The Haute Route is the ultra classic high mountain traverse linking Chamonix to Zermatt, sleeping in huts at night and only going back to the valley flooronce, to connect Champex to Verbier. The traverse takes 5-6 days. It can be done many different ways, but the most travelled itinerary goes like this:
Grands Montets (Chamonix) – Trient Hut – Verbier – Prafleuri Hut – Dix Hut – Pigne d’Arolla – Vignettes Hut – Zermatt.
The Haute Route was first done by Chamonix guides in 1903, traversing up and over the Col du Sonadon, which is a little more difficult than the Verbier option, which was in turn done in 1919 by Marchel Kurz. The Haute Route covers over 100km and climbs 6000m in elevation. Some people have done it under 24hours, which is an incredible feat. It is impressive to imagine that over a century ago, people found a way through the mountains’ weakness – passes and valleys, sometimes having to climb a peak such as the Pigne d’Arolla -, which connected Chamonix to Zermatt.
The ideal time to do the Haute Route runs mid March through early May. This year, snow conditions have been quite bad because of the lack of snow and warm temperatures over the Alps. Yet, early April still offered enough snow that we didn’t have to carry skis much at all. We left from the Grands Montets cable car on a very busy Saturday morning, skied down to the Glacier d’Argentiere below and started up to the Col du Chardonnet, the first pass of the Haute Route. Yet, at the pass, one of the clients hurt his calf and we had to turn around, skiing back to Chamonix in difficult snow conditions.
The following day, we took a taxi to Verbier and enjoyed a nice breakfast at the “Off Shore”, one of the local mainstream restaurants by the lift. I thought that we wouldn’t leave until 9am, giving the people arriving from the Trient hut enough time to get to Verbier. I was hoping to share the lead with some other guides because both the visiblity and the weather were really bad. We took the lift to the “Col des Gentianes”. Skiing down the piste, we had to ski pole to pole to remain on the piste because the visibility was at the most 5m out. When we got to the flats at the base of the Col de la Chaux – our next pass -, we put our skins and headed up to the pass. Old tracks had mostly been covered so it may for interesting route finding, almost all the way to our destination: the Cabane de Prafleuri, which is nestled on the one end of the Lac des Dix. Much to my dismay, no other parties or guides were on route that day. When we arrived at the hut, the hut keeper told us that out of the 80 reservations she had, only 17 people showed up. The parties that were already there had started from the Mont Fort Hut, on the Verbier pistes.
It was actually really nice to have so few people along. It made the experience much more relaxing and enabled us to have more a “wilderness experience”. It froze overnight, and we were able to cross over to the Dix Hut, without going back down to the valley, as a lot of parties had had to do because the snowpack was too soft. We had an interesting traverse, offering a mix of avalanche debris, grass skiing and lots of poling to get to the base of the Pas du Chat, the infamous steep section leading to the Dix valley. We arrived at the hut in time for the delicious Rosti, specialty of the Dix Hut.
The fourth day, we skied up and over to the Pigne D’Arolla via the Serpentine. Since the Vignettes Hut was closed, we added a little leg to the day and toured up to the Col de l’Eveque, skied down to the Col Collon and ended up in Italy at the Nacamuli hut. Although Italy is amazing and the food is orgasmic (let’s not be afraid of words here ;-)), they are architects of toilets. The toilet is outside, way down some steep metal staircase in a rectangular box, whose door doesn’t close, and to top it off, you stand on a see-through grid which offers a view on a pyramid of… well… you know.
That being said, the hut was lovely… less lovely was getting out of there and back on the main Haute Route the next morning, touring up some SW facing refrozen steepness. I worked the trail so hard with my my ice axe that my arm hurt and with my ski crampons that I managed to break one of them. Our itinerary for the day was Col Collon-Col du Mont Burle-Col de Valpelline, which offers the most stunning view on the Matterhorn. A real treat. We skied on down to the Schoenbiel hut, as the clients didn’t want to stay in Zermatt that night.
With one more day on the schedule, we skied down to Furi (the mid station in Zermatt) and took the cable car up to the Klein Matterhorn and finished the trip with an ascent of the Breithorn, the most accessible 4000m peak around. We enjoyed a nice and very long ski down to Zermatt with a stop in Furi for some beers and Croute au Fromage… or was it Rosti again?
Thanks to James, Steven, Dan and Adam (not my Adam) for an unforgettable Haute Route!
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