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| | |-+  April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
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Author Topic: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt  (Read 3236 times)

Posts: 46

April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« on: 04/30/14, 10:10 PM »

We just got back from Switzerland after completing the Haute Route. Some pictures with comments are at this link on Facebook:
The Alps had plenty of snow fall earlier in the season, minimizing hazards and making for a snow happy trip. Unfortunately, just when we kicked off our trip the temperatures dropped and what was supposed to be hero spring corn ended up being icy death corals for the first two days or so. After that new snow eventually became supportive and made for excellent skiing.

We took three days to ski the Vallee Blanche near Chamonix Mt Blanc to get used to the elevation. Aiguille du Midi is a lift station at 3800m. That in itself is pretty breath-taking as the French folks put a gondola from 1000m all the way up to 3800m. That’s basically a gondola from Paradise to the Summit of Rainier. It's even more breath-taking when you get to go from 1000m to 3800m in one short gondola ride  Grin

After skiing 3 days at the Vallee Blanche we got pretty quickly acclimated.

Day 1: Argentiere to Trient Hut: This is probably the most difficult day as it has lots of elevation gain and a challenging down climb at the Col du Chardonnet if you opt for the standard route. Originally we planned for the Col du Passon, but a quick skin up to the base of the col did not make the route option clear and we opted for what was described in our guide book (Alpine Ski Mountaineering Western Alps: Volume 1), that is the col du Chardonnet. At the Trient Hut talking to other parties, some had come over the Col du Passon and based on their description it seemed very straight forward once you got higher. The col du Chardonnet requires 100m rope to get down to the glacier, otherwise you need to deal with a 40-45 degree down climb. For us that was not too bad as there was plenty of snow even though ice hard. If the snow gets more worn down to rock it becomes probably more challenging.
The Trient hut was nice, but not nearly as nice as the others. If I do this trip again, I might opt for staying at the Argentiere hut and go straight to Champex skipping the Trient hut. The other advantage of this approach is that you avoid having to wait till 800AM when the lift opens to take you up to the Grand Montets - of course there is always the option to skin that as well.

Day 2: Trient to Champex, car to le Chable, lift to Mt Fort Hut: The guide books call for an exposed, probably icy ski down to the col des Encandies. It was not nearly as exposed as I expected and there are two other options: Couloir d'Orny and Fenetre de Chamois. If the party has solid skiing abilities I would go for the couloir d'Orny, but conditions would need to be stable since it is very steep. The col des Encandies requires a 50m climb up which for us started out on rock and then transitioned into 40-45degree snow. We had a few less experienced climbers and hence I tied our two 30m ropes together and trailed it. At the top of the col des Encandies is a nice bolt anchor that you can use to belay your partners up. If there is less snow this could be a tricky climb up for the leader. There were some fixed ropes, though from what I have seen fixed ropes are not to be relied on. Both here and the col du Chardonnet they had nasty cuts from rock/snow grinding them. From the col it is an easy ski down to Champex with a short walk into town. We initially planned to take the bus from here, but we got lucky as I ran into two Germans on the street that offered us a ride to le Chables. From le Chables you take a series of lifts up through Verbier to the top of the run that takes you to the Trient Hut. You don't want to start this too late as it takes time to go from one lift to another. 3PM is close to the latest you would want to try this based on our experience.

Day 3: Mont Fort Hut to Prafleuri: Mont Fort hut is super luxury with showers, soap, and towel for 6CHF. The weather became bad in earnest, with whiteout and at times high winds and some snow fall. Avi wasn't concern yet - the snow fall amounts were not enough and way to fluffy to cause any major problems in the areas that we exposed ourselves to. The Prafleuri hut is not on the route described in our guide book, but is a nice variation that shortens this day a bit when compared to going to the Dix hut. Only challenge is that near the hut there are a few cliff bands that are not easily navigated in white out. We got lucky as the visibility got much better when we got close to the hut. The Prafleuri hut is super nice and because of weather most groups that started with us had given up at this point. There was only one other couple with us in the hut which led to excellent service, tons of food, and a basically empty dorm.

Day 4: Prafleuri to Vignettes: The weather was very nice in the morning, but supposed to deteriorate quickly in the afternoon and for the next day. The original plan was to go to the Dix hut and then the next day to the Vignettes hut. Since the leg to the Dix hut seemed rather short, we decided that if we made the Dix hut by 11:30AM – 12:00PM and the weather looked good, we would continue to the Cabannes des Vignettes making the most of the weather window. This worked out fine and we did continue to the Vignettes hut. On the way up we followed people to the Pass du Chevre which takes you to Arolla. If the weather is bad, this is another nice option to get up to the Vignettes hut. We climbed the fixed ladders to the pass and climbed up to the Vignettes hut via the glacier de Piece. Unfortunately that meant we missed the Pigne d’Arolla which is the highpoint of the tour at 3800m and a leg I was really looking forward to. Still, in retrospect that was probably smart as the weather was pretty nasty by the time we got to the Vignettes hut at 3200m. If we had followed the other option to 3800m we may have had to turn around…

Day 5: Vignettes to Zermatt: The Vignettes hut is pretty awesome, perched on a ridge, with tunnels that have human sized windows that let you look down thousands of feet onto the glaciers below. There is also a heli pad right next to the hut. The pad is so close to the kitchen window that I would call it a “heli drive through”. By the time we got to the hut the day before, the weather was so bad, that I figured we were done. We probably had to ski back down to Arolla and skip the last part of the leg going into Zermatt. The big concern was the ski down into Zermatt as the last part has a few ice falls that need to be avoided and could be hazardous in whiteout conditions. At dinner we were assigned to a table that had a very optimistic trip leader. His plan was to do the first half of the leg which is mostly easy ascending and going across relatively flat glaciers and make the call at the col de Valpelline (3550m). At any point it would be easy and reasonable to reverse and ski one of the routes back down to Arolla or stop at one of the refugees along the way, or possibly reverse to the Cabannes des Vignettes. We liked that plan, but the next morning the conditions were the worst of all. Going over the Col de l’Eveque we got blasted, visibility was at 100ft or less, guided groups were gone, and everybody else went back to the hut except the group sharing the dinner table with us. We eventually caught up to them at the col du Mt Brullee where they threw in the towel. Given the early time, many exist strategies available, we pushed on across the flat part of the Tsa Tsa glacier, climbing up to the Col de Valpelline. At the col de Valpelline, our high point for the day, things got worse again, we popped over, and boom, it cleared out just below us and we could see all the way to Zermatt. Jackpot. At this point we made it. We quickly skied down before we lost the window of opportunity, but once we got below 2900m we were home free. We also got a nice surprise when the Matterhorn showed itself.

Overall a successful trip with the weather playing ball whenever we needed it.

Other thoughts:
•   I started reading the avi report and snow report at least once to twice a week in January on “Unterwallis” is the area of interest. This was super useful in retrospect because I had a good understanding of the snow conditions and level of crevasse hazard to expect.
•   Bought the swiss topo online product from the swiss government ($60). This proved invaluable as the maps have clearly marked ski routes making the white out navigation much less challenging. You can buy those maps in the stores and there is also a free online site, but I cannot find it anymore. If I can find it again I will post it here as well. 
•   Huts have rubber shoes, just bring some socks to wear with them if you mind the fact that other people had their sweaty feet in them.
•   Languages: Until you get to Vignettes hut, French is best, after that it is all German. English gets you around fine though as most people spoke at least some English. In other words, language was less of a problem.
•   Col du Chardonnet: Skip it via the col du Passon or make sure to bring enough rope (2 x 60m).
•   OpenStreet maps has a topo for your Garmin GPS.
• seems to be the equivalent site to TAY, CC in the alps. It is a bit more advanced as it also serves as a guide book, has GPS tracks, etc. and therefore takes some time to figure out. If you play with it long enough you'll get it. The basic idea is that the different tours are all pre stored, you pick the one you have done, and provide an update on conditions.
•   If you do the tour guided, your guide will get your stuff to Zermatt. Since we did not use a guide, we ended up mailing our stuff from Chamonix to Zermatt using the regular post. We called the hotel to make sure they knew. Also the hotel in Chamonix was happy to keep our luggage until we returned. Cost about 30Euros for two people including light shoes.
•   To return, we took the train. Cost about 100Euro per person. It takes about 3-4 hours and 3 changes to get back, but it is worth the train ride.
•   Zermatt is expensive.

* 20140417hrsmall1.jpg (245.43 KB, 1000x525 - viewed 755 times.)

* 20140417hrsmall3.jpg (230.69 KB, 1000x478 - viewed 755 times.)
« Last Edit: 05/04/14, 03:34 PM by Schwerkraft » Logged

Posts: 46

Re: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« Reply #1 on: 05/01/14, 08:10 AM »

Few more pictures

* 20140417hrsmall2.jpg (197.14 KB, 1000x548 - viewed 767 times.)

* 20140417hrsmall4.jpg (198.96 KB, 1000x483 - viewed 750 times.)

Posts: 46

Re: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« Reply #2 on: 05/01/14, 08:11 AM »

And the mandatory Matterhorn shot

* 20140417hrsmall5.jpg (239.46 KB, 1000x666 - viewed 744 times.)

Posts: 872

Re: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« Reply #3 on: 05/01/14, 11:55 AM »

Bravo!  Wonderful report and great job on the trip!  I'm going to bookmark this TR for study if/when I get to planning to do that trip.  Thanks for all the great info.  Love the photos.

Posts: 498

Re: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« Reply #4 on: 05/01/14, 07:35 PM »

World class.  Hope to do that some day too.

Posts: 418

Re: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« Reply #5 on: 05/01/14, 10:23 PM »

Your slideshow brought back some nice memories: thanks for the TR.

Posts: 843

Re: April 17, 2014, Haute Route, Argentiere to Zermatt
« Reply #6 on: 05/05/14, 06:33 PM »

Thanks for the great pictures. I was just at Grandes Monets in March but had 2 days of whiteout and really didn't see anything. Couldn't even see the glacier even though the ski run ran right next to it.

Brian Izdepski, Facebook TAY
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