Backpacking the Alps: Tour des Aiguilles Rouges

in hiking •  2 years ago  (edited)

On Wednesday, June 27, 2018 I woke up in Zurich, having given a presentation at the Central Library the day prior. After 3 trains, I arrived in the French town of Vallorcine to begin my hike of the Aiguilles Rouges, which in English translates to "Red Peaks". The beginning of the hike was picturesque with benign terrain (this would change soon enough):

trail-start.jpg

The first day was full of day hikers and alpine ibex (bouquetin in French). They ibex were surprisingly indifferent to humans. I was a tad bit worried that I was too close to this male, but I couldn't resist the intrigue of the shot:

alpine-ibex-boss.jpg

After I took this picture, we ended up hiking together for a while. I guess we were both going up. Later I ran into this herd of females:

alpine-ibex-trio.jpg

The first night, I slept outside Refuge du Lac Blanc, which was surrounded by snow and yet to open for the season. At sunset, I got the red experience from within my cocoon 2,350 meters above sea level:

refuge-du-lac-blanc-hammocking.jpg

For those unfamiliar with a "refuge", it's the European equivalent of glamping. With only 8 euros in my belt pocket, I stuck to "wild camping". In fact, even the water on this hike was free, a rarity for European travel! Quick aside, I filtered the water, but other hikers drank it straight, only avoiding water from areas of the mountain with ski lifts.

I departed Refuge du Lac Blanc before sunrise, as I was just a bit too cold to actually sleep. At this early hour, I had the trail to myself. Just me and a full moon looking across at the glaciers:

panoramic-sunrise-and-glaciers.jpg

Click here for a more immersive experience brought to you by a photo sphere. The mountains were very much alive. At several sections, a fountain of boulders seemed to be erupting from the tectonic depths of these formidable alpine formations:

rocks.jpg

It took me to the evening to reach the summit of Le Brévent, which at 2,515 meters was also the peak of my hike. The beauty of the 360 degree view was only diminished by the presence of man-made access (a marvelous cable car) and the encroaching darkness.

The descent from Le Brévent proved challenging as the snowpack was much more formidable on the west-facing side of the mountain range. After climbing down some ladders, I reached an impasse where the trail traversed a large patch of snow at a considerable incline. While the tracks of previous mountaineers made it clear where the trail went, I took one step onto the snowy traverse, which began to crumble beneath my foot, before deciding to attempt an alternative route.

alternate-route.jpg

I decided to circumnavigate the snow patch by descending below the snow-covered trail via the exposed gravel. This proved to be a challenging & frightening maneuver. The gravel was extremely loose. Meanwhile, I was exhausted with only adrenaline propelling me onward to crawl across the mountain in complete isolation. While I certainly made many mistakes to get myself into this situations, I did do one thing properly: I made sure not to panic. I kept silently repeating "one step at a time" and reminding myself to take as much time as I needed. 45 minutes later I was back on the trail, delighted to be alive.

I reflected on ways the situation could have been improved. It would have been helpful to save such a difficult section for earlier in the day when I had more energy and when there were other hikers around. An ice axe would have been nice. I probably should have followed the snowy traverse like the others hikers before me. However, the confidence and experience from this snafu would come in handy the following day, when I would encounter similarly difficult terrain but for a more prolonged stretch of the trail.

I finally reached less rugged terrain. I passed waterfall after waterfall pouring down from the horrid heights that I had just breached.

waterfall-and-snow.jpg

I hiked late, in search of sufficient tree cover to rig a hammock. I took the first opportunity I saw, which had me laying across the trail. The next morning I awoke to a hiker crouching beneath my hanging mattress to pass.

hammocking-across-trail.jpg

I continued onward, hiking through a valley devoid of human civilization on either side, except for a few chalets, most of them long abandoned and turned to ruins discernible only as stone outlines of their former selves. Nothing like a bath in the fresh snow-melt of the Alps to rekindle the spirit:

swimming.jpg

However, this pleasure soon turned into a brutal ascent. Luckily I caught up to a pack of Frenchmen.

frenchmen.jpg

As we approached Col de Salenton, the pass through which we would cross the ridge to descend into the Valley of Bérard, the clouds reminded us of the high altitude:

col-de-salenton.jpg

However, unlike the day before, I was unwavering in my step. The Frenchmen even assumed I was a veteran, at which point I had to tell them that I had no idea what I was doing. The valley on the other side was blanketed in snow. We decided that following the buried path was a losing battle, and took to glissading whenever possible:

At the base of the slope was the Refuge de la Pierre à Bérard. Before reaching it, I had broken a trekking pole and scraped my buttock, but we eventually all made it down in one piece. I said au revoir to my hiking companions and continued on.

I slept only a couple miles from the end of the tour. The next morning, I returned to civilization:

cows-alps.jpg

In total, I had hiked 34.6 miles (56 kilometers). Here's my track via ViewRanger.

aiguilles-rouge-viewranger-track.png

In retrospect, I was impressed by my packing list. While you'll find many packing lists online geared towards hiking, I needed to accommodate both my professional presentations in Switzerland and my hike of the French Alps. Hence, I had to lug around my laptop, but was still able to achieve a base weight of 14.4 pounds. How's that for an #ultralight #steemian-boss?

Acknowledgements

A big shout-out to Olivier Lessard, a French friend I met while in San Francisco, who not only told me about the Tour des Aiguilles Rouges, but also put me in touch with his siter Ann, who housed me for two nights in the outskirts of Geneva. Olivier will be happy to learn that I completed the hike in 2.5 days (3 nights) rather than the customary 4 days. This enabled me to hike the Mer de Glace the following day and complete my goal to touch a glacier.

Steemian Boss Series

This is the fifthteenth post in the popular Steemian Boss Series. Previous posts include:

  1. Ultralight travel to Key West
  2. Sights aboard a twinjet, Philly to Boston style
  3. How to hammock like a Steemian Boss in Cambridge
  4. Glory aboard American Airlines flight 501
  5. The Centurion PHL Challenge: 8 specialty crafted cocktails
  6. The Delta Sky Club ATL Challenge: all 2 specialty cocktails
  7. Mississippi's best hiking: backpacking in Noxubee Hills
  8. Epic 80-mile bike ride to Limerick's Nuclear Reactors
  9. The Centurion SFO Challenge: revealing 8 exclusive cocktails
  10. A saga of 14 friends: returning to California
  11. Sending my brother off to Africa with a blaze
  12. Liberty Bell GPS art: celebrating liberty on the Fourth of July
  13. A walk in Lehigh Gorge state park to Glen Onoko falls by @trang.
  14. Mastering the Catskills: quadrupeak bushwhacking bonanza

License

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DUDE, I was literally planing a backpacking trip like this in Switzerland for next month...This is getting me so excited, well even more excited then I already was lol...any suggestions you wish to share, im still in the planning phase? This trail looks freakin awesome!!!

How many days do you have? Tour des Aiguilles Rouges is generally a four day hike. Here's the collection of links / notes I threw together when deciding which hike to do. The Tour du Mont Blanc and Haute Route would be longer options.

Also see this recent informational video (not that I care for Follow Bigfoot per se compared to other hiking vloggers, but the subject is relevant):

You're awesome, this makes my planning so much easier. Im definitely doing the Haute Route!

Thank you.

Excellent capture of your epic trip with an awesome curie reward to top it off. Great job man, you are living the dream. I like your snaps, especially the hammock shot at dusk.

Hi dhimmel,

This post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Have a great day :)

Visit curiesteem.com or join the Curie Discord community to learn more.

Thanks @curie. Being on the receiving end of that curation trail was quite exhilarating. I'll check out your community and see if there is any way for me to contribute.

Nice slide, beau!

  ·  2 years ago (edited)

Epic hike Daniel! I've actually been thinking a lot about hiking over the last week.

I'm in the stage of gathering gear so your lighterpack link is really useful. I just got this mini-stove and cooking set. Tomorrow I'm planning on picking up the Espro Ultralight coffee press (some Starbucks locations have it in stock). Looking forward to my first forest brewed coffee.

During my research I came across a Google talk by Andrew Skurka he really takes ultra-light to next level. Too light for my liking!

Looking for a balance somewhere between ultra-light and glamping as you call it 😂

Nice. Excited to see where your hikes take you.

Yeah, I've seen that Shurka talk at Google. I'd self-identify as more on #ultralight side of the spectrum, as @trang can attest to (we're hiking the John Muir Trail in September and I get very sad when she selects 20 denier over 10 denier for the exterior of her "puffy").

As far as coffee goes, I've been using some Nescafe Gold instant coffee I acquired from an airport lounge at Heathrow (the only good thing that has ever come out of that airport for me). I also don't bring a stove, so I mix & drink the coffee at whatever temperature my water happens to be. However, I feel that you have more culinary inclinations than me, so you're get more satisfaction out of cooking on the trail.

Are you based in Montreal? I'll be up there for a conference in October. I'd be down for a day hike or grabbing some coffee if the calendars work out.

@trang 😂 funny.

I'd love to go for a day hike, have to bring the press, instant coffee at room temperature sounds horrible!

I'm doing the digital nomad thing, Quebec city for the summer. If I'm anywhere between Quebec City and Toronto come October we should make it happen. Tons of options for hiking in the Montreal area.

From Wikipedia:

Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles.

Wow! Sounds like the Espro will be generally useful for a digital nomadic lifestyle.

Will let you know about Montreal closer to the date.

@kirkins, I confirm that @dhimmel is very much on the #ultralight side of the spectrum. I reasoned that I can lose one more ounce of body weight before our hike so I can be in the puffier jacket with nicer colors, but he was still very sad.

An outstanding mountains scenery! The photos and story are just incredible! Well done, @dhimmel

What a breathtaking terrain and scenery throughout your story and trail.
Your packing list is very helpful not only for hiking but also for general referencing.

Thanks for such a great post @dhimmel look forward to see more from you

Seems like you had a great hike in a beautiful area. Nice pictures.

Thanks @harkar. Looks like you do quite a bit of hiking yourself. I'm exciting to see your future adventures.