Zinal to the Cabane du Grand Mountet – 2886m - Glaciers Galore

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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Zinal to the Cabane du Grand Mountet – 2886m - Glaciers Galore

Although part of the reason we had made our way back to the Val d'Anniviers was to put our feet up and rest our hiking legs for a few days whilst making use of the free buses, cable cars and swimming pool, the weather on Tuesday morning bought about a temporary postponement of the rest we had been looking forward to. Knowing that the chance of warm weather in the Swiss Alps was only going to get smaller as September wore on, clear skies and sunshine on Tuesday morning presented an opportunity we didn't want to miss. So, after a marvellous birthday celebration the previous day, which had included a shortish walk to the Cabane du Petit Mountet, Tuesday saw us back in our hiking boots and discovering an unexpectedly challenging yet magnificent hike even further up the Zinal Valley.

Whilst the Cabane du Petit Mountet (2142m) sits right at the tip of the glacial moraine left by the Glacier du Zinal and now several kilometres from the glacier itself, the Cabane du Grand Mountet is positioned right next to the glacial flow at 2886m, 1200m above our motorhome. Setting off southwards up the valley for the second day in a row, this time we used our bikes to cover the flattish valley floor to the point the path starts to climb more steeply. From here it was just another half an hour or so of retracing yesterdays route before we veered left to cross the river which thunders out of the Zinal valley and begin the challenging ascent to the hut.

Looking up the valley from the river it was very hard to make out a route at all. Although the glacier has retreated several kilometres from this point, the steep sides valley with hundreds of metres of scree on each side is then topped with near vertical rocky walls which level off just a little beneath the snow covered summits above. So although we could see a few switchbacks immediately ahead we couldn't make our where the path could sensibly lead that would make its way safely up the to the glacier itself. Oh well, things tend to look different close up so we might as well see where the path leads – we could always turn around if it was too much.

The climb was tough immediately, both steep and loose rocks underfoot making the going hard work. Ascending around 500m in the first hour in short switchbacks that had us sweating hard, before starting a long and undulating traverse of the cliff face on narrow paths. Ahead of us the massive summit of Dent Blanche with it's enormous snow cornice which turned into a near vertical glacier towered above us. At one point we heard a massive crack and rumble and looked up to see a huge mass of ice had broken off the glacier and was tumbling down to the river below.

After traversing for another hour and tiring on the ups and downs of the path the final ascent began on very steep bare rock paths with fixed lines hammered into the mountain for safety. Fortunately in such good weather we didn't need to use most of them, but they were reassuring as we climbed even further above the valley floor. Cresting the climb we picked our way across an enormous rockfall, with the path swinging round the mountainside to the left when suddenly the view opened to reveal a breathtaking panorama of glacial flows all merging before us.

We had set off that morning with no idea what we would be seeing on our walk and this view took our breath away – it was a real 'Wow!' moment. What we had thought of as the Glacier du Zinal, a few tumbling ice blocks visible from the town, was really just a tiny fraction of the icy bowl which we could now see. There were at least 4 different glacial flows sweeping down from the mountainside from 3 different sides to meet in the bowl before making their way down the valley and into the river.

From our rocky viewpoint at around 2850m we could clearly make out the corner beyond which we knew the hut was positioned, a relatively flat traverse of about 30 minutes further away. However, having set off quite late it was now 3pm and we decided that this was far enough for the day and that we'd rather use the time just to sit and enjoy the scene. Enjoying a bite to eat in the warm afternoon sun, we felt very proud of ourselves to have tackled such a tough ascent and reached this magical spot.

The descent was just as challenging as the ascent and as we picked our way carefully down the fixed line sections, plodded our weary legs back over the undulating traverse before the slippy final descent to the river our minds turned to dinner. Having not expected such a hard route we hadn't packed quite enough food and we were definitely running on empty by the time we reached our bikes by early evening.

However, the wonderful Liberte pass meant that we knew that free access to the swimming pool and a hot shower was just a short bike ride away, which more than motivated us to reach our motorhome. Grabbing a quick bite to eat we then dashed to the pool and dunked our weary limbs in the water, staring out of the enormous windows right over to the slopes we had tackled just a few hours before.

Walk Information:
Motorhome Base: Zinal
Transport Used: Bike to the head of the Valley (approx 3.5km)
Start / End Point: Zinal - Cabane du Grand Mountet - Zinal
Time It Took Us: 50mins to cycle and 6 hours hiking
Level: Challenging
Map: LS 1327 'Evolene' 1:25,000 (see below)

Related Articles:
More details of all our hikes in the Swiss Alps

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