High Passes and Low Wit !

By , July 26, 2014 4:26 pm


A Jagged Globe Haute Route 13th-21st July

I’m not in habit of writing a trip report for every trip I do during the summer. But as this trip stands out as exceptional both for its beautiful weather and for it’s entertaining participants and I have a few days off, so I thought I would attempt to do it justice!

So the trip started as many of our trips do with a pre dinner meeting in the bar of the hotel Le Chaumiere in Chamonix. My Kiwi accent was immediately recognized and some good natured banter followed. I remember thinking that the team seemed instantly well bonded and good fun. Introductions followed. Eddie at 74 doing his supposed ‘last trip’! (We will see!). Dr David having a retirement ‘Treat’. Roger making his first foray into the ‘proper alps’. Mark a ‘Male hairstylist’ from the Peak District raising the level of the wit and conversation and simultaneously passing comment on client and guides lack of hairstyle, and finally Myself, Caro a truly international mountain guide, born in Wales, grown up in NZ and living now in France.

The first day is a shake-down/training day on the famous ‘mer de glace’ in Chamonix. I teach everyone all about using crampons and ice axe on different angle slopes. They also learn about the famous mountain guide understatement!  “Are you okay with ladders?” Means “Are you okay with 200m of near vertical ladders?” Light drizzle didn’t dampen the team’s spirits and Mark and Roger were confident enough to be lowered 20m or so into a crevasse and climb back out at the end of the day.


Mark climbing out of the crevasse that I had lowered him into!

The next day we started the journey with a walk to the newly renovated Refuge Albert Premiere. But first was the much feared ‘kit inspection’. Everyone had laid out what they intended to carry on their beds and I ruthlessly removed most of it! Dave was easily the winner of ‘the plus the kitchen sink’ prize and the man did get teased mercilessly. It was, I admit, quite entertaining when he kept coming out with forbidden items during the rest of the trip!

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Caro, Eddie (behind me) and Mark walking in to Refuge Albert 1st.

Tuesday dawned fine with a great freeze. After over a week of bad weather the previous week it was a great relief to see a clear sky. We set off early (6am) in order to get the hard work over before the sun hit us and made the snow soft. It was a magical crossing of the glacier du Tour and the plateau du Trient.

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Crossing the Trient Plateau.

We stopped at the Cabane d’Orny for lunch and then continued down through the wild flowers to Champex and our accommodation right by the lake. Big beers were considered necessary after our 8hr day!

Refreshed after a night at lower altitudes we set of the next morning in a Taxi to the Mauvoisin dam. We then had a leisurely walk to the Cabane de Chanrion, photographing wild flowers and stopping for a barefooted picnic at a surprisingly frog filled tarn along the way. After tea and a very good instant cappuccino (thanks Mark!) we entertained the rest of the hut residents with a demonstration of crevasse rescue.

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Protected Swiss wildflowers (Edelweiss and Gentian)

We started as early as the grumpy guardian would let us (6:30am) for the long walk up the Otemma glacier the following day. Beautiful light and good conditions and it all went well. It was only in the last hour that it got very hot and the snow like soup. We arrived at the Cabane des Vignettes in time for a well deserved lunch. Mark declared it the best omelet of his whole life! He has now got a friend for life in the guardian Jean-Michel!

After the best breakfast in the alps (bacon & eggs at 3160m!) we set off to climb the Pigne d’Arolla. Slowly but steadily, (overtaken by the young whippersnappers on the Alpine Techniques 1 course with Andy Owen) we ascended to the summit. Kisses and hugs were exchanged, heroic poses struck, photos taken and the view much admired from the summit. Eddie surmised that Marty had tricked him on a previous ascent of the Pigne (in bad visibility)and he had not been there before!  We then began the long descent into Arolla and our Hotel du Mont Collon.

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The happy team on the summit of the Pigne de Arolla.

That evening in the bar I had to break the news that our fine weather spell was due to break and although we could probably get to the Cabane de Bertol before the violent thunderstorms started the next day, I was certain that continuing to Zermat the following day would be impossible. Everyone was reasonably stoic about the situation and realized how incredibly good the weather had been until that point. We decided to use the fine weather the next day to do some rock climbing and then transfer to Zermatt with a taxi on the stormy day and hope to still get the Breithorn in on our last morning!

We had a great day on the crag just a few km down the road from Arolla. Dave managing with style his first ever outdoor rock climbs, Eddie despite no ligaments in his shoulder not able to resist a few climbs, and Roger and Mark determined to climb everything that I climbed! It is great to have rock shoes and helmets in Arolla as it makes such an alternative possible.

The Taxi in the rain to Zermatt confirmed my decision and I was glad to not be walking down from the Bertol in thunderstorms. After settling in to the luxury of the Aristella hotel in Zermatt, we went for the steep walk up to the Edelweiss Hütte and the traditional Swiss  ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’!

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Dave, Roger, Mark, Caro and Eddie eating cake at the Edelweiss Hütte above Zermatt.

I woke at first light, expecting more rain. There had been particularly wild thunderstorms during the night. I opened the curtains to a ghostly white Matterhorn! It was a lovely morning! At breakfast I discovered that the team had been out jostling the Japanese for the best Matterhorn photo spots since the early hours. So off we set up the expensive lift system, rubbing shoulders with famous ski racers until we reached the top the Kleines Matterhorn at 3800m. Then we geared up and roped up like the well practiced team we were by now and set off in good weather up the Breithorn. Some time later we reached the summit, the conditions were difficult with a lot of fresh snow and gradually deteriorating weather. What a brilliant ending to a lovely trip !

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The ghostly white Matterhorn in morning.  Breithorn Summit a few hours later!

Thanks very much to Eddie, Roger, Dave and Mark. I very much enjoyed your strength (for it was often hard work), stubbornness (Eddie!), conversation, and humor. I look forward to seeing you all again in the mountains!

Caroline Ogden

Photos taken by Mark Stevenson, Roger Buckland and Caroline Ogden.