August 26 – Mt. Rogneux/Grand Combin hike (16 km, 10 miles)

August 26 Route Map

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The mountain hut at Col de Mille. The horse in front of the hut is the primary means of supply. ^

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We got up at 7:00 this morning to a clear blue sky and had breakfast with a German tourist who was on a hut-to-hut hiking tour. We had the typical European continental breakfast – bread, cheese, jam, sliced meat, and tea – not a lot by over-sized American standards, but still enough to fill us up without being too much.

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View of the east side of the Mont Blanc massif. Chamonix, France is in the valley directly behind the mountains. This is a six-frame composite panorama. I didn't have a tripod to make sure each hand-held shot was perfectly in line with the others, hence the black areas along the edges. Click for a really large version. ^

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The German tourist was going the same direction we were, so all four of us hiked together to the rocky, snow-free summit of Mt. Rogneux at 10,144 feet. Being from Alaska as I am, it was strange to be at such an altitude and not have any snow or ice to contend with. In Alaska, climbing a 10,000 foot peak is not a simple walk-up but rather entails quite a bit of glacier travel and mountaineering work. But even though there was a trail right to the summit of Mt. Rogneux, it was still a great hike. From the summit, we could see Mont Blanc to the west in France, and to the east was the Matterhorn. All around were the glaciated summits of the Swiss Alps, including the 14,154 foot high Grand Combin. Spectacular!

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View east across the Alps. The pointy peak in the background is the Matterhorn.

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Looking north from the summit of Mt. Rogneux. Le Chable and other villages are in the valley bottom. The ski resort of Verbier is up above, and the Rhone Valley runs from east in the valley behind Verbier. ^

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We parted ways with the German at the summit. He headed south on the way to his next destination while Jenny, Florence, and I continued to the east on a winding trail along the base of the Petit Combin, a smaller satellite peak of the Grand Combin. Off in the far distance we could hear the bells of a herd of cows grazing in the mountain pastures – it was classic Switzerland. The only thing missing was a shepherd blowing an Alphorn and Julie Andrews skipping around singing “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” At one point we came across the remains of several stone shepherd’s huts in a meadow below the glaciers spilling down the face of the Petit Combin. Two were without roofs, but the third was still in good enough shape to live in quite comfortably. From there our route descended into the valley bottom and then up the other side to a pass overlooking the Corbassière Glacier. This is the main glacier flowing down the north side of Grand Combin. As we approached the pass from the west, there was no indication of what was on the other side of it, so it was quite an impressive sight when I popped up over the ridge and saw the glacier. I told Florence that I wasn’t expecting that and she just smiled and said, “I know”, obviously quite pleased to be showing off her little corner of the world. I’ve seen my share of amazing glacier and mountain landscapes in Alaska, but I have to admit I was very impressed with the scene all around us. Big mountains, glaciers, sunshine, and cows grazing in the meadows – what more could you ask for?

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After leaving the summit of Mt. Rogneux, we hiked across several areas that had been de-glaciated. It was a great hike - sunny all day with views of the peaks all around, including the Matterhorn some 25 kilometers to the east (it's the small, pointed peak on the skyline, partially obscured by the mountain in front of it). ^

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One of the trail markers along the way. The Swiss have a great network of clearly marked trails. ^

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There used to be a glacier here. Now it's a flowery alpine meadow. ^

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Some of the local alpine wildflowers of the Alps. I believe these are called Blue Gentians (Gentian gentiana). ^

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We wrapped up our hike with a walk across a suspension footbridge hanging several hundred feet above a river gorge. The walkway was steel mesh, so that if you looked down you’d see beyond your feet to the river far below. As is probably normal for Switzerland, there was a restaurant at the trailhead where we finished, and we were able to get a nice cold beer. Florence’s dad was there to give us a ride back to Le Chable, where Florence had left her car at her parent’s house.

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After descending the northeast side of Mt. Rogneux we wandered around the base of a mountain called Petit Combin, seen here. The Petit Combin is, as the name suggests, a smaller sister peak of the Grand Combin, which is behind the Petit and not visible here. This is a three-shot hand-held panorama, which explains the black areas. If you click the photo you'll get a much larger version and you can see the mountaineer's trail leading up the snow to the summit. ^

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This is a typical Swiss shepherd's hut. During the summer months when the cows are in the alpine meadows, the shepherd would live here. There is no cement holding the stones together - it's all just very carefully and precisely stacked. ^

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Our route took us to a pass overlooking the Corbassière Glacier, seen here. Like glaciers all around the world, this one is thinning and retreating. You can see that is has thinned quite significantly near the terminus. In the background, on the right-hand side of the photo, is the glacier-covered Grand Combin (4,314 meters, 14,154 feet). ^

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This isn't a particularly scenic photo, but I took it because it's a textbook example of a medial moraine, and it illustrates how a larger valley glacier can overpower and laterally displace a smaller tributary glacier. You can see that, at the terminus of the glacier, the moraine was farther away from the valley sidewall. As the smaller alpine glacier merged with the main valley glacier, the larger one squeezed it and pushed the medial moraine nearly to the side of the valley. I've drawn a yellow line on the crest of the moraine to make it easier to see. ^

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Later that evening, Florence had to go to her company’s picnic (she was one of the designated drivers) where they roasted a whole cow on a spit. I’ll have to ask her if she got a picture of it.

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View of Petit Combin, as we neared the end of our hike. ^

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One last view of Petit Combin. ^

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