Tag Archives: Haute Route

Reflecting on my 2-week long hike on the Haute Route

It’s been more than a month since a Japanese friend and I came back from our 2-week long “Haute Route”. This long distance walk from Chamonix/France to Zermatt/Switzerland was quite an experience and the images of the scenery still linger in my head.

This hike was on my bucket list for quite some time. I was not sure if I was physically capable of doing such a long distance hike. The mountains are my passion, but I am more of a day hiker with the overnight hikes being an exception. I have never hiked two weeks, especially not 180 km consecutively! 

Philippe categorically said “no” to accompanying me to this hike, as he is still haunted by the memory of his sleepless night at a mountain hut with snoring hut-mates several years ago : (
I was willing to go on my own, but luckily my mountain buddy Sano from Japan decided to join me last minute and we decided to give this adventure a go. 

The greatest thing about the Haute Route are the spectacular scenery of the Swiss Alps with many 4000+m mountains such as the Mont Blanc, the Grand Combin, the Weisshorn and the famous Matterhorn… truly majestic!  Everytime we passed a col (or pass), another valley, another amazing scenery or a magnificent mountain appeared.

IMG_1495
Mont Blanc de Cheilon glowing in the evening light

My favourite part of the route was the 3-day hike from Cabane Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri to Cabane des Dix (Days 5-7). The scenery from Cabane Mont Fort was magnificent, looking at the shining snow-covered Grand Combin. Especially staying at the high altitude mountain huts gave us the impression to be in deep wilderness.

The most magical moment was the night at Cabane des Dix. The almost-full moon was appearing above the Mont Blanc de Cheilon and reflecting on the snow. I sat there with a Swiss couple gazing at this majestic spectacle in awe. We talked softly about the wonders of nature and how great it was to witness such a scene. Leaving nationalities, age and background behind, I felt we were united through love and respect for nature. It was a truly magnificent moment. 

IMG_1807
Our Haute Route hiking mates from London at Gruben

I did not imagine what an important role the people you meet on the Haute Route would play. Wonderful people from all over the world. To my surprise, the majority were Anglophones; Americans (five of them who belong to a hiking club, some couples and a solo hiker) and English couples from London, a Scottish couple from Glasgow. Also, Australians from the same “bush walking” club, an Israeli father with two adult sons and an Eastern European couple from London. As most of people do the “Haute Route” as well and there are few alternative routes, we inevitably met again and again on the trail or shared dinner tables at the huts. So we got to know each other. We were spontaneously connected through love for nature.
The age of all the hikers varied greatly; the oldest person we met was a rather fit 78-year old Australian from Sydney!

But it was hard! And if I say hard, I mean sometimes-I-wanted-to-just-drop-out kind of hard. In average we walked a 1000 altitude meters up and down, every day. No mercy. We left behind us around 10 cols/passes during the 14-day hike. 7 hour on the trail was just a normal day. Sometimes I was so tired that I did not want to leave my bed in the morning…. 

IMG_1940
Looking down the Lac des Dix with a Swiss hiker

Some of our co-hikers were in awesome shapes!  We thought we were fit, but we were surprised when our co-hikers (most of them definitely older!) passed us all the time! A couple from Scotland told us that back home, they walk 2 hours every day. That may be the reason the did not seem to be tired at all. 

The hardest part of the hike was the trek from Cabane Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri (Day 5). Even though the scenery from Cabane Mont Fort is one of my favourites, on that day we had to pass 3 peaks. Not one, not two, no, three! Walking up to the 3rd peak, I asked myself why I do this. Up at the 3rd peak I was completely exhausted! But sulking was no option…

IMG_1329If there is one major takeaway or a key to enjoyable hiking, it’s a light backpack containing the strict minimum. For the first three days my friend and I carried too much food, too many clothes and too much mountain gear. On day 3 we were so fed up with our heavy backpack that we decided to make a severe inventory review. We brought our clothes and personal items down to what we really needed and sent the rest on a comfortable trip home with the Swiss Post. We also decided to carry less food (only snacks) and eat “big” meals at the huts or hotels. Great decision. Traveling light. 

The Haute Route – Day 7, Part 1, August 28

Cabane de Prafleuri (2624m) – Col des Roux (2804m) – Refuge de Barma (2458m) – Lac des Dix (2364m) – Tête Noir (2981m)  Cabane des Dix (2928m)

We decided to take an alternative route and stay at the Cabane des Dix instead of going all the way to Arolla today. That would make today’s hike shorter than originally planned. Sano wanted to stay up in the mountains instead of going down to the valley. It turned out to be a great decision….

The first col to overcome today was 200m above our hut. As our route was shorter than others, we took it easy and waited for others to go up first. We could see our co-hikers braving up the steep slope early in the morning. 

IMG_1940
Chatting with a Swiss hiker at the Col des Roux

The moment we were up, the Lac des Dix opened up in front of us. The sunlight had not yet reached the surface of the water. The lake was dark-blue and still like mirror. There was no one except a man in his 70s who sat alone on a rock, overlooking the lake. 

I started talking to him as usual (it is easy to talk to people in the mountains) and he turned out to be from Lausanne where I used to live for almost 10 years. He is a passionate hiker and he said he comes to the mountains roughly 90 times a year!
IMG_1939“The mountains are like a drug for me,”, he laughed. Instantly I got to like him and we chatted for a while, admiring the splendid view together.  As he was waiting for the sun to illuminate the lake and we still had a long way to go, we said good-bye and moved on. 

When we came down to the lake, we heard him calling out, looked back and waved at him. We could clearly see him against the blue sky waiving back. What a beautiful encounter I had with a stranger, and what a beautiful moment I shared with him!

IMG_1459
Refuge de Barma

The trail was on the grassy land. While enjoying the view of the lake and pointy peaks across the water, we arrived at the beautiful Refuge de Barma, as the Swiss hiker mentioned. This refuge was un-manned but it was clean and spacious, well equipped for cooking. The hut had nice tables and a lake-view bench for picnic.  A great spot to enjoy snacks and the warmth of the sun. 

IMG_1461
A short break at the Lac des Dix

We continued on the wide, easy path to the pretty much at the end of this lake. From there a steep climb started on the moraine. Soon the trail forked into two: one to Arolla and the other to Lac des Dix, written in red paint on the rock. We scrambled on the tiring trail, stopped many times to regain forces. 

IMG_1468
At Tête de Noir, Cabane des Dix perching left

On the top of the moraine called Tête Noir (“Black Head”), Dent Blanche (=”White Tooth”) and Matterhorn were far away, but clearly seen. It was three valleys away from here. Still a long way to go to our last destination, Zermatt.

Finally we arrived at the Cabane des Dix

The Haute Route – Day 6, August 27

Cabane du Mont Fort (2457m) – Col Termin (2648m) – Col de Louvie (2921m) – Col de Prafleuri (2965m) – Cabane de Prafleuri (2624m)

Three peaks, horribly tough, incredibly spectacular!…

… so I woke up with apprehension. Three times up and down is on today’s mountain menu. 

IMG_1405
Mont Blanc glowing in the morning sun

Mont Blanc in the morning sun
In the middle of breakfast we heard other hikers’ “ohh” and “ahh”. When I looked out of the window, the sun started illuminating the distant Mont Blanc. We all hurried outside with cameras. The air was still cold but the sky was clear. The snow on the Mont Blanc was glowing in pink.

After thanking Daniel, a shy but very competent guardian of the hut, Sano and I put on our backpacks and walked into the fresh morning air. Almost everybody seemed to be heading for the same route. 

IMG_1420
Chamois appearing above our path

Chamois on the ridge
While we were traversing the steep slope on a narrow path, 6 or 7 chamois appeared on the ridge above. The silhouette of their slender body contrasted against the blue sky. What a beautiful sight! They looked at us for a while and then ran away higher up. 

We kept traversing the slope as if we were heading direct into the massive snow-covered Combin, which soars aloof across the valley. The Grand Combin (4314m) is so dominant that we could not keep our eyes off!  However, the trail was narrow and it required our full attention!  On our right, the valley was just about 1000m down a pretty steep slope.

IMG_1429
Looking back at the Grand Combin and Lac de Louvie

Many hikers were also coming from the opposite direction which creates a pleasant form of alpin crossroad congestion. A friendly hello, may be a quick chat and everybody was on the way again. 

A fabulous view from the Col Termin
In two hours we arrived at the first pass, the Col Termin (2648m). It was a fabulous viewpoint, facing the Grand Combin in the south and looking down at Lac de Louvie (Lake Louvie). Along with other hikers, we had a short break, enjoying the splendid view. 

Our spirits were high after such an incredibly scenic trail, but from there a steep downhill was waiting, before climbing up to the 2nd pass. 

The Col de Louvie, today’s 2nd peak
After managing the valley of stones and rocks, we arrived at the  Col de Louvie (2921m). We were happy to stop and settle for our last dry-freeze Japanese rice lunch. The American team (five people from the Massachusetts hiking club) was nearby and in their usual upbeat mood. John was brewing coffee and looking over to us said: “Starbucks open!”.

From there we looked down a wide, barren moon-like landscape, which is called The Grand Désert, and marched down the rocky trail. 

IMG_1433
Soaking my feet in a glacer pond

Soaking feet in the glacier pond, not in Onsen…
As soon as I saw a small glacier pond, I could not resist the temptation to take off my shoes and socks, and soak my tired feet in the cold water.  Refreshing but so cold that I could not keep them under the water more than a few seconds! Karen and John from the Starbucks team joined me in soaking their feet for more than a minute. Different breed – or may be their feet were just about to fall off.

Today’s last peak?
After we passed what we believed to be the 3rd pass, which it was not, the real 3rd pass appeared on the horizon!  Incredulously I gazed at this pass which looked steep and far away.  I was not prepared for this and really exhausted after all these ups and downs on slippery gravel slopes which required a lot of attention and physical effort. 

But no choice! Complaining silently to myself, even questioning why I do this, I climbed the exhausting path of rocks and screes to the 3rd col, Col de Prafleuri. Finally the hut came into view. 

IMG_1436
Today’s hut, not so far away…

At last, Cabane de Prafleuri
I was relieved when I arrived at the Cabane de Prafleuri. We were almost the last ones and the terrace was already buzzing with many other hikers.

The hut was located in the middle of an eerie, barren field, locked in by the treeless mountains. It almost looked like some kind of construction site, without any open view. Beautiful?  Not really.

Sano was in the meantime euphoric after today’s hike, while I was glad that I could finally put my feet up. 

After 50 hikers negotiating two showers and two toilets, we sat at the dinner table chatting with a friendly UK team (two sisters and their husbands).

IMG_1421

The Haute Route – Day 5, August 26

La Châble (821m) – Les Ruinettes (2195m) – Cabane du Mont Fort (2457m) – Col des Vaux (2705m)

Another sunny day!

La Châble is situated just at the bottom of Verbier. In other words, from where we were the mountain stands almost vertical (or it looked like that). 1600m uphill it will be : (

IMG_1357
Walking to the Cabane du Mont Fort

Fortunately there is a way around this: take a cableway to Les Ruinettes (2195m). Sano proposed this to gain altitude and hike from there, and I did not need much convincing…

So early in the morning we were already up above 2000m without any sweat.  From the cableway end station we started walking to the Cabane du Mont Fort. Verbier is a famous ski resort (apparently popular with British tourists) so many ski lifts are here and there. This in general disturbs the scenery, nevertheless the view from there is outstanding. 

IMG_1363
At the terrace of the Cabane du Mont Fort

Arriving at the Cabane du Mont Fort (2457m) around 10 am, of course, we saw Haute Route hikers nowhere yet. On the sunny terrace of the hut, four local elderly Swiss men were enjoying the scenery over coffee. A great place to get together with friends!  Some of them seem to be around my father’s age – I always admire these fit Swiss people.

The view from the Cabane – priceless! A panoramic view from the snow-covered expansive Combin Massif to the Mont Blanc range with the Trient Glacier, and even the Dents du Midi. All these mountains at one go!

After checking into a small cute attic room with only two beds (no need to suffer from other snoring mates!), we went to explore the area and walked up to Col des Vaux (2705m). The terrain is barren like Mars, but with an amazing view. We stopped at the ridge overlooking the Lac des Vaux (Lake Vaux) for our lunch break. A solo German hiker came by and we started chatting about the German politics. A hot topic: Germany/EU saving Greece…

IMG_1378
A view of the Combin Massif

On the way back in the middle of beautiful moor-like meadows we found a great spot, a large rock in the sun. We sat on it, basking in the warmth of the sun and talking. It was still early in the afternoon and we did not need to go back to the hut yet. Nothing to hurry to. Just enjoy the moment, the scenery and the company. Great life!

By the time we were back at the hut the terrace was brimming with many Haute Route hikers. Jean and Robert, a couple from Scotland, whom we met earlier on the trail, joined us at the table. They walked 1600m all the way up here! They are older than we are, but they said,”we made many stops for drinks and no problem it was.”…. Ummm

IMG_1414
With Daniel of Cabane du Mont Fort; shy but a very competent guardien

I have not been to a mountain hut for a long time (Philippe finds it a horror to stay there) and did not expect much about food at the hut. However, the dinner at the Cabane du Mont Fort was fantastic: salad, pasta with accompanying vegetable and dessert. Plenty of food for hungry hikers and very delicious. It seems that only two men were cooking and serving over 40 people flawlessly!  

The  Haute Route – Day 4, August 25

Champex (1466m) – Sembrancher (717m) – Le Châble (821m), 13km in total

Blue sky after two rainy days!  

IMG_1318
Going down the Val d’Entremont

Today is an easy day –  downhill only : )  From just behind our cozy Hotel Splendide, we started going down the valley, the Val d’Entremont, passing small farming villages and the vividly green pastureland. Nothing but peaceful Swiss countryside. 

IMG_1331
Sembrancher square

After a couple of hours we arrived at Sembrancher which is located pretty much at the bottom of the valley. A charming village with a cobbled-stone square and a church. Going through the village and admiring charming old wooden houses, we looked for a good spot for lunch. 

As we strolled on the flat meadows, we were getting very hungry, we finally found a perfect bench in the open field looking over Verbier. The sun was shining – a perfect day. What a change from yesterday…

IMG_1337
Our lunch spot after Sembrancher

While we were enjoying our freeze-dry Japanese rice lunch (a direct import by Sano), several hikers passed by. Another four hikers came by, eying at our bench. They also seemed to be looking for a lunch spot. We invited them to join us on the bench and we started chatting. They were from east London and also on the Haute Route. They also hiked the Arpette route despite the thunderstorm warning yesterday…

After lunch we continued on the trail in the forest and along the river. Finally a tall church appeared still far away. It was today’s final destination, Le Châble. This good-size town is situated at the bottom of a famous ski resort called Verbier, sandwiching the river, La Dranse. 

IMG_1339
Approaching Le Châble

After our usual chores of laundry and food shopping, we had an important mission today: make our backpack light!
We were inspired by a light backpack of our Haute Route co-hiker Jean from Scotland. We suffered from our heavy backpacks and our aim was to reduce our stuff to the strict minimum.

Everything was under our strict review; Sano’s Jetboil (convenient for cooking but heavy) was out, my binoculars (good to have but heavy) were also out, with other clothes and many more small items. To minimise our food weight, we decided to eat main meals at the mountain huts or hotels so we carry only snacks and water.

IMG_1329
Our backpacks resting on the bench : )

We went to the post office next door, bought the biggest parcel box and sent out all the items to my home in Meilen. We felt happily lightened! Ready to fly to new heights. 

The Haute Route – Day 3, August 24

Trient (1279m) to Champex (1466m)

IMG_1247
Braving into the dark Trient in the morning

We got up at 6am. it was dark and raining outside : (  We left the hotel in the full rain gear for the bus stop. 

While waiting for the 6:50 am bus, we continued to debate our route today. The original route via the Fenêtre d’Arpette was already out of the window: a thunderstorm warning made climbing the exposed path not safe. 

The prospect of hiking up 1000m on the alternative route of Alp Bovine in the rain did not seem funny neither. When the bus arrived, we finally made an executive decision: scratch out today’s hike and take a bus all the way to Champex via Martigy. It was a big decision and we felt a bit sheepish about it. But Sano and I had one point in common: we love hiking but it has to be fun. Hiking in the rain is not included in our definition of “fun”. 

While three hikers got off at the Col de la Forclaz braving into the rain, we continued on the bus, staying nicely dry and looking out the view of the valley (still dark in the beginning), till Marigny and changed buses to Champex. 

IMG_1253
Gloomy-looking Champex Lake

In Champex, after a friendly receptionist at the Hotel Splendide kindly let us check into a cozy room, we decided to visit the Champex Lake. This small, usually pleasant resort town Champex had a somewhat gloomy feel to it under the heavy clouds and the lake was reflecting the dark sky.  Energised by a plum cake and hot tea in a local coffee shop, however, we felt better and headed for the Bisse du Petit Ruisseau

IMG_1261
Following a pretty watercourse “Bisse”

The “Bisse” is a watercourse and a famous irrigation system in the Valais region. The footpath continued upward along the beautiful stream and to the direction of the Val d’Arpette, which was supposed to be our original hiking route. Though the menacing clouds were out there, we thought we would keep going and turn around if it starts raining. After passing a mountain hut, Relais d’Arpette (1627m), the pasture dotted with a couple of farmhouses continued for a short time and then we started climbing up among rocks and boulder.  Once we climbed up to the high boulder for a view, we could see the path from the top of Arpette far away.  We gazed at soaring rocky peaks in the fast-moving mist. The valley of Arpette war beautifully wild and lonesome. 

Climbing the Val d’Arpette

By that time we saw two hikers coming down. We chatted and found out that they braved through the Fenetre d’Arpette path despite the thunderstorm warning!  We were further surprised to know they had a reasonable view from the top!!

Chatting with two hikers who came down the Arpette
Chatting with two hikers who came down the Arpette

We were disappointed that we chickend out. It really looked marvellous and also manageable, but how could we know about the weather? Oh well, I have to come back here one day….

The Haute Route – Day 2

Argentine, France (1251m) – Col de Balme (2204m) – Trient, Switzerland (1279m)

The clouds were hanging low in the morning. After having a wonderful breakfast at our pleasant Le Dahu Hotel, we decided to go for the lazy option and take a bus from Argentière to Le Tour and from Le Tour a tele-cabin to Col de Balme. In this way, we will save an almost 1000m uphill climb :- )

A bus driver kindly gave us a free ride to Le Tour and from there we hopped on the tele-cabin. It was not exactly cheap (€22 per person) but it was worth it. We could see other hikers walking up and felt a bit sheepish. Yesterday we lost a bit of confidence in climbing up 1000m with our heavy backpacks : (  In any case, we had to go down another 1000m to the other side of the valley to Switzerland. 

IMG_1235
Col de Balme

Once we went up to the Col de Balme (2204m), the sun showed its friendly face for a moment reflecting on the Mont Blanc mountain range. It was magical. Despite the cold we hanged out there for a while, admiring the mountains, taking photos and talking about potential future hiking routes in the Chamonix area. An endless topic. 

Finally, we started heading for the Col de Balme passing the mountain hut.  From there our path was going straight down. Sano suggested that we go left around Tête de Balme instead and I jumped at his idea right away. 

IMG_1238The weather did not look favorable and it would take more time, but seemed more interesting than to just walk down to Trient. Soon it started raining, our complete rain gear got its first show. In the heavy mist we could still see the Lac d’Emosson and the valley dropping into the abyss (kind of), which we saw from the train yesterday. It was scenic with a mysterious-feel to it. On the way we only met a couple of people, French hikers and two more.  After a while the rain stopped and we started serious downhill.

IMG_1244Once we went down to Trient, we headed for our hotel, La Grande Ourse. While we were drying our rain gear outside, two Japanese hikers and their two guides came out after lunch and we started chatting. These older Japanese women were also doing the Haute Route, but in a short and luxurious version, escorted by the guides and a car for hard parts. They were skipping 3 stages and going directly to Lac des Dix afterwards. The Japanese guide who is based in Chamonix told us that we had better not take the Fenetre d’Arpette tomorrow, if there is a thunderstorm warning. He told us that one Japanese hiker was seriously injured recently and helicoptered out from the Arpette path. Now he had me worried.  

IMG_1241
A small village with a pink church

Sano and I intensively debated tomorrow’s hiking route over late lunch on the terrace. In the meantime, more and more hikers in wet rain gear were arriving a the hotel, with a couple of big groups which seem to be doing the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB). The first two or three days of our route are overlapping with the TMB  so there were a lot of people in this small village of Trient where only two hotel/dormitories exist!  By the dinner time, the hotel was completely packed with hikers. 

After dinner I walked around this small village. Trient is a quiet and sleepy village but somehow charming.

Setting our alarm clock at 6 am to catch 6:50am bus next morning, we went to bed a bit concerned about tomorrow’s weather…

The Haute Route – Day 1, Chamonix to Argentière, France

Departing from Zurich for the starting point Chamonix, France.

It was a sunny day and we left by train gazing at the fabulous view above Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). More dramatic views are hard to find even in this beautiful Switzerland. The vineyards hit the shore of the lake, while the French alps soar on the other side of the lake. Wow.

On the InterCity from Lausanne to Martigny, we chatted away with a friendly Swiss flight attendant from the region. In Martigny we changed to the Mont Blanc Express and this cute red train climbed up to the narrow Chamonix Valley, which is so steep and deep that we could not see the bottom from the train. 

IMG_1222
Charming Chamonix, along L’Arve river

In Chamonix we were lucky to be welcomed by a clear view of Mont Blanc! The snow of the mountain was shining under the sun and the town was teeming with tourists. We quickly gave up the idea of getting up to the Aiguille de Midi after being told that it would be a 2-hour wait. But we saw another tele-cabin going up to the other side, Le Brévent, and Sano-san hopped on to have a 360-degree view from the Le Brévent side of the valley. His excitement was contagious. A great start!

We dropped by at the “Maison de la Montagne” (The House of Mountains) and the people explained us how to get to Argentière and gave us tips for the further routes on Fenetre d’Arpette. No go for this route due to the thunderstorm warning : (( This place was full of mountaineers and climbers, who were discussing their plans leaning over maps. Loved the atmosphere : )

IMG_1228
Looking back at Mont Blanc

After buying some necessary hiking items such as water and gas for the Jetboil boiler, we started the 1st part of the Haute Route walking along the river and continued up to the The Petit Balcon Nord. The path was different from the one in our guidebook, but recommended by the guy at the Maison de la Montagne. After coming out in the pasture, we could clearly see the Mont Blanc mountain range behind us and could not help but turning our head back again and again to get another glimpse of the majestic scenery. 

While walking up just a little in the forest, however, both of us started (already!) suffering from our heavy backpacks. This made us seriously worried about what was still to come. We have to hike up und down 1000m in a day in average. Can we really do this, for the next 2 weeks??

Passing beautiful French villages and cute farm houses, we arrived at the town of Argentière. It is a relatively large village, snugly settled in the valley. People were out there in the square having dinner and it was a pleasant atmosphere.

IMG_1231
Evening view of Trient from Argentière

From our hotel balcony, we would see Trient turning red and it was a great start. We had a pleasant dinner with pasta and risotto in a nearby restaurant, a bit worried about the weather and our fitness level for this hike…