Today was a big day. The biggest climb, the biggest descent, the biggest peak of the High Route with the biggest view. And then, at the end of it, a very big decision.
The fifth day started in perfect conditions with a very long climb up the Glacier Cheilon. By the shoulder before the summit of Pigne d'Arolla, I felt that I had finally mastered the art of the kick turn and switchback. Some groups roped up for the last bit, but we just used ski crampons for a very steep icy section and tried to block out the idea of consequences in any event of a fall. At the top we were hit by the full gale force of the foehn which had sprung up as the harbinger of a significant change in weather. Luc thought the change was imminent and so after marvelling at the view from the top and getting some group Wiggles shots in, we then pushed off for the descent to the famous Vignettes refuge for lunch.
We had originally hoped to stay here but it was booked out. Now it was all but empty as people had cancelled tours in anticipation of the bad weather. We had 2 choices - sit out the storm in this very amazing hut, or descend to Arolla and wait it out there in comfort.
Only half of those who embark upon the High Route will complete it, and we were so close to the final ski decent to Zermatt down the Stockli Glacier. We had already weathered some significant storms, however Luc had talked all of them down - until this: this was a biggy. And as well as covering over a lot of nasty crevasses, skiing down under the Matterhorn in a whiteout seemed a little pointless.
Over lunch we debated various scenarios whilst gazing over the amazing vistas of high alps and in the end decided to descend. It was the right decision, not only for the awesome powder fields on the way down, but for the incredible "refuge" awaiting us.
Day 5: A big climbing day up the Glacier de Cheilon to the highest point of the High Route, the Pigne d’Arolla at 3800m, and the most amazing views of nearly every 4000m+ peak in the Alps, including the Eiger and Matterhorn. We skied gingerly down through a field of crevasses to the incredible Vignettes hut for lunch and where a decision had to be made concerning the approaching severe weather. We then continued an incredible descent all the way to Arolla (2000m).