Long, beautiful and easy hike to the furthermost point of the Val de Bagnes. From the Mauvoisin Dam, one of the highest dams in the world, the trail goes along Mauvoisin Lake with its turquoise waters, passes through the tunnel dug in the rock and reappears on the green meadows before reaching the pretty Chanrion hut.
The idea of this hike came only a few days before the weekend. With no time for planning, we decide on an easy hike. Having walked around the Grande Dixence Dam with overnight at the the Dix hut, why not to try its little brother, the Mauvoisin Dam?
Hike from the Mauvoisin Dam to the Chanrion Hut
We opt for an easy trail to reach the Chanrion hut. Running along the lake on its lower part, it goes through the Pierre à Vire, the Ecuries de la Lia and the Pont du Lancet.
Having parked the car, we follow a small concrete road leading to the imposing Mauvoisin Dam located at 1’976m. 250 metres high, it’s the second highest arch dam in Switzerland and one of the highest dams in the world. Built in 1958, it provides electricity to the entire valley, the isolated region of French-speaking part of Switzerland.
At the dam with a breathtaking view of the Val de Bagnes, the bright blue-green coloured Mauvoisin Lake and the waterfalls, we take the trail along the lake. Five kilometres long, Mauvoisin Lake is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in Switzerland. The lake is connected with hydrostations as far away as the Rhône valley through a network of tunnels dug deep in the rock. If the lake as we know it today is artificially made, in the past it was formed by a natural disaster – the ice fall of the Giétroz Glacier, which has made more than 40 victims in 1818.
We must cross the tunnel dug in the rock. The people of Valais are experts in piercing tunnels, the true rock diggers. Inside the tunnel, it’s dank and dark despite occasional openings. The drips of water echo off the rocky walls, and tiny water streams trickle past our feet. Following the wide and flat road flanked by the rocks we come across a torrent flowing into the lake with the deafening roar.
Exiting the tunnels and regaining the daylight, we marvel the contrast between the turquoise lake, the electric green grass, and the snow-capped peaks. It’s a wild nature.
We leave the road running along the lake and embark on a path leading to the Val de Bagnes Nature Reserve. The wooden bridges help us cross the water streams and the waterfalls. We take the trail going through the meadows covered in alpine flowers. While the chamois and ibex are very discrete today, the marmots whistle and race in the green pastures. They are very close but very fast. Impossible to take a picture of them. We finally arrive at the Chanrion Hut located deep in the Val de Bagnes.
The Chanrion Hut
The Chanrion hut, located at 2,462m in the wild and unspoilt Grand Combin mountain range, is a pretty refuge made of stone. Built in 1890 by the Club Alpin Suisse (CAS) Geneva section, and refitted and enlarged later on, the hut is a popular stop-off point on the famous Haute Route Chamonix-Zermatt and the Tour des Combins. With its extensive view of Mount Gelé and the Grand Combin, and its proximity to the Italian border, the Chanrion hut was used as an observation point during the First World War.
Here, it’s wild and serene. Surrounded by a deep silence reigning in altitude, I am taking in the peace and tranquillity of this unspoilt wilderness. A small blue-green mountain lake contrasts with the green meadows, where the marmots come out from their burrows. Standing still on their hind legs, they keep an eye on the hikers. I think they might have used to them.
Return by the Tsofeiret Pass
In the morning I drink my coffee taking in the immensity of the mountains and dreaming of the future hikes.
For the return, we opt for a small challenge and decide to take the trail going through the Tsofeiret Pass. The sky is grey, and we catch a few drops of rain. But soon the weather changes. The sun returns.
If at the start we walk among green pastures, soon the scenery changes dramatically. The trail becomes increasingly rocky, however, well marked. The flowering meadows give way to ice and rock as we walk on the moraine. A small wooden bridge comes handy to cross the glacial torrent. But the hardest part is yet to come.
We begin a rather tough climb to the Tsofeiret Pass. Its exposed parts are equipped with metal stairs and chains. We advance rather fast hoping each time it’s the last challenge. But there are still more obstacles making us question if we haven’t inadvertently taken an alpine trail.
We reach the Tsofeiret Pass located at 2’628m with its extensive views over the valley and the snowy peaks, Tsofeiret and Mauvoisin lakes, the Grand Combin and the Pleureur in the background.
After a gentle descent through the Ecuries du Giétroz towards Mauvoisin Lake, the trail soon disappears into an opening in the mountain and continues for half a kiometer through a tunnel used by workers during the construction of the Mauvoisin Dam. The air is humid and surprisingly freezing to the point that the path becomes icy in places. The tunnel is partially lit, but we are glad to have the headlamps with us.
We end up the day with a fondue and a bottle of wine at the restaurant of Hôtel de Mauvoisin strategically located near the dam.
Access: The Chanrion hut is located in the Val de Bagnes in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. If you come by car, from Martigny take the road to Sembrancher and follow Le Châble and Fionnay to the Mauvoisin Dam. If you use public transport, you will find schedules and prices on the SBB/CFF website.
Hiking Time: There are 3 ways to reach the Chanrion hut:
- Mauvoisin Dam (left bank) – Pont du Lancet (via Pierre à Vire and Ecuries de la Lia) – Chanrion hut. Duration: 3h30-4h30.
- Mauvoisin Dam (left bank) – Pierre à Vire – Ecuries de la Lia – Tsessette (trail passing by the moraine of the Tsessette Glacier) – Pont du Lancet – Chanrion hut. Duration: 4h-5h.
- A little more difficult alternative: Mauvoisin Dam (right bank) – Ecuries du Giétroz –Tsofeiret Pass (2’628 m) – Chanrion hut. Duration: 3h-4h.
Difficultye: The hike isn’t difficult: T2 (medium difficulty, mountain hiking). You will find the information on the website of the Verbier Tourist Office, and the hiking map here and map of Val de Bagnes on Suisse Mobile.
Accommodation: The Chanrion hut (in French only) located at 2’462 m at the end of the Val de Bagnes.
The hut is guarded from mid-March to mid-May (winter season) and from mid-June to mid-September (summer season). It offers half-board (evening meal, overnight stay, breakfast). Reservations required. Accommodation in dormitories with mattresses, pillows and blankets. For hygienic reasons, all visitors are required to bring a light sleeping bag. The hut has no drinking water as the lake water has been declared non-potable due to the presence of cattle in the pastures. But water bottles are available for sale in the hut. The Chanrion hut is part of the Swiss Alpine Club (CAS) offering discounts to its members.
Additional information: There are several hiking possibilities from the Chanrion hut:
- Chanrion hut – FXB Panossière hut: 7h
- Chanrion hut – Vignettes hut: 5h30
- Chanrion hut – Champillon hut in Italy: 7h30
The Chanrion hut lies on way of several tours:
- Tour des Combins (6 days around the Combins massif).
- Tour des Grands Barrages, which connects the large dams of Valais and Italy (Grande Dixence, Cleuson, Mauvoisin and Place Moulin) – from 7 to 9 days.
- Val de Bagnes Tour – 7 days.
- Haute Route Chamonix-Zermatt in summer – 7 days.
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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.