What is the definition of rain?
This was it, the day had arrived – the day I had to climb the dreaded ladders of the Haute Route. These ladders had almost caused me to pull out after Mia and Lee couldn’t do the hike but Karyn’s interest had kept me moving forward. This stage is apparently the toughest day of the Haute Route due to the combination of challenges posed.
We ventured out with Charlie, Gerry and Sooni with an ascent first up to Col des Roux. It was quite a heart starter at 7:00am!
On arrival to the Col we were rewarded with fabulous views of Lac des Dix (and the mountains in the distance that we would climb later).
On our descent down to the lake we partook in some collaborative marmut spotting after we’d heard a whistle in the distance (Charlie had been told the marmut’s call tended to sound like a whistle). After a few false alarms Gerry announced in his great welsh accent “yeah well I whistle don’t I but I’m not a marmut” (expletives excluded).
There were no ibex to be seen much to Karyn’s disappointment. At one point Karyn thought she could see an animal in front of a rock but alas it was merely a shadow. I took great delight in impersonating Sir David Attenborough with “what is believed to be the last remaining jaguar in Switzerland, has been spotted by explorers Karyn Lees and Letitia Robinson during their travels on the Haute Route”.
We did finally spot some real marmuts down on the lake’s edge but no ibex.
The other animal spotting involved cows. They wandered alongside Cassie and Steve from Washington and Charlie – from behind it looked like they were playing pied piper and the cows were coming with us to Arolla.
We were on the easiest part of the Haute Route – the five kilometre flat path around the lake…all was about to change. It was then up, up and up. Every time we thought we’d come to the pass we could see more people up ahead. It was tough – we were heading for Cabane des Dix, which had become so remote the supplies were now brought in by helicopter.
We chose to go in for a hot chocolate to get out of what seemed to be sleet (note – not rain). We made our stop brief as we could see the weather changing at a dramatic speed and we had yet to cross the glacier, reach the ladders and then of course climb them.
The ladders had been recently replaced due to a rock slide below their ascent so the rocky shoulders of Glacier de Cheilon had been way marked about every 10 metres so you knew which direction to take across the rocks. It was very slippery with both of us taking our first slides onto our bums – luckily no injuries. I was starting to wonder if we were actually going to cross the glacier itself and then it appeared over a rise.
It was quite novel crossing the glacier, particularly when we reached a stream running through it – of course getting over the stone slabs that had been placed to allow a crossing was a little hairy but better than the other alternative offered of stepping onto the way marked stepping stone in the actual stream, which was shaped like a luge.
By the time we reached the boulders that we would have to ascend to reach the Pas de Chevres even I had to contend it was raining but thankfully only sprinkling. The rock climb was the worst we’d encountered so far in my mind (although some of that may have arisen from my fear of what was to follow). It is impossible to find the words to describe it as I haven’t got anything else I can suggest it was like and of course the rain discouraged any photography.
On the last little bit of the approach to the ladders you were assisted by a chain rope anchored to the rock to overcome any fear of slipping to the boulders waiting eagerly below like vultures! As I was coming up Karyn exclaimed “oh my god, wait till you see what’s here!”. Of course I replied “is it a lift?”. Turned out to be two mountain bikes. We later found out that the other guys on our hike had seen two German guys bring them down the ladders on their shoulders ice axes attached (show offs!!!) but of course even these boulders were too much for them to ride over so the bikes sat in wait of their return. There was no fear of them being stolen up there!
The climb up the ladders began. There were four in total covering a height of 25 metres I believe. The drop over the boulders below was about 200m. I was petrified my shoes or hands would slip on the wet rungs. Three points of contact, three points of contact, three points of contact. Karyn was a tremendous help coaxing me all the way. At one point I had to take stock because I knew I was on the verge of tears – from there it was a lot of deep breathing and looking straight ahead at the rock. Karyn just climbed up like a monkey with a smile from ear to ear. We’d done it – I was so relieved that part of the hike was over. I think I smiled for the whole two hours into Arolla.
We heard choppers overhead – there go the supplies to Cabane du Dix!
It was a civil night with a room to ourselves again – could drink the water, order what we liked and didn’t have to pay for a shower or electricity. We had made it to the half way point – we decided to Skype Lee and Mia to update them on our progress. It was so lovely to share our news with a couple who’d already experienced that part of the hike.
We had gained 920m in height and lost 1540m with our high point of 2957m! We had even come in close to the 8 hours and 30 minutes estimated for the 17km. It had been a Black 4 stage – the toughest you can get….and we had done it!
Tomorrow promised to be a short day so we were sleeping in….