Champex Lac – Fenetre D’Arpette
The Fenetre D’Arpette, 2665 metres, is the joint highest point of the TMB (Shared with the Col du Fours, in France). It is one of the ‘Varient’ routes, is challenging in its remoteness, lacks water stops on hot days and you need to cross a ‘boulder field’ on route to the summit. It should also be avoided in anything other than good weather conditions for the entire day.
Having said that, it offers fantastic views of the Trient glacier outflow and views of the French/Swiss Mountain border and Lac Emotion. You are also likely to have the company of Alpine Choughs on the summit (thats the black, crow sized bird with bright yellow beak and legs, sometimes they are orange, that makes a distinct ‘cackle as it circles the surrounding rock faces).
Distance 7.1 Kilometres (KM), Total height gain 1,179 metres, Total time: 4 25 * (Time does not include stops).
*based on a walking speed of 3km per hour and allowing an extra minute for every 10 metres of ascent
Cafes on route – Relais D’Arpette (cash and cards), approximately 1hr 5 mins into journey
Stage 1 – Hotel to Road junction, just before chair lift station – 1 km, height gain 12m, time 21 minutes
From outside the front door of the hotel, turn right and follow the road away from the Lac, up the hill, passing the bakery, adorned with flower baskets.
Continue along the road after the bakery for 600m, until you see the road take a steep left hand bend. Make sure you are on the left hand side of the road, behind the metal barrier (an arrow painted on the barrier suggests this for pedestrians as there is no pavement).
Follow this round until the main road bends 90 degrees right. Here there is a signpost next to a minor road going uphill, signposted ‘Relais D’Arpette’.
If you were to continue on the main road you would see the chair lift station, set back from the road on the left hand side, in approximately 50 metres.
Stage 2 – Road junction to Relais D’Arpette – 1.7 km, height gain 132m, time 45 minutes
Follow the minor tarmac road up between forest on left and right hand side. After 150 metres you’ll see a small stream passing under the road.
This is known as a Bisse is Switzerland – a man made stream origionally used to channel water around the mountains to feed different farms.
Here you have two options:
- You can turn right and follow the stream-side path. Keep next to the stream for 1.2 km until you cross a wooden bridge over a torrent of water. After crossing the bridge, turn left and follow the path uphill until you arrive on a four wheel drive track next to a vehicle bridge over the torrent.Recross the river and on the right hand side of the track the path continues adjacent to the river. Follow this path up and you’ll come out onto a tarmac minor road. Walk up the road for 400m and you’ll arrive at the ‘Relais D’Arpette’ refuge/cafe on the right hand side.
- Continue on the tarmac road, ignore the left turn in 50 metres, follow the road to the right and stay on it all the way to the ‘Relais D’Arpette’ refuge/cafe.
This cafe is the only place to get further refreshment until you return or descend a good way down the far side of the mountain to Trient. You are strongly advised to hydrate here and make sure you have 2 litres of water for your onward journey. You will cross the stream further up – its glacial outflow is not healthy to drink owing to the silt etc in it.
Stage 3 – Relais D’Arpette – Track/Path Junction – 1km, height gain 115m, time: 30 minutes
From the Relais D’Arpette the road continues up the Val D’Arpette, the right gets you to a collection of wooden chalets. The left side is now a pleasant meadow.
A further 200m brings you to a collection of wooden chalets. Here the tarmac road ends but a four wheel drive track continues. Follow this track (the meadow is now predominantly on your left) for 700 metres (around 18 minutes, allowing for the extra 30m height gain). At this point the track starts to turn to the left and there is a path that looks as if its going into the woods.
Stage 4 – Track/Path Junction – base of La Balme rock-face, 2100m (identified on map) – 1.8km, height gain 365m, time 1 hr 15 minutes
Take this path which almost immediately turns right and then crosses a stream bed. As soon as you have crossed the stream bed, the path turns left following the stream bed up. This is the main and only path to the Fentre D’Arpette. After around 200m you’ll emerge from the woods and the way becomes clearer. The path now steepens and becomes more boulder like. Climb steadily for 1.5km until you on a relatively flatish area with a steep rock-face immediately on your right. You are at the base of the La Balme rock-face and if you have an altimetre it should be reading 2100m,
Stage 5 – La Balme to the Boulder Field – 900m, height gain 310m, time 55 minutes
The boulder field is marked on your map, where the solid red line of the TMB route becomes a series of red dotes, denoting a change in route from ‘Signposted route’ to ‘Hardpart of route’.
Continue following the path, occasionally marked by red and white dashes of paint on rocks (the pan European symbol for a footpath). You should be continuing to climb to the righthand side of the valley floor and will be ascending above it quite quickly. There are a couple of small switch backs as you climb but with this slight change is direction, if there is no mist or low cloud, you should now see the Fenetre Arpette coming into view as the lowest point on a jagged skyline ahead of you. After around 55 minutes you should arrive on a small flat area where the path fades out and is replaced by a jumbling mass of boulders!
Stage 6 – Boulder field to the Fenetre D’Arpette – 800m, height gain 245m, time 45 minutes
The boulder field is relatively stable and the best way to cross it is just to focus on spotting the red/white markers painted onto the rocks. They are not more than about 20 metres apart. Just concentrate on looking for the nearest marker and don’t try to cut corners. The route generally moves west across the boulder field, climbing steadily. Expect to go slowly across this section and don’t try to rush it.
DO NOT cross this area if a thunderstorm is imminent in the immediate vicinity. Ground lightening strikes spark and ‘travel’ across the gaps between rock.
If you are unfortunate enough to be caught out, take off your pack and sit on it to isolate yourself from the ground and wait it out. Place trekking poles on the ground next to you – do not continue to hold them. Under no circumstances shelter under large boulders as the spark from the lightening strike travels.
Once across the boulder field pick the easiest path on the very steep final ascent to the Col.
Congratulations on reaching the Fenetre D’Arpette, enjoy the views, you’ve earned it!