Walker’s Haute Route

July 27, 2019- August 12, 2019

We hike the classic “Walker’s Haute Route” from Chamonix, France in the Mont Blanc valley, to Zermatt Switzerland at the base of the Matterhorn.  This is the ultimate European hike and should be on every hiker’s bucket list.  The hike offers fabulous views with terrain that varies from rolling green high mountain meadow (alp) to other worldly landscapes of rock and ice. Some days we walk beside bisse (open mountain fresh water aqueducts)  and other days we find ourselves traversing a 1000 meter scree slope.

This year we offer this trip for an all inclusive price of $5,750.00 which includes air fare from Boston to Geneva, the scenic train ride on the classic Mont Blanc Express to Chamonix, 15 nights of lodging in a mix of hotels, mountain huts (cabanes), and auberges, all breakfasts and dinners, expert guiding, return train from Zermatt to Zurich and return flight from Zurich to Boston.  

While we never climb above 3,000 meters, this trip requires a great deal of physical fitness and stamina.  This hike has no rock climbing and requires no technical skills, however over the course of two weeks, we hike approximately 125 miles and climb a total of 50,000 feet.  A typical day is about 9 miles in length and 3000 feet of elevation gain, although some days may be longer or more difficult.  To prepare for our hike, all hikers participate in a few training hikes which are included in the fixed price of this hike.

Price is based on double occupancy and what is not included in our trip are daily lunches and snacks (hikers often grab some extras at breakfast to munch on during the day), alcohol at meals where available, and travel insurance.  Please see the FAQ below for other questions.

We must limit this trip to 7 participants.  A $1000.00 deposit holds your place. SIGN UP NOW

 

Please scroll to the bottom for photos from previous trips

Flowers at Cafe La Floria on the first stage

Flowers at Cafe La Floria on the first stage

On the path to La Chable

On the path to La Chable

Cabane La Dix

Cabane La Dix

Cabane de Mont Fort

Frequently asked Questions

 

OVERVIEW

The Walker's Haute Route is a walking trail through the French and Swiss Alps, for 125 miles from Chamonix in the West to Zermatt in the East.

The highest point reached by the standard route is 2,987m (9,799ft) and the height gain on the route is around 15,200m (49,867ft).

The hike takes 14 days to complete, so our hike is 14days and 15 nights.

 

FAVORITE SECTIONS

What hikers say...
We asked our Haute Route clients which stages they enjoyed most. Many love the thrilling finale on the Europaweg, being the last two days into Zermatt, but also popular are the days to Champex via the Fenetre d'Arpette, a high rocky pass, and to Cabane de Moiry with its stiff climb into the mountains.

With good weather the Europaweg section allows the perfect view down into Zermatt, and up to the Matterhorn, as you traverse the rocky hillsides high above the Mattertal.

Other highlights
Other stages on the Haute Route have their own attractions. The three-day crossing from Le Chable to Arolla is perhaps the toughest but the most rewarding section of the whole route. The more remote sections are a true challenge even in clear weather.

The pastoral sections have their own charm, giving a glimpse of everyday life in rural Switzerland. These sections include the Champex to Le Chable stage, and the alternative valley stage into Zermatt that can replace the Europaweg if sections of the Europaweg are closed for repair as they have recently been in the past few years. 

 

IS THIS THE SAME AS THE “HIGH ROUTE”?

The Walker's Haute Route is the proper title, in order to distinguish this trek from the original mountaineering route from Chamonix to Zermatt which is best referred to as the Classic Haute Route. This Classic route is the ski or mountaineering route across glaciers, taking a line generally to the South of the Walker's Haute Route. The French term Haute Route simply means High Route, as indeed it is!

This is a more extensive trip that then Tour de Mont Blanc and should not be confused with it.

 

IS THIS HIKE FOR ME?

The joy of hiking the Haute Route
There is great satisfaction in completing stages of a long-distance trek, even more so when it's a famous one like the Haute Route. There might be times when the climb seems too much effort, or  when you encounter bad weather; at such times the goal keeps you going. Equally there should be days when you feel all-powerful, tackling the mountain trails as if they were paths in the park!

One of the best feelings on the hike can be nearing the end of a stage, once you're well into the hike, knowing that you've ticked off another leg of the journey. At such points you've also got an evening in a new village to look forward to. Travelling in a self-sufficient manner through the culturally and linguistically diverse terrain of the Haute Route, this all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying trip.

 

IS IT TOO STRENUOUS FOR ME?

The Haute Route is manageable for the fittest of hikers who are capable of hiking between 6 to 8 ½ hours each day, or more,  along a long-distance trail that goes up and over high altitude mountains each day. One tough stage for many trekkers is the 10.5 miles hike from Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla. This involves a total ascent of 920m (3,018ft) to cross the Pas de Chevres at 2,855m (9,366ft). Another tough stage can be the walk from Gasenried to the Europahutte along the Europaweg.  

To help prepare for this hike, our group will hike three training hikes which will help us to get to know one another and prepare us for the hike.  Other hikes on your own of similar daily distance and climb will also be of help in preparing for this two week journey across the alps. .

 

WHAT'S IT LIKE UNDERFOOT?

Underfoot you will experience a variety of tracks and trails on the Haute Route. Most mountainous sections run on single-track paths that can be rocky in places, sometimes with steps but mostly just the bare earth. Mud is not a problem like it is on trails in NH in the spring.  Sometimes, travel is along gravel forest roads, ski pistes, or rough tracks for vehicles over agricultural land. There are some sections of country lanes. Unusually even for an Alpine hikes at this level, some of the mountain passes are  steep, loose and rocky, calling for good experience and steady balance. An alternative to one of these steep cols that we will take is a series of long, almost vertical, ladders.. There are also some very short sections of glacier that must be crossed but these are near-flat and are usually unglaciated (in normal circumstances being just a walk on snow).

 

IS THE ROUTE OBVIOUS?

The Haute Route has sections that are particularly difficult to navigate, if the visibility is poor. Other sections are reasonably clear. It is crucial to note that there is no set 'Haute Route' trail; instead the route follows pre-existing paths and tracks. It's crucial therefore to pick the correct ones! The trickiest sections to navigate come on the rockiest and most remote terrain, where sometimes there are painted waymarks to follow but at other times a keen sense of direction is needed, allied to map and compass skills.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of the Haute Route, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

It is essential for all parties on the Haute Route to have at least one competent navigator with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. The best maps for the route unfortunately still have mistakes, which comes as an additional hazard. This is a guided trip with an experienced guide, so we have that covered for you.  While the route changes from time to time due to trail conditions or maintenance, we carry a full gps mapped route, and updated route cards that represent the trail conditions recorded at the beginning of the summer season by one of our agents.

 

IS IT TECHNICALLY DIFFICULT?

The Walker's Haute Route is first and foremost a hike, but it is important to note that it is at the top end of difficulty in terms of Alpine hiking. The difficulty of the terrain is often underestimated. There is no glacier walking except for two narrow glaciers that in normal circumstances can be treated merely as a snow patches, and there is no rock climbing. There are, however, some sections where the path crosses exceptionally rocky and steep ground or is narrow and precipitous.  As mentioned above, there is a long near-vertical ladder section on the standard route to Arolla. This ladder has a nearby alternative that may be used in bad weather if the guide so decides, but this alternative is such a steep and loose climb to a col that it is hardly any simpler. Additionally, the hike finishes with the two-day Europaweg into Zermatt which presents hikers with loose hillsides, boulder fields, and navigational challenges. If you have questions about whether you may be able to complete this hike, please reach out to us to get a more detailed description of each day’s hiking or for more information about likely hazards on the trail.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths that are clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the Haute Route should be approached as a summer Alpine hike, with snow quite unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.

 

Where we stay

The Haute Route's accommodation is a major attraction of the route. For the 15 nights , we will stay in stay in:
4-star hotel (1)
3-star hotels (4)
2-star hotels (2)
Auberges (4)
Mountain huts (4)

Most accommodation is family-run, even in the larger places such as Zinal. In Zermatt we book a superbly well-run yet not extravagant hotel, for a memorable finish.

 

ITINERARY

Travel day 7/28
Flight from Boston to Geneve the evening of the 27th, arringing the morning of the 28. Train from Geneve to Chamonix where we spend the night in preparation of our journey. Welcome dinner in Chamonix.

Stage One 7/29
Start in Chamonix at about 1,000m (3,281ft). Our route takes to the hillside across from Mont Blanc, to reach the beautiful mountain lake Lac Blanc at 2,352m (7,717ft). The route then descends steeply to Argentiere which is the night's destination. Passing the L’aguille Rouge, this route provides an appreciation of Chamonix before the Haute Route sets off into Switzerland.

Stage Two 7/30
From Argentiere the Haute Route crosses the Col de Balme at 2,131m (6,991ft). This is a gentle pass, grassy slopes rising up on the French side in what is a busy ski area in winter. Dropping down the far side, the path is steeper but this stage remains a moderate introduction to the Haute Route's theme of crossing cols. We drop into the hamlet of Trient for the first night in Switzerland.

Stage Three 7/31
The next stage offers a choice of routes. Our route goes over the famous Fenetre d'Arpette at 2,665m (8,743ft), or in bad weather, the alternative route via the alpage of Bovine at 1,987m (6,519m). Both routes are taxing, but the Fenetre (literally 'window') in the rock is an experience in the mountains to herald challenges yet to come. Arrive in Champex, a small Swiss resort next to its emerald-green lake.

Stage Four 8/1
Today's destination is the working village of le Chable in the Val des Bagnes. This fourth stage comes as a contrast to the mountain routes so far. It's largely in the valley, first descending through woods and fields to Sembrancher where the railway from Martigny is met, and then crossing fields in the valley floor as far as le Chable. This is a chance to recharge before three hard stages all involving much ascent!  This also happens to be the Swiss national Holiday, Swiss Day, and the village may be filled with residents of the neighboring village for the celebration, or it may be completely empty which leaves the town entirely at our disposal.

Stage Five 8/2
Setting off from le Chable, settle in for 1,700m (5,577ft) of ascent to the day's destination, Cabane du Mont Fort at 2,457m (8,061ft). A steady rhythm sees the hillside chapels, wooded glades, tracks and paths pass quickly enough, all the time gaining height above the valley. In clear weather, Mont Blanc comes into sight. This is a stage of great transition, from everyday working rural Switzerland to the edge of the high mountains.

Stage Six 8/3
After a night at the Cabane in its grand setting rimmed by jagged rock peaks, it's time to leave for one of the Haute Route's most exacting stages. Any bad weather can make it a real challenge for even the most experienced groups. Two cols are available to reach the high basin above Lac de Louvie... Col de la Chaux or Col Termin. Chaux is wild and rocky, Termin is more amenable, and both have a particular set of scenic views. This first col out of the way, the route continues to two more: Col de la Louvie and then Col de Prafleuri at 2,987m (9,800ft) which is the highest point reached on the Walker's Haute Route. A final drop to Cabane de Prafleuri completes this remote and rocky stage. Knees will be glad of the rest after the almost entirely pathless and often bouldery miles.

Stage Seven 8/4
Possibly the hardest stage of the Haute Route comes today. This is the walk to Arolla. First climb over Col des Roux to enter the grand basin of the Dix reservoir, an impressive setting. The route continues beyond the waters up to Cabane des Dix, a useful stopping point for lunch to break up this long stage. Again we are at just under 3,000m (9,843ft) in altitude. A tiny glacier is crossed, that in most conditions is no more difficult than a snowpatch and that requires no special equipment, before a choice of two difficult cols is reached. There is the Pas de Chevres with its formidable near-vertical ladders, or Col de Riedmatten with its loose rocks and steep angle. After this section the roll down to Arolla is a breeze. The village is tiny but has all we need, at the head of Val d'Herens.

Stage Eight 8/5
Three hard stages marking the crux of the Haute Route are over, so today is a welcome contrast. The walk down to Les Hauderes then up to La Sage is solidly in or just above the valley, on decent tracks and paths. It is also a modest distance, giving time to restock and relax. La Sage is a village typical of the Valais, our region here in the Swiss Alps, and it is one of our favorites with heavy stone flags for roofing and agriculture all around.

 Stage Nine 8/6
Once more into the mountains! Our route takes us over Col du Tsate at 2,868m (9,409ft), to then descend to the Lac de Moiry basin before a second distinct climb to Cabane de Moiry. At 2,825m (9,268ft) this is the highest overnight stop on our route.  We really feel like we are in the high peaks with the spectacular views of the glacier right outside the door of the cabane.

Stage Ten 8/7
From Cabane de Moiry the Haute Route retraces its steps a little, traverses high above Lac de Moiry, then climbs to Col de Sorebois. This col at 2,835m (9,301ft) is grassy and easy compared to many others on the route! A long descent takes us down to the pleasant village of Zinal in one branch of Val d'Anniviers.

Stage Eleven 8/8
By one of two main routes, the next valley reached is the Turtmantal. We are into German-speaking Switzerland at the rocky ridge dividing Val d'Anniviers and the Turtmantal. From Zinal the route climbs to the Forcletta at 2,874m (9,429ft), a rocky pass to new Alpine landscapes. High-mountain views abound from this point.  The routes roll downhill to the small village of Gruben where we spend the night.

Stage Twelve 8/9
Today's is the last stage with the Haute Route's classic up-then-down pattern. From Gruben we climb steadily to the rocky but wide Augstbordpass at 2,893m (9,492ft). In descent, we enter the Mattertal... the valley shared with the Matterhorn, no less. That celebrated peak remains hidden by high mountain walls. After the high alp of Jungen with its barns and houses, the route zig-zags down to St Niklaus in the industrial part of the valley floor. At last we are in the final valley, we are near our goal!

Stage Thirteen 8/10
Today we start the two-day finale into Zermatt, called the Europaweg. We reach the start of this path, via Grachen or Gasenried. Once up and on it, the route crosses in and out of seemingly improbably rocky combes on the steep hillside. The Matterhorn comes into sight at the head of the valley. Rounding a spur we reach the wooden Europahutte at 2,265m (7,431ft) and our home for the night.

Stage Fourteen 8/11
The Europaweg continues, today's initial sections retaining the characteristic challenge, but these challenges giving way steadily to easier walking as Zermatt gets closer. Tunnels and avalanche-protection walls are interesting features. Finally walking high above Zermatt, the full height difference with the Matterhorn's summit can be seen. A last descent past barns and huts at Findeln brings us into town. The bustle of Zermatt brings no problems of adjustment, such is the magical nature of this car-free town.

Travel Day 8/12
Train from Zermatt to Zurich, Flight from Zurich to Boston