Photo: Glaciers around the Cabane du Mountet.
A long and tough route that doubles back along the same path – but is beautiful the whole way and is rewarded with one of the most impressive glacier views in the country. My photos can’t even get close to showing off how amazing the view at the end is.
I had never heard of this before. I just came across the idea when playing around with maps to see what would make for an interesting hike from a base in Grimentz. A street view location next to the hut made it very clear this was worth a look.
Note that the photos are essentially reversed in time. I started early in the day with everything in shade, which has its own beauty but doesn’t look so impressive on a photo.
Route: Zinal – Cabane de ground Mountet – Zinal
Length: 20.7km, +/- 1500m.
Season: Summer – Early Autumn.
Arrival/Departure: Bus to/from ‘Zinal, Les Plats de la Lé’ where there is also a car park. If you are coming by bus note that Les Plats de la Lé is not the last stop, that would be ‘Zinal, village de vacances’ which doubles back down the valley adding an extra 400m on to the walk if you were careless enough not to bother checking and just assumed the last stop would be the furthest up the valley.
Supplies: There is a little cafe at Les Plats at the start, and the Cabane offers drinks and snacks, but otherwise there is nothing along the route but grass and rocks. You can be fairly sure that there are now cows above you if you need to top up from streams near the end at least.
Alternate routes/shortcuts: An easier variant would be going to the Cabane du Petit Mountet (10.5km, +/-470m). This would give you a taste of the different sections of the route and a glimpse of the glaciers at the end – but nothing like the full panorama you get from doing the tougher route.
Exposure/Hazards: There is very little reliable shade on the route, and basically none for the 2nd half of high open meadow and mountainside. There are a few slightly sketchy points where the path around a steep stream bed has been eroded somewhat, requiring a bit of care to squeeze around. You cross a suspension bridge which is very safe but might freak some people out. And the last section is climbing over big rocks with some worryingly big gaps between them.
This can be done as a day trip which is what I did, but I would highly recommend spending the night at the Cabane du Mountet. I really wish I had done so to have more time to explore a bit further around the corner (not that you can go that much further without proper gear) and to take in the views.
The start of the hike around the Les plats de la Lé is very popular and quite a few people seemed to be carrying on up to the Cabane du Petit Mountet, but I came across 10 people at most on the 12km to and from the Cabane du Mountet.
Notes along the route
To avoid the worst of the sun in the recent heatwave weather I got the first bus of the day to Zinal. Started walking at 07:30, very probably my earliest ever start. It paid off and thanks to the route being along the east side of a valley with high peaks I stayed out of the sun until the last km or so.
The start is very easy. Almost 2kms through an essentially flat meadow alongside a stream.
Entering the forest the path stays a wide gravel road but starts to climb. The views into the gorge and of the peaks and glaciers made up for the effort.
Crossing the river the main climb takes you up to the high meadow above the former side of the valley. There is still a significant amount of fairly constant climb to go, but that was by far the biggest constant climb.
Following the meadow high above the valley. The views of the Glacier Des Bouquetins directly in front are impressive enough, but that is only a taste of what is around the corner. At one point you pass the foot of the glacier in the valley far below, it is covered in rocks so it can be hard to spot.
A section of steepish climbs with chains for support (useful but not essential) brings you level with a little weather station and the view suddenly opens up.
The last section is relatively flat but is across large lumps of rock which requires some care (not least if you are distracted by the view which gets better with every step).
Enjoy the view in the knowledge that you really earned it.
Then it is the same route back. I took the footpath on the opposite side of the stream at Les Plats just for some variety. I also found a little beach to go stick my warm feet in the freezing water.