The Classic Walker's Haute Route: Chamonix to Zermatt
I get extremely giddy when I travel solo with only my backpack and this trip was no different. Twenty-four hours of travel via airplane, train, and bus got me in my tent and asleep by 11pm at Les Arolles campground (my go-to in Chamonix). As I peeled back the tent flap, clear skies and Mont Blanc greeted me in the early morning light. I was home.
I planned on spending the first few days in the valley doing day hike/runs. I started that morning going up the stunning La Jonction route and it was quick to refresh my memory that the trails here are much steeper than anywhere I've hiked. Upon finally reaching La Jonction a stunning view revealed itself. I simply couldn't be in a happier place. The next day I started up the Mont Blanc route from the valley floor and rented boots, crampons, and ice-ax hoping to get as high as possible. I got to about the Tete Rousse hut in about 3 hours of hiking up before I turned back. A recent storm made the route much icier and I felt unsafe heading up alone. I was loving this clear weather, which based on my previous experiences was a treat. Realizing that, I decided to head out on the trek the next day with the hope of maximizing this good fortune. I welcomed the first day of Fall and bid farewell to Chamonix the next morning. Col de Balme was my first pass of the day and it was the Swiss/French border. From now on I would be solely in Switzerland. To my surprise there was no one on the trail, a departure from previous experiences in the summer. I wondered why at first and I soon saw why: the refuge on the pass was closed for the year. People would be missing the fall colors and good weather but I would not be missing them. I was happy with the solitude.
Taking the high-level variante from Col de Balme, of which there are plenty of on this trek, I camped at Col de la Forclaz. I ate my emergency food (can of ravioli) because of the unexpected difficulty of acquiring food that day. The next day took me through the Fenetre d'Arpette that allowed for stunning views of frozen cascades of the Glacier de Trient. A rocky descent soon got me to Champex and I continued the relatively undemanding day to Le Chable where I camped for the night and was able to stock up on food. Looking at the guidebook, the next day would be the most demanding of the trip: 5 passes, 25 miles, and about 11.5K feet in climbing (most of it in 17 miles). I started at 645am and hiked hard until dark (~8pm) with two 5 minute breaks. When I arrived at Arolla I was exhausted but extremely relieved. The reason for this long day was because there was no food at all on this whole section and I once again had to dip into my emergency ration for dinner. However, I had one of the best days of mountain trekking I've ever done. The steep and ledge-like Sentier des Chamois (Trail of the Chamois) which gave impressive views of the Grand Combin massif; the large and lonely Grand Desert Glacier, the snow and icy traverse of Col de Louvie and Prafleuri, Lac des Dix, the imposing Mont Blanc de Cheilon and it's pronged glacier, and the steep talus climb up the the tiny ledge of Col de Riedmatten.
|Grand Desert Glacier|
|Col de Sorebois (Above), Mont Blanc de Cheilon (Below)|
|View east from Augstbordpass|
At the end of that stay, Zermatt and the surrounding peaks have become one of my favorite places to play in. These experiences give way to a deep satisfaction, joy, and freedom that I've only been able to have on these types of trips. In particular, this is the epitome of my philosophy of experiencing this world: have everything you need on your back, minimal gear, live in a tent, explore the surrounding nature, and spend as little as possible. Life becomes more meaningful, has more depth, and ultimately shapes perspective. (See right-hand column for photos)