Hiking the Haute Route

The Haute Route is a high-level traverse in the French and Swiss Alps, from Chamonix (France) to Zermatt (Switzerland) over 180km. The route traverses below the summits of 10 out of the 12 of the highest peaks in the Alps, and crosses several high passes. The highest pass is at 2964 m (9,800 ft). I had already done most of the route near Chamonix (while doing the Tour de Mont Blanc) and likewise the Zermatt end (doing the Tour de Monte Rosa), and so I am hitting off some of the nicer sections in the middle between Verbier and Zinal with my buddy Tamara

Fair warning this is mostly a photo post!

Day 1 – Le Ruinettes to Prafleuri – c. 17k, 1000m of ascent

This was a pretty easy day as we dodged hours of boring walking up from Le Chable to Les Ruinettes by using the cable cars. Normally I am a purist but the trail up was 1350m of ascent next to a road.

We strolled from the cable car at Les Ruinettes around to Cabane de Montfort and then took the alpine route (blue and white markings) up over Col de Chaux at 2940m There was still a fair amount of steep snow to cross (shame I forgot my poles, so I used my hands instead on the steep bits) and the steep sections on rock were sludgy underfoot so there was a bit of back sliding involved. The col was lovely, but the other side was sludgy too so there was a bit of but sliding down the first 50m until we managed to crab across to the path skirting around the melt.

The views were stunning and it was a lovely stroll over a rocky moraine, sidling up to the Lac di Petit Montfort. We stopped for cheese sandwiches before taking on the col de louvie at 2924m

After the col de Louvie, we entered into the Grand desert, a surreal alpine bowl with a lovely grey green lake being fed by the Gran Desert glacier.

The trail wasn’t well marked so there was a lot of boulder hopping heading in the general direction of Col de Prafleuri. It was a col that just kept giving as there were several false cols before hand that tricked us into thinking we were close. There was a slightly hairy rock traverse which gave onto three lovely lakes before the final approach to Col de Prafleuri at 2987m

Looking down from the Col, the refuge was nestled in a surreal valley about 300m below, a weird flat bowl area which looked slightly geothermal and I suspect was an abandoned damn project

We arrived around 4pm and got the Covid induction. Blissfully there are many fewer hikers in the huts as they attempt to maintain social distancing. This hut has a bad rap on trip advisor but the hut was clean and well run, the welcome was warm and dinner was delicious (soup, beef stew rice and salad and dessert). It’s expensive at 75 francs but that’s normal in Switzerland

We were in bed by 7.30 but both of us were suffering slightly from the altitude so I didn’t get a lot of sleep

Day 2 – Prafleuri to arolla – 18km 740m of ascent, 1340m of descent

We were up for breakfast at 6am – thanks to the excellent refuge system of catering for early morning risers. It was a typical breakfast in a refuge far from town – tinned fruit salad, yogurt and crackers and jam. They also gave us apple sauce which is a weird french hut thing too

We started the day with a straight up climb of 180m up to Col des Roux at 2804m and then had a leisurely stroll down the mountain side enjoying the views of the Barrage de dix and cows

We passed a few wild campers who still had tents up at 8am (a bad idea when camping is illegal, I am always packed and gone by 7) but they were lovely camping spots.

After a nice flat stroll along the lake we left the lake at Pas de Chat and started the climb up to Pas de Chevre

It was a stunning hike skirting around big boulders with views ahead to the Glacier de Cheilon and the well situated Cabane de dix, and views back down the barrage

The final 150m of ascent was slightly tricky as there were a sludgy slippy bit with a bit of a drop, but the boulders were firmly in place and fine to scramble. The final approach to the Pas de Chevre at 2855m is via a trail along the rock face with a chain to hold on to, and an ascent of four ladders (I am assuming I could have clipped on if I had had a harness, but I didn’t and no one I saw did either). The ladders were easier than expected and easier than the slippy bit at the bottom

Crossing the pas, we encountered a lot of day hikers from Arolla, and it was a very easy stroll down into town. We were delighted at the bottom when we found a grand hotel with a big garden and stopped for a beer before the bus

We took the excellent post bus down the valley to Les Hauderes as the walk isn’t particularly interesting and we were saving our legs for the next day.

Les Hauderes was an excellent village, we showered, had a cider and then had dinner at 18.45 – an epic combination of cheese and morelles fondue and Rosti with bacon, and then we rolled into bed

Day 3 Mayens de Cotter to Col de Sorebois – 14km, 1400m of climbing

We had planned a bit of a sneaky taxi short cut for this morning to cut out the climb on the road. Tamara decided to have an easy day, so I took the cab up to Mayens de Cotter reasoning that the ascent I skipped, I could make up for by extending the days hike to Col Sorebois. The cabbie dropped me and two Germans off at 8am and off I went, slightly hampered by the absence of caffeine and breakfast

The climb up to the col de torrent (at 2916m) was as gentle as a 900m ascent can be, with gentle switchbacks through alpine pasture.

The view from the col down onto the Lac des Autannes 200m below was lovely, and I skipped down the descent.

From autannes down to the Barrage de Moiry (damn) the views just got better and better with epic views up the turquoise barrage to the Moiry glacier. The sun was shining and the cows were not aggressive and it was a lovely 40 min stroll from the col to the barrage

There was a lovey cafe at the barrage so I had an excellent sandwich, coffee and Coke Zero to fortify me for the next 600m climb up to Sorebois.

I figured out later that no one climbs up Sorebois, everyone takes the cable car from Grimentz to the top, then strolls down to the barrage to catch the bus back. But it wasn’t a challenging hike and the views back were lovely.

The views from the top were better still, looking out on Weisshorn and Zinalrothorn, if you looked past the scarred slopes from the ski infrastructure

The path down to Zinal is closed as they are rebuilding the cable car, so I hopped on the teleferique down to Grimentz to head back to the airport via the post bus and train

Grimentz, August 16, 2020

Additional notes

Stayed at Refuge Prafleuri which was fine, must pay cash, and then at the very budget (by Swiss standards) hotel des Hauderes

Train and bus connections easy from Geneva airport – use the easy ride widget on the SBB app and it will charge you for the cheapest possible fare. The postbus coverage in Switzerland is awesome (and again covered by the SBB app), but be warned it is not cheap

The best guide was the Cicerone Chamonix to Zermatt book, and I had downloaded the Swiss Topo maps on Gaia. Be warned these are alpine sections so take appropriate gear. I didn’t bring my poles and they would have been handy. Earlier in the season, crampons and an ice axe would have been smart

I put the routes on strava, but with the exception of day 3, I forgot to have the watch on for most of the day