Aiguilles Rouges Traverse

~ Thursday 26th May 2016

Next in the mini-series of Valais Ridge route-blogs comes the Aiguilles Rouges d'Arolla traverse. The striking, multiple summits of the Aiguilles Rouges stand out for miles around, and traversing the crest is something of a "Valais classic". It features in several coffee-table guidebooks, but a few years ago I couldn't find anyone who'd actually done it. This is classic Alpine climbing, a long day, and you're unlikely to meet anyone else up there. It can be climbed on our Grandes Courses or Performance Alpinism courses or as part of a Private Guiding package.

We stayed at the Aiguilles Rouges hut (With renovation imminent, this is one of the last great Alpine hut toilets, and quite an experience!) From there it's a short glacial approach to the ridge. Short, but this is "real" glacier, so you'll need crampons and crevasse rescue kit. The seracs mentioned in the AC guide are long gone though.

Steep snow leads up to the col, where the "fun" begins. Turn left and follow the ridge! The crest is steeper but more solid. An easy traverse out left is tempting but means crossing some very loose ground to regain the ridge. After that, some pleasant scrambling leads quickly to the first summit (3593m).

Next, descend good rock into the broad gap between the 2 summits. The AC guide mentions climbing a "gully" right of the ridge to gain the main summit - the obvious snowy line in the next picture. As mentioned elsewhere, the Valais isn't know for superb rock. There are exceptions...but this isn't one of them. The area around the gully is definitely type 2 rock.

After some character-building ground, the main summit arrives with fine views of the higher peaks - and the remaining ridge. It's not over yet!

From here, the AC guide was at best vague. There are a lot of pinnacles on the Cret de Coq - go over or round them following your nose, mostly on the less steep left (East) side. The rock is better (mostly) and there's some good climbing on fine red rock in great positions with a huge drop down to the Dixence dam focussing the mind!

This section does go on a bit. We lost count of pinnacles and gave up reading the guidebook, but the climbing is excellent and enjoyable.

We didn't make any abseils, down-climbing the south sides of each pinnacle.

Some time later we reached Col Slingsby. This is a classic steep ski descent down into the Vallon des Ignes, but the summer route carries on along the ridge before dropping onto the right flank above the Dixence dam. The AC describes this as "loose" and isn't exaggerating. Strangely the crest seemed even looser so persevering down easy rubble is the best option. In 2013 there were few signs of a path down here.

A col around 3264m is the end of the tricky stuff, and easy snow slopes make for a welcome, quick descent westwards into the Val des Ignes. Looking back, it's clear why this route takes time - the complex skyline is seen in profile - count the pinnacles!

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