time it earned us two sleeping mats on the floor of a 6 person room. After dinner we conversed with two of our roommates, a Welsh couple, who had hiked the John Muir Trail and the Wales Coast Path! They were the only others we met who had also been camping along the way. When the chatter died, sleep quickly overcame us.
Day 5: Cabane Prafleuri-Les Hauderes 14 miles
“The mountains are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.”
– Anatoli Boukreev
The next morning started with a short, but steep, ascent up to Col de Roux (9200 ft). At the top of the pass we were greeted with a stunning view of Lac des Dix, a stunning high alpine glacial lake.
Its water was an almost fluorescent shade of blue that grew more luminous with every minute of the rising sun. Ragged mountains surrounded the lake, grass slopes giving way to rocky outcrops topped with snow.
As we descended, we spotted more ibex grazing among the rocks far above. The trail brought us to the Western shore of the lake, following a smooth path through grassy meadows and pastures dotted with boulders.
Cows with large bells attached announced their presence long before we skirted by. At the Southern end of the lake, we climbed a long moraine of scree and veered off the main trail towards an imposing mountain named Mt. Blanc de Cheilon.
A sprawling glacier ran down the mountain and into a valley below. Perched on the edge, in the most unlikely place, sat Cabin de Dix.
It was early afternoon, so we ate our lunch on the refuge’s large wooden deck, looking out on the massive mountain and glacier. With our tummies full, we left the cabin across the field of ice.
This was my first ever glacier crossing and it was a neat experiences. While there were no crevasses and we didn’t need ropes, we did have to navigate several glacial streams.
I stuck my head in one for an icy dip…
Once across the glacial field, we used chains and ladders to ascend our final pass of the day Pas de Chevres (9370 ft). A beautiful panorama of mountains rewarded our efforts.
The view was so grand it was difficult to keep moving.
A fairly short descent brought us to the scenic village of Arolla. Several grand hotels provided accommodation in the town, none within our budget. The lone restaurant was even too expensive, two hamburgers with fries put us $40 in the hole. Not wanting to waste any more precious cash, we continued through the town to a patch of woods shortly before the town of La Gouille. We set up our tent and passed out.
Day 6: Les Hauderes-Cabane de Mouiry 8.5 miles
“It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
– Edmund Hillary
It was an easy morning’s stroll down the valley to another beautiful village called Les Haudéres. The buildings were all of one style, made of timber and set on a stone base. Houses were adorned with flowers and loaded with wood waiting to be fed to a fire on a cold, wintry day. We restocked up on food and continued on our way.
Above Les Haudéres, we passed through two more chalet filled villages, La Forclaz and La Sage. The way increasingly became steeper until we seemed to be climbing straight up the mountainside. For encouragement, I played some tunes on my Iphone and we marched on. Passing cows and small lakes, we climbed to Col du Tsaté (9400 ft).
While probably skewed by the rest of the trail, this pass had a rather unimpressive view. This changed as we descended towards the Moiry Valley.
With every step, the most massive glacier I had ever seen came more into view. Its ice pack began at the top of Grand Cornier and flowed for quite a length, its water runoff creating the two vivid lakes farther down valley.
We descended to the closer of the two, Lac de Châteaupré, skirting around it and ascending a narrow path along a scree-filled moraine.
Legs already tired from a day of hiking, the ascent to Cabane de Mouiry used all our remaining energy. Snow flakes fluttered around us as we climbed and climbed. Finally, we reached the insane cabin. Perched above the enormous glacier after which it is named, the cabin gives a bird’s eye perspective of the extreme power of nature.
Inside, we ate our dinner and had a beer, while talking with the other guests of the cabin. We rented another private room, for a bit less money than Mont Fort, and again fell asleep among the cozy wool blankets.
Day 7: Cabane de Mouiry-Zinal 9 miles
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach us more than we can ever learn from books.”
– John Lubbock
Our morning began as our hike had ended the previous night… with snow.
A cloudy overcast produced snow in the upper elevations and a very fine mist as we descended lower.
We followed the same moraine path back down to the valley floor.
There we headed North, climbing above the Lac de Moiry.
The path we were following suddenly disappeared and for a bit we hiked through grass and over rocky outcrops before regaining a new path that had been above us. We took this to the far end of the lake, looking down on the large dam that held it in place.
Long, zig-zagging switchbacks took us to the top of Col de Sorebois (9340 ft).
On the far side of yet another valley, the Weisshorn dominated the scene, lesser snow-covered peaks standing side by side.
As we descended the ski-shaped hillside, we came to a large cabin that served as the head of a chairlift. It also contained a restaurant that provided refreshments and a place to relax and enjoy the view.
The descent down to Zinal was a quad-burner. It was seemingly endless and much steeper than the ascent had been on the other side.
Eventually our footsteps brought us to the valley floor, and we feasted on chili and bread from a supermarket. We set up our tent near the trail that led out of Zinal and fell straight to sleep. Sometime in the night, a strange sound made us both snap awake. A creature, somewhere in the nearby vicinity, let out a yell… BAAAAHHHHHHPPPP!!! Leaves rustled and branches cracked as it terrorized us for the next 15 minutes. Then, as sudden as it had appeared, the gremlin vanished, leaving us to our imagination and the nightmare of its return.