A hard but rewarding day with a variety of scenes – lakeside stroll, glacier scarred landscape traverse, scary ladder climb and finally a stunning valley descent.
Day 7 –Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla
Based on the Cicerone guidebook, “Chamonix to Zermatt: The Classic Walker’s Haute Route,” by Kev Reynolds
Distance : 17k
Elevation Gain: 735m
Elevation Loss: 1353m
Time: 9 hours with frequent photo stops and a short lunch break
Today is supposed to be one of the hardest of the 14 stage Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland route. With the possibility of midday showers most everyone is out of the hut early. We leave just after 6:30, right before sunrise, the sky pink in the distance.
The hike starts with a steep climb to Col des Roux (2804). It’s not long but too steep for so early in the morning. From the pass you see into the Dix valley, still in shadow at this hour, where the trail descends, winding around the hillside to Lac des Dix. The descent seems longer than it should be but generally is not too steep.
Patches of lupine and other wildflowers brighten the way. Just as we near the lake the sun, which is also descending down the mountain side, hits us. It’s a clear crisp morning with bright blue skies.
Once at the lake it’s a long walk along a flattish road where you can make up some time or chill and have a nice stroll. Bulls along the way with their bull-sized bells clanging liven up the walk.
The trail rounds the corner of the lake, crossing the end toward a tunnel where water gushes into the lake. Here you find the trail up to Cabane des Dix and Pas des Chèvres (the ladders), or Col de Riedmatten to the next valley.
After a steep climb up a grassy hillside it’s another long walk through a glacier scarred landscape. This one more attractive than yesterday’s.
The Cicerone guidebook says the trail to Cabane des Dix branches off 10 minutes into the climb but the trail to the passes has been rerouted and it’s more like 45 minutes to an hour to where the trail junction is, clearly marked with a sign post.
Beyond the sign post the trail descends to the river where there is a new bridge connecting the new trail to the old. The trail then passes by lakes at the foot of the Cheilon glacier with great views before the long climb to the passes.
The first part of the ascent is generally evenly graded atop the moraine but as you approach the junction of Pas de Chèvres ( the ladders, 2855m) and the Col de Riedmattten (2919m) the climb becomes more treacherous, often on steep slippery grit and unstable rocks.
At the junction you have a choice of crossing the mountain ridge via ladders bolted in the rocks (Pas de Chèvres) or the Col de Riedmatten. The ladders may look scary but are actually very easy. Unless you have an unsurmountable phobia of ladders, do the ladders instead of the pass. They are way better than climbing on loose dirt and rocks.
On the other side of the pass a beautiful green valley against a backdrop of glacial mountain peaks awaits you. Although it’s a long descent it’s not too steep or rocky. As you descend, the Tsijiore Nouve glacier appears to the right followed by Mont Collon. Turbulent skies add to the drama, threatening rain that never materializes.
Nearing Arolla is a steep decline to town down an exposed hillside and then through the woods. The town has the same magical views of Mont Collon.
Sleeping and Dining in Arolla
We stayed at Hôtel du Pigne in a balcony room with mountain views. The spacious room was clean and comfortable and included amenities such as a coffee and tea service.
The demi-pension dinner started with a goat cheese salad followed by a chicken pita plate served with fresh hot fries, all tasty and well-seasoned. The chicken, however, was a tad dry. Dessert was a choice of tarts. The rhubarb tart had excellent fruit flavor but the crust was overdone and tough. The hotel restaurant also has a regular menu.
Breakfast was a good quality buffet but was short on options – good bread selection including croissants, milk and cereal, cheese and ham, an egg boiling station, juice, self-serve coffee machine, etc.
August 31, 2019
For links to all the posts in this series see the Chamonix to Zermatt page.