Haute Route Day 6 – Col des Roux to not quite Arolla – Damp Camp to Icefall Camp
Kilometers hiked: 14-ish
Total Kilometers: 216.5
Haute Kilometers: 75
Glacier slips: 2
Pass tomatoes: 1
Remarkably the lightning and the weather stayed well away, despite flashing brilliantly with regularity around us all night long. I watched as long as I could, but must have fallen asleep at some point because when I awoke, the sky was perfectly clear. Maybe I dreamed the lightning. Though none of us could remember it, the amount of water covering our bags and stuff suggested that it had rained. We supposed that it was just the heaviest condensation of all time instead. Fat droplets sparkled in the morning light when I kicked my legs to clear my down quilt of the wet stuff.
The sunrise was beautiful and warm once the sun poked above the high ridge to our left. We munched chocolate granola and peanut butter and cookies and dates and other things while watching the sunlight spread from the icy peaks down across the green pasture slopes to the brown silt waters of Lac des Dix. Waiting for our stuff to dry off was our excuse this morning to sit back, relax, and enjoy the show and each other’s company from our perch way above the valley.
When we did finally make it back to the trail at 10am we only made it a further 10 minutes down from the pass before reaching Refuge des Ecoulaies. Though it went unspoken, we all knew we had earned our first break of the day. This refuge was unmanned, meaning we could open it up and explore as we chose. Pretty well equipped for a hut just sitting by itself in the Swiss countryside. We traded jokes and gummies. When 20 minutes were up, we decided that we should hike another 10 at least before our next break. Rinse the socks, get moving.
The next hour and a half came and went with an easy stroll along the lakeshore on a flat dirt road under clear skies. We were surprised by a sneaky trail runner, breathed in millions of butterflies, and sang songs as our party of four glooped and globed into different small groups or solo hikers that suited our fancy of the time. Spice Rack got a little more love than she bargained for from a youth cow (veal) who tried to replace all the skin on her hand with slimy slobber. I won’t share food with her for a while. We reached the end of the 5km long reservoir (dammed by supposedly the highest dam in the world) then plunked down in the dirt to recharge for our big climb back into the glacial world above. I ate way too many peanut M&Ms.
Regretting my failure to rein in my hiker hunger almost immediately, a stiff climb up a grass covered terminal moraine transported us back into the picture of desolation. The Glacier de Cheilon flowed from the mighty and imposing sheer face of Mont Blanc de Cheilon, petering out in lakes and streams of silty water, almost exactly like yesterday. The rock was different here, however. A sinister black that leant the raging ice water the appearance of the gray cup of water used by second graders to clean their watercolor brushes. No more cappuccino or turquoise. Not here.
Continuing our steady ascent along the crest of the lateral moraine, views improved. More ice, more crumbly rock, more ant people tottering around in a place not made for ant people. As we climbed high above the western side of the glacier on our way to Cabane des Dix(2928m), it occurred to me that this “short and easy” alternative route, as opposed to a straight shot to our pass, was tough work. I hadn’t checked the elevation of the cabane until becoming confused halfway there because we seemed to be higher than the pass we would be crossing on the other side of the glacier. Whoops. I apologized for my mistake and if anyone was actually cursing me, then they kept it to themselves or each other. Having come this far already, we finished the climb to the refuge. Upon cresting the final rise, any guilt I had from my gaff evaporated with my gasp of amazement.
Worth it. The hut was a gem of a building, home to one of the best and closest views of hanging glaciers and rugged peaks that I have ever seen in person or pictures. Not sorry for the added effort anymore. Real climbers lounged in the hot afternoon sun on the deck while we tracked walkers across the glacier on the route we would follow back to the main Haute, filtered water, took advantage of the toilet facilities, and did some acroyoga. Sublime setting. One really gets the feeling of being in the mountains rather than just observing from Dix. If the TMB was like watching a tremendous slideshow of beautiful mountains, this Haute Route is the 3D interactive thrill ride that you pay $3,000,000 for at the movie theater. Front and center mountains. We could feel the cool air pouring from the ice wall in front of us.
Our stay at Cabane des Dix was too short. We had to hike. And what a hike it was. Some of the most thrilling of the trek so far. In order to get back on the main route over Col du Somethingsomething (Pas de Chèvres), we would need to walk across the mighty Glacier de Cheilon at our feet. This turned out to be quite trivial as far as walking goes due to the grittiness of the glacier surface and well-marked route, but it was a memorable experience nonetheless. None of us had really done anything quite like this before, so hopping across melt water streams and crunching on crusty ice around large ice-stemmed rock mushrooms spread a big grin across each person’s face. Even a slip or two upon exiting the glacier was greeted with laughter.
The trail didn’t do much trailing on the way to the pass. It was mostly a couple of paint smears up a steep pile of boulders. This made for some fun scrambling up what could have been a 45-degree slope. Getting the hands involved, this qualified as third-class scrambling in some places and was super fun. At the top of the boulders, 50 feet of metal ladders and gangways brought us safely up and over some cliffs to reach Col du Somethingsomething (Pas de Chèvres, 2855m) where there was a perfect tomato awaiting us for consumption. Alamo and I quickly obliged. Fun climb, cool section.
The clouds surprised us as we lounged for a few short minutes on the pass. Spurred into action in order to get low before any rain hit, we boogied down the trail, reasonably sloped on this side for some quality boogieing. Light rain spit from the sky as we searched off trail for a camp spot among boulders and grassy hills. We found a suitable candidate near a few broken down stone walls and collapsed into our food bags for the first of potentially many dinners. I was particularly shagged, bordering on delirious with exhaustion. I’m not sure why, but I was dead tired and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Lost in my own world, I ate everything dutifully and methodically, polishing off entirely too much veganaise as the others watched and giggled to themselves. Whatever. I’m hungry. I eat what I want.
Light rain continued to come and go as we set up for the evening. Alamo and Gryllz, weak in their convictions, opted to set up the tent while the ever foolhardy PCTers optimistically cowboy camp. Spice and I finished the evening with next-level acroyoga as the clouds rimming the jags above us turned to fire then faded to gray, swirling around like a mega-sized lava lamp. Lightning now all around, but no thunder. I try to focus, but can’t keep my eyes open. Sweet day. Hungry.