Saturday, July 22, 2017

SAC tour: Tete Blanche & Aiguille de la Tsa

This was a trip with our local SAC section. The weather forecast for the whole weekend was dodgy, but we went anyway because you never know. :-)

Saturday we got a very early start from Basel and did a tram-train-train-train-bus-bus trip to Ferpecle (the last bit of that bus ride is pretty amusing, the road is pretty darn narrow). Then it's on with our packs and off we go under mostly sunny skies. The path climbs slowly along the valley before turning steeply up, up, up and along the valley wall with the Dent Blanche towering above (it's making clouds, so the top isn't always visible) and nice views opening in front of us. At the plateau at Bricola we do the first break and enjoy the views (including a patch of edelweiss... very cool!). Since we're with a group, the pace is more moderate that what we would end up doing alone, so the going is less strenuous than a couple of weeks ago.  Onwards and upwards! The path leads us up to the moraine, across a snow field and then onto a nice (though too short) block ridge. Along the way a sharp finger of a mountain starts to peek out to our right, as this becomes increasingly visible we realise that it's the Aiguille de la Tsa, Monday's target. This is going to be fun! After the ridge we cross the (snow free) glacier that takes us up to the Cab. de la Dent Blanche. We get settled in and enjoy the views (ooooh does the Aiguille de la Tsa look fun!) and hospitality for the rest of the afternoon. The hut is full, but it's well organized and it's a good evening. The forecast rain/snow arrive at around dinner time. It's nice to be inside. :-)

Sunday's a short day so we don't start until around 7. We'd start even later, but the hut's custodian recommends an early start since there's not a lot of snow left on the glacier and we want what's left to be as firm as possible while crossing crevasses. We rope up down on the glacier and then head off towards the Tete Blanche. We start under sun, but there are plenty of clouds around, including top of the Tete Blanche. The glacier walking is easy, we are up high but the pace is, again, moderate. As usual, it takes some time to get used to walking on a rope, but given the number of crevasses it's nice to be in a larger group. As we head along and up, the view to the left starts to open up and we get tempting bits of the Matterhorn peeking through the clouds. Behind us the Dent Blanche is completely visible, and is doing some very, very cool cloud making: a continuous stream of clouds coming off the south ridge and heading off to the east.

To the right the Aiguille de la Tsa is visible most of the time, deepening the anticipation for tomorrow. As we get closer to the Tete Blanche we enter the cloud that's parked over its peak and do the last 100m or so of ascent under the clouds. There's a fun moment with another group heading towards us appearing ghost-like out of the clouds. Up top we're in the cloud, so we don't have a view while we're having a quick lunch break (aside from another group appearing like ghosts out of the cloud). For the descent we just follow the obvious trail left by the groups that have come towards us, down, down, down from the peak, through the broad bowl near the Col des Bouquetins, and then up the other side and around the Dents de Bertol. We're pretty close the Cabane de Bertol when we come around the corner and it becomes visible perched on the ridge above the glacier... impressive siting. :-) We're at the hut around noon and spend the rest of the day enjoying the ever changing views as the clouds move around. We get a bit of rain, but it's nothing too bad... great hopes for the next day. The forecast really isn't good, but even if we can't do the climb we should at least be able to have an interesting hike crossing the ridge near the Pointe de Talion and heading down to Arolla via the Cab. de la Tsa. Dinner is decent and then we're in bed early (as usual) for an early start.

We do breakfast at 5 on Monday. The weather is decidedly dodgy, the clouds and thus visibility are rather low. We're mostly dressed and ready to go when C, the tour leader, decides to postpone the departure (and the decision on what to do) and to head back to bed hoping that things will clear up. So we all head back to bed for a couple of hours before assessing the situation and the weather again: Unfortunately, it has rather gotten worse than better with now a couple cm of snow covering everything. Thus it is decided that it just doesn't make sense to do anything other than head directly down to Arolla via the standard path to the hut which we set out to do.

The first part of the trip down from the hut is not without adventure. The ladders down from the ridge to the snow field are long and cold and wet. The snow field itself is reasonably steep and is actually covering an ice field, a fact greg discovers by hitting the ice and sliding a good 10-15m before managing to stop the slide (now that's a good way to raise the pulse while heading downhill!). Once down in the rocks we follow the marked path through the cloud and occasional rain down, down, down. There's not much to see until we're under the clouds, after which we have a nice view across and down the valley. Once on the valley floor we follow the path and then the road into Arolla where we grab a coffee/hot chocolate and then the noon bus for the long, long trip back to Basel.

The track:
Day 1: 9.3km, 1670m up, 19m down.
Day 2: ~10.5km, 520m up, 660m down.
Day 3: ~9.6km, 1340m down, 67m up.

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