This is how I spent a weekend of my dreams. Up in the mountains, learning new things and smiling a lot. This time, a few weeks back, we went to Valais region and in there Cabane des Dix, after friend’s suggestion; hiking over one a bit scary ridge and one very scary glacier (my first ever glacier crossing) and spending the night in a Swiss Alpine Club’s cabin, or hut (hütte) as they call them in here. May, in general, isn’t the best month for mountaineering, and this trip also proved to be challenging, with unstable snow and rock and mud slides, and typical glacier with its crevasses. But nothing worth having comes easy and this experience, if something, was worth to get.
It’s hard to describe the feeling when you are standing on a glacier, on the whitest of snow with a hint of glacial turquoise. When you move ahead slowly, tied to each other by a rope, and trusting each other. And end the day in the primitive cabin with only the essentials for survival; fireplace, some cups and mugs and blankets and each others company.
NIGHT IN CABANE DES DIX
On Saturday midday we started our hike above Airolo, reaching the Cabane Des Dix by the evening, not extremely happy with the snow conditions on our way (would have been better with skis), but luckily only the next day we learned how it could have been even worse already in the beginning. The sun and I guess climate change too, does its job very well this time of the year, and when the temperatures don’t descend low enough at nights, the soft and wet snow doesn’t make your mountaineering efforts easy. Nevertheless, we reached our destination that day and my first ever night at SAC hut’s winter room was more that pleasant. There was wood for fire and tea and dinner, and there were the funny and smart people to share the stories and the experience (and bottle of wine) with. It wasn’t a five-star hotel, but it was a five-star experience.
Later on, I learned that the hut belongs to a variation of the Haute Route and now I just wonder on which winter I’ll finally make that dream come true… Some winter surely, as this little taste of it proved to be one if the best trips I’ve done. There are no words to describe the beauty of the mountains like Mont Blanc de Cheilon with its turquoise glaciers and majestic faces. Not to mention the peace and the huge landscape which makes one so aware of one’s real place in the world. And the primitive, yet cosy hut, which once again taught a lesson of how little one needs to be happy.
LESSON IN RISK AND FEAR MANAGEMENT
During this trip, I also said I’ve never been that scared in my life,
climbing tumbling my way up and down the unstable rocky slopes, while loose stones were falling nearby and big avalanches raced down the steeper slopes. Nevertheless, I remember being ok (kind of, the feeling isn’t so easy to describe) with the fear, using it as a stepping stone and way to keep my mind organised. I managed to be concentrated on the most important tasks and more than else trusted myself and the others, rather than letting the fear to paralyse me, or setting myself on panic mode, when something unexpected happened.
On this trip, I also learned that I do hold some important knowledge of the snow and especially how it behaves, how it sounds and what the various sounds mean. While my friend might be more experienced and trained in climbing and rope techniques and how to save himself from a crevasse, I now know that I happen to know more of what some of the sounds of the snow mean. In Switzerland, yhe mountains have finally taught me to be grateful for the lessons childhood in the north have taught me, most of them while doing something I fondly enjoy doing.
You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.
© René Daumal
HOW TO DO A HUT TRIP IN THE SWISS ALPS
Interested in a trip like this but not quite sure how to do it? Let me give you an introduction in here and if needed, just drop me a comment or mail and I’ll follow-up with more detailed guiding.
Finding a hut
: Simply, you just have to put one foot on the front of the other. Repeat enough many times and you’re there. No, but really, there are various ways to do a trip like this. First of all, you may do like I
do did, and go with friends who have more experience and know their huts; adding some more extra by looking at maps and googling the interesting looking SAC huts around the country. Then you just back your pack(s) and start walking/skiing/biking/whatever style you prefer for moving forward.
Second, you can always contact local tourism office in your main destination (or home region) or company offering mountaineering trips, courses and guiding services, or similar. This’s an especially good option if and when you have not enough previous knowledge of mountains. And even if you do, local knowledge is always recommended. This time we were with my friend who has done an alpinism course in the area and stayed in the hut previously, so he was kind of our pro bono guide this weekend. Thank you, M!
That said, I would always recommend the second option first. The services are more than worth the money and more than else it’s important to do all the necessary things to return home safe in the evening, or the next day. And smile, oh boy, remember to smile! We live on an amazing planet and when you get to a place like this, you just have to smile. And most of the time, luckily, it comes naturally, in a place like this and when you know what you are (capable of) doing
Most, if not all, of the huts are officially open during the summer season and most of them even at winter for ski touring. Nevertheless, it’s always good to check what are the seasons and opening hours, and you should also either call them or make an online reservation, if possible, for a spot. Most of the huts have so-called winter rooms for adventurers looking for (a safe) place to sleep in, even in the off-season, but extra attention should be given to the firewood – some have, but most doesn’t, wood for warming up the hut during the off-season.
Eat and drink
During the official seasons, mostly summer and spring ski touring, most of the huts offers food, breakfast, lunch and dinner for reasonable prices. In the winter rooms, you may also cook your own meals, but again check first what kind of utilities and utensils there is available (most of this can be found on the internet these days) and bring your own, if and when needed.
Most of the huts require some physical
work exercise to be reached; multi-hour hike, skiing or climbing. You don’t need to be a superwoman or superman, but being physically “fit” does make everything more enjoyable. In Switzerland, I’ve been thinking all the hours spent running and cross-country skiing, swimming and biking, as a teenager. I don’t know if I knew already then where I’d enjoy the results and the well-built endurance base best (few times the motivation was really hard to find), but I do know I enjoy my trips way better because of those hours back in the days. I can go further, I can go higher and I don’t get tired so easily; I can also stand some degree of additional pain and take the extra step because my body knows what it is capable of doing, and what not.
So yes, it’s not the toughest sport this hut touring, but it’s not super easy either. It does require some physical preconditions which you aren’t gaining on your sofa watching Netflix. Though that’s more than recommended after the hut tour; add some beer and popcorn and chilly lake or river for tired muscles (or even better: sauna) and you recover like
PS. Only later I realised I was so close to Verbier, where I did another kind of cabing trip. Mountains with their neverending possibilities and various realities simply are the best.
Cabin: Cabane Des Dix
SAC: Swiss Alpine Club
Other cabins in Switzerland: Alpine Huts in Switzerland
Photos of me (edit by me): © Maarten Camerlynck