Dates: 11th-19th July 2020
Location: Arolla, Swiss Alps
This is an 8-day expedition to the Alps, including travel time to and from the UK. There will be 6 days of mountaineering based from the campsite in the small village of Arolla, which sits at 2000m in the Valais region of the Swiss Alps.
Arolla itself has remained relatively unchanged over the years of tourism development in Alpine regions. It is still a small rural community with people making a living mostly from livestock farming and tourism. There is a campsite, a couple of shops, a small hydroelectric power station, a few hotels, and very little else. The language spoken is French.
The mountains in this region are glaciated and reach heights of up to around 4000m. The highest peak in the area is the Dent Blanche at over 4000m, and the famous Matterhorn is only one valley away in Zermatt. We will aim to climb a couple of snowy peaks in the Arolla valley, starting with a training peak, and then, if the weather and conditions are good, climbing the Pigne D’Arolla which is about 3,800m. The mountaineering we do will not involve any transport as we can walk out and back from the campsite. We will be doing peaks that can be climbed using straightforward snow climbing and glacier walking skills, but will definitely involve a couple of early morning starts!
It is a great chance to experience Alpine mountain culture, environment and wildlife, and the time spent travelling to Switzerland, preparing for the mountain ascents and camping in the valley are equally valuable aspects to the trip as climbing peaks. The organisation of your travel by public transport, buying and cooking of food and organisation of equipment throughout the trip, and for mountain ascents, will be a team effort, with everyone being involved in the planning right from the start.
During the week you will either be camping in Arolla or staying in mountain huts. The campsite is a basic terraced field with washrooms and showers. You will be camping in 2 person tents and sharing with someone else. We will have a communal ‘mess’ tent for cooking and meeting. In the mountain huts, you will be sleeping in dormitory-style bedrooms. There are mattresses with blankets or sometimes duvets, but you will need to bring a sheet sleeping bag. The huts are run by a Guardian and their team, who will cook breakfast and dinner, sell you drinks and snacks and generally look after you. Toilets in many huts nowadays are indoors (thankfully) but some huts still have outside “long-drop” toilets! There are other unmanned huts called bivouac huts where you can also stay. These vary in the facilities they have, from next to nothing, to beds and cookers and pots and pans.
Travel day. Flight from Manchester or Liverpool to Geneva, followed by a train journey to Sion, then the postbus to Arolla. Arrive at the campsite and settle in to camp life with a meal and plans for the next day.
Warm up. A chance to relax and walk up the village for a few supplies and familiarise yourselves with the surroundings. Later we can walk up to the Tsa hut (1-2-hours) and back for a little exercise and maybe do a little single pitch rock climbing in the valley, before sorting gear for the next day and cooking a meal in the campsite.
Up early to make breakfast and pack our rucksacks ready for an overnight trip to a mountain hut. We leave the campsite at around 9.30 am and make a 3 -4 hour walk from the campsite to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges. We will walk slowly, enjoying the mountains, and looking out for wildlife on the way, and taking it easy as we carry all our equipment and ourselves to higher altitude. We spend the afternoon relaxing at the hut and enjoying the scenery and chatting to Bernard, the hut warden, who will cook our dinner and breakfast. After an early evening meal we will be packing our bags for the morning and bedding down early in the dormitory ready for a very early morning start the next day.
After a 5am breakfast we will leave the hut soon after and begin our ascent of the Pointe de Vuoasson. The route starts with a walk on glacial moraines for around 2 hours before you reach the glacier itself. Here we will put on crampons and rope up for the last 1-2 hours to the summit across the glacier snowfields. The summit is a small rocky point with a fantastic view of many of the high Alpine mountains from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. Return is via the same route, and after a short rest and some lunch at the hut, we head back down to the valley and our campsite.
We’ll have a relaxed start, after our long day yesterday, and head up the valley to the small Bouquetins bivouac hut. This is an unmanned hut, so we will have to carry our own food with us, and maybe even melt snow for cooking. It’s in a spectacular spot at the head of the Glacier d’Arolla, surrounded by high Alpine scenery.
We leave the hut early and head up the glacier towards the Col de L’Eveque. From here we can summit the Pointe D’Oren, before continuing over the glacier to the Cabane des Vignettes, which is perched on a rocky outcrop high above the valley. We will try and arrive before the heat of the day softens the snow on the glacier that we will cross on the way. The hut is in a really spectacular place surrounded by high Alpine peaks. The hut is run by Jean Michel and his team, and they even cook bacon and eggs for breakfast!
Today we will tackle Pigne d’Arolla (3,796m) – leaving the hut in the dark, by torchlight and watching the sunrise as we climb higher up the snow. The slopes are broad and snowy. The ascent of the peak will take around 3 hours from the hut. The views are magnificent. After a short stop on the summit we will retrace our steps back to the hut to pick up our overnight gear and then descend to the valley, arriving in the middle of the afternoon. Once in the valley, after a rest and showers, we can start some of the packing and head into the village for a celebratory meal in the evening.
We are up early to take down the tents and pack away all the gear for the journey home. We plan to leave Arolla by midday to catch an early evening flight back to the UK.
How do I apply?
In order to apply you need to fill in the application form and be proposed by a sports coach or teacher from your school. The proposer should be someone who knows you well and would be able to support your application and vouch for your interest in outdoor sports and mountains. They will need to fill in a separate confidential proposal form for you. If you are worried about finding a proposer or finding the money to pay for the personal contribution, please fill in the form anyway and explain your situation and we will try and help. Applications will then be reviewed by a committee of Guides and representatives from supporting organisations.
We anticipate that many people will apply to the program, and there are only a small number of places available. Sadly, this means that some of you who apply, and have really good applications, may not get to go in the end, but please understand that even though we’d like to take lots of people, at this trial stage the course can only be run for a very small group.
Application deadline: Sunday 1st March.