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.
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!
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…
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
It was pretty obvious that the emotion of the cliff face had taken its toll and everyone was pretty drained however we met a guy at the top of the mountain that said their was a pizza restaurant at the bottom of the hill (sorry mountain). This was music to our ears as all we had eaten in the past 12 hours was bread, crisps and chocolate! The route down to Arolla was pretty special as teasing us in the distance was the Matterhorn where we would hopefully end up in two days time.
We arrived in Arolla and couldn’t find the pizza place but found a lovely restaurant that did Rosti and burgers which were just as good. Time was against us once again and after the late finish the night before, I didn’t think we would be able to tackle the whole distance. We were going to make a decision in Les Hauderes as to if we should get a taxi to our refuge. Andrea and Tom took the opportunity to hop on the bus to Les Hauderes and Maeve, Will, Steven and I decided to carry on and run there, Ross was still unaccounted for. After running for about 10mins there was a general consensus that we should hop in a taxi. My phone pinged and it was a message from Andrea saying ‘Guess who we found?”. Yep they had found Ross wondering around Les Hauderes with a punnet of nectarines.
Unfortunately the taxi could not take us take us the whole way to the Refuge but could get us a 60 minute walk away…that would do. I have never been happier to step into a taxi because as we did an mammoth thunder storm roared through the mountains. I was very glad we were not on top of the mountain at this point.
The taxi dropped us off at the bottom of the climb up to Cabane de Moiry…one little climb to go. Ross went off ahead to tell the refuge that we were on the way and to save us some food! It was a nice climb with some tricky bits but the view at the top was absolutely incredible. We were staying in a refuge perched on a cliff edge right next to Glacier de Moiry and everyone was so glad that they made the effort to get up here. It was a pretty special place to stay for the night.
Day 4: Cabane De Moiry – St Niklaus
We began day four by retracing our steps from the night before. Andrea, Tom and Will had decided that they were going to get the cable car down to Zinal and meet us there but firstly they had a Col to climb. Just before the climb started Maeve and Steven found chair to enjoy the views and the sunshine in and for the first time without being poked in the ribs Steven smiled for the camera, I have no idea why ;)!
Before the climb really began we had to go through a gate and then a field of rather angry cows. We all made it through the gate without incident except for Will. He didn’t see the electric wire running around the fence and gave himself a lovely electric shock that definitely woke him up and sent the adrenaline pumping for the climb.
The views at the top of Col de Sorebois were incredible we had a wonderful panorama of the surrounding mountains which was dominated by the Weisshorn.
We could see the cable car below and all of a sudden Mountain Goat Andrea made an appearance, she was off running down the mountain. We all chased her down the mountain until we reached the cable car and when everyone saw that we only had 90 mins to get to Zinal everyone decide to ditch the cable car idea and run down the mountain. Steven ran off in blur and the rest of us enjoyed the saunter down the hill in the sunshine. Arriving in Zinal it was evident that they final 26km to St Niklaus was going to be a tall order, we all decided that we would enjoy an afternoon drinking hot chocolate and playing Monopoly Go before hopping in a taxi to St Niklaus. We seemed to time our taxi trips pretty well because again as we hopped into this one thunder storm two opened up!
We arrived in St Niklaus and the hotel that we were staying in turned out to be a pizzeria, GET IN! Someone was looking after us today. After spending the past four nights in refuges jammed in like sardines it was a treat to stay in a hotel where the water didn’t cost 5 CHF and you weren’t at risk of getting bitten by bed bugs.
Day 5: St Niklaus – Zermatt
The final day had arrived and all we had to do today was get to Zermatt before our train at 4pm! This was a lovely part of the walk that weaved along the river and railway with Mont Rosa guiding us towards Zermatt. All we wanted to see as we headed towards Zermatt was the Matterhorn but that little bad boy was going to play hide and seek for the day. Everyone was in hight spirits knowing that the end was close and that we had nearly made it across the Alps. We went to find the Matterhorn which was still teasing us and hiding under a cloud.
We had done it! We walked, ran and hobbled 93 miles and climbed over 8500m carrying all our kit from from Chamonix to Zermatt and I am so proud of everyone, especially The Heavies! It was pretty incredible what we achieved and this route was tough, by far one of the hardest trails that I have ever done! Playing in the mountains is incredible and I urge you all to plan an adventure that takes you out of your comfort zone and that tests you physically and mentally! Trust me it will be worth it!
What was in our backpacks?