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Mont Blanc de Cheilon (3870 m) - Wallis
Ski tour

Mont Blanc de Cheilon3870 m
La Luette3548 m
La Serpentine3795 m
Pigne d'Arolla3796 m

Trip report
April 19-22, 2000

Wednesday, April 19
It's Easter, and there are some vacation days from last year that have to be taken until end of April. Straightforward to take the Easter week off. But the weather has the final say - Monday and Tuesday were not worth mentioning.
For Wednesday, the perspectives are better. After driving through half of Switzerland, we begin our trip around noon in Arolla at about 2000 m.
The route is not too exciting, first along the piste, and after 900 meters of altitude gain and 2 1/2 hours, we are standing at Col de Chèvres in order to climb down quite steep ladders on the other side.
Col de Chèvres
At Col de Chèvres. By the way, the skis should be fixed not like this, but vertically - otherwise you get stuck in the middle of the ladders.

It takes another 1 1/2 hours from the base of the pass to Cabane des Dix (2928 m) in a tremendous afternoon heat.
Since we don't have a reservation, we have to wait an hour to get our places. The hut is very crowded; we finish our primitive soup dinner before the half-board guests, and we soon go to bed. Apparently most of the guests here are Haute Route clients, there are also several big organized groups.
Mont Blanc de Cheilon
Seen from the hut, Mont Blanc de Cheilon is an impressive mountain.
Thursday, April 20
Unusual: Breakfast begins as late as six o'clock. As the hut is situated at quite high altitude, such a late depart is well sufficient in the spring season.
We leave half an hour after getting up; the darkness fades away at half past six, the full moon is just sinking behind the mountains, and there is not a single cloud in the sky. Within an hour we reach Col de Cheilon. The route stays in the shade, towards a dark and unfriendly rock wall. This is La Ruinette, and the name makes sense seeing the grim view of this steep heap of rock. But we turn to the left onto an uxpectedly moderate glacier band which opens the slopes to Mont Blanc de Cheilon without problems. The secondary summit 3827 m turns out to be a 10 meters high rocky bump; obviously a considerable amount of glacier ice has dissapeared since the map was published. From here on, we continue on foot.
Mont Blanc de Cheilon
Summit ridge of Mont Blanc de Cheilon, seen from the secondary summit
the final ten meters
The last ten meters to the top
back on the saddle
Back on the saddle again

The summit ridge is well snow-covered and fortunately already provided with a trace. The trace producers obviously had made the ascent without crampons - sort of Russian roulette, one can say. The slopes on both sides are steep and long, and a mistake would be very unhealthy. With crampons, however, the trace is much more amusing. The last few meters are quite exposed on rock (II). As we - intelligent as we are - left the rope at the ski depot, I can do without the very summit. Claudia has a look at the view from the top (3870 m) alone.
The ski descent is nothing to shout about, the major part was in the shade the whole morning. But the descent is anyway not out point; we want to do some training. That is better done by not going down to the hut but also doing La Luette (3548 m). That gives about 1500 height meters in total; in the early afternoon we are back to Cabane des Dix.
on La Luette
On La Luette; Pigne d'Arolla, Mont Blanc de Cheilon and Ruinette (from left to right)
Cabane des Dix
Cabane des Dix
Friday, April 21
After again a comfortable night with getting up not until six, today we want to go to Cabane des Vignettes. Over moderately steep slopes we ascend to the unspeakable Col de Tsijiore Nouve and furter on to the glacier plateau of Col de Brenay. A portion of hard ice becomes a problem for some people, but those who have to learn the basics of ski-touring here, have come to the wrong place attempting Haute Route.
ascent to La Serpentine
Ascending in front of Mont Blanc de Cheilon
soon it will be less steep
Soon it will become less steep again.

Further up the glacier flattens out quickly. First we want to visit La Serpentine, because it is much more quiet than on Pigne d'Arolla with those helicopter skiing groups being released in five-minute intervals. As I follow Claudia's trace towards another ski trave, suddenly there is no more firm ground beneath me. I find myself two meters lower. Indeed the twenty kilograms of weight difference (for me and my rucksack) and my shorter skis were enough to make me break through the snow bridge of a hidden crevasse. Fortunately, the fall is over on a firm snow bridge two meters under ground, so I have enough time to put away the skis, take on the harness (could have done that already in the morning, of course) and the crampons and wait until someone might be looking where I got lost.
But that takes quite a while, since one cannot easily be heard out of a crevasse. Although group by group is passing on the main trace not far away, my sudden disappearance seems to have been completely unnoticed. After Claudia noticed, however, soon two Swiss come along, and they together bring me up to the surface quickly.
La Serpentine is reached within 15 minutes without further incidence. With a height of 3795 m it is only one meter lower than Pigne, but completely quiet.
An hour later we queue up at Pigne d'Arolla, have a brief look of the views around and soon begin the ski descent at still nice and warm weather. Above Cabane des Vignettes there is one steeper portion, but everything else is rather easy. As we can hardly hope for a place at Cabane des Vignettes, considering all the crowds going down here, changing the route to a real piste, we go down all the way to Arolla - 1800 meters of descent in only fourty minutes.
on the way from La Serpentine to Pigne
On the way from La Serpentine to Pigne d'Arolla
Saturday, April 22
For Saturday the weather forecast promises still sunny weather, however already with first clouds. So we look a bit around in the further neighborhood what might be a nice thing to undertake. After a night in the car, we leave Simplon Pass in the early morning. Only on some of the neighboring mountains, clouds can be seen in the morning sun. In time, this evolves to a compact cloud layer at the altitude of our summit. As we reach Breithornpass (3370 m), the uppermost fifty meters of Monte Leone already disappeared, and after only twenty more minutes in this direction we are standing in a complete white-out. Front, back, up, down, everything is white. No chance to see if it goes up or down. So we carefully follow our trace back to the pass and then down through a horrible kind of crumbly snow (in German "Bruchharsch"). At least further down we can see a little again, and soon also the snow becomes more or less manageable. Back at Simplon Pass, there is hardly any sun any more, but the beginning Föhn winds make it quite warm. So we go back home (Föhn brings bad weather to the southern Alps). Still, the success at Mont Blanc de Cheilon and the three other peaks above 3500 m is rather unusual at Easter.

Practical hints

Arolla - Cabane des Dix

From Arolla to the upper end of the first section of the ski lift, about 2500 m - about 1 1/2 hours (except for lazybones like ski lift users). From there, a little more than an hour to Pas de Chèvres, without problems. After descending the ladders on the other side, about an hour to Cabane des Dix, 2928 m. In total about 4 hours.
Difficulty: MS, except for the ladders.
Cabane des Dix (Tel. +41 27 2811523) has 150 places, but in spring ski tour season it usually is quite crowded.

Mont Blanc de Cheilon

From Cabane des Dix to Col de Cheilon (easy and even), traverse the upper Glacier de Giétro towards La Ruinette and up a prominent glacier ramp to the left side. Considering the wildness of the scenery, an astonishingly easy access; ski depot before the secondary summit P. 3827. The secondary summit is not an adequate substitute for the nice summit ridge. The ridge doesn't take a long time, with the appropriate care an hour from P. 3827; don't forget the crampons. The crest towers over steep flanks, but it is good to follow. The last eight meters or so are steeper rock (II, exposed). 4 1/2 hours from Cabane des Dix.
Difficulty GSA (some crevasses)/ F/PD

La Luette

La Luette is the summit nearby Cabane des Dix. From the hut as well as from Col de Cheilon, the gentle eastern slopes are used. A short part below the summit is a little steeper; then soon ski depot, and the last 90 meters on foot. On the descent in the steep passage, don't sweep into the two or three crevasses there.
Difficulty MSA

La Serpentine and Pigne d'Arolla

From the hut, the glacier is traversed eastwards, then up the small Glacier de Tsena Réfien. During season, route-finding is usually easy, just follow the crowds. In the lower part until Col de Tsijiore Nouvre you can make the trace as comfortable as you like, with the appropriate care of crevasses. Because of a cornice, one has to go a little higher above Col T.N. and then traverse the following basin. After that, a steeper step up, where it might be icy. On top, at 3600 m, the terrain levels again, and the routes to Serpentine and Pigne separate. About 3 hours from the hut to this point; to each of the summits 1/2 hour.
To La Serpentine, turn right through rather flat but (as mentioned above in the text) not crevasse-free terrain on the secondary summit (3788, with cairn) and/or to the main summit (3795). It seems questionable if the main summit is still seven meters higher than the cairn - the glacier apparently has lost quite some substance compared to the map.
To Pigne d'Arolla, follow the big glacier basin to the saddle and in another five minutes to the summit. Can all be done with skis, no problems at all. Both mountains: Difficulty GSA, because of the steep step. The very most part is MSA.

Descent to Arolla

First down the glacier basin east of Pigne, then alternatingly first a bit to the left, then right and again left down a steeper slope, until the slope shows rock and scree. If necessary compare to the map 283S. If conditions are good, one can well ski down the portion that is punctuated on the map - this avoids the re-ascent. Who wants to go to Cabane des Vignettes (Tel. +41 27 283 1322), has then to traverse to the right before the ridge; who wants to ski down to the valley directly, can use the small gap on the left side. Follow the glacier valley, later to the right side down following the valley and (at a level stretch, where a signpost can be seen on the left side up on the slope) a couple of meters further down the valley, then to the left around a corner. Now the way on to the piste area can be seen, and the piste is best reached on the upper end of the protection fences.
Maps and guides
Route numbers SAC, "Alpine Skitouren 3, Walliser Alpen" (1991)
in German
SAC, "Hochtouren im Wallis" (CD-ROM, 1998)
in German
SAC, "Guide des Alpes Valaisannes II" (1987)
in French
Cabane des Dix70207919,918
Dix-Pigne d'Arolla403229895,897,865
  • 1:50000 LKS 283S "Arolla"
  • 1:25000 LKS 1346 "Chanrion" (1347 "Matterhorn" for the way from Cab. Vignettes to Arolla)

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© 2000 Hartmut Bielefeldt

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Last updated August 09, 2002 by Hartmut Bielefeldt