Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla Traverse

~ Saturday 3rd August 2013

It's back to normal summer conditions in the Alps - hot and sweaty and a big change from the snowy mixed we found on Tuesday! With a stable forecast and a team who've done all the usual classics, we headed up to the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla traverse for guaranteed adventure. This is one of the (in)famous Arolla traverses - it's in the 100 best routes coffee table books but no-one I know seems to have done it, and a reputation for length, mystery and looseness adds to the intrigue. It's Gabbro though, so should be like the Cuillin? Only one way to find out...and so we found ourselves at the lovely Aiguilles Rouges hut.  Newly privatised and now run by a local association, this is a great place to spend the night. Great food, friendly welcome - all good except that we'd chosen Swiss national day which meant fireworks...then the 2 year old started crying...the snorer snored...the baby cried...and a tired team woke for 4am breakfast. 

Happily it's an easy approach to the route, with a great sunrise. Camera shake has recreated bleary 5am vision. 

At the col, turn left. Continue...the rock is poor but quickly improves and the North summit soon appears. Downclimbing on really good rock (phew) gains the next col from where you climb up to the Central summit. The rock is poor but quickly improves and the Central summit appears. Downclimbing on really good rock (phew) gains the next col from where...there are only 15 more gendarmes.

The rock is poor...

This is climbing what the AC guide optimistically call "slabs on the left of the couloir" on the way to the central summit. Nice. 

If using the Alpine Club guidebook you can throw it down the East face from here. If using the Swiss guide then chuck it either way - I'm sure it mixes up East and West at various points. We definitely saw the "hole" in the ridge between gendarmes 2 and 3, called a "tunnel" in the AC guide, and we avoided the terrifying Crete de Coq flake by a lower traverse, but little else in the description made sense as we followed our noses steadily South. This is a long ridge and there's lots of good, sustained climbing - mostly good rock too apart from some rubble around Gendarmes 2-4. Positions are amazing, with huge drops down the vertical East face. 

There are 2 bolt belays - looking slightly (no, very) out of place up here on long wild ridge. 1 for descending the North summit, 1 just above the "couloir" on the way up the central (guide says traverse out left, I climbed straight up to find the bolts) Both belays, of course, are next to good natural anchors. Just below the central summit is a single bolt. Really. Otherwise there is no fixed gear, so you'll be carrying a rack anyway.

Looking up the gendarmes - 1 other team just visible

the other team ahead of us - just beyond number 5. 

Number 6(?) Central summit in the background

Climbing to number 6(?) with the central summit behind. Great climbing on good rock. 

Descending number 10

Descent from south summit. The snow patch is col Slingsby

Nearing the end now, or so we thought. In a classic bit of guidebook writing the next hour is dismissed in 1 sentence! The south end of the ridge is rotten rock so the route instead winds down the West face (on rotten rock) Patience and careful route choice needed. 


15 gendarrmes. Count 'em.

So now we know. The Aiguilles Rouges traverse - brilliant adventure, definitely not Chamonix granite or Skye gabbro.

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