The Haute Route

Top of Pigne d’Arolla

Between April 18-23 I did the Haute Route, a 6 day ski touring adventure across the Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt. These are my key learnings and tips.

The Haute Route is spectacular if you’re looking for 1) a challenge and 2) an amazing nature experience. If you’re looking for great skiing, delicious food, comfortable accommodation or a beautiful tan, there are other places to go. But if you’re up for the challenge and want to spend a week in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world, go!

My top tips:

  1. Be fit. Not because you won’t make it if you’re not, but you’ll enjoy it so much more if you are. Instead of keeping your eyes focused on the skis in front of you all day just wondering when you’ll reach the next hut or short brake, you can enjoy the experience and the amazing landscape.
  2. Be a stable and safe skier. There are lots of places where you’ll ski narrow, icy passages, steep slopes with lots of rocks and other places you don’t want to fall.
  3. Take care of your feet. Get custom made soles. You’ll spend many hours and take many steps in your boots that the €70 custom fitted soles is one of the best investments you can make. And if you’re not SURE you can walk 7-8 hours in your boots without getting blisters, put some Tensoplast tape on your heals as prevention from day 1. Once you have blisters it’s too late and you can only try to limit the problems with Compeed etc.

Here is a short description/diary of our experience and route.

Day 1: Chamonix/Grand Montets-Trient Hut. We started by taking the lift up to the top if Grand Montets (3225m). From there we skied down the piste a few hundred vertical meters before crossing out on the glacier and down to a passage at 2400m where we had to take our skis on our backpacks an walk with crampons up a steep slope of about 50 vertical meters. After that, we took our skins on and climbed another 500 vertical meters. The final 100 vertical meters up to Col du Passon (3028m) we again had to take our crampons on. From there, we had a fantastic view on the Mt Blanc massif and we met a couple who had flown there with their small plane and landed on the glacier for a nice afternoon snowshoe walk! From the Col, we skied down 200 vertical meters on Glacier du Tour. After that, skins on again and we climbed 450 vertical meters up to Col Sup du Tour (3289m). From the top, it was all downhill and then a short climb up to the Trient Hut at 3170m. The hut was ok, dinner was soup, veal sausage with mashed potatoes and then a fruit salad. The rooms were big with bunk beds and I did not sleep well at all.

Day 2: Trient Hut-Prafleuri Hut. 6am breakfast and then a steep and icy decent towards Champex. Except for a short 100 vertical meter steep and rocky climb with skis on the backpack, it was mostly downhill. The last part when we came below 2000m there was hardly any snow left and we had to walk in several places across fields where the flowers had already come and the birds were singing their spring songs. When we came down to Champex, we had a taxi waiting to take us to Le Chable where we quickly stocked up in the local Migros and then took the lifts up to Verbier. The backside of Mt Fort was not good enough so we skied down a few hundred vertical meters from the Jumbo lift, then turned left and climbed up a 200 vertical meter slope. We then skied down behind Mt Fort and then another climb of about 400m vertical and finally a pretty good run down to the Prafleuri hut at 2662m. The hut had nice single level beds, electricity and hot showers!

Day 3: Prafleuri Hut-Dix Hut. After the 6am breakfast we started off at 6:30am by climbing a relatively steep 200 vertical meter slope. From the top of it, we could see the whole valley with Lac Dix in front of us and the rocks where the Dix Hut is behind in the far distance. Looks like an achievable task! Due to the lack if snow, we decided to go down the valley instead of the high traverse. Skiing down the valley was more difficult than expected with hard, icy slopes and lack of snow in several places where we had to take the skis off and walk across rocks and grass. After a short climb with skins, we did a long traverse both with and without skins. The following climb was quite long but not very steep (with a few exceptions) and was a very comfortable climb with great scenery, a cloudless sky and a light breeze. The Dix Hut appeared around the corner on a steep top at 2928m that used to be at the level of the glacier when the hut was built in 1906. Now, the glacier is about 100 vertical meters lower and the final climb up to the hut was quite steep. We came just in time for lunch, a very nice Rösti with a well deserved beer. The hut is very nice with some amazing views! Soup, meat loaf and caramel cream for dinner.

Day 4: Dix Hut-Vignettes Hut. A great day! After the 5:45am breakfast, we climbed the 1000 vertical meters up to Pigne d’Arolla at 3790m. The first part was quite steep, but the tracks were great and we kept a steady pace that made it relatively easy. The second part was a bit steeper and icier, so we attached ourselves with a rope. From the top, the views over the whole Alps were amazing, clear blue sky and hardly any wind. The 600 vertical meter ski down to the Vignettes hut (3158m) was ok, but still quite hard snow. The hut had great food (spaghetti bolognese) and wifi, but no power outlets or running water.

Day 5: Vignettes Hut-Bertol Hut. Another great day! 5:15am breakfast and 6am departure. A short ski down the slope followed by a short traverse and then the first climb of the day, a smooth 300 vertical meters up to a top with amazing views. From there we had a very good glacier run by ourselves down about 1000 vertical meters. The climb up to the Bertol hut was 800 vertical meters that started with a nice walk with our skis on the backpacks followed by a nice trail and finally a short icy section.The hut is reached by a steep climb up a shaky ladder of 50m where we attached ourselves using a “cow tail”. The hut is beautifully located at 3311m, quite small and with only two smelly outdoor toilets. Decent food, hardly any cell phone reception.

Day 6: Bertol Hut-Zermatt. The final day turned out to be the most challenging one, at least for our guide 🙂 After a 6am breakfast, we departed into a foggy and snowy morning with hardly any visibility. After climbing and skiing down from the hut, we started ascending the 400 vertical meters towards Tête Blanche in almost zero visibility. We met one French group that turned back and then merged our two Swedish groups into one where the guides teamed up to navigate and take us safely across the glacier. Finally the fog eased and we also met a group going up whose trail we could follow to avoid the crevasses. The final descent towards Zermatt was good at first but lower down the snow was almost completely gone so we had to walk the last hour back to the Furi lift that we took down to Zermatt. Overall a very interesting and different day and a great end to agreat adventure!

Here is a GPS file of our route for Google Earth.