On day six we deviated from the standard route a bit and took a slightly shorted but steeper track. Since the day was overcast again we weren’t going to miss much scenery anyway. We started off by backtracking down the Glacier de Cheilon a short way and then crossed the glacier toward the base of a cliff band where a fixed steel ladder would take us up about sixty feet to the slope above. We weren’t the only group to choose this rout and had to cue up to get on the ladder. Just another little something to keep things interesting. From the top of the ladder we had a steady fairly steep climb to the Vignettes Hut with the last few hundred feet being quite steep. This was a fairly short day with us reaching the hut by one o’clock or so.
Tomorrow would be the big day so the rest was good for all. Up until this day the four of us were all pretty concerned about the last day. Would we have enough strength to make it the twenty miles from the Vignettes Hut to Zermatt. I for, one was thinking we would become more and more exhausted as the trip went on but just the opposite happened and we all seemed to get stronger. I know in my mind that evening there was no doubt that I could make the twenty or so miles the next day and I didn’t hear a word of doubt from the other guys either. Tomorrow’s quarter to five wake up would come quickly so after dinner and a beer we all hit the sack.
We cue up to get on the ladder.
Mike gets ready to cross over from one ladder to the next.
We get ready to climb to the Vignettes Hut.
Waiting for dinner in the Vignettes Hut
Wake up time was an hour earlier than the other huts since we had such a long way to go and later in the afternoon there would be danger of wet slides. It might have been even earlier but the cook makes the rules and he says five is early enough. We would have to climb three Cols and cross several glaciers with a final ski of about thirteen or fourteen miles down to Zermatt. The first climb of the day started with a short ski through some nice dry powder down into a basin where we skinned up and headed for the Col de l' Eveque(11160 ft). More good dry powder awaited us at the top of the Col. Then came a ski/skin of about two miles to the base of the Col Collon (10156 ft). A short boot pack up a 45 degree slope got us to the top of this Col and the border between Switzerland and Italy. Again we were greeted with powder. From here we skied/skinned another couple miles through Italy to reach the top of the Col de Valpelline (11739)at a little after noon. Halleluiah we have made the worst of it!! High fives were had all around and pictures were taken. We rested for a few minutes and then prepared to descend into Zermatt.
Alpenglow on the last morning. The light lower left is another smaller hut.
Don and Mike preparing to head out for Zermatt.
A stream of people head for the first Col. (far right)
We put boot crampons on to climb the steep pitch to the top of the Col Collon.
Don begins the climb up the steep pitch.
Looking back down the Col. See the ski tracks everywhere.
A look south into Italy from the top of Co Collon.
From the top of the Col we skied into Italy for a short time.
We skinned through Italy to the top of the Col de Valpelline.
Mike and Dave make the last few steps to the top of the Col de Valpelline.
Left to right: Don, Gerry, Nico, Mike, Dave.
The scenery all along the route was great but the scenery here is spectacular. As we crested the third Col the summit of the Matterhorn came into view. From here all the way to Zermatt with every turn a new view of the mountain was opened up. On this day the clouds moved in and out to conceal and the expose the mountain in all its glory. When we first glimpsed the mountain we saw the west face, a view not everyone sees in person or pictures. As the day went on we rounded the northwest ridge and soon stood staring straight up the north face. From where we stood to the summit is somewhere in the neighborhood of seven thousand vertical feet. By the way, Nico has climbed this face, in winter. Much too dangerous to climb in summer.
Our first view of the Matterhorn.
As we start our descent all tracks funnel onto a snow bridge across the crevasse on the left.
The matterhorn and its neighbor Dent d' Herens
Nico scopes the Matterhorn with a climber's eye.
An ice fall with ice blocks as big as a house.
The north face of Dent d' Herens
The west face of the Matterhorn.
We stayed looker's right to ski through that mess.
One last short steep pitch and the hard stuff is done.
A look back up the glacier from our lunch spot.
Looking straight up the north face of the Matterhorn.
We were nearing the end of our journey. It was now just a matter of how far we would be able to ski down the valley toward Zermatt until the snow ran out. Luck was on our side and we were able to ski a road/ski run all the way to the edge of town. This was a much better ending than having to walk the last few miles which would have been anticlimactic in my book. Sometimes manmade snow s a good thing.
Zermatt down in the valley.
We skied this road through a ski resort to Zermatt
The snow ended at the edge of town.
A taxi had driven from Chamonix to pick up Nico which was supposed to have all our other baggage on board. When Nico contacted the driver we learned that only four of the six bags were delivered. Two of us would not have clean clothes until morning. I was one of the lucky ones. My bag was delivered. Mike and Dave would ride the train with Nico to where the taxi was waiting and get the bags from the driver. The French taxi was not allowed to drive into Switzerland. Don’t ask me why. Don and I said our good buys to Nico and the three of them were off to meet the taxi. In the mean time Don and I had a couple of leisurely beers and people watched while waiting for Mike and Dave to return. A couple hours later they were back and we all headed for the Hotel and a hot shower and then a celebration dinner.
The next morning we had some time to walk around town and shop before catching the train to Geneva. Zermatt is a nice little town with no private automobiles allowed. All travel is by foot or taxi. There were end of season sales everywhere but Switzerland is a very expensive place so nothing was purchased.
The scenery was spectacular especially the first and last days. These two days alone would make the trip worthwhile. While on the route we met people from France, Switzerland, Sweden, Great Brittan, British Columbia and there was a group from Vail whom we met at the hotel in Chamonix that started the route the day after we did. There were people from all walks of life and ages, though I think I might have been the oldest in our crowd.
The number one thing I learned from this experience is, a well executed kick turn is a very useful thing to know how to do. You can Google ‘kick turn ski’ and find several good demonstration videos. A good kick turn can save you from a possible serious fall like Mike had on day two. It also makes travel in the back country so much easier.
We had a great trip and an excellent guide. I would recommend Chamonix Experience (chamex.com) as a guide service for any mountain adventure you might be planning in the Chamonix area, winter or summer.
A last look at the Matterhorn as we get ready to board the train for Geneva and the flight home.
Hope you enjoyed the narrative and the photos.