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the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

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the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby edhyatt » Sun Oct 09, 2016 3:59 am

Chamonix is the same as ever – tawdry but fun, the energy of youth fizzing into the camera-toting crowds, yet doing little to entice or move them away from their fixation with living life through a lens. Ironic that their hegemony greedily engulfs the very faces, peaks, and ridges that they will never tread. Good, leave them be, in a separate reality.

This little tale will stagger (both figuratively and literally) between rest days on the walkers Haute Route, beginning in France and then climbing (especially in terms of prices) into Switzerland. I’d really forgotten how vast and wondrous the alpine landscapes of Switzerland are, much time spent in the USA of late makes me yearn for more European adventure.

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But then to hypocrisy as we leave the first day of the walkers Haute Route behind in the torpor of the Chamonix valley and lurch up the Brevent, a 1500m cable-car bounce that eschews the valley route to Argentiere and instead plays with the peaks….and yes the crowds at times, on the very fine Balcon Sud.

Hard stares to the horizon and my normal arrogance means the car is ours alone, and we begin together on a first alpine backpacking trip.

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Old snow, swirling clouds, the fresh purity of the air, and sun, and peace; thralling.

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About 10 miles and 800m of climbing separate us from the first (of many) hotels for the night. But it is not a fast ten up here. My pack feels relatively light, despite being packed for two.

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Yeah, run while you can….

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Col du Brevent. People milling about in full-on mountain gear. Me in my Dirty Girls.

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Squeeze tubes, peanut butter and coconut…the organic equivalent of EPO…

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Little wonder one gets a cable car all to oneself…

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The Boquetin above the Chamonix valley appear to be wearily accustomed to visitors; we are above the Col des Montets now and the hour is moving on. I call the hotel to make sure they will still have dinner available…..I also have a plan B.

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A 800m drop is good for the muscles and we hit the 1461m col at the road….a little road walking now to Le Tour…..but ‘Plan B’, thumb out, first car, climbers going to…..exactly where we need to be. Just in time for dinner.





Dr Deliciosa has a certain lack of her normal fluid grace as she descends the stairs for breakfast. I think every downhill step was felt today – some steely resolve there.

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At the Col de Balme one resists the temptation to enter the heinous refuge…..I’ve been there a few times, and will never again give the hatchet-faced battleaxe who runs it any of my money.

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…and the ‘hurt every step’ descent begins taking us down to Trient before a nice pre-prandial up to the Hotel Col de la Forclaz. A well-timed call last night secured a room although the plan had been to camp. ‘Her’ legs seem deserving of a more comfortable night all things considered. I’ve always pitched out back before, availing myself of the ‘camping demi-pension’ deal.





Note to self. Do not buy wine again at the Hotel Col de la Forclaz…..unless as a friend say’s, you are prepared to sell a kidney.

Rather than the dizzying heights of the Fenetre de Arpette we take the Alps Bovine route as it more rural and not such a staircase. Nice climbing through damp forests being warmed by early sun is fun and relaxed.

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The buvette at Fontaine offers tasty comestibles…pie was also taken…..but too quickly to get a picture.

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Captain Curmudgeon is forced into romantic situations; bah!

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As one might imagine Captain Calamity gets lost (blame misleading signs) on the outskirts of Champex and has to suffer the indignity of a three minute lift from some kind ladies to whom Dr Deliciosa so kindly explained by navigational inadequacies. I hate walking with other people.

Utopia, however, awaits at the finely-situated Hotel Splendide.

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Our bivouac is meagre and sparse.

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Despite a rather sumptuous buffet breakfast a handful of wild strawberries is appropriate.

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This is a very leisurely day snaking down to the valley, the mountains replaced by pastoral scenes and some fine rain. Whilst hiding from same Dr Deliciosa realises she is missing a T shirt. I go back to look for it (really, it must be serious). We discover via a couple of calls that it is at the hotel and will be posted to another hotel a few days hence; this is good service.

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Cakes. Another hotel (with a very good restaurant).

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Our first rest day.

Forward plans daubed on a pizza menu: translation from the left…

Take sneaky car up through vile ski resort. Camp somewhere.
Drop to concrete hotel at a dam.
Wander to Arolla and reunite with T shirt of the variety stripey.
Climb humungeous hill…..

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Another ski-resort….another cable-car ascent; this area really exudes tackiness on a grand scale.

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Once away from the hordes (easier than imagined at the start of the day) all becomes tranquil and a superb traverse line is gained.

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Great views over towards what I think is Mont Blanc de Cheilon.

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A few safety cables here and there, presumably for when there might be some snow on the ground.

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And some more rocket fuel as we decide that the light and surrounds warrant pushing onward into the early evening.

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So we cast around for a site and I stumble across this….just a little illegal, but a choice spot for Dr Deliciosa’s first bivouac experience. And first outdoor meal of tortellini in tomato sauce.

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Lugging the Stratospire II tent, double Zpacks quilt, and double Exped mattress have been worth it.

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It appears to meet with approval.

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The mercury drops overnight and we awake to a crisp shadowed dawn (perhaps not the perfect site I had thought….but hey).

It seems easiest then not to return to the path but to wander up the meltwater stream running down from the Col de Louvie instead.

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I am doing my usual ‘wow it is morning let’s walk a lot fast’ thing; other MM (and do) V.

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And so to the Col de Louvie at 2921m. Still air cools the heat of ascent and snowfields to northerly aspects require a bit of thought and a wide skirt around to those shod in trail shoes and without traction devices.

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Avoiding the steeper snow runs seems sensible so we lop around to engage slippy screes instead. The trail ahead gains the just right-of-centre flat area above the cliffs to a passage through the rocks on the skyline above the lakes.

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The glaciers of Pt and Grand Mont Calme look like fun.

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On top of the ‘flat bit above the cliffs’.

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A quick ‘last supper’ prior to descending the ‘tricky bit’.

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Negotiating the next section was not so much fun. On my own…OK, but now….responsibility (what is this new feeling) kicks in: steep with no way round, fun snow slopes in slippy shoes. Turn poles into brakes, sit down, wait for Dr Deliciosa to slide into me and on we go…..very cold bottom…

….and then freedom…

Wow. She is tough.

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Snow slopes relent, descent ensues. Not for us the confines of the Cabane de Prafleuri, but downward more – crossing a closed section of trail (rockfall/landslides) to drop down to the utilitarian Hotel du Barrage de la Grande Dixence under the dam wall (not damn wall) of the Lac des Dix.

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The hotel was built to house the workers on the dam above. This to me smacks of good thinking; they will do a good job on the dam if they have 400 billion litres of water above them.

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Dinner is passable in the concrete edifice….if you like veal that has had the sh*t kicked out of it – which I guess is pretty much the life of veal.





And a nonny-nonny. This emporium has a big car park….and a cable car to whisk one 350m up to the dam and to a nice reservoir-side walk. It seems churlish to refuse.

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Dr Deliciosa contemplates the 1600m climb. That knee bandage is a pathetic attempt at engendering sympathy in fellow walkers.

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We tarry awhile; it is super-humid.

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Well…I am into my cutely (heavy) Sony RX100 III but the sweep panorama mode KEEPS doing this – segmenting the image – come on Sony; they cost enough, do your job and get that firmware updated.

This is in the glacial bowl of the largely absent Glacier de Cheilon from whence you can go for the ‘thrall’ of ladders and platforms – oh my, the knee-trembling danger; or balance up close-to-vertical motile scree (pudding completely over-egged as this is adventure journalese).

We choose the latter.

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A poem in Rohan puce.

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Hey – the early screes are pretty harsh, steep, unremitting, in full sun and with thoughtless idiots descending. I am very proud of Dr Deliciosa’s impunity when faced with such trials.

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From the 2919m Col de Riedmatten.

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Not as far to the sub-floor of the valley as this suggest…the panorama effect compressing things.

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Ooh la…

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Yes. Well.

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Still down.

We drop….then we drop. Both tired now I think…kicking stones (they deserve it), getting a bit snippy. Looking at the GPS which suggest 3 further Kms…when…Lo and BEHOLD the Hotel Kurthaus appears just around the corner. Despite my feeble state I am bullied into heading down to town to buy some wine. Sort of.

Great food – this is dinner. Dr Deliciosa wears the shirt with which she is now reunited.

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A surfeit of wine, little sleep, and a complaint about a noisy room result in fewer CHF but no real compensation…blurry eyes regard the map.

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The place is packed and breakfast is busy. Arolla is tourist hell but sells nice shoes. A pair of Mammut trail shoes replaces the ballerinas which are dispatched Poste Restante to Zermatt.

A nice wander down the valley for a very easy half day….to be followed by a rest day. Pushing ourselves a little too hard methinks.

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Pre-booking is something I have never done. It has its comforts, it has its pitfalls. Dr Deliciosa is below par so we drop down to eat well and the pop back up to get back on track. Missing a small section - a day – of the trail. Ah well.





Dr Deliciosa is like a greyhound from the trap when we resume.

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Eidelweiss…not seen these before but this hillside was strewn with them, not the most attractive flower to me.

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More fragrant, beautiful, and long-suffering?

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OK. Maybe not.

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F*ck off big dog that spends it’s life savagely guarding sheep. They sleep with the herd and guide them between pastures; quite clever.

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And a drop down then along a sunlit valley to the Hotel Schwarzhorn; a nice place serving not the best food in the world.

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Although it does have other attractions.

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A good breakfast is followed as it should be by a walk up a big hill. Up being the operative word. A tad unrelenting. We are possibly the last out having hopefully waited for the dank mist to burn off and the day to warm up.

It has.

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Romance. My middle name.

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It is a great climb though, soon gaining a lengthy traverse above the Turtmanntal valley. We catch and pass the early leavers from the hotel along here, then peel off to climb again towards the 2893m Augstbordpass.

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A light lunch is taken and fine spots begin to pepper us so down we go.

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It is raining, not too much, but enough to make the very rocky traverse around the Troara a bit of a skating rink.

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While the Haute Route might rear and plummet between the airy peaks and troughs of the 2900m cols it crosses it also features a number of very fine high-level traverses; this is one.

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The rain is set and so that is it really, all that remains of this Haute Route is the car down from Jungen to Sankt Niklaus, other villages, Zermatt and food food food.

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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby rlown » Sun Oct 09, 2016 4:19 am

=D>

I'll have to get one of those.. Umm, I either mean the knee brace or the big dog. A very nice report!! Trekking is very different there, but in a good way maybe.
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby maverick » Sun Oct 09, 2016 10:31 am

Great report, last shot is a classic. :)
So what would be the average cost of lodging and food on a such a trip? Since you mention being there several times before, have you visited the Austrian Alps before, if yes, how do they compare scenery and cost wise?
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby Tom_H » Sun Oct 09, 2016 2:12 pm

Magnificent! My first exposure to big mountains was the Swiss Alps forty-something years ago. Your TR brought back a lot of great memories.
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby balzaccom » Sun Oct 09, 2016 8:06 pm

Great report and photos. thanks for posting all of this. I've often wondered about the route...now you've got me thinking....
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby edhyatt » Mon Oct 10, 2016 11:39 am

Appreciate the comments.

Costs are tough:

I never normally stay in hotels this much (although am by no means averse). This was Dr Deliciosas first 'moving on' backpacking trip and I wanted her to enjoy it in the hope she would be kind enough to endure my company on successive occasions.

Hotels run to all cost horizons - I would guess average here coming in at CHF153 ($155) - this not entirely helpful as a couple were half-board. We like really good food so ate in nice places.

Camping, and wild-camping, eating out of supermarkets and so on and $$ plummet. It becomes OK. But Switzerland is not a cheap country....by any stretch of the imagination. Austria is cheaper, a fair bit so.

Hey, come and backpack in Scotland - since the Brexit vote it is almost free to visit the UK :D but it will make my Sierra trips way more expensive :crybaby:

A final note. Swiss Wine....the Swiss appear to think all things Swiss are the very best; and price it thus. Their wine is not in this bracket - buy other European marques while there... :partyman:
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby rlown » Mon Oct 10, 2016 11:45 am

Your offer to visit Scotland is very interesting. I work for a group in Ireland, so it could be in the cards someday. I really like your TR's.

Swiss Wine? what is that? I'm in Sonoma County!! :partyman:

To be honest, I kept waiting for Julie Andrews and the whole Von Trapp family to come walking up behind you (i know wrong country, but all the same views) :)
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby edhyatt » Mon Oct 10, 2016 1:07 pm

Thanks, glad you like them.

If you think of Scotland let me know; I can suggest all sorts of fine backpacking trips - it is not just the West Highland Way :eek: ...

Yeah - a fine Rioja at $19 next to a not so fine Swiss red at $29: I like to taste new wines....but that soon wore off...

Sonoma County =D> :crybaby: :partyman:
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby cslaght » Mon Oct 10, 2016 1:31 pm

Beautiful report. I've been to Austria and Southern Germany a couple of times, though regrettably not trekking. The views are grand for sure. Scotland, for me as well, is on a short list, because why not hike for a bit and have some fine scotch?
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby rlown » Mon Oct 10, 2016 1:36 pm

If Mav was really creative, we'd have a meetup in Scotland. ;)
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby balzaccom » Mon Oct 10, 2016 10:00 pm

I spent a couple of summers in Ullapool 35 years ago....and I've always wondered if there were any hiking trails there to explore if I went back...
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Re: the walkers Haute Route, Switzerland

Postby ofuros » Mon Oct 10, 2016 10:02 pm

Enjoyable adventure, edhyatt. Great pics.
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