Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chandolin to Illhorn to St-Luc, July 19, 2010

On Monday we decided to do an easy summit hike, the Illhorn, a small peak (2,716 meters, 8,900 feet) with 360° views, taking the bus from St-Luc to Chandolin. The hike was four rather easy kilometers each way, with around 800 meters of elevation gain (2½ miles and about 2,800 feet for the metrically challenged). Given that buses from Chandolin to St-Luc are infrequent we decided that we would walk back if we had a long wait, an extra 4½ kilometers. All in all a reasonable hike (a few years ago I would have called it an easy hike!).

There is not much to write about the trip. We got off the bus one stop too soon (the driver thought that your old scribe wanted to take a lift 80% of the way up) but we quickly reached the center of Chandolin where the trail starts. In about half an hour we got to the Illhorn Hut; being so close to the village it is, in fact, a café-restaurant. Too early for a snack, but we should have stopped to see if they sold any postcards that identify the numerous peaks seen from the Illhorn.

Beyond that we ascended through what in summer are pastures, in winter they metamorphose into ski runs. Lots of lifts; I do not find them offensive though I know many do. We knew that the great views awaited us on the summit, so we did not pause for photos. Ultimately we reached the Pas de l'Illhorn, a shallow pass between the summit and a poorly defined ridge. We had a good view of the nearby lake, the Illsee:

The final ascent was still rather easy, and soon we were close to the true summit. The summit is small, and we spent most of our time on a slightly lower knob, having lunch and discussing which peak was which (not too successfully). We also shot lots of pictures, but did not coordinate the shooting with the attempted identification. Worse yet, I did not record in which direction the shots were taken; in many cases it is clear from part of the context, but not in all. In other words, admire the mostly unidentified views!  More pictures here.

But first a look at the Illgraben, a gigantic crater caused by the collapse of a mountain. Here is one of the very few descriptions in English that I found:

The Illgraben is a gigantic stone circus which results from the collapse of the mountain due to erosion. This massive yellow and reddisch crevasse expands every year. This trees fall down, the side walls draw apart.

A Google image search will get you lots of good photos, this is the single one I took before photographing the mountains:

Summit, with the Bernese Alps in the background:

Shots to the south are easily identified by the low black ridge, the Arête des Ombrimtses:

The one pair of peaks that I can identify with confidence is the Weisshorn/Bishorn pair left of center; the uncompressed image on my computer shows the twin horns of the Bishorn unambiguously.

The next picture is shot, with lots of zoom, to the west:

It is much less clear what we have. I suspect that the pair of pointy peaks in the foreground are the Becs de Bosson, on the wall separating the Val d'Hérens from the Val d'Anniviers. Much more in doubt is the identity of the peaks in the background. Guide books say that the Mont Blank is visible from the Illhorn, and the big white mass seemed to be the best candidate. I then assume that the three pointy peaks in the background are some of the many Dents and Aiguilles around it. Take with many grains of salt!!

The next two pictures are to the north, two peaks in the Bernese Alps:

I should be able to identify them (did so in 2008) but alas, do not know where the postcards that had them labelled are.

I am almost sure that the next one is the Bietschhorn, a peak just shy of 4,000 meters (3,934 meters). It is closer to the Valais than the Bernese Alps, as it is one of the peaks forming the south wall of the Lötschental:

While on the summit the entire area below was visible, and the trails by and large stood out. We decided not to return to Chandolin (the descent to St-Luc from Chandolin, should we not catch a bus, is uninteresting) but go directly to St-Luc. The photos below, shot much later, show the route we took.

We descended from the summit to the col, then went along (actually slightly below) the ridge until we descended to the ski lift station to the right. It shows more clearly here:

On the way down we had a good view of the avalanch barriers on te west slope of the Illhorn, above the ski area:

Once off the ridge we followed the north side of the Arête des Ombrimtses, then contoured around its western edge to approach the St-Luc ski area. There were excellent views, but by now I was pretty much "photoed out"! The final descent to the village, as often seems to be the case, was brutally steep.

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