Arolla and Saastal, July 2001
This was my first trip to the Alps, before I met Jenny and before I had a digital camera! The pictures are scanned from photos taken on disposable cameras, so aren't very good quality.
Due to unfortunate circumstances, two friends - including Helen, the one who had previous Alpine experience and had pretty much planned the whole trip - had to pull out and it had looked like the whole thing would fall through. After various frantic arrangements and an epic drive from Glasgow (meeting Sean at Calais), Sean and myself pulled up the valley towards Arolla, wide eyed and wondering what the hell we were getting ourselves into. As soon as we saw the amazing spire towering over the East side of the valley (the Aiguille de la Tsa) we knew we wanted to climb it, but we didn't know whether or not we could realistically hope to.
We started by heading up from Arolla to the Dix hut, to find our feet on an easy peak or two. This picture is looking back East across the Arolla valley - the Aiguille de la Tsa is the pointy peak near the middle - not the most impressive view of it! (Photo by Sean Robison)
A bit higher up, with Mont Collon in the background
Crossing the dry Glacier de Cheilon, with Mont Blanc de Cheilon in the background (photo by Sean Robison)
Alpenglow on Mont Blanc de Cheilon from the Dix hut
The next morning we got up sharp and headed up La Luette - an easy snow plod of a hill above the hut, but it seemed exciting enough at the time
The view North East from the summit
The view East from the summit, with Mont Blanc de Cheilon on the right and the Matterhorn and Dent d'Herens visible at the back (photo by Sean Robison)
Back at the hut that evening we got chatting to an English couple, who were keen to team up for the traverse of the Pigne d'Arolla - four on a rope on a glacier being considerably safer than two. As a bonus, one of them - Andy - was an MIA
The next morning the four of us headed up the Glacier de Cheilon to start the traverse. There were some large crevasses that had to be jumped, which added quite a lot of excitement to an otherwise easy walk
Part way up the Pigne, looking towards the summit
Myself and Sean on the summit of the Pigne; view to the South (photo Andy Sallabank). From here we descended some fairly steep glacial terrain down the East side of the Pigne, and raced past an area that had seen a lot of recent rockfall
Back down safe off the Glacier de Piece, looking East towards the Aiguille de la Tsa
We then headed back down to the campsite feeling quite pleased with ourselves. The weather wasn't so good for the next few days, with thunderstorms and a fair bit of cloud and rain on the hills, so we were stuck cragging in the valley
Cragging on La Maya. The river below here is affected by hydro schemes, and floods very quickly - quite impressive to see
Sean cooking dinner amongst the bins whilst Andy laughs at him - it was the only dry spot in the campsite when it rained
The Satarma Needle - an easy but spectacular short excursion lower down the valley
Me atop the Satarma Needle (photo Sean Robison)
Me abseiling off the Satarma Needle (photo Sean Robison)
Another good weather window came along, and we set off again with Andy and partner (I can't remember her name!), who were also keen to do the Tsa and eager to team up for the glacier approach. This snap is looking up at Petit Mont Collon on the way in to the Bertol hut
The Bertol hut is on top of the smaller rock pinnacle on the skyline above Andy (the middle of the three people). We got up to it as some fresh snow started to fall, which was a bit worrying - we needed the rock pitches on the Tsa to be free of snow.
The hut is perched in a really lofty position. I had my first, quite drafty, experience of crapping down a 100m tube dangling over a glacier. We bought water for the next day, which turned out to be the stuff they'd used to cook the sausages in for dinner.
The Bertol is fairly high up and we had a pretty restless night, interrupted at one point by someone in the dorm sitting upright and screaming several times
In the morning we teamed up and set out early, and saw sunrise over the Dent Blanche. We were glad of the company whilst crossing various fairly interesting crevasses and snow bridges. Luckily, the fresh snow had burned or blown off, and there were just four pitches of fairly easy (up to about Severe) rock between us and the summit. We split into two pairs for the climb
I don't think I've ever felt more elated than I did standing on the top of the Tsa staring out across the glacier at the Matterhorn, the Dent d'Herens, and hundreds of other peaks which I couldn't name and had never seen the likes of before. This is looking North from the summit to Pointe des Genevois. We were a wee bit worried about the rapidly building cloud - thunder seemed likely for the afternoon
Sean at the summit, with the Dent Blanche on the left and the Matterhorn on the right
Me at the summit, with the Matterhorn behind (photo by Sean Robison)
A short downclimb and an abseil and we were back on the glacier. We teamed up again and fled across the softening glacier from the darkening skies, past the Bertol and down below the snow before the weather broke.
We decided to head round to the Saas valley next, having acheived what we wanted to at Arolla.
After pitching the tent and finding our feet we headed up through gorgeous Alpine flora and pastures to the Almageller hut. Our first objective was to climb the Dri Horlini ridge above the hut - an entirely non-glacial rock ridge
Looking across towards the Dom from the lower part of the Dri Horlini
Negotiating some pinnacles mid way up the ridge
Me in a short chimney near the top (photo by Sean Robison)
The top of the ridge, after all the difficulties. After this we headed back down to the hut and ate apple cake, which was good.
The next day we headed off to traverse the Weissmies
The Dom group from the South Ridge of the Weissmies
Looking back down the South Ridge to the Zrvischbergenpass as the day broke
Me on the summit of the Weissmies, looking North to the Lagginhorn (photo by Sean Robison). We then headed down the South side of the hill to the cable car station, and treated ourselves to a lift back down from there
We had time for one more peak, and wanted to climb the Hohlaubgrat on the Allalinhorn, so headed up to the Britannia Hut
The Egginer, seen from the Britannia Hut
Chamoix near the hut
Looking back down the Hohlaubgrat, with the Weissmies across the valley behind
The upper section of the Hohlaubgrat. The crux (and only difficulty) of the route was the rock band near the top, which was fairly short and about Severe, with iron spikes at intervals providing some protection
Looking back down the ridge from near the top
At the summit of the Allalinhorn (photo by Sean Robison)
After that it was time for me to go home. Sean had another fortnight to spend in the Alps - it was to be a long drive on my own back through Switzerland and right across France. I managed to get a bit lost and so avoided the motorway tolls, following the roads near the motorways most of the way
A field of sunflowers somewhere in France
Ferry arriving at Calais.
After that was the drive up from Dover to Glasgow. Staying awake was very hard after it got dark. I had to stop for a half hour snooze in a service station somewhere in Northern England after actually dozing off for a second at the wheel. I'll never do that drive again on my own - it was way more dangerous than the mountaineering had been!
However, I survived the rest of the journey.