Grand Chavalard, Grande Dent de Morcles and more

Published by Stijn , 20 July 2017, 20h46.

Region: World » Switzerland » Valais » Unterwallis
Date of the hike:15 July 2017
Hiking grading: T5 - Challenging High-level Alpine hike
Climbing grading: II (UIAA Grading System)
Geo-Tags: CH-VS   CH-VD 
Time: 2 days
Height gain: 2150 m 7052 ft.
Height loss: 2550 m 8364 ft.

Day 1
L'Erié - Grand Chavalard - Six du Doe - Cabane du Fenestral
T5 and I, 1200m ascent, 650m descent, 5h15

On weekends in summer, Fully Tourisme organises a shuttle service between the village of Fully and the parking at L'Erié at ca. 1880m. When I call on Friday morning to book the 10am shuttle on Saturday, I'm told that at least two passengers are required, or the bus is cancelled. I decide to travel to Fully nevertheless. If the bus doesn't run, then I'll try to hitch-hike. I call again on Saturday morning and to my pleasant surprise, I'm told that I can take the shuttle bus after all. It turns out that I'm the still only passenger, but for some reason they have made an exception for me. Even the fact that I'm 10 minutes late due to a broken down train, does not matter. The driver picks me up directly from Postauto stop. All of that for just 10 CHF! Nice to see that sometimes, service still comes before financial gains.

From L'Erié, I follow the popular hiking path that traverses in a slightly ascending line towards the lakes of Fully. The path is wide and comfortable (T2). You can't really call it exposed, but the stunning views directly down into the Rhone valley, 1600m lower, might still make a few people feel dizzy. At ca. 2120m, I turn right onto the white-blue-white hiking path towards the Grand Chavalard (signpost, but strangely no sign pointing in this direction). The path climbs steeply with innumerable zigzags, first trough a couloir, then through (quite literally!) a barricade of snow fences (T3-T4). Reaching the Grand Chavalard south ridge at ca. 2550m, the steepness subsides and the path takes a more direct line to the summit, which however is still quite some distance away. The popular summit features a large weather station and a comparatively whimsical summit cross.

Surprisingly, the direct connection from the Grand Chavalard to the Cabane du Fenestral has not been described on Hikr yet. The route is well-marked with blue paint, making it mostly easy to follow, also in descent. Heading north from the summit, there is a short, pleasant summit ridge, before the terrain steepens and the rock quality deteriorates (helmet!). This path is not going to win a beauty contest any time soon... After some delicate scrambling (T5), the route becomes quite flat for a while around P. 2841. Then the route heads west for a while, again through steeper terrain with rubbish loose rocks, though slightly easier than before. Descending through a chimney, I enjoy two scrambling moves on more solid rocks. Then, at ca. 2700m, the route turns towards the east, descending on a steep, unpleasant band of scree. A blue arrow seems to tell me to turn left, into a horribly steep scree gully. Looking back later, it would have been better to continue along the band a little longer before turning left. Now finally on easier terrain, I traverse with my ice axe across a small patch of snow to reach the Faux Col (marked as "Le Basse" on the Swisstopo maps). Without an ice axe, I could have descended an additional 30m to avoid the snow altogether, but on the horrible scree, this would have felt like a much bigger detour...

Traces through the scree diverge in different directions from the col. The most obvious trail descends to the west, towards the Sorniot-Fenestral hiking path. I'm interested in a Hikr first ascent of the Six du Doe, so instead I stay on the ridge, where blue markings soon reappear. Traversing on the south-western side of the Six du Doe, along the foot of the rock walls, the scree is at first not so bad as it looks. There even is a short gully with more solid rocks. I come across an abandoned military cavern - it won't be the last one on this hike. When reaching the western side of the Six du Doe summit crags, the scree comes back with a vengeance. Desperately swimming uphill through the scree, I'm relieved to find a short chimney with sort-of solid rock that gives me access to the Six du Doe summit ridge. (T5-) The summit ridge brings no further challenges, except that you have to pay attention to being able to find the same chimney on the way down.
It's not a big surprise that this was a first ascent on Hikr. Maybe in winter this peak might be more interesting, but in summer, I can't really recommend the Six du Doe.

The scree between Six du Doe and the Col de Fenestral is then slightly nicer on the descent, but you have to be careful not to throw down any stones onto the hiking path below. The Cabane du Fenestral (operated by the local ski club) was completely renovated in 2015. The new dining room has large windows (Cabane de Moiry-style) that provide magnificent views over the Mont Blanc massif. In spite of the modern building, the comforts of the hut are somewhat limited by the lack of running water. The team is friendly and there are surprisingly many families with young children staying in the hut. The prices are a bit cheaper that in the average SAC hut. Unfortunately the dinner portions are also rather small...

Day 2
Cabane du Fenestral - Tita Sèri - Tête Noire - Grand Dent de Morcles - Grande Vire - Col des Perris Blancs - Cabane de la Tourche - Croix de Javerne - Les Martinaux
T5 and II, 950m ascent, 1900m descent, 6h45

From the Cabane du Fenestral, I briefly follow the white-blue-white Grand Dent de Morcles hiking path. After passing some rocky outcrops, the path turns away from the Fenestral - Tita Sèri ridge. I leave the path and rejoin the ridge. Surprise, surprise: more horrible scree under my feet! Between ca. 2600m and 2650m, the slope is particularly steep and uncomfortable (my line T5, easier alternatives might be possible). Traces of a path reappear as I get close to the Tita Sèri. This impressive peak is approached by walking up some nice limestone plates (easier than it looks, at least in the dry). At the north-eastern edge of the plates, a clearly visible path with some cairns leads to the summit, over (you guessed it...) horribly steep scree, with quite some exposure as well here. The scree just above the plates is the worst, higher up things get slightly easier (T5). The two beautiful summit cairns are connected by a short, very exposed ridge (II). Very careful on the way down: this is not a scree slope that you want to run down without having full control! A hiking pole or even an ice axe can be useful.
The Tita Sèri is clearly more worthwhile than the Six du Doe, but still only for people who are not easily put off by scree...

Back at the foot of the Tita Sèri, I find the vague path that traverses below its south-west face (T4). The ridge towards the Tête Noire is not particularly steep, but the terrain is quite erratic. Twice I hit a dead end and have to make a small detour. The Tête Noire summit is an abominable junkyard of rocks. Rarely have I seen an uglier summit.

The ridge between the Tête Noire and the Grande Dent de Morcles drops off vertically to the north (down to the Glacier de Martinets), while the terrain on the south side is relatively gentle (T4, often easier, careful about the big chasms in the rock!). Halfway along the ridge, I stumble upon a group of 15 alpine ibex, who are not very bothered by my presence and let me approach to a distance of about 20m. I take plenty of photos and generally enjoy the presence of these magnificent creatures, before continuing onto the Grande Dent de Morcles. When coming from the east, you can pick pretty much any route to the summit; the terrain is actually easier here compared to the normal (white-blue-white) route. The summit has a spectacular panorama and some stunning views of Lake Geneva behind the peak of the Petite Dent de Morcles.

*BaumannEdu's extention to the Grande Vire sounds tempting, but this would require me to scramble down the rather demanding south ridge of the Grand Dent de Morcles, without knowing exactly where I have to leave the ridge and start the traverse. Instead, I take the easier option: reaching the Grande Vire via the Vire Superieure and the Nant Rouge couloir. I follow the normal route (marked white-blue-white as well as with yellow dots) down to the saddle at ca. 2830m. Just before the saddle, there are two bits of steep scrambling (T5- and II, with a yellow dot on every single hold). From the saddle, I traverse onto the Vire Superieure (T4, path visible on the 1:10.000 Swisstopo maps), past two abandoned military caverns, reaching the Nant Rouge couloir at the crossroads of two different paths. Continuing the traverse of the Vire Superieure leads to the Petite Dent de Morcles, going up is the direttissima to the Grande Dente de Morcles (through a couloir with Klemmblock), but I go down through the couloir towards the Grande Vire. See for many details and excellent photos of the different routes here. The path through the scree couloir (T4, blue markings) is about as good as can be expected in this sort of terrain (helmet!) and there are a couple of truly spectacular sections.

At ca. 2610m (some red paint markings) the descent is over and the traverse of the Grande Vire (mostly T3) starts. At P. 2628, there's another former military cavern. This one is open and can be used as an emergency shelter, or even for a frugal overnight stay. The main path soon starts to descent towards Rionda. I on the other hand descend only to ca. 2570m, where (indicated by a red arrow and the word "Vire" on a rock next to the path) the continuation of the Grande Vire towards the Col des Martinets starts (T4). This part of the Grande Vire is less frequently used, but very worthwhile and actually more spectacular than the central part of the Grande Vire. There's another military cavern just before reaching the official hiking paths at the Col des Martinets.

The hut of La Tourche can now be reached via the white-blue-white hiking path to Rionda, or along the white-red-white path via the Pointe des Martinets. I choose the latter option, which looks more interesting. The Pointe des Martinets has three more abandoned military caverns in the rocks just below the summit. The actual summit can be reached by scrambling up next to the caverns, or on much easier terrain from the north-east. There's one last abandoned military cavern below the Col des Perris Blancs. Then I get one last dose of scree as I descend along the Vire aux Boeufs (T3, unfortunately much less interesting than the Grande Vire) towards the SAC hut of La Tourche. A beautiful terrace, artisan beer, and Rösti with Trockenfleisch. Life is good.

I make one final detour to the Croix de Javerne (T2), which will probably not feature prominently in the mountaineering literature any time soon, but it's a nice grassy ridge and worthwhile viewpoint nevertheless. I reach the car park at Les Martinaux, walk past the "buvette" and along the road to Morcles for another 20 minutes before I manage to hitch a ride down to St-Maurice.

Hike partners: Stijn

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