Panoramic loop from the charming Swiss village of Arolla up to a beautiful high mountain refuge through spectacular alpine scenery and down to the piercing blue waters of Lac Bleu and back via a geological trail.
Hike to the Aiguilles Rouges hut
Stepping out of the rocky and barren moonlike landscape, I stare at the crystal clear turquoise blue mountain lake with jagged, snow-capped mountain peaks reflecting in its water. I take a deep breath, wipe the sweat from my brow and I can’t resist whip out my camera. We are deep in the Val d’Hérens, a picturesque valley in the Swiss countryside.
Driving past the town of Sion in the direction of Évolène, bizarre-looking rock formations appear in the distance. They sit at the entrance to the small village of Euseigne, which gave its name to this special natural phenomenon formed by the erosion, the Pyramids of Euseigne. We drive right through a small tunnel dug under these earthy sculptures.
The trail begins in the small high-altitude village of Arolla, which takes its name from arolla, a tree growing in local forests, and also known as Swiss stone pine. A big name in the alpinist world, Arolla is a tiny hamlet tucked away in the valley. A quick coffee at one of the hotels, and off we go.
We start a gentle ascent via a rural asphalt road without any traffic, followed by the fragrant forest of arolla pines and larches, and verdant alpine pastures. After an encounter with a few hikers and a few marmots, we reach the Remointse de Pra Gra (2’480m), a hamlet suspended above the valley and offering a panoramic view of the Pigne d’Arolla (3’772m) and the Mount Collon. It’s a typical Swiss landscape as pictured on the postcards – green pastures with old wooden houses, black cows and white glaciers in the background.
Known as mayens in Switzerland, these rustic huts were used by farmers, who went up to the mountain pastures with their cows for the summer time so that the cows could graze on fresh grass, herbs and flowers. The black cows wearing cow bells with the embroidered strap around their necks are Hérens cows, a typical race for this valley. The quick tempered Hérens cows are known to fight with each other to establish a hierarchy in the herd. Loved and pampered, they are the pride of the local breeders, who organise every year a series of cow fights. Local and national television broadcasts the event like a football game.
Leaving the pea-green pastures of Remointse de Pra Gra, we enter a rocky, lunar-like landscape. If the glacier was a king just a few decades ago, now it’s no more than a rocky formation. The remnants of the glacier are only found on the higher grounds.
You can make a detour to the Tête du Tronc (about 20 min round trip), where you have the aerial views of the turquoise waters of the little Lac Bleu.
The path becomes narrower. The vegetation disappears as we climb giving way to small pebbles. We cross a torrent before starting our climb through the large rocks detached from the mountain. The signs painted in red in this labyrinth of rocks indicate the trail. While we don’t hesitate to use hands at places, a group of enthusiastic hikers rush past us like the ibex.
The hut is now visible. After a small passage, exposed and secured by chains, and some scree, a final climb brings us to the Aiguilles Rouges hut sitting on the rocky slopes.
Aiguilles Rouges Hut
We have impressed ourselves ascending to 2’810m metres and arriving well in advance for a dinner time. Up here, it’s still sunny and warm, and the wine enjoyed outside in this sublime setting left us with unforgettable memories.
The place is indeed splendid! The Aiguilles Rouges hut sits at the foot of a spectacular chain of peaks known as the Aiguilles Rouges d’Arolla. The stone-made high-altitude hut, built in 1948 and upgraded since then, is very charming, and the views across the valley are fantastic!
Hiking inevitably results in a raging appetite. When the sun disappears, we head inside for a dinner that we finish with Abricotine, a fruity eau-de-vie made from luscious apricots from Valais. Delicious but a tad rough around the edges.
Next morning, the restorative mountain air lessened the effects of Abricotine over-indulgence. It’s chilly but as soon as we start our descent it gets warmer and warmer. For the return, we take a different hiking trail making a loop circuit, which is more fun.
The descent to Lac Bleu is more demanding. The trail first climbs a little behind the hut for five minutes and then goes down through the Col des Crosayes. We follow the path marked in red through a stone valley, cross a torrent, which looks now more like a stream and begin a very steep descent via the pastures of the Remointse du Sex Blanc (2’417m). The path descends in large bends towards the bottom of the valley. We spot a few chamois. These wonderful creatures are less than thirty meters from us.
With its views of the snow-capped peaks, the descent is spectacular and not too steep. In places there are stones and steps of different heights. Errol’s knees and ankles don’t like it too much. The Lac Bleu now comes into our view. The path becomes steep and irregular. We further we advance, the narrower it becomes.
Further down, the trail leads directly to a small lake of an astonishingly blue colour, Lac Bleu, framed by arolla pines. I am struck by its emerald, crystal-clear waters. It looks surreal!
The Lac Bleu isn’t famed for its loneliness. At more than 2’000 meters of altitude and easily accessible from La Gouille, Lac Bleu is very popular with families. We find an idyllic spot for a picnic in front of the piercing blue waters, its vivid blue colour being given by algae and glacial clays. The water is so crystal-clear and the sun is so hot that Errol cannot resist a swim. But to say the water is cold would be an understatement. It’s freezing.
Now we have a choice. We can go down to La Gouille and from there take a bus to Arolla or go directly to Arolla. We opt for the latter.
We start a steep descent, cross a torrent and a bridge followed by a steep ascent before going into the forest. The second, steeper part is often referred to as difficult because of its passages equipped with small chains. In reality it’s not that difficult but if it rains, it will no doubt become slippery! We hear the whistle calls of marmots, and suddenly see a deer appearing behind the trees. He momentarily turns his antlered head our way, then vanishes.
As we approach Arolla, I recall the story of Thomas Cook, a British pioneer of organised travel, who brought the first tourists in Valais. Over 150 years later I realise that nothing has really changed. The magnificent Alps and pure air are still there. The only change is that the asphalt road has replaced the mule track, and I wear light hi-tec boots and thermal fleece instead of heavy crinoline dress and lace-up shoes. Same emotions. Same sense of wonder.
Access: The Aiguilles Rouges hut is located at 2,821m in the canton of Valais in Switzerland in Val d’Hérens. It’s accessible from the parking near the ski lift “Guitza” in the village of Arolla.
Hiking time: The hike from Arolla to the Aiguilles Rouges hut is 2h30. For the return, you can hike via Lac Bleu to Arolla (2h30-3h) or to La Gouille (1h30-2h), and from there take a bus to Arolla. Alternatively, you can reach Arolla from La Gouille by going along the river.
Difficulty: Easy hike despite its classification as T3 (demanding mountain hike), 12 km, 800m of elevation from Arolla to the Aguilles Rouges hut.
Accommodation: Aiguilles Rouges hut website. The Aiguilles Rouges hut is open all year round but guarded only from mid-March to mid-April and from late June to late September. Accommodation is in dormitories with mattresses, pillows and blankets provided. For hygienic reasons, all visitors are required to bring a light sleeping bag. The hut offers half-board. Reservations required.
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Written by ANYWAYINAWAY
Olga and Errol are the Swiss-Russian couple behind ANYWAYINAWAY. Passionate about unique culture and traditions, they decided to take career breaks and explore the world with the intention to expand awareness and provide new perspectives to the understanding of ethnic minority people, customs, traditions and culture. They also show the beauty of our planet and try to find something interesting in the ordinary.