(My apologies in advance for the formatting issues on this post – my editing capabilities are very limited with a phone – I’ll do my best and create a proper update when I return to a computer! – thanks for checking it out!)
The Haute Route is a spectacular high-level traverse in the French and Swiss Alps, below the summits of 10 out of the 12 of the highest peaks in the Alps, and crossing several high passes. The highest pass is at 2964 m (9,800 ft). The route is 180 kilometers long (about 120 miles) and gains more than 12,000 meters (40,000 ft) in elevation.
This is a world of glaciers and towering, snow-capped peaks, green alpine valleys with flower-covered meadows and picture-book villages. In this blog post, I’ll attempt to document the hike with photographs and trail descriptions.
Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 Tent
MontBell U.L. 0˚ Sleeping Bag
Big Agnes AXL (W) Sleeping Pad
1 Liter Water Bottle
2 Liter Platypus
Hiker Hunger Trekking Poles
Camp Towel – Large
Snow Peak GigaPower Stove
Swiss Francs and Euros
1.8mm Guyline – 20 meters
Sawyer Mini Water Purifier
Trailpix Tripod Plate
iPhone Tripod mount
Journal / Pencil
Chamonix to Zermatt Guidebook
64GB SD Card
Spare Camera Battery
USB Charger / Battery Pack
International Power Adapter
Fuji X100F Camera
Toiletries: Soap, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Meds, Sunscreen
Salomon X Ultra 3 Hiking Boots
Kuhl Jetstream Rain Pant
Kuhl Airspeed Shirt
Patagonia Base Layer Tights
Ex Officio Boxer Briefs
Mammut Base Layer Shirt
Merino Wool Socks (2 Pair)
Silk Sock Liners (2 Pair)
REI Down Puffy Jacket
GoLite Rain Jacket
Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60 Pack
8/11 – 8/12 Geneva
The most common way to get to the trailhead is to fly into Geneva, then take a bus to Chamonix.
I flew from Phoenix to Frankfurt, and then proceeded to board a flight to Malaga… Thank goodness the ticket machine caught my mistake!
Once in Geneva, you can collect a free train pass from a kiosk in baggage, good for 80 minutes.
From there it’s just a short ride to the city center.
I found Geneva to be a lovely, romantic city! Everyone is friendly and it’s not over run by tourists. It also seemed like very family-friendly city.
I wandered around for about two days and visited many of the city highlights: United Nations and the Broken Chair, Botanical Gardens, Bain’s Des Pâquis, Place du Bourg de Four in Old Town, St. Pierre Cathedral, the Flower Clock and the iconic fountain, Jet dEau.
On the first night, I was lucky to see a massive fireworks celebration over the lake!
It’s a beautiful city and I hope to come back to visit again.
8/13 – 8/14: Chamonix
Chamonix, France is a vibrant alpine town – a Hiker’s Paradise! Surrounded by imposing mountains and loaded with shops, bars and restaurants, this is a fun place to be!
I picked up the supplies I needed that couldn’t be brought by carry on luggage: knife, corkscrew, fuel and tent stakes. I met with the high mountain office who told me conditions were good on the passes and recommended some maps. I spent two days playing here (took the cog train to the glacier and ice cave, gondola to Mont Blanc) and then picked up my food for the trek. Tomorrow it begins!
UPDATE #1: Chamonix – Col de Balme – Champex – Le Chable
Well I’ve been hiking for three solid days in absolutely perfect weather. So far I’ve gone 36 miles and climbed about 8,000 feet over the STEEPEST damn trails I’ve ever hiked!
The scenery is pretty fucking epic as you can imagine, but the trails, especially the descents, are absolutely brutal. I think anyone with knee issues would be miserable on this route.
I’m writing this on my phone so I’ll make it brief –
I spent the first night just over the French/Swiss border in a sheep pasture with expansive views all around. You’re technically not supposed to “wild camp” in Switzerland, but the farmer happened to be herding his sheep and goats through and gave me his permission.
So I spent my first night in the Alps in solitude, drinking a half bottle of wine and watching the sun set – sublime.
The stars were good as well, with the Big Dipper framed perfectly by my tent door in the NW sky. At one point I saw a massive shooting star arc directly into the Big Dipper’s cup!
The next morning I descended more than 3000 feet over three miles on the most bone jarring route ever… and then stopped for breakfast.
The second day was TOUGH. About 13 hours of hiking. But the weather is so perfect I didn’t want to stop!
Camped in a public campground in Champex and it kinda sucked – too many noisy people!
Then on the third day, a lovely level stroll through bucolic valleys above picturesque hamlets. I’m now sipping a beer at a cafe in Le Chable. The biggest, toughest day lies ahead tomorrow, but right now I’m a full day ahead of my planned pace.
Day 4 – Le Chable to Mont Fort
7 miles / 5000 feet
Another absolutely perfect day for hiking here, all uphill to a traditional hiking hut, Cabane du Mont Fort. There was a wedding happening here today, so there were some traditional horn players serenading us all as we enjoyed the views from the deck. Stunning views in every direction!
There are about 20 small alcoves for sleeping in and dinner is done family style with large platters of pasta placed on the tables. I sat with the first people I’ve met on this trip who speak English and are doing the Haute Route: Dave, Emmy and Dave from Baton Rouge LA, and Mike and Patty from Brisbane, Australia. It was a great night of camaraderie.
Update: Cabane du Mont Fort – Col de Prafleuri – Arolla
And I really want to quit… this is so much tougher than I imagined.
Current total: 64 miles / 19,500 feet
It’s another GORGEOUS day for hiking! After making a few wrong turns here and there, I finally found the trail towards Col Termin (btw, “Col” means “Pass”). Vast panoramas of the Corbin massif dominate the views, while the snow capped Combin de Corbassiere glowed in the bright sunlight.
From there, I hike across the start of what would be MANY moraine crossings… sections of the route that have been wiped out by rock slides. I pick my way across these boulders – some the size of a car, going from marker to marker. Two critical things in these sections: never lose sight of the markers… Don’t move forward until you spot the next one – so easy to get lost here! Also, every step requires intense focus and balance- one slip and you’ll twist an ankle or worse.
I cross Col de Louvie and enter “the Great Desert” a desolate valley of dying glaciers, spectacular in scale but a bit depressing. It’s here that I spot a family of Ibex! Classic beasts of the Alps.
I cross Col de Praflueri and see a massive storm cloud so I descend down to the nearest ledge (at about 9,000 ft) and set up my tent as fast as I can. Literally within a minute of getting all my gear inside it starts to hail… and then sleet… and then rain, for two or three hours. Everything was pitched well though and the Copper Spur performed awesomely – not a drop of water came inside.
During the hail storm, I cooked a big pot of pasta carbonara, and ate it with a baguette and some wine. All from the cozy comfort of my sleeping bag.
The storm eventually stopped and I enjoyed another clear night of star gazing with more meteor showers and an exquisite view of the Milky Way.
The next morning was yet another clear day, and after a quick breakfast of coffee and protein bar, struck camp and headed toward Col des Roux.
I crested the pass to receive the gift of a magnificent view of Val des Dix, a beautiful valley with a massive glacier-fed lake and the imposing Mont Blanc de Cheilon overseeing things.
It was a lovely stroll along the lake for a few hours and then it was hell! Straight up the Col de Riedmatten… a name that will be forever etched in my mind as the gnarliest, scariest, toughest stretch of trail I’ve ever had to tackle. This was straight up – like my face was just a few feet from the ground… no trail… just make your way up the face of this thing. It took me about four hours to climb 1,000 feet, and I hated every step. At the top there’s chains attached to the rock and I actually had to pull myself up the last 100 feet or so.
FINALLY and at long last , I descended down to the tiny hamlet of Arolla, found a beautiful campground with lots of friendly people, cooked up a couple pots of rosti (potatoes, cheese and bacon) with a bit of wine… and passed out.
Update: Finished! I think the final totals were something like 124 miles and 32,000 feet – but I’ll put together a full trip report in a few weeks!
Here’s a few more shots from the last leg of the journey…