How much of The Haute Route can we run in 5 days?

The Haute Route is an alpine walking trail that runs from Chamonix to Zermatt, covers 180km and climbs 10,000m. It is usually takes 12 days to cover the route but we were going to see how far we could get in 5 days. Seven crazy fools had signed up to tackle this challenge all who had a varying levels of experience; Steven had cycled through Africa, Ross had completed the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, Mountain Goat Maeve had just got back from running Scaffel Pike Marathon, Will is normally found smashing up the track with very fast 5000m races and Andrea and Tom AKA ‘The Heavies’ are Crossfit extraordinaires who were used to squatting mountains not climbing them. This was going to be a fun few days.

The Team

Day 1: Chamonix – Champex

Day one started off nice and early in Chamonix with cake for breakfast, as it was my birthday! Hip hip horray! I mean what a way to spend your birthday; by eating cake and running in the mountains, perfect!

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With everyone in high spirits we wound our way up the Chamonix Valley towards Col de Balme. There was a hive of activity around us as we climbed the mountain with walkers sauntering in the sunshine and mountain bikers bombing it down the mountain at an alarming pace. As we got halfway up the climb we stopped at a the gondola lift station for some lunch and took a second to admire Mont Blanc as it glistened in the sunshine. At this point Andrea and Tom began to realise what they had undertaken and you could see that they were slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of spending the next 5 days in the mountains. They are both incredibly strong and could probably bench press me with one arm but tackling the mountains was going to be a different story that they would have to dig deep for. A few tears made an appearance at the thought of the challenge that lay ahead but with a bit of magical face paint we soldiered on and ticked off the first Col!

The speedsters of the group dashed ahead whilst Will, Tom, Andrea and I took a more leisurely pace down the mountain.  We suddenly turned a corner to see Ross sprawled on the floor with blood everywhere! He had got a bit over excited running down the mountain, stacked it on a rock, ended up in some bushes and cut his leg open again (he had cut it open a couple of weeks ago falling down the stairs and ruining a very nice suit in the process!). It was a pretty nasty cut but Mountain Goat Maeve stepped up and helped Ross put his leg back together again with the stickiest tape known to man. With the blood having eased and Ross reassuring us that he could continue we headed down the mountain to Trient with the pink church guiding us to our next snack stop.

The route continued up the second climb of the day to the rather remarkably remote Alp Bovine. The Mother and Daughter who run this place take the long steep walk down to the bottom of the mountain daily to get supplies for the walkers and runners that stumble across this awesome refuge… no wonder a Coke costs 10 CHF! Time was getting a bit tight and we only had time to fill up our water bottles but we did take a second to admire the view…

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After 24 (ok 23.99) miles of blood, sweat and tears we had made it to Champex hurrah! We stayed at Pension En Plein Air where we had a lovely three course meal followed by a coffee and a dip in the lake and then all passed out with the exhaustion by 9pm!

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Day 2: Champex – Cabane des Dix…well that was the plan!

We woke up at 6.30am and as everyone made their way to breakfast it was pretty evident that there were some sore legs kicking about. As we ate bread smothered in butter and jam and guzzled freshly brewed coffee we looked ahead to the days route. A similar distance to the day before, we all knew we could get through it, what could possibly stand in our way?

We said goodbye to Champex reluctantly as the lake was stunningly beautiful and we all thought that we could easily scrap the challenge we had undertaken to spend the day lounging in a boat in the sunshine.

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At the end of the lake we were greeted by a lovely downhill that we could all run down and make some pretty good time. We were ticking off the miles quite quickly and everyone seemed to forget about the pain in their legs! The downhill didn’t last long and we were soon winding our way up another climb. We past a couple of walkers on this route Josephine and Nick. Nick was on his own little journey tackling the route in a more leisurely nine days whilst writing an article for the Kiwi magazine Wild and Josephine wanted to get out of Zurich for a bit of mountain air and was walking the route in 12 days.

The climb continued towards Clambin and it was tough as it headed up a stupidly steep trail. Ross and Steven disappeared into the distance and created their own route up the mountain, we kept catching glimpses of them up the mountain as they disappeared into the distance. The rest of us decided to stop and perch on a perfectly placed bench that overlooked the Mont Blanc Massif and have our lunch. We didn’t stop for long and carried on up the mountain until we stumbled across a lovely restaurant in Clambin. Ross suddenly appeared without Steven. There was a bit of a comedy moment as Ross ran back up the mountain to get Steven and Steven came back down a different route to meet us completely missing Ross in the process. After much toking and frowning we were finally all back together. We grabbed a coke, sat in the sunshine for a bit whilst everyone sorted out their feet and then headed back on up the beast of a climb. As we climbed we found Nick again. In our spate of losing people, eating lunch and fix feeding he had darted past us.

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The climb continued to the beautiful Cabane Du Mont Fort where we found Josephine again…how on earth had she got there before us? Turns out via a chairlift, a wise choice! There were two routes that we could take and we went for the shorter route over Col de la Chaux. Just as we headed towards the climb Nick made a final appearance. He was staying  at Cabane du Mont Fort, we said a quick goody and wished him well for the rest of his trip. We started the climb and Ross once again disappeared into the distance, this would be the last time that we would see him for a while. This climb was insane, we climbed over rocks, snow and boulders and I could tell that everyones patients was getting pretty thin.

At the top of the climb we thought that was it we would have a nice run down the other side but oh no the mountains had different ideas for us and we entered ‘The Valley of Death’. We tried to move as quickly as we could over the slate but we struggled to go faster than 1mph. Everyone was starting to get tired and their limits were tested as everytime we reached the summit it turned out to be a false one. Once again tears were shed as we had to haul our asses up these hills. I was starting to get a bit worried as the light was fading and I knew that we were not going to make it to our Refuge. I asked Will, Maeve and Steven to go ahead and see if the next refuge would have some space for the night. Firstly we had some crazy decent to get down, which considering Tom is bat shit scared of heights he did incredibly well to make his way down them.

Finally as the sun was setting, which was a beautiful sight Cabane de Prafleuri made an appearance. I wanted to stay here originally but they were fully booked so I was keeping everything crossed that they would let us sleep somewhere even if it was the floor of the dining room. I did start to look for some suitable rocks to sleep on but hearing rockfall and seeing avalanches all day I wasn’t too keen to take this option!

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We arrived at the refuge and the tears flowed. We left Champex at 7am and it was now 9pm we had dragged our selves up and over some incredible terrain and the glistening lake that we left behind was a distant memory. Luckily Will had managed to sweet talk the Refuge to let us sleep in the Guides room for the night, thank god! Unfortunately dinner had long gone and the only food left was crisps and a snickers I tell you what food never tasted so good. Ross had still disappeared and with no phone signal we had no idea where he was. The refuge very kindly phoned all the other refuges around and at about 10pm they located Ross in a Refuge down the road, we could all now go to sleep knowing he was safe and not sleeping on a rock or still trying to cross the river. We tried our hardest to sneak into the guides room without making a peep but I am pretty sure we woke them all up the second we stepped into the room, don’t worry they returned the favour at 5am!

I wish the profile of the route below did it justice what we walked over…do not be fooled by it, it was mental!

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Day 3: Cabane de Prafleuri to Cabane de Moiry 

We woke up felling more than grateful that the refuge had taken pity on us and gave us a bed for the night and very kindly given us breakfast too! The day’s activities started of with a lovely runnable trail that went around Lac des Dix. The water was beautiful with a waterfall at the far end luring us to the bottom of the climb we had to tackle. The climb  was a fairly pleasant which then flattened off before the final assent. It was pretty hard to see where the final part of the climb went but as we drew nearer the ladders started to appear. Tom got pretty scared, not surprisingly as we were about to climb a cliff face and when you have vertigo that is a tough ask. After a little ‘motivational chat’ we wound our way up and over the boulders to the ladders. Trying to get Tom up and over the ladders as quickly as possible was my main aim but the guys coming down the ladders with backpacks bigger than me and poles dangling all over the place were taking their time! Finally it was our turn and we got to the top of the climb in one piece with a feeling of elation that none of us had died!