Map used: 1:50,000 Arolla hiking map, 283T
While climbing up the boulders to the Pas de Chèvres (27th of July, 2005) I chatted briefly with a hiking couple. They told me that they were going a bit further north to cross over the Col des Ignes. I had noted a path marked (on the map) with red dots; that is an alpine route, described on the maps as:
Alpine routes are trails featuring all the dangers of alpine trecking, including short mountain climbs. Alpine equipment or mountain guides are essential.
Since they had no technical equipment I asked about the difficulty of the route. They told me that the glacier had shrunk a lot, and that the path was without any technical difficulty. That was confirmed by a man painting waymarks on the rocks, and a few days later by the gardien of the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges.
I resolved to explore the route, the fact that none of my books even mentioned it was an added attraction. (Back in the US I found very little about it on the web, one of the very few articles I found (in French) is Une ballade dans le haut Val d'Hérens.) On the 28th or 29th of July I decided to attempt to reach the col from Arolla and return the same way. On a previous hike to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges I had noted a rock with "Cabane des Dix" painted on it in big blue letters, with an arrow pointing west. So I followed the now familiar path up to that junction.
The path first rose up a rocky valley, and then moved onto the lateral moraine with generally very good footing. The steepness varied, but nowhere was it really steep. Soon I passed the much shrunken remains of the glacier; it still had an impressive ice arch, with water gushing out from under it
The path was marked with the blue, white, blue waymarks of an alpine route, as well as a large number of metal stakes with the blue, white, blue markings. Where the tread was clear the waymarks were some distance apart, but where there was no definite tread they were much closer together. At no point should there have been any ambiguity about the correct route.
I wrote "... should there have been ..." rather than "... was there ..." since I did something rather stupid. The path was following the crest of the moraine, and after a large metal stake I could not see the next waymark. For some reason I simply continued along the moraine crest. When I had gone about ten minutes without seeing a waymark it finally dawned on me that the trail must have turned at the last stake I had seen. I had no difficulty returning to the last stake, and once there looked carefully in all directions. I soon found the missing waymark; the path left the moraine to the left, descending into the valley.
At that stage I began to feel tired, and the weather seemed to be deteriorating (the forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms). I had convinced myself that I could easily follow this "alpine route", and so felt that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. So I turned around, and planned to go back to the Dixence dam and cross over to the Val d'Arolla by the Col des Ignes in a few days.