Anna, Laetitia, Ian and Pete tackle the world famous ski mountaineering multi-day traverse from Chamonix to Zermatt; “the” Haute Route… How hard could it be? We’d convinced ourselves that mountaineering skills were more important than skiing skills, so it should be easy, right?
Anna, Ian & Pete looking fresh and ready to start, near the Grands Montets Lift Station (Mont Blanc behind).
Anna and Ian had already used their best French and pre-booked our huts, fending off all enquiries from the hut custodians asking who our Mountain Guide was. “Guide? No we don’t have one of those. Pah!”, what an insult, what an adventure…
Day 1/2 – Argentiere to Cabane du Trient via Refuge d’Argentiere
Loaded down with what seemed like impossibly heavy rucksacks, we left Chamonix (Argentiere) via the Grands Montets lift station, crossed the Glacier d’Argentiere through some freaky seracs bound for the Refuge d’Argentiere where we met up with “the Americans” (Harold, Leslie, Dan, Jo & Chris), who we’d bumped into on our training day. What an amazingly fun and motivated bunch, they were to be great companions along the route each time our paths crossed!
[Actually when I say “paths crossed”, what I mean is when we overtook them nearly every day! 😆
They started each day ahead of us, starting earlier and earlier day by day, eventually setting out several hours earlier at 2.30am just to ensure that we could never catch them.]
The American Team
The Argentiere hut is what you might expect of a remote mountain hut (i.e. basic!) with “squatty” toilets and “scratchy” blankets, but the dinner was good and it made for an easy start to the adventure.
The following day a monster slog (800 very steep metres) up the Glacier du Chardonnet to the Col du Chardonnet was a trial of our fitness. Luckily we passed. Abseiling and down-climbing from the col and on over the Fenetre de Saleina, our last climb before a nice shush to the Trient hut.
Laetitia descending from the Col du Chardonnet
After the slum of the Argentiere hut the superb Trient hut was a luxury. We discovered the comfy arm chairs and monopolised them all evening – resting our weary muscles ready for the next day…
Day 3 – Trient to Cabane du Mont Fort
Laetitia, Ian & Anna on the Trient Glacier
With an early start and an icy descent of the Plateau du Trient, passing a few crevasses, to the climb of the Col des Ecandies. Descending the Combe des Ecandies we helped a group of Germans on the way up… They’d accidentally kept their hotel room key, which we took with us and later dropped off; making a very grateful and happy hotelier.
Ian contemplating the route & weather
On down to Champex for lunch and to catch a mini-bus-taxi to Verbier. We shared this with the Americans; they thought the hairpin bends in the road and the fast driving of the taxi driver were just as exciting as the skiing. I guess this was because they’re used to dead straight American roads and a 55mph top speed?
Reaching Verbier we navigated the sprawling lift system (complete with escalators and tele-cabins that go up and down and around corners!) almost without incident – getting off then back on again straight away at one point. Leaving a short pisted descent we arrived at the luxury of the Mont Fort hut – and a shower!
One of the pictures on the walls of the hut was signed by the Sarah, Duchess of York – even Fergie has been here – we were in celebrated surroundings!
Day 4 – Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri
Leaving the Mont Fort area via the Col de la Chaux and on to the Col de Momin, by lunch we were presented with an opportunity to go a little off route and summit the Rosablanche. Here we got our first remote look at journey’s end; the Matterhorn. It seemed a VERY long way away still – far too far to seem even remotely feasible – and we’d already covered three day’s of ground! This was a long trip…
Pete & Laetitia on the Rosablanche Summit, 3336m (a Panorama stretching from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn)
A wonderful ski down from Rosablanche got us to the Prafleuri hut – another luxurious establishment. The patio area was a sun trap which soon eased our muscles and allowed a few hours rest before dinner.
Pete & Ian – Knackered!
Day 5 – Prafleuri to Cabane des Dix
Peter & Laetitia travelling near Lac des Dix
The journey from the Prafleuri to Dix hut involved climbing to the Col des Roux and traversing almost the entire length of the Lac des Dix. This traverese was quite flat and with the powerful sun, had poor snow. All in all, hard work with lots of pushing along with poles and bit of walking. Not a great ski day, as we seemed to be going up hill all day. However, the final climb of the day to the Dix hut delivered us at the most luxurious hut yet! Aperitifs before dinner, a salad course, and a meringue desert! Hut food isn’t supposed to be like this! Never-the-less, it was well enjoyed by all.
Oh, not forgetting the “douche panoramique”! An open air shower with a solar heated water system (nice!) and an unbeatable view of the Glacier de Cheilon to stare at while washing away the day’s grime…
Day 6 – Dix to Cabane des Vignettes
Anna climbing past a serac on the Tsena Refien Glacier
This day started badly! I felt like death warmed up – some food had seriously affected my insides! Most of the short night was spent running to the toilets…
The team pulled together though and helped with my load; with a much reduced rucksack I managed the longest climb of the trip (approx. 900m up to 3770m) up the Glacier de Tsena Refien and on up to the col below Pigne d’Arolla.
Pete with almost empty pack climbing with the Matterhorn in the distance… Still a long way away!
A lovely ski down to the final hut, the Vignettes, I was feeling a little better and we just managed to catch the Americans. The Vignettes hut is perched on a narrow and precipitous rocky outcrop – more like a scene from a WW2 film than an epic ski mountaineering trip.
The toilets here made me mad! In the days when the Alps were quieter, maybe an open hole with (pink!) toilet paper and ‘brown stuff’ simply poured down the mountain side was okay (ish). But today, with technologies like composting toilets and massive visitor numbers, we can do better! Today, surely a more environmentally sensitive and sustainable solution is possible?
Day 7 – Vignettes to Zermatt
Anna, Laetitia & Pete – making a very early start – but not as early as the Americans!
This is a LONG day! Up to now we’d been having about 6 hours days – and this was hard work. This day is about 12 hours long! Rightly described as the crux of the trip, and also as one of the best ski mountaineering days in the world…
We thought we’d lost Anna early on, but luckily her slip into the abyss lasted about 40 meters down an icy slope. Bruised, but able to continue, we marched onwards and upwards, over 3 cols towards the magnificent view of the Matterhorn.
Finally, the Matterhorn seems much closer!
We glimpsed the Americans in the distance, but there was no way could catch them today.
[Hope to see you guys again in the future! 😉 ]
After descending the glaciers below the Matterhorn, requiring some roped skiing across open crevasses, we arrived at the glacial moraines. With good snow cover these can be skied right to the Furi lift station and on to Zermatt. But not for us. The hot weather, poor winter snow, and the late season left us with a long and tiring walk! We found a little snow on the pistes which aided the descent, and we just made it, totally knackered, before the lifts closed.
We did it! The Haute Route was in the bag!!! Hooray … and doesn’t the Matterhorn look just fantastic from Zermatt?
The Matterhorn from Zermatt
I feel another adventure coming soon.
Not bad seeing as Laetitia and I had only started ski touring in January and this was only our fourth tour!