With its imposing Grande Dixence dam and the lake of milky turquoise colour, curious marmots, splendid mountains, and a charming stone-made hut facing the glacier, it’s one of the most scenic hikes in Switzerland.
The Grande Dixence dam
The alarm is set at 6 am. We take a quick breakfast, pick up a friend, and off we go to the Grande Dixence dam in the canton of Valais.
Our hike starts at the bottom of the imposing Grande Dixence dam lying high up in the alpine valley of Val d’Hérens. From here, we take a lift as a 45 minutes hike along the concrete walls has not much interest.
On top, we discover a mass of artificially retained water forming the Lac des Dix. The 285m of concrete dominates the mountainous landscape. The dam is impressively gigantic, and it’s bigger than we have imagined. Fed by water from 35 glaciers and 5 pumping stations, the Grande Dixence Dam is the tallest gravity dam in the world and the tallest dam in Europe. The Franco-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard even devoted his first documentary, “Operation Concrete”, to the dam’s construction. But the Grande Dixence Dam is more than a concrete wall and a technical masterpiece.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, Switzerland saw the hydroelectric potential of Valais with its numerous glaciers. The epic construction of the dam began in 1951, and almost 15 years later, the dam started producing the electrical energy that represents 20% of all the energy stored in Switzerland.
Hike to the Dix hut
The first part of the walk goes along the Lac des Dix for about 5 km with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. The path is flat, wide and easy, and it feels strange to walk on almost a level surface.
With its milky turquoise colour, the lake is simply magnificent. Depending on the time of the year, the lake’s colour turns from turquoise to milky grey. The lake is still shallow at the start of the season, but later, the water almost reaches the top because of the melting glaciers.
We follow the path going through a series of galleries dug in the rock, dark, cool and humid. The larger tunnels are lit with light, but the others have just a bit of light coming through. Why do we never bring a flashlight with us? Openings in the galleries display a splendid view of the lake and the surrounding mountains.
After a series of tunnels, we take a wide flat path going to the lake’s end amid marmots chirping and running to hide in their holes. Strolling along the pastures covered with alpine flowers and even Edelweiss, we have to find our way through a herd of peacefully grazing Herens cows. Typical breed of this valley, Herens cows are known for their fighting spirit and the battles for the prestigious title “Queen of Queens” take every year in the valley.
We come across a waterfall that feeds the lake, and its roaring water resonates in the air. If in the beginning, the path climbs steeply up the grassy slopes, later on, it continues on a moraine.
We cross a small bridge, and from here, the trail starts to climb along Pas du Chat. The transition from the flat to the steep is brutal. The path is not very clear, the red paint is barely visible. The Matterhorn and the Dent Blanche appear behind the glaciers. Later, the path joins a small white-red-white marked trail. After crossing the Torrent de Cheilon, we walk on a small ridge with a steady climb to the summit near Tête Noire. We continue walking a little higher to the summit with a cross built on top. At the top, the panorama opens onto magnificent views of the Mont Blanc de Cheilon and the surrounding mountains.
The hut is finally visible! Almost too far as we start feeling the fatigue and cannot wait to arrive. The weather becomes stormy, and the rain is threatening. We arrive at the hut when the first drops start to fall.
The Dix hut
The beautiful mountain refuge lies on a rock with the best views you can have. The Dix hut is exactly as we like it! Built in stone, it blends into the landscape. Situated in front of the Cheilon Glacier at 2’928 m, its location is exceptional. Initially built in 1908 on a lower site, the old wooden hut was dismantled in 1928 and moved higher up on its current location. In 1936 the existing hut was rebuilt from stone and was expanded in 1978 to its current size.
The Dix hut is probably the biggest hut we have ever stayed in. Lying on the famous hiking road Haute Route Chamonix – Zermatt, it’s one of the three most visited huts in the country. But as always in Switzerland, the organisation is perfect, and everything works like a clock.
The warmth of the hut and a couple of schnaps are enough to bring back our energy. Shoes and clothes put on for drying on the window, we are ready for dinner. In the Swiss mountain huts, you don’t need to worry about cooking. You are offered soup, a hot meal and even a dessert. You can buy drinks, including wine, beer and eau-de-vie. The only reminder that we are in the middle of the mountains is the showers. If there are any, they are outside reserved for the brave-hearted.
In the evening, the conversation with our neighbours around our table is easy. We talk about our hikes in Switzerland and around the world. We finish the evening with plenty of ideas for the years to come …
In the morning, we could feel that our legs had worked hard the previous day. After breakfast, we stay for a while in the hut while the staff is busy cleaning and tidying up. It’s finally time to return. Conclusion? It’s a fantastic hike!
Access: The Dix Hut is located at 2’928 m in Val d’Hérens in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It’s accessible from 1) the Grande Dixence dam (easy hike) or 2) from the cute village of Arolla via Pas de Chèvres (difficult hike). You can take a guided tour of the Grande Dixence Dam (including a visit inside the dam) four times daily from mid-June until the end of September.
Hiking Time: 5h from the Grande Dixence Dam.
Difficulty: Easy hike: T2 (medium difficulty, mountain hiking), 10km, 800m of elevation from the base of the Grande Dixence dam or 570m from the lake.
Accommodation: The Dix hut website is guarded only in summer (end June – end September). Accommodation is dormitories with mattresses, pillows and blankets. For hygienic reasons, all visitors are required to bring a light sleeping bag. Showers are available outside. Reservations required – half-board (dinner, overnight stay, breakfast). The Dix hut belongs to the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), offering a discount to its members.
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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.