High-altitude hike on the Mont-Blanc massif
Strenuous loop hike (T3) | Higher option (T3) | Rock climbing & ski resort nearby
The Orny glacier and valley are spectacular. Part of the Mont Blanc massif, the glacier joins up with an enormous and equally spectacular ice field called the Plateau de Trient.
The trail along the glacier and ice field is a relatively easy way to experience high-altitude hiking in the Swiss Alps. Even better, you can eat, drink or sleep at a mountain hut along the way — and ride a chairlift up the first part.
Two hiking options are described below:
Other nearby activities include rock climbing and skiing; see the “nearby mountain fun” section for information.
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Getting there & away
The hikes described here start and end at the bottom of the La Breya chairlift, just outside the pretty mountain town of Champex-Lac in the Swiss canton of Valais/Wallis. The town is served by bus from Orsières, which stops at the chairlift (Champex télé stop).
►Directions to the La Breya chairlift on Google maps
►Chairlift opening times & prices (English, French, German)
What to bring
The hikes described here go above 3,000 m in altitude — so you must must pack adequate clothing and be prepared for sudden changes in weather. You’ll also be above the treeline, so don’t forget sun protection!
You don’t need any special equipment to do these walks in summer or early autumn, though I recommend sturdy hiking shoes. You’ll need snowshoes or mountaineering equipment if there’s a lot of snow on the track.
You can stop for food and drinks at a number of points; see the “Facilities” section for details. But take enough water even if you plan to buy a meal or only do a short walk.
If you’re staying overnight at either mountain hut, then you need to bring an inner sleeping bag.
You can park at the bottom of the chairlift, which has a small buvette at the bottom and a restaurant at the top.
There are two mountain huts on the trail: the Cabane d’Orny and the Cabane du Trient. You can stop for food and drinks at both, as well as stay overnight. Check opening times on their websites.
Champex-Lac is well-equipped with places to stay and eat.
Dangers & annoyances
The first section of the trail has very steep drop offs on one side — so you need to be careful with your footing. In addition, both hiking routes go to high altitude: the Cabane d’Orny is at 2,826 m above sea level, and the Cabane du Trient is at 3,170 m above sea level. This means you may feel the effects of altitude and even suffer from altitude sickness.
Otherwise the hikes described here are not dangerous in good weather, but watch out for:
- Heat stroke/dehydration
- Stomach bugs & parasites in stream water
Trail descriptions and maps – Orny glacier
The hiking trail from the top of the chairlift is well marked and good to the cabane d’Orny, though with steep drop offs for the first part.
The trail after the cabane d’Orny is little rougher, with chains and climbing aids in some sections. Note that snow can last on the track above the cabane d’Orny even in summer.
The trail down the Combe d’Orny is also a little rougher, steep in parts, and can be slippery when wet.
Loop hike to the Cabane d’Orny
La Breya chairlift – Cabane d’Orny – Cabane du Trient – Cabane d’Orny – Combe d’Orny – Champex-Lac
Highest point: 2,825 m (Cabane d’Orny)
Height gain: 820 m | Height loss: 1,535 m
Trail level: T3
Technical details: steep drop-offs in parts
Distance: 12.4 km
Take the chairlift to the top then follow the signs to the Cabane d’Orny. The trail first runs high along the Combe d’Orny valley, then climbs up to a hanging valley. It flattens out along this valley before climbing again up the moraine of the Orny glacier. Once on the moraine you have a fantastic view of the glacier. Continue along the moraine to the Cabane d’Orny.
Walk the same way back until the end of the hanging valley. Instead of turning left to follow the same trail back to the chairlift, keep right and walk down the Combe d’Orny valley. The path goes more or less straight down the valley, then turns left through the forest back to Champex.
Return hike to the Cabane du Trient
La Breya chairlift – Cabane d’Orny – Cabane du Trient – Cabane d’Orny – La Breya chairlift
Highest point: 3,170 m (Cabane du Trient)
Height gain: 1,200 m
Technical details: steep drop-offs in parts; easy ladders and metal footholds in some parts above the Cabane d’Orny.
Distance: 14 km
Take the La Breya chairlift from Champex-Lac, follow the trail to the Cabane d’Orny as described above, and then continue to the Cabane du Trient. The views are beautiful along the way: the Orny glacier on one side, small blue lakes on the other, and peaks all around. Towards the end the full ice field of the Plateau du Trient comes into view, with the Aiguilles du Tour on the far side.
Return the same way. If you miss the last chairlift back to Champex-Lac you can walk down — it’s another 2.5 km and 690 m in altitude loss.
Nearby mountain fun
Eating & sleeping
You’ll find many eating and sleeping options in Champex-Lac.
Other hiking options
One trail of note is the long-distance national “6 Alpine Passes” trail, which passes through Champex.
The many “aiguilles” (needles) near the Cabane d’Orny and Cabane du Trient are popular with rock climbers. You can find more info on the websites below, as well as at the mountain huts themselves. You can also book guided climbs at the Cabane d’Orny.
Skiing & sledding
A small Swiss ski resort operates from Champex-Lac. The resort is included in the PASS Saint-Bernard, which covers a number of summer and winter activities in Champex-Lac and the wider Pays du St-Bernard region.