Last weekend we toured up Arolla valley with two friends Robin & Simi to spend the night at Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges, perched high on the mountain side at 2821m. After the 1000m climb, we greeted the hut like an old friend and dashed the last 20m downhill to set up camp and get comfy, relieved that the uphill struggle was finally complete and we’d reached our destination for the night.
Following the long skin up (slow progress for the first big tour of the season), we couldn’t wait to tear off our boots and sweaty thermals and settle in with a cup of tea! After going about business as usual; lighting the stove, melting snow for drinking water and opening the shutters of the empty abode, we finally settled in to watch the sun go down over the sharp peaks of the Swiss Alps with a tipple of Simi’s parent’s Slovakian moonshine. Feeling humbled by our surroundings, we sat in quiet awe, breathing in the pure silence of the mountains and the beautiful muted colours of the landscape.
Snug in our layers of down jackets, jumpers, gloves and beanies, we huddled around the stove once it got dark, warming our hands infront of the door and leaning our feet inside the oven - the only source of heat at the refuge. With a bottle of wine, cured meats, pasta and plenty of talk of adventures far and wide, we played cards in the light of our head torches and simply enjoyed one another’s company without the distractions of modern life.
As nightfall approached the wind’s howled, signalling the incoming storm. So we battened down the hatches and finally crawled into our sleeping bags with a 4-in-a-row arrangement by 8PM, exhausted from the climb but content with the mixture of exertion and food in our systems.
The next morning we woke to flat light and crusty snow. The weather was coming in and threatening to blizzard on the faces down into the valley. So we quickly packed up, returned our dry skins from the kitchen to our skis and set off into the white, skinning to the top of the ridge above the hut before making our descent.
The snow was less than kind. Frozen and wind affected, the previous day’s powder had turned to crud and crust, setting other ski tourers tracks into icey ridges that proved dangerous at speed. What should have taken us 20 minutes took us 2 hours. Negotiating our way down the unforgiving terrain in the fog we continued to pick our lines as best we could, trying hard to stay on our feet. Finally making it back to the tree line, we schussed through the forest along the well beaten path. Holding onto our edges for dear life, there was no room for error on the narrow icy skin track. Proving ourselves on the final task, the cars finally appeared at the bottom, welcoming us back in one piece.
So not the best descent, but worth the sweat? Always.