Fri 24th Jul - Sun 9th Aug, 2015
Swiss Alps - Arolla
Members present: Vicky Alderton, Christine Beeston, Lucie Crouch, Gareth Williams, Kirsten Mundt and Duncan Lee.
Guests present: Tony Prendagast, Anna Prendagast, Bella Prendagast, Neil Boynton, Kieran Lee and Gareth’s bucket.
*Unlike previous Alpine meet reports this one will not attempt to be humorous in any way, Well, we wouldn’t want to risk Colin bursting his stitches! More on that topic later.
After running the gauntlet of “Operation Stack”, and the ensuing chaos in Kent, everyone had a smooth journey out to Switzerland albeit with a few minor quibbles regarding place names. Such as, “I have no idea how you do pronounce it, but I know it’s not like that!” (Vicky). We also discovered that Kieran now thinks that Ibis Budget hotels are posh after Vicky booked us into the cheapest, grubbiest and seediest hotel imaginable last year; think southern USA road movie brothel!
The campsite at Arolla was a complete contrast however with great clean facilities, nice flat pitches and panoramic views of stunning peaks that all seemed very denuded of snow! Hey ho. Anyway, as Vicky and I dredged our memories on how to put up the Canvas Castle the Prendagasts appeared unexpectedly and helped the process greatly by taking our little helper away to play with Bella. Christine and Neil arrived late on and Gareth was probably trying to calculate if it was possible to drive with his injured ankle immersed in a bucket of cold water.
Sunday was gloriously sunny and legs were stretched after the long drive. Tony, Anna and Bella walked up to the village and along to Lac Bleu where they confirmed that it was indeed very blue and Bella, who went for a swim, came out looking a similar colour by all accounts. Christine and Neil headed off up the slopes on the other side of the valley to the Tsa hut to admire the views whilst Vicky, Kieran and I checked out the local crag at Pra Grassette, before bumping into the Prendagasts next to the Tsa Hotel at beer o’clock. Later, Gareth and Lucie arrived, put up their tent and then Gareth plunged his foot into a bucket of cold water.
The big question the next day wasn’t what to do. It was why did Colin text Gareth with a description of the “neat little scar” in his groin? Repeated questioning of Gareth failed to get any answers so we gave up and headed out onto the hill still speculating. Seven of us strolled down to Pra Grassette and did a number of routes (F4-6a). Tony strolled up to the Arolla Glacier and Christine and Neil went for a walk near the Ferpecle glacier to Bricola Alp, providing them with spectacular views of the adjacent peaks.
Tuesday was another beautifully sunny day and Christine and Neil were up and out early for a walk up to the Cabane des Aiguilles-Rouges from whence they descended back into the valley via Lac Bleu. It proved to be a popular destination that day. Vicky, Kieran and Lucie also visited the lake enjoying the scenery and kidology required to get a 6 year old to walk that far. Tony, Anna and Bella did an enjoyable walk down the valley to Les Haudères which was timed nicely to get the bus back. Meanwhile, back on the campsite, Gareth finally took his foot out of his bucket and tested out his ankle by walking up to La Maya where we enjoyed the multipitch delights of Chauve-souris (6a+ max) and Variante Maya (undergraded 5+). Fun routes on great quality rock, that were completed in time to meet up with everyone else for a beer on the way back to the campsite where Gareth reunited his ankle with a bucket of cold water.
Wednesday dawned dry but with brooding clouds building up around the summits and a forecast for late afternoon rain. Undeterred Christine, Gareth, Lucie and Vicky headed off to the nice gneiss of La Maya for a mass ascent of “Maya Normale”.
The Swiss reputation for punctuality and precision does not apply to their weather forecasting however. Thus as Kieran and I strolled past the base of the crag, on our way to the Arolla Glacier, the first sporadic spots of rain were beginning to fall. By the time Vicky was following the last pitch it was pouring down and the rock had turned into a skating rink. The abseil descent appeared to be a distinctly soggy affair, which Kieran and I watched with amusement whilst sheltering under a convenient tree. Surprisingly, they were all smiling still when they got back to the cars. Whilst all this was going on Colin carried out his co-meet leader duties by sending regular text updates regarding Australia’s woes in the Ashes. Excellent!
Thursday saw Anna, Tony and Bella heading off on the next stage of their month in the Alps as they departed to Sass Grund. Lucie, Vicky, Gareth and I also headed down the valley, but only as far as Evolene where we checked out the crags at Le Pont and Secteur Piton where it was a shame that the rock was not as impressive as the monstrous piton sculpture. Or as one wag suggested, Andy’s new piece of kit for off-widths. Christine and Neil made the most of the good weather on a walk to Pas de Chevre and back, which they enjoyed immensely.
Friday saw a change of personnel as Neil headed home and Kirsten arrived from Basel, keen and raring to go as always. Whilst this was going on Vicky, Lucie, Gareth, Kieran and I went down into the Rhone valley to investigate the cragging in the beautiful wooded gorge above the village of Bramois. We opted for secteur Pilier Jaune which was a lovely spot with a wide spread of grades which suited everyone. All bar Kieran led at least a couple of routes, but he followed Lucie up his first proper route, “Mesange F3+” and was very pleased with himself - as pleased as I was to find out that England had won the test in 3 days.
Saturday saw Kirsten and Christine making the most of a weather window that enabled them to get up to the Bertol hut relatively dry, or to quote Christine’s text “Arrived Bertol in time to miss the snow. Very cosy with coffee and cake.” Vicky, Kieran and I had met up with Dave Kenyon on his day off and headed to Bramois where we ended up climbing in the rain. Some things never change. The novelty of the day was getting to see Dave looking nervous for once… Kieran had decided he was his best friend and wanted to play with him. Gareth and Lucie visited the enormous Dixence dam, which impressed them greatly.
Sunday saw the first proper alpine start of the trip as Kirsten and Christine marvelled in the stunning views as they ascended the Tete Blanche by the normal route, providing them with a grand day out.
Meanwhile back in the valley Lucie, Gareth and Kieran set off on the marmot trail in search of hard of hearing rodents. Most of them heard them coming for some strange little reason but despite that 6 deaf marmots were spotted. Vicky and I made the most of our freedom by doing the good but tough little Dent des Follieches, F4+ going on 6a.
On Monday it was the boys turn to make an attempt at an alpine start. Gareth and I set off from the campsite at 6am for a sweaty slog up to the base of the West ridge of the Dent de Tsalion. A lovely AD+ on good rock provided us with a unique and fun experience. To our surprise we were flown over by two cackling and whooping guys in wingsuits who had jumped off the wonderfully pointy summit of the Aiguille de la Tsa. The cheering as they landed safely was audible all the way from the valley. Once we’d summited the Tsalion we dropped down onto the glacier and walked round to the base of the east face of the Tsa where we somehow managed to climb a slightly harder route to the left of the normal route to reach the spectacular summit. Once back on the glacier it was heads down for the long slog back down to the valley. We reached it in the guidebook time thus disproving that “fit parties can complete the round trip from Arolla in a long day (probably 14 hours.)” It should be re-written “possible in 14 hours with a dodgy ankle and for those recovering from concussion – although you may miss out on pizza”.
Whilst all this was going on Lucie, Christine and Kirsten had a hot but enjoyable day at the Pillier Jaune at Bramois ticking off several routes. Vicky and Kieran explored the nature trail above Arolla and then they all went out for the aforementioned pizza!
Tuesday started out nicely but was not a day for venturing too far. Kirsten and Christine walked up to Lac Bleu and back before the rain set in whilst the rest of us headed down to Pra Grassette. Gareth, Lucie and Vicky did “Tremble mais pas trop”(5) whilst Kieran and I found a few nice little top rope problems on the boulders by the road. We then went to another pretty little crag/massive boulder, Saint Barthelemy, by a beautiful little chapel but rain soon stopped play. Soaked we retreated to the nearest café.
In the evening the topic of conversation, over a few glasses of red, was the rumours of a strange mythical man like being seen prowling the mountain slopes. All mountainous area seem to have similar tales of such beasts. In the Himalaya it’s the yeti and in The Rockies it’s bigfoot but around Arolla the creature was said to be smaller in stature and kept asking directions to Ben Nevis!
Wednesday saw a return to hot dry weather that lasted for the remainder of the meet. Kirsten and Christine were keen as always and walked up to the Dix hut, surviving an entertaining river crossing to be disappointed by a shortage of cake at the refuge. Mind you, aperitifs were served at 6.15 to restore an air of civility.
Gareth and Lucie crossed over the Rhone valley to explore the fantastic limestone cliffs at the picturesque Sanetch’s sector Silence; well Kieran was about 30 miles away. Three routes and the restaurant at the barrage all received favourable reviews.
Vicky, Kieran and I had a family outing for a rematch with Saint Barthelemy which provided sport for all. Kieran managed to entertain himself long enough for Vicky and I to sneak in 3 route (5-6b) before we all ascended the arête of the 20metre high boulder. OK, bribery involving ice cream was involved.
Thursday saw a proper alpine start by Kirsten and Christine as they set forth from the Dix hut at 5am, noting as they left that the thermometer was already reading 10 degrees. Layers of clothing were soon stowed in rucksacks as they set off up the “West-north-west flank and south-west ridge” route on Mont Blanc de Cheilon. The stupidly hot weather and subsequent poor snow conditions soon saw a sensible, tactical retreat for tea at the hut. This was followed by lunch at Pas de Chevre en-route for more tea and cakes once back in Arolla. During all these hardships it was decided that “all mountain cafes should offer a bucket of cold water to put your feet in.” Where was Gareth with his trusty bucket when he could have been useful?
Well, he was at Saint Barthelemy with Vicky, Kieran and I, where we were forced to climb on the shaded overhanging side of the boulder in order to avoid the blazing sun. We cheated and set up a top rope as my phone went into meltdown as Colin gleefully texted me every time an Australian wicket tumbled. As the temperature dropped in the late afternoon we braved a couple of routes back on the sunny side of the block.
In the evening we all strolled down to the Hotel de Tsa for a last night pizza and silliness. It all started with a game of eye spy to keep Kieran entertained whilst we waited patiently for our food to arrive but soon we were playing “Rabbits” (ask Christine for an explanation of the rules) much to the amusement of our fellow diners. In desperation I texted ‘el presidente’ for advice and received a sage reply “pretend you need a pee and head to the nearest bar.” Being at the only bar in the area rendered that escape plan invalid but mercifully the food finally arrived before things got any sillier.
Friday saw most of us headed off in a homeward direction. Christine went via Basel to give Kirsten a lift home and to have a cooling float down the Rhine whilst Gareth and Lucie got in a final bit of cragging at Saint Barthelemy before heading home the following day.
Thanks to everyone who came along and helped make it a very enjoyable meet.
A reminder that Duncan Lee is now the sole leader for this meet.
If you are planning to join the meet please let Duncan know your intentions so he knows who to look out for, when you’ll be arriving and can offer any advice as required.
You can contact Duncan on 07790475062 or on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Alps are now a well-established and popular feature of the KMC calendar and for 2015 we’ve once again chosen a location that we hope will cater for a range of tastes and ambition.
Our destination for 2015 is Arolla, at the head of the Val d’Hérens in the Pennine Alps, Switzerland. At 1950m the campsite, our intended base, is set within magnificent scenery and reputed to be the highest in Europe.
The alpine snow and rock challenges abound as well as a considerable range of walking opportunities in beautiful and dramatic locations. There is cragging at Arolla and a little further down the valley at Evolène or, for a change of scene or a wet weather alternative, back down in the main Rhône valley at Sion.
Some of the main peaks include the Pigne d'Arolla, Mont Blanc de Cheilon, Aiguille de la Tsa, Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla, Dent Blanche, Tête Blanche, Mont Collon, L'Evêque, Tête de Valpelline, Grand Cornier, Pointe des Genevois, Dents de Veisivi, ... with routes at all grades.
Getting there: By car, take your favoured route to Switzerland, head via Martigny to Sion (in the Rhone Valley) and from there it’s about 45 minutes up the Val d’Hérens to Arolla. By public transport, you can fly to Geneva, take the train to Sion and the bus to Arolla (see web link below).
For lots of useful information on the campsite and the area in general, including some very good photographs, an interactive map and additional web links see - www.camping-arolla.com
Guidebooks/ further information:
Valais Alps West – Alpine Club - author Lindsay Griffin. Published 1998. ISBN: 0-900523-61-1
Valais West: Zinal - Arolla - Verbier - Rhone Valley. Rother Walking Guide (Paperback– 2002) by Michael Waeber/Hans Steinbichler (Authors), Gill Round (Translator).
Maps: Swiss Topo no. 283T 1:50,000 (possibly the most useful) or 5027T
Cragging locations - www.evolene-region.ch/fs/documents/Flyers_escaladeEN.pdf
If you want to know more speak to Colin or Duncan. We hope to see another good turnout in what should be a great location with wide appeal. Let us know if you plan to come.