- Day 1: From le Chargeur to the Cabane des Dix
- Day 2: From the Cabane des Dix to Arolla by the Pas de Chèvres
Map used: 1:50,000 Arolla hiking map, 283T
This was my first stay at a mountain hut, and I was fortunate to choose the Cabane des Dix, a comfortable hut with a spectacular location. Great weather helped make it even more memorable!
View Le Chargeur to Arolla in a larger map
From Le Chargeur to Cabane des Dix to Arolla
Date: 26th of July, 2005
Distance, Elevation Gain/Loss: 10.8 km, 1,017/478 m
Map Used: 1:50,000 Arolla hiking map, 283T
Cabane des Dix Coordinates: 598 390 / 95 510
On the 26th of July I took the bus from Arolla to Vex, and changed to another bus line to go to Le Chargeur at the base of the Grande Dixence dam. Unfortunately the first bus leaves Arolla at 8:25, and I had an hour's wait at Vex, so I only reached Le Chargeur by 11:20, quite a late start for a longish trip.
I took the cable car to the top of the dam, and was delighted later to find a justification of my decision on Cyber-Noth's Cabane des Dix page:
At a place called Le Chargeur, just under the enormous barrage wall, a small cable car takes the visitors for a few Swiss francs to the lake level. Even the fanatic hikers should take advantage of it to avoid an uninteresting walk, though early in the morning the installation might not be open yet.
The walk along the huge artificial lake is pleasant though a bit long. After a couple of kilometers the path from the Cabane de Prafleuri reaches the lake, and from there on I was on one of the standard variations of the Haute Route. Reaching the SW corner of the lake I met a group of three young (mid-twenties would be my guess) men, we would leapfrog each other all the way to the Cabane des Dix. I remembered that my old (bought around 1990) maps showed the main path to the Cabane leaving the lake here, but as I did not have the old maps with me, and as the current path clearly followed the lake to its SE corner I did not look more carefully.
At the SE corner I noted that the path to the Col de Riedmatten did not cross the inlet as it used to. Dawn DuPriest had noted that in her 2002 trip report:
Here Kev says to take the long suspension bridge over the lake inlet - but the bridge was closed! A big, metal door was actually bolted in place at this end of the bridge with a sign that told us clearly we weren't permitted to cross. The trail to Cabane de Dix took off uphill, but it was also signed to Col de Riedmatten, so we headed that way.
The two paths climbed up together, and the initial climb was quite steep, or at least seemed so after the long flat walk. After a short distance they parted, the one to the Col de Riedmatten going to the left (eastwards) while the one to the Cabane des Dix continued southwards. A short distance beyond that junction a path came in from the right (west); I am certain that this is the path coming from the SW corner of the lake.
Beyond that the path rises, alternating between a few steeper pitches and more moderate ones. Ultimately it goes along the lateral moraine of the Glacier de Cheilon (now gone at this level), crosses the stream that flows down from the Glacier de la Luette and follows that stream uphill for over a kilometer. Then the path goes off the moraine to the right (west) and starts the last ascent, up the Tête Noire. That small mountain has two peaks; since the path passes quite close to the lower one I scrambled up it to inspect the cross on it. The cross had "Raymond Luisier 1952 - 1985" written on it.
From there a short descent into the glacial plain, followed by the short but steep ascent to the Cabane.
This was my first stay at a SAC Cabane, and I enjoyed the experience immensely. Sitting in the large dining area I struck up a conversation with a group of French-speaking hikers at the neighboring table (I speak fairly fluent, if ungramatical, French), and was soon joined at my table by a trio of British climbers (a couple plus another man) who were doing trips based on the Arolla campground. They had recently climbed the Aiguilles Rouges from the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges, and they recounted their (mis-)adventure with a mixture a pride and shame!
The Cabanes all serve, in addition to the meal, some kind of soup, and all have both beer and wine for sale. Dinner was copious, if not memorable! After dinner we were asked whether we wanted breakfast at 4 AM (climbers) or 7 AM (hikers). After some more conversation we all went to bed, the Cabane was remarkable quiet given the number of people present.
Date: 27th of July, 2005
Distance, Elevation Gain/Loss: 7.2 km, 107/1,001 m
Next morning I woke briefly while the climbers were getting out of bed, and promply fell asleep again. The sounds of my fellow hikers getting up woke me up for good. Breakfast was basic (cereal, bread with jam and cheese, coffee or tea), it seemed that about half the group had left early for climbs. I noticed that the hut staff sold both bottled water and picnic lunches; I bought neither since I was well supplied.
I am probably more afraid of exposure than most of my hiking friends, and I had been wondering whether I would have the courage to go over the Pas de Chèvres using the notorious ladders. They had been a major topic of conversation the previous evening amongst the hikers (as opposed to the climbers) at the Cabane. The alternative, the path over the Col de Riedmatten, is very close by, so I decided to leave the decision to the last minute.
First, of course, I had to get down from the Cabane and across the remains of the Glacier de Cheilon. I was not very comfortable on the steep path down from the Cabane, and went slowly, being passed by several groups of braver hikers. The glacier itself consists here of two relatively narrow tongues, with multiple waymarks showing the safe way across each. The first tongue was easy even for me; there were so many embedded small stones in the ice that it was as slippery as sandpaper! The second tongue seemed more slippery, and since I had brough my light four point instep crampons precisely for this glacier I used them. Note that I saw nobody else with any kind of crampons that day.
Once across the glacier there is a rather unpleasant scramble up boulders, with many very visible marks (many blotches of red as well as a few regular red-white-red waymarks). At the final decision point I opted for the ladders. They were much easier than I could have imagined!
The only real problem was getting up the first rung. I am six foot tall (183 cms), but I still had to pull hard with both arms and push with both legs to get my second foot on the second rung. After that it was plain sailing. At times the ladder was very close to the rock, but I never felt that I was balancing on the tips of my toes.
The first ladder fuses seamlessly with the second, but the second ends about a step away from the third. I had read about that and it was my main worry. I should not have worried; there is now an excellent horizontal bar to hold, and the sloping rock on which you used to have to step has now been supplemented by a perfectly horizontal one (probably blasted out of the mountainside!).
From there to Arolla there is little to say. The descent from the col was initially steep, but the grade soon become gentler. I was back in my apartment shortly after noon, after a very enjoyable two day excursion.