Saturday, 24 July 2010

Le Cabane de Moiry

Whilst travelling around Europe this year in the ‘van, (separately posted) we stopped for a few days in Grimentz in the Val d’Anniviers in the Swiss Alps. The morning of the 13th July, we rose early in order to pacify my desire to get some hill-time in while in the Alps. My (pregnant) partner wanted to come with me so we chose a quick jaunt up towards Le Lac de Moiry and we parked at the buvette at the foot of the Glacier de Moiry. There is a path that then ascends some 480m to the 2886m Cabane de Moiry. From the Cabane there would be, according to the somewhat basic watercolour cartoon map we had, with a rather comical eyeball symbol to denote the same, a panoramic view of the glacier as well as, among others, Grand Cornier (3964m), Dent Blanche (4356m) and Dent des Rosses (3613m). As it transpires, it is not easy walking, despite the fact that I had only a day pack on - the paths are well marked by yellow or red painted lines, slashes really, and obvious to the naked eye. This is a well-trodden route so the path is well used. What made it difficult was that it required some boulder-hopping in places and was extremely steep. In others, there was deep snow with the path tracked into the snow by earlier hikers as well as ropes tagged into the wall to aid balance (without which any ascent would’ve been impossible without Grade I-II scrambling). 

What really made the whole thing an interesting prospect for me was that I had not planned on any real hillwalking as my partner is both pregnant and not really interested in it. I packed some ‘just in case’ Craghoppers convertible pants (I never hike in them, they are for when we get back to base-camp), some of my old Brasher socks and some running stuff as well. Footwear - I like travelling in Innov-8 Terroc 330’s as they are light and dry quickly and I can walk all day in them, as well as my proper ASICS running shoes. I also keep a 10 litre Osprey Solo pack in the ‘van for mountain biking. Consequently, when I decided to do a bit of Alps hill-walking, I had
some kit in the ‘van. I packed some water, food, my running Gore windshirt, a camera and my Steiner binoculars (Christmas present, tiny and weigh only 220g). Zipping off the bottoms of the Craghoppers (it was quite warm, although, after the thunderstorm we’d had the night before, it was certainly cooler than the 90F we’d had previously), and pulling on a t-shirt and the Terroc’s, I set off. This would be the first time I’d done any real hillwalking in trail-running shoes so I was quite glad of the enforced opportunity. In fact, they were perfectly adequate. Strength in thighs and ankles is crucial but the lightness of foot permits agility that is more difficult in boots. I will seek to evaluate them again on more challenging terrain.

An icy dip beckoned...

The path to the Cabane de Moiry begins relatively benignly, with a comparatively steep climb on a well-trodden trail. The views of the mountains behind the Glacier, and the Glacier itself, are fantastic throughout, but truly, it is not until you reach the Cabane that they become magnificent. The proximity of the Cabane to the glacier confers a mien of genuine fulfillment despite what is a somewhat cursory ascent. However, before that, a traverse of long patches of snow and steep climbs are necessary as well as a couple of sections where chains and ropes are attached to the rock face to facilitate ascent. Following this steep, switchback’d climb, in the company of the League of Nations, there comes a rocky, bouldery summit ‘path’ reminiscent of the Lake District. In fact, much of the Alps, with the exception of the highest peaks above 3,500m, reminds me considerably of Cumbria, yet much bigger of course and, whereas the Lakes are mostly rock and grass, in the Alps there are few vistas, even in the summer, that are not dominated by prodigious, white-garbed massifs. 

The Cabane, visible from the buvette, but disappearing quickly after that, emerges unexpectedly upon cresting the bouldery rise at the top of the false summit - false because, only when you see the Cabane do you realise what lays beyond it - Dent Blanche and its lesser siblings gaze down upon you and, rather than deriding your achievement, invite more. It is a magical, speech-defying moment. There are benches at the Cabane, and I sat, and ate hungrily, whilst staring in wonder at the sierra beyond which felt scant metres away from me and the Glacier which felt close enough to touch.

Yes, this was only 480m or so of ascent and took perhaps 3hrs up and down, but it felt as if it really should have taken more for such a rich reward.


  1. A very rich reward and what amazing views. Great photos Maz and share more of them.

  2. I'm working on the Europe trip as a whole which will have a few more photos in...