First Alpine Trip Diary – Arolla

The weather here has been a bit poor recently and has kept us rooted to the valley floor, with rain, wind and cloud. However all this bad weather has enabled me to write a few more blog posts about climbing in the valley that I will publish later. That said, the days of sitting in the van watching the rain pour down outside are getting tiresome and restless as I yearn to be outside and active. However, whilst wondering though my computer, I found my diary from my first ever alpine trip in 2012, I have many diaries from a few different trips, all hand written and this I believe was my first attempt at rewriting these on my computer, although this is the only one, so I never got far through them, hopefully one day these will all be written up and then I can get them online! In the meantime I thought this quiet period would be a good opportunity to share this…

05 Aug 2012

Arrived in Arolla after a long overnight journey from England and was settled into my hotel room at the Hotel Mont Colon, and caught up on some sleep that had been lacking on the night before! I was awoken by my roommate for the course, who was called Mike and was from Scotland and worked as a translator. We met up with the rest of the course downstairs in the bar, Elizabeth the youngest, who was at University in America and an Irish man called Ciaren. I also met our guide Dave, who was going to be our guide for the week. Over evening meal we discussed what we would be doing over the coming week, and the kit that we would need etc… The food was also fantastic, and I was concentrating on consuming as much of it as possible to make sure I had the energy for the day after. The first night was pretty uneventful, and I went to bed soon after the meal!

06 Aug 2012

On the morning there was a gentleman’s battle of whom would get up first and use the bathroom between Mike and myself, I won and continued to snooze. We met in the basement and sorted out all the kit that we were to borrow, and made sure the kit I had was correct for the trip, today we were walking to a glacier to practice using our crampons and ice axes, as well as some rope techniques. We drove to the other side of Evoline, and parked up. We started off towards the glacier and it was great to get started! The walk to the glacier was pretty even with a slight incline, through woodland and murky white streams created by the melting ice of the glacier. There was large green swiss hills surrounding us and once we made it to the bridge to cross the stream we started to see the snow covered peaks and the first views of the glacier. To make it to the glacier we had to start over some rocky ground and there was a few slabs to get up, but all was ok, if not a little clumsy in big B3 boots! We rounded a corner and saw the glacier that we would be training on, and the first thing I noticed was the glowing blue colour that was coming from the ice caves at the foot of the glacier.

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Blue ice at the foot of the Glacier

We made our way onto the ice and put on all the kit needed for the glacier, so crampons, and ice axe came out, as well as a jacket, gloves and hat. Dave showed us how to walk and not snag the crampons on each other or your trousers, also different walking techniques for different types of ground, we would have carried on the training but unfortunately cloud cover had come over and soon the vision was low and the rain had started, we had already started to make our way off the glacier when the thunder and lightening started, with an occasional tingle through my soles! Not a good place to be in thunder and lightening! We also had to make our way back over the slabs that had proved a little tricky when coming in when they were dry, and in the wet they were a little tougher! It was here that mike twisted his ankle, he screamed in pain and lurched to the ground, but after a short while of rubbing he grimaced back to his feet and carried on with a limp. We took a slightly different way back and followed the stream to the bridge and then back through the brush and woodland. As we never got a chance to practice some rope work technique, once back at the hotel, we went to the bar and rehearsed some rope drills, and worked through an imitation of a crevasse rescue ready for when the weather was good and we could practice for real! An early night was had by all!

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The glacier where we practiced skills before the weather changed!

07 Aug 2012

The next day we set of at a leisurely pace towards Arolla town, there was only 3 of us going as mike had stayed behind to go to hospital as his foot was swollen and bruised badly from the fall the day before. We got some food and drink from the local supermarket and waited in the shade, while Dave was at the hotel sorting out paper work for mike. When he got to us, we set off through woodland again, and started to gain height on a path that zig zagged its way up the hill side, on the way Dave spotted some edelweiss, which is the first time I have ever seen some! We stopped by the stream, which was fresh water so filled up our water bottles and adjusted boots etc. we continued on for an hour or two, putting one foot in front of the other until we came to a ladder section with a 30 metre drop. We sat and had our lunch and then were roped up and descended the ladder. At the bottom was a traverse of the wall we just climbed down and scrambling down loose rock which required a decent amount of concentration to make sure I didn’t twist my ankle, once over the rock we crossed some ice, but didn’t put on crampons as the ice was flat and had enough gravel and stone to make it grippy enough with boots! We could see the Dix hut and continued up more paths on loose rock until we reached our first hut. After de kitting we were assigned our room, and settled in for the night, the food was good and the atmosphere was great.

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The bottom section of the ladder

08 Aug 2012

Our first summit day, and an early start at 5 if I’m correct! Well apart from Elizabeth who decided on a lie in! But after a small breakfast of milky muesli and solid bread, we kitted up and started towards our first summit, the route was easy under foot, and we reached the ice quickly. Where we donned crampons and roped up, I was at the rear. And started following the foot steps of the people in front. It turned out we were the only ones on the slope that day and it felt good to have the hill to ourselves!

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Moving up to the summit of La Luette

We zig zagged up the slope but there was no crevasse to cross or complications, we were aiming for a saddle and after and hour or so we reached the saddle and the view was brilliant, we were looking out over the alps, snow covered mountains were everywhere in the distance including Mont Blanc, which I was to be going up a week later! We turned right and headed up a loose rocky crop of rock all the way to the summit. The summit was rocky and didn’t quite feel like an alpine summit, in my head I had always imagined sweeping snow, but standing on rock at the top didn’t have the same effect! Still it was the first summit and it felt good to complete it!

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The summit Photo

We made our way down, with me coming down first, and once back at the saddle we worked our way down the snow a little quicker, but stopped halfway down when safe to practice some crevasse rescue skills. Digging a hole in the show the length of the ice axe, then placing the ice axe in with a clove hitch about ¾ of the way up the handle with a sling, then attach a prussic at the end and attach to rope that you and the victim are attached too feeding the rope back through the karabiner. Then the victim is held by the sling and the prussic, which means you can put a sling onto a harness and walk to the edge and check the victim is ok. On the way back you fit a karabiner to the second prussic and feed the rope through to make a z shape and have a pulley system to pull the victim out.

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The Dix Hut perched at the bottom left of the picture and La Luette top right

We continued down to the Dix hut, and had a short break, which is always nice as you can take your boots off and let your feet breath. We made our way back on the same route, but I didn’t rope up for the ladder and at the top set up a belay with a sling and a karabiner and Italian hitch to bring up the other two, after a short break, we made our way back down the zig zagged path which seemed to take forever but was a good feeling to finally get back into the valley! Ciaran had decided that mountaineering wasn’t for him, so he had booked a flight for the next morning. That evening we had steak which was amazing, and really was what was needed after a long day!

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On the approach paths, walking through lovely forrest with our goal firmly in our sights!

09 Aug 2012

Today we were down to two, so me and Elizabeth made our way to Arolla, and met Dave in the village again, but set off through the wood in a different direction. Our aim was to get to the Viniette hut. It was a good path all the way up to the glacier with a bit of rope and metal work placed in on the rocky sections to help you out. Once on the glacier, we roped up and put our crampons on. The glacier needed to be navigated carefully through some crevasse making sure to step on the ice and not the newly formed snow etc, but was a fun walk up. Just keeping my head down and concentrating on one part of the trip at a time. It was good to have the helicopter landing pad of the hut to keep our eye on so we knew exactly where our final destination for the day. Also with the peak we would be summiting on the right of us all the way up. Once at the hut again it was nice inside and had been recently refurbished, we met another couple that were doing the haute route with Jagged Globe, Mark and Allison. The view from the hut was amazing across the mountains, and a good night’s sleep followed, which was good as this was the highest I had slept.

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A typical crevasse that needed crossing

10 Aug 2012

The next day was summit day, we set off early just behind the other groups, some who were going the opposite way on the haute route, but some were going for the Pigne d’Arolla summit too. We soon started to take over other groups as we were taking a more direct route up the slope, there weren’t many technical difficulties. But was a good pace all the way to the top and this time it really felt like an alpine peak! From the top we had a great view of the Matterhorn and an even better view down to the village of Arolla, and I could see the Hotel Mont Collon where I was staying! The view was amazing so it was worth sitting and waiting for Mark and Allison to get up!

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On the way to the summit
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Summit of the Pigne d’Arolla, with the Matterhorn in the background!

We then got down and started back to the hut; we never stopped at the hut and started our way back down the glacier. When we came up, we moved up the right hand side more than the left, but on the way down we did the same, so the opposite side to the way up, and the crevasses were a lot bigger, so we had to tread lightly although Dave led us down and through safely! Finally at the bottom we had a short rest and then carried on down the same route as we came up. Dave and the other guide allowed the group to split slightly and in two’s we made our way back down to the valley in our own time. Back in Arolla we sat at the pub and had lunch with a drink! This was our last night at the hotel and we had a weird local cheese speciality, which was a little bland, but still you need to try these things! We all sat in the hotel and had a good chat as it was our last night in Arolla, and tomorrow we would all be parting ways after breakfast!

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My Hotel
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A shower with a view
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The bunk rooms in the Dix Hut
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The view on the approach to the Pigne d’Arolla
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The Pigne d’Arolla with the glacier to the left
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