The Haute Route – Chamonix to Zermatt

We hiked the classic summer Haute Route in early September in almost perfect weather. What a treat it was to enjoy the company of other motivated people whilst traversing over frozen glaciers, roaring streams and mountain passes. Originally called the High Route by the English, the Haute Route is the ultimate glacier trek from Chamonix to Zermatt. Taking 7 days, we started with the lift from Le Tour and hiked to the Albert Premiere Hut. This short trek allowed us to slowly get in touch with our gear, and break the feet in pleasantly. After lunch at the hut, we moved onto the glacier to practice the crampon skills needed for the Haute Route.

Day 2 took us over the Tête Blanche and across the Trient Plateau to the Trient Hut. This area, from Trient to Arolla, is a special place for me living so close, in Verbier. Most of the next 3 day’s trek took place in the Val de Bagnes, my commune. A small snow storm broke out on the way up the Tête Blanche. I figured this was not bad, since it meant my clients would not clearly see the rappel off the corniche to the lower slopes below. It went well though. Obviously most people were a bit nervous since most they had never done anything like this before, but it appeared they were beginning to gain confidence in their guides! The Trient hut was quite comfy with the new addition. No water for a face wash though. Hopfully this will be corrected in the future for those dry, end of the season spells.

Day 3 we cruised down to the chair lift at Champex Lac. I spend a lot of time skiing  here in winter and absolutely love riding down on this chair. The view towards Lake Geneva, the lake of Champex, the Petit Combin and Verbier, peals away as one lowers to Champex. A taxi took us to fresh supplies at the new Coop in Sembrancher, then to Mauvoisin for a picnic on the dam. We then hiked 4 hours along the beautiful path and over the Col de Tsofeiret to Chanrion. Marvelling at the roaring waterfalls crashing into the Mauvoisin lake, the views of the east face of the Tournelon Blanc, and sighting all the Bouquetin (Ibex), Chamois, and Marmots in this protected reserve, made this one of the more memorable days off the glaciers.

Day 4 is a long one, 8-9 hours: up the Ottema glacier and down to Arolla for a civilized rest at the classic Kurhaus Hotel. Whenever I get this far up the Val de Bagnes, I am always reminded of the ambiance of the Himalaya. It is so wild! The Crete Seche combe sees so little traffic, that you will not see any other footprints in the whole valley. Everything looks close, but when you start to walk, it’s like you are on a rolling carpet. You walk for an hour and it appears you are still in the same place. Trekking up this long glacier is a wonderful feeling though. The huge mountains all around ask you to detour and climb: the Bec d’Epicoune, Aiguille de la Singla, the Petit Mont Collon, the Pigne d’Arolla, and, and… we were so happy to drink that beer on the Kurhaus lawn!

Day 5 is 5-6 hours, straight up to the Bertol hut. I am always a bit concerned when clients ask me how many kilometers we will hike. This day is 4 kilometers, but why didn’t they ask about the vertical meters?  This one is 1.3 kilometers…. up!  If taken at a nice, easy pace though, this day is super rewarding for the group. Getting so high so quickly makes one feel like superman. Our progress is apparent with each step as the valley floor drops steadily away. The last few meters up the ladders open into one of the most adorable huts in the Alps. Cabane Bertol is perched upon it’s own eagle’s nest, with stunning views of the Matterhorn and the Dent Blanche.

Day 6 is another long one of 6-7 hours to the Schonbiel Hut. I love this day for its early start. Watching the sun rise and choosing my line over the convoluted glacier to economically get to the sun early, makes this day so special. There are heaps of crevasses to contour, then the slopes to the summit of the Tête Blanche. It really feels like one has arrived. It’s the end of the trek. The shoulder of the Matterhorn starts to peak out ahead and the  Mattertal comes into full view. From the top, heading down, it’s like flying over in a small plane. Looking down at the glacier and rivers, the walls of the Matterhorn’s north face and the tiny chalets above Zermatt. The sence of relief and exuberance charges your whole being and drives you forward towards your next big challenge, the enormous boulder field separating you from the Schonbiel Hut at the bottom of the valley. A good fun test of balance and endurance before your next beer on the terrace!

Day 7 is a fine cruise down to town. Through cool old chalets and little hamlets, stopping at cute bistros and trying to speak Swiss German! It’s like Hobbit talk. Really quite difficult to believe it’s a real language it’s so cute! Zermatt here I come. Let’s go for a climb up the Breithorn, or another day to Saas Fee!

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About Hans Solmssen

I am a professional mountain guide living in Verbier, Switzerland. I grew up on the Big Island of Hawaii after my father moved to Hawaii to teach at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. He created a horse program at this high school, located in the middle of the largest, privately owned cattle ranch in the US. Horses were a major part of my life, even playing polo for a few years. I moved to northern Vermont to go to school, and discovered skiing. Little did I know, this would become my life's passion: guiding friends and clients over the mountains around the world on skis and foot. I moved to Verbier, Switzerland in 1982, and entered the Swiss guide's program in '88. I received my UIAGM "pin" 3 years later in 1991. I have two kids, Anya and Kevin.

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