Haute Route Hiking Stats-Day 6Cabane du Prafleuri to Arolla
|HR Hiking Time:||38:39|
|HR Distance Hiked(mi):||65.6|
Another early breakfast and back on the trail by 7:43 AM. We followed Martijn for the immediate long climb up to the Col de Roux which starts 50 yards from the Cabane front door. The climb was well rewarded with a sunrise just coming over the mountain and Lac des Dix spread out below us. The lake is the second largest lake in Valais and the largest lake above 2,000 m in the Alps at 4km^2. We took some time to take in the gorgeous view and snap a few photos. It was breathtaking!
We then descended down to the lake in typical zigzag fashion while taking in the magnificent views of the lake and the Glacier des Ecoulaies to the right. Once down to the lake we followed a very flat dirt road for over 3 miles to the inlet to the lake. We chatted with Bob and Matthew, an uncle and nephew from Ohio, while we lazily walked the dirt road: The only flat section of the entire 14 days. Bob was an avid cyclist and had done some pretty long rides across the country, so we instantly had good topic of conversation. There were cattle all along the shoreline grazing and I decided to try to get some pictures of them. I kept trying to slingshot myself up and past the the other hikers on the road in order stay with them, but eventually I fell back. There were a bunch of Scottish hikers behind us and they eventually came past me. The one girl in the bunch had had her hiking boots stolen at the Cabane du Mont Fort and had been hiking in another pair that had been left behind. Perhaps they were the persons’ that took hers. I eventually gave up on the cattle photos and made a push for the end of the lake to catch back up with Denise.
Once at the inlet, we began a very steep hike up to the right on our way to Cabane des Dix, our lunch stop. The cimb eventually lessened a bit as we walked a ridge on a morraine heading towards Tete Noir and Mt. Blanc de Cheilon behind it. The climb intensified more and cresting Tete Noir was really steep and loose footing to boot. We could then finally see the cabane below and we began descending down to it. My knee had started to ache a bit now and I started to worry it would get worse as the day went on. We eventually made it to the cabane where Martijn had already arrived. Martijn was a solo traveler from the Netherlands that had became part of the core group that was trekking the same itinerary as we were. He is tall guy and very fast hiker. He was always the first one to reach the days destination, regardless if he started before or after everyone else. We were able to chat with him a lot since we were usually coming in right behind him due to Denise’s rapid pace. I bought some fruity pound cake and a Warsteiner at the cabane for our lunch. Perfect medicine for an aching knee. The Aussie couple was there too and were planning to stay there for the night. They had plans to leave there the next morning at 5:30am and hike to Arolla, then pick up a bus to La Sage and hike to Cabane de Moiry all in one day. Seemed a bit overzealous and dangerous given the difficulty of the remainder of the day.
Eventually, Val, Kathy, and Gareth arrived at the Cabane as Denise and I were getting ready to hit the trail again. We were anxious to get to Arolla for a private room after two nights in huts. The afternoon looked to be exciting since we had to ascend the infamous “ladders” at Pas des Chevres after crossing the large glacier just below Cabane des Dix. The descent from the cabane was not the easiest descent either. It was very steep and loose and I almost took a header several times.
It was actually a relief to get onto the glacier since it was flat. The glacier itself was not as exciting as I thought it would be, but the surrounding views were cool. We could see the “ladders” come into view as we got closer to the other side of the glacier. There were some ice climbers coming down the ladders that were using ropes to descend them. Hmmm?
We also heard a voice from our left calling our name. It was Paul and Clare coming up towards us. They had taken a different route than us and wound up here. Paul was not very fond of heights and was debating whether to take the “ladders” or the alternate pass which required ascending the mountain pass at a even higher elevation. I ended up telling Paul and Clare about my dealings with ladders in the past and my former panic attacks. That was probably not a good idea to bring those thoughts fresh into my head right before I did the ladders. Smooth move dude!
We ran into the climbers who had come down the ladders and asked how they were. They said that they would not have done them without ropes. Huh?! Ok, I hadn’t at all been worrying about climbing these metal rungs up until that statement. It is just a ladder for crying out loud. I didn’t realize it yet, but all this stuff is now building up in my subconscious.
Paul and Clare made the wise decision to do the pass instead of the ladders. Denise and I made our way along the steep mountainside to the ladders. Getting to the ladders was almost as difficult as the ladders themselves. I let Denise go first so I could take some pictures of her going up. The bottom of the first ladder is pretty high and she had to do a chin-up to get started. I shot a couple pictures of her and then started on my way up. She yelled down to me that it was kind of freaky which I thought was odd for her. The first two sections were fairly modern aluminum extension ladder sections, then it turned into very narrow, rusty round and slippery steel rungs that were bolted into the rock wall. Each section had been bent at the top and hung on the section above it.
When I got into the narrow, slippery steel those panic attacks of my past crept into my head now. I could feel my heartbeat begin to race as thoughts of fainting and falling off began to dance through my head. My 40 pound backpack was trying to pull me off this thing and my camera bag, mounted in front of me, kept getting stuck on the rungs as I ascended. I started to recognize what was going on in my head and instantly started to ward it off. I started consciously breathing and taking one step at a time. I immediately regained some measure of calm again and continued on, one step at a time. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Denise was going through the same issues. There were about 5 or 6 sections of ladder going up the side of the cliff wall before it met a small rock that extended out where you had to shimmy over to the right onto another 2 or 3 sections of ladder before reaching the top of Pas de Chevres.
When I reached the top of the ladders Denise and I started high-fiving each other immediately as we were relieved to have had that behind us. It was much more intense than I had ever thought it was going to be. I know most of it was in my mind, but it was rather exciting. It definitely would not have been as exciting had we been roped up and clipped in. I was kind of surprised how much it got to me. I have ice-climbed a few times in the past and that was not quite nerve-racking as this was. It could be that I was roped in then and was more exhausted too. Ladders….check!
Once over the Pas de Chevres it was a long, downhill slog all the way into Arolla. We saw Paul and Clare making there way over the col and were pretty surprised how quickly they got over that. They told us later that even that was a bit sketchy. There was a pretty cool glacier to our right, but other than that it was a bit boring. We hiked down at a leisurely pace so that eventually Paul and Clare would catch up to us. The time and distance estimates in our route information were a bit off again for this day. Our routecard said 10.5 miles and 4 hours, but it was 11.5 miles in 7.5 hours.
The last section before Arolla was pretty long switchbacks down a pretty steep pitch. I found myself cutting through some of them as they kind of ridiculous at some points. Eventually got into Arolla, which is a cute little ski town. We were staying at the Hotel du Pigne which was on the upper side of town. The hotel was really nice and our room was excellent. We immediately showered and did our laundry. We then walked down to the hotel patio and found Paul and Clare out there having a beer. We sat and talked with them a bit and I had one or two myself. They also decided to forgo the camping that night and get a room there too. It was a good call since it ended up raining that night.
Eventually we moved inside and had a very nice dinner there. I had my first Rosti Frommage(melted cheese over grated potatoes) and Denise had a really good burger and fries. Paul and Clare also decided to get a room there too and we hung out with them and had dinner together. The others stayed at another hotel down the hill and came up to our hotel for dinner. We had a few drinks and laughs with everyone. Eventually the others left and the four of us talked a bit more before heading to bed. A long day but a good one.
The next day was supposed to be an easy day. It was a relatively short walk down the valley and then back up the other side to the town of La Sage.