Monday, 13 September 2010

Alps 2010 - Trip Report

The Pigne d'Arolla

Glacial approach to the Vignettes Hut

I'm now back from my two weeks in the Alps! The first part of the trip was spent in Arolla--for an account of our ascent of the Pigne, click HERE. Together with Phil and Lauren, we spent nine days in Arolla all in all, making use of the excellent campsite (apparently the highest in Europe at almost 2,000m).

My impressions of Arolla were almost entirely favourable. Although it's in French-speaking Switzerland, and my French is non-existent, I found it to be a delightful place, far quieter than the frantic honeypots of Zermatt and Chamonix. The village is tiny and quiet, perched on a high alp where horses and sheep graze. The view is grand, looking over Mont Collon, the Pigne d'Arolla, and the Aiguilles.

Lauren on the summit of the Pigne

The rather fine view

After our successful climb of the Pigne we wanted to attempt l'Eveque and Mont Blanc du Cheilon, but the weather took a turn for the worse and became very cold, with snow down almost to the village and frost at nights. The unsettled weather put our mountains out of condition, and we spent the time pottering around in the valleys, visiting the surprising Lac Bleu (on a good day), having a look at the biggest gravity dam in Europe, eating pizza in Evolene, and brewing up a lot of tea!

We also visited the roadside sport crag of Pra Grassette. It's not a spectacular crag but it does have a friendly atmosphere and the routes are quite short. Moreover, I had never done any sport climbing before so it was quite a novelty. Lauren led two routes at about F5 standard, which I seconded in my approach shoes and found the cruxes challenging but not impossible. Lauren climbed an F6a which I didn't attempt, and then to round off the session I led the easiest route at the crag, a VDiff / MS arete equipped with bolts at about F4. Technically speaking it was the hardest rock climb I'd led for many months, although the bolts did take away some of the experience!

After Phil and Lauren left for Britain, I moved down the valley to the sleepy town of Evolene. At this stage the trip changed to a research operation for my fictional project. In August 1899, O.G. Jones and his friend Mr Hill stayed in Evolene on Jones' last ever Alpine season. After a frenzy of climbing for a week they departed for an attempt on the Ferpecle Arete of the Dent Blanche. The subsequent accident, and death of the entire party sans Mr Hill, is one of the saddest episodes of Alpine history and the premature end of a great man.


I spent my time soaking in the atmosphere of the town, visiting Jones' grave, and trying to piece together his final days. I walked up to Bricola Alp where he spent his last night. I feel I understand my character much better now that I have spent some time at the place where his incredible climbing career drew to a close.

After two days in Evolene I took the train to Grindelwald, again for research purposes. I have been looking forward to a visit to Grindelwald for many years, and in some respects (notably the Eiger!) it did not disappoint, but in others the experience was significantly different from my expectations. The town has been radically modernised and is indistinguishable from a dozen other Alpine ski resorts. Most of the old 19th century buildings have been pulled down. There is a superficial air of 'ye oldeness' which might fool the casual visitor, but to someone interested in digging out the truth of the place as it was in the 19th century it was something of a let-down.

The Fiescherwand above Grindelwald

Even commercialised Zermatt retains more of its authentic, unassumed 19th century character. The mountains around Grindelwald, however, were grand: Wetterhorn, Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, Fiescherhorn; famous names from the golden age of Alpine climbing. I took the train up to Klein Matterhorn and hiked up to the Lauberhorn, a foothill that gives unbelievable views of the Berner Oberland. I had the opportunity to study the Eiger North Face in detail.

Kleine Scheidegg

Paragliding over the Eiger

So, overall a very enjoyable trip. I got to visit two completely new Alpine centres, climbed a big icy mountain, and allowed myself the luxury of being a tourist where usually I'd be rushing around intent on climbing mountains, eyes closed to my surroundings.

For some alternative accounts of the first part of the trip, it is my pleasure to point you in the direction of Lauren's excellent blog, Flight of the Bumblie.

Photos from the trip

I have divided my photographs from the trip into three separate Flickr sets.

Set 1 : Arolla
Set 2 : Evolene
Set 3 : Grindelwald

1 comment:

  1. Nice write up Alex, and some nice photos there eh? ;-)