Information on Swiss Alpine Club huts is available at http://www.sac-cas.ch/en.html. To save buying too many maps, after selecting the hut, click on "online map and literature and then on XL topo to bring up a map of the area . You can move around it using arrows, and also by scrolling transfer from the 1:50,000 to the more detailed 1:25000. You can't print directly but I use "printscreen"and then Photoshop. Be aware though that the lines are Ski routes not Walking ones! Also a lot of the glaciers shown are now sadly gone
EDIT 2016 This facility is much more difficult now, as the amount of map you can view at one time has been greatly reduced
Map of the whole walk
I'd booked Steve for a week, but really I wasn't as fit as I should have been. We decided to start at the Chanrion hut as I hadn't been there before and other places we tried were full. The walk to the hut from the carpark just below the Mauvoisin dam is normally an easy 4 hours with only around 500m of ascent, but on this occasion a mudslide had blocked the road and we had to park just beyond Fionnay and walk another 3Km and climb another 300m. It was unbelievably hot and humid and carrying quite a big load I was knackered even by the time I reached the dam. We carried on to the hut in mist and drizzle.
Day 1 and 2 map
We'd thought about Mont Gele but I was still struggling so we settled for the easy Mont Avril - which meant I could travel light - no axe, crampons or harness. It just meant descending to the valley and following the path up to the Fenetre de Durand on the Italian border.
Mont Gele 3518m from the hut
Mont Avril 3346m from the hut
Combin de la Tsessette (part of the Grand Combin) from the hut
Looking up to the Fenetre de Durand 2797m
Looking NE from the Fenetre to the Ruinette with Mont Blanc du Cheilon behind and the Serpentine. The Point d'Otemma is in the foreground and The Grand Cournier peeping through behind .
Mont Avril is a hellish pile of reddish shale - a 550m slog from the col - but it does have superb views. Most of the skiing Haut Route options pass through the Chanrion. You climb from the Valsorey hut up the exposed slopes to the Plateau du Couloir at the foot of the SW face of the Grand Combin, traverse to the Col de Sonadon and descend the Glacier du Mont Durand. From the Chanrion you can get to the Vignette hut either by the rather dull glacier D'Otemma or by the more interesting Glacier de Brennay which takes you over the Serpentine and the Pigne D'Arolla
Views from Mont Avril
Mont Gele from Mont Avril. The horrendous looking ridge above the col is apparently better than it looks!
The Grand Combin: The Highest peak the Grafeneire 4362m is on the L and the Tsessette on the R wth the steep hanging glacier between. Further L still, the Col de Sonadon is somewhere up at the head of the Glacier du Mont Durand
In the foreground are the Grand Tete de By and the Col de By to its R , with Mont Velan - behind. The Grande Jorasses is in the far distance - almost directly above the Col
Looking up the two glaciers - The Brennay on the L the Otemma on the R. In the distance the Grand Cournier and the Dent Blanche and the Matterhorn - far R
Where the Otemma divides, the L branch (hidden) climbs to the Col de Chermontane and the Vignette hut: the R branch leads to the Col Collon from where you can descend to the Bouquetins hut. Mont Collon and L'Eveque are on the horizon above the divide and the peaks of Monte Rosa are R of the Matterhorn
Looking down the Italian side of the pass
The Grand Paradiso and Monte Grivola
We returned to the hut by the same route
Map of Day 3
The start of the Day 3 route
Looking back from the Col Rouge - the Col de Lira Rose is half way up - just left of centre
The route from the Chanrion to the Dix hut goes over three cols - the Col de Lira Rose, the Col Rouge and Col du Cheilon. This photo taken on the way down from Mt. Avril shows the route as far as the Col Rouge, and also the approach to the Chanrion from Mauvoisin. The Mountain in the centre is La Ruinette 3875m - the last Mountain that Whymper ascended before his ill fated ascent of the Matterhorn. In times gone by the traverse between the cols was across the Lira Rose glacier - sadly - like so many other routes it's now just a boulder field.
The Grand Combin from the col: The glacier de Mont Durand is R of Mt. Avril
Steve uncoiling the rope as we begin the glacier crossing
Looking across the glacier de Gietro to the Col de Cheilon and the Aiguilles Rouges - rocky peaks above Arolla
The crossing of the glacier is almost flat with no noticeable crevasses: from the Col du Cheilon we traveresed down and left across the soft and rapidly disappearing Glacier du Cheilon to reach the Dix hut - refurbished in the last few years and now with indoor loos! The rosti here makes an exceptionally good lunch.
Map of day 4
The walk from the Dix to to the Prafleuri is quite simple and I suppose we could have managed it all in one day from the Chanrion. We followed the path down to the Dix reservoir via a narrow defile called the "Pas du Chat" ( not actually much at all) and along the W side of it until at La Barma a path led off L and climbed to the Col des Roux ( 2804m), just above the Cabin de Prafleuri.
Looking down from above the "Pas du Chat"
Looking back to the "Pas du Chat" - with the Pigne D'Arolla and Mont Blanc du Cheilon behind
looking S from the path to the Col dex Roux
The Dix (muddy) Reservoir from the col - the Aiguille Rouge on the L
The New and old Cabins de Prafleuri (2624m)
The old cabin was and not much used, and seldom guardianed, but the new private cabin is very nice and I think gets much more custom
Day 5 map
From the hut we zig-zagged through the broken moraines which had a quarry like feel to them, climbed the easy Glacier de Prafleuri and after crossing a small bergschrund arrived at the summit of the Rosablanche (3336m).
From the summit looking SSW towards the Combin
Looking NW across the "Grand Desert" towards Mont Fort
From the top we descended mixed scree and snow slopes into a moraine filled hollow
In the moraines below the Rosablanche
And then a steep stream bed into a flat area above farm buildings at La Da with views across the Mauvoisin valley to the Combin outliers
The flat area of the valley above La Da
The Combin de Corbassiere and the Petit Combin
As we emerged from the valley at the farm buildings, the icy but rather elusive N face of the Grand Combin came briefly into view on the L
Just below here we crossed a tiny traversing path which led L towards the Mauvoisin Dam and R to the Lac de Louvie ( there is another private hut there - Cabin de Louvie - and it looks well worth a visit)
However, as our car was parked much nearer Fionnay, we continued steeply down on our little zig-zag path and while I spent some time photographing the flowers Steve shot on ahead, hitched a lift and came back with the car - Nice!
A last look up to the descent valley - much steeper than it looks
The whole of this trip is easly within the capability of a relatively inexperienced party - you don't need a guide - though Steve wouldn't like my saying that
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Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.