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Cabane de Bertol

General opinion has it that the Cabane de Bertol (3311m, 10,863ft) is an Alpine Mecca. When you set eyes on the vast glacial panorama at the Col de Bertol, your first impression is that you've opened a door to another world.

The Hérens glacier plateau

1 - The Hérens glacier plateau

The 4-hour hike is not excessively long but, at an altitude rarely reached in hiking, it should not be underestimated either. This means that you should be more mindful than ususal of your equipment and the weather conditions. The popularity of the Cabane de Bertol, the many alpine competitions in the area, and the Haute Route Chamonix-Zermatt means that, on a nice summer day, you won't be alone. But, because of the 1300m (4265ft) difference in altitude, there won't be masses either, as, for example, at Moiry.

Having visited the Cabane de Bertol 4 times in the past 10 years (on each occasion the weather was very good), I'm able to confirm what real mountain dwellers have known for a long time--namely that one hike can be totally different from the next. To illustrate this, I remember a day in October when the steep snow-covered slope of the final stretch had suddenly turned into a thin glacier that was impossible to walk on it without spikes! Conversely, even in the middle of summer, all it takes is a couple bad days for snow to cover most of the route, which is what happened to me on 13 August 2002.

Mont Collon

2 - Mont Collon

Let's go back to the beginning. You start out at the far southern end of the village of Arolla, near the glacier. Before you reach the sign that informs you that no traffic is allowed beyond that point, you'll find a place to park your car; however, if you're like most car-owners, and I'm one of them, you can drive as far as the bridge near the glacier's spur, opposite imposing Mont Collon (3637m, 11,932ft). Several paths rise on the glacier's eastern side, only to lead to a shelf 30 minutes later, where a hideous concrete structure backs onto the cliff. Above the pillars, you'll most likely think there's another hiker perched on the cliff. But it won't be a hiker--it's the Virgin Mary, a statue of the Virgin Mary, of course!

The path twists and turns up along the grassy steep slope that leads to the Plans de Bertol (2664m, 8740ft). It'll take you 90 minutes. For your eyes, there's Mont Collon and its hanging glaciers as well as the Haut Glacier d'Arolla hidden in the background to the south. The path has been greatly improved in the past few years; in fact, up to the Plans de Bertol, it is now so wide and obstacle-free that we didn't have to use a pole on this stretch on our way back down.

The Plans de Bertol plateau will be a welcome rest before climbing the remaining 700 metres that get increasingly steeper along the way. Or you can decide not to go any further, as the Rother guidebook suggests. But you should be aware that the fabulous glacial plateau of Hérens with a view of the Matterhorn, the Dent d'Hérens, and the Dent Blanche (photo 1) can be seen only if you have reached the Col de Bertol, not before it.

Cabane de Bertol

3 - Cabane de Bertol

At the end of the plateau, the grassy ground gives way to stones and snow. You climb up a moraine and walk toward a rocky islet of the Bertol glacier that runs along the left. When conditions allow it, you can sometimes walk straight along the steep névé. The last stretch leads to the rocky spur of the Cabane de Bertol, below which you walk until you arrive at the Col de Bertol. Your arrival at the Col de Bertol will leave you breathless, not only because of the tough climb but also because of the overwhelmingly beautiful panorama you'll encounter. Behind the glacial plateau of Mont Miné, the Matterhorn and the Dent d'Hérens rise toward the heavens; the Dent Blanche, nearby, cuts a fine figure.

To go to the hut is really unnecessary unless it's too cold to stay outside. Those who suffer from vertigo and/or claustrophobia will think twice before climbing up the challenging chains and ladders that give access to the hut, only to find conditions inside it as cramped as a nest.

When the weather's fine, it takes 3 hours to get from the Plans de Bertol to the Cabane de Bertol, which, along with the time that it takes to walk from Arolla to the Plans de Bertol, comes to a total of 4-4 ½ hours. On the day I've referred to, when conditions were unusual (snow starting at the Plans de Bertol, the risk of an avalanche, and snow up to the waist below the Col de Bertol), it took me almost 5 hours.

Going back down is rather easy and takes only 2 ½ hours. Depending on the type of snow, you can dash, sometimes even slide down the slopes.

Readers' comments:

Note: you can read the original comment at the bottom of the french page. I only translated the main part: this user warns us about driving and parking past the road sign

From: gregoire sauthier
Sent: 14-Jul-2007

(...) to my surprise, as I was back to my car at 3:30pm, a policeman was delivering fines to all cars left beyond the sign!!!!!

So for God's sake, don't park your car beyond the "forbidden" sign

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