Written by Ralph Johnson
This high level route from Argentier to Zermatt is a must for all those who enjoy mountains and have the skills to cross glaciers with the hidden dangers of crevasses.
I have attempted the walk in both directions, sadly on both occasions bad weather had prevented me doing the most technically difficult section from Cabane de Valasorey to Cabane de Chanrion.
Starting from Argentiere the easiest option is to catch the ski lift to the top station then a reasonably easy walk across Alpine meadow followed by glacial moraine leads to the “Albert Premier” hut. It is worth booking this as its one of the busiest in the area.
The first part of the second day is entirely on snow and ice which is fairly undemanding as long as the normal precautions are taken to avoid the crevasses. Eventually one reaches the ski-lift down to Champex, however, the walk down is not too strenuous so you can save a few pounds here!
It is normal to catch a bus from Champex to Bourg St Pierre. The Cabane de Valsorey is reached after a fairly long, tiring day again across Alpine meadow with a fairly steep rock rib leading up to the hut. There was a fairly ancient length of doubtful looking fixed rope on this section (I have to confess to using it despite its ragged appearance!).
On both occasions bad weather and shortage of time has prevented me doing this section- on each occasion I have resorted to public transport (which means retracing ones steps from the Valsorey back to Bourg St Pierre where there is excellent hostel accommodation.
The Cabane de Chanrion ca be reached by vehicle but only those with a permit, for the walker there are two options. The most pleasant option is to walk along the east side of Lac Mauvoisin over the hills- this is strenuous but the views are well worth it. The other option is a rather tedious 2-3 hours along the track used by motorised vehicles. This is a busy hut and atypically they often request a deposit when booking.
The easiest route from Cabane de Chanrion to Cabane Vignettes is along the Otemma glacier since it is dry (no snow) which means that the few crevasses are obvious so it is not necessary to rope up. However there is a line of deep holes about 1/3 the way up the glacier and great care should be taken here as a rescue from one of these may be impossible. In poor visibility or at night a rope is recommended! The final 100m to the hut is best described as interesting as it lies at the end of an exposed rocky ridge. Many folks take the easier snowy path to the north of the ridge- this is best tackled wearing crampons with the axe in the fall-arrest position!
The route from Vignettes to Cabane de Bertol is rather circuitous. Head east back towards the Otemma glacier then take the well worn path over the obvious col. Turn north then west and descend into the valley that leads down to Arolla. In good weather the Bertol can be seen on the rocks to the north. It looks totally inaccessible from a distance but fixed ladders and chains lead up the final few metres.
The first section of the route from Cabane de Bertol to Zermatt is on snow and I must confess to seeing very little of it as the visibility was poor and this was one of the few occasions when I have HAD to resort to GPS navigation and even then had one very close encounter with a rather well hidden crevasse! Eventually snow gives way to rock and finally to alpine pasture.
It’s probably not worth staying at the Schnobeiel hut since a couple of extra hours lands you in Zermatt where one can catch the train to Tasch for camping or a hostel. However if doing the route in reverse then a stop-over here is highly recommended.
Incidentally this section of the route in fairly well populate with chamoix and even the occasional ibex. - keep your camera handy!
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