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Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

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Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby BSquared » Mon Jan 07, 2013 1:37 pm

Roughly two layover days: Our friends drove us from Arolla down to the Rhone valley and then up to Nendaz, a ski-blighted town (hundreds of giant “chalets” each with dozens of small apartments), where we attended the International Alpenhorn Festival. Lots of cool alpen-horn music and assorted other folksy stuff, but I won’t go into it here. If you get the chance, though, it’s a hoot!
Horns.jpg
The alpenhorn festival.

Day 10: (hiking day 10, that is) La Sage to Cabane de Moiry. We skipped one day of the guidebook version of the route by having our Swiss friends drive us from the alpenhorn festival to La Sage. Overall had a good hike in pleasant weather. On our way to The Col du Tsaté, the col du jour, we got thoroughly off the track, and I think it was the only place where the Swiss signposts seemed to lead us astray: we should have turned right, off the main path, a few hundred meters before the buildings of “Remoinste du Tsaté” instead of after the buildings where the signpost was attached. But we just fiddled around for a few hundred meters before discovering our mistake, and the terrain was open enough to make it fairly easy to get back to the correct trail (steep, though).On our way down from the col we began to get spectacular views of the Moiry icefall, and we could even see the Cabane du Moiry perched up on a rock ridge above the fall. It took quite a lot of switchbacking amid huge throngs of day hikers to actually get to the hut, however. There is a huge parking area and bus stop (unromantically, if aptly, named “Parking du Glacier”) just a few kilometers down-valley from the hut, which combines with the spectacular view of the icefall to make for very heavy day use. They even run a crèperie just outside the hut in good weather!
Moiry Glacier.jpg
Moiry icefall and glacier from Cabane de Moiry.

Day 11: Cabane de Moiry to Zinal. We saw our first wild Edelweiss on this leg (we’d seen some in pots way back in Chamonix) and encountered some remarkably feisty cows above the Barrage du Moiry and had a pleasant, sun-filed trip over the Col du Sorebois, with excellent views to the ever-nearer Weisshorn group. We descended as far as the village of Sorebois, and then, noting that the guidebook predicted a “seemingly endless, knee-jarring descent,” we opted to take the cable car down the final 800 m to Zinal.
Edelweiss.jpg
Edelweiss above Lac de Moiry.

When we were at the Cabin de Moiry we had discovered that we’d accidentally made reservations for the wrong day and were worried that we’d somehow got a day off for the entire rest of the trip. So, in Zinal we asked the Bureau du Tourisme to call ahead to our next stops (there are only three), and they happily did so. We found excellent tourist offices even in fairly small villages, with people who spoke fluent English as well as either Swiss German or French (frequently both), Italian, and heaven knows what other languages. Although Zinal is nominally still in French-speaking Switzerland, the next valley on our route (the Turtmanntal) is German-speaking. The result for us was amusing and for the Swiss confusing: normally when we’d hesitate to respond to a question (such as when buying something in a shop), the Swiss would helpfully switch to English, but here, they would switch to German, assuming by our blank looks that we came from German-speaking Switzerland. Unfortunately, neither of us speaks a significant amount of German, so the poor Swiss just got another set of blank stares. It all worked out eventually, though.

Day 12: Zinal to Gruben. We stopped at a small supermarket to buy lunch materials (we preferred patisseries and boulangeries but the market was nearby and highly recommended) and were pleasantly surprised to find still-warm baguettes and bought one just by feel. As we ascended through pastureland, we drew closer and closer to a small back-hoe on treads, soon discovering that it (plus an assistant with a rake) was making a new edition of our trail! (There’s something to be said for not having to deal with wilderness-area regulations! ;) We had a long, leisurely lunch in the Forcletta and discovered that our baguette was studded with hazelnuts! Ah, wilderness! Views of the Brunneghorn and Bishorn, as well as the Weisshorn, were truly spectacular on the way down to Gruben. We got a bit confused again as we passed through Chalte Berg and Mass Staffel, but we stayed on the road and soon found signs showing us where to take off on the proper trail. Two huge white triangles that we’d been seeing at the bottom of the valley for a long time finally resolved themselves into large plains-Indian teepees, each surrounded by a ring of enthusiastically grazing cows! We later discovered that they were part of a Boy-Scout camp, but we never learned why the cattle were so enamored of them. There’s only one place to stay in Gruben—the Hotel Schwarzhorn—and happily it turned out to be extremely comfortable.
Lovely lunch.jpg
Lunch!

Day 12: Gruben to St. Niklaus. An utterly spectacular day with weather to match! We climbed fairly easily to the Augstbordpas, at 2894 m, and I saw with pleasure that the trail beyond looked quite reasonable, despite the guidebook’s note that “the path narrows and is exposed in places—care required.” (Have I mentioned that exposure makes me nervous?) The trail comes around a ridge and opens up to incredible views, across the valley (the Mattertal, the valley at whose head lies the Matterhorn), up the valley, and directly above the trail. We ate a very leisurely lunch at the viewpoint, spending a lot of time with maps (paper and electronic) and compass. The electronic Swiss map came with a “virtual reality” feature for identifying peaks, but we could never get it to work with confidence. We’d planned to take the cable car down from the village of Jungen to save our aging knees but were feeling so good we just decided to walk it. On the way into Jungen we again foolishly followed the map instead of the signposts and had to backtrack (on the map, the signed trail looked like a steep shortcut so we didn’t want to take it, but in fact it was the only trail). Shortly before arriving at Jungen, a group has placed botanical signs along a stone wall next to the trail (apparently the remains of a Roman aqueduct, we heard later), and it was fun to compare the pictures of the plants on the signs with plants growing nearby (and in our tiny plant guide). We rolled into St. Niklaus a bit late for us, and very tired, but in plenty of time to have dinner and a glass of wine at our hotel.
Weisshorn, Brunneghorn.jpg
Weisshorn (center background), Bishorn (right background, looks like part of Weisshorn), Brunneghorn (left) from below Augstbordpass.

Day 13: St. Niklaus to Kinhütte. The guidebook had two ways to get from St. Niklaus to Zermatt, a one-day valley ramble up the Mattertal or—much more highly recommended—a two-day traverse along the Europaweg, a relatively new trail that traverses the eastern wall of the Mattertal quite high up. However, we’d heard that the early (northern) part of the Europaweg was (a) washed out and gnarly in many places, and (b) seriously rerouted near the town of Randa such that one had to descend almost all the way down to the valley floor and then back up, making for extremely long days. So, we decided to modify the route by taking the train to Randa (the next station up from St. Niklaus), hiking to a hut near the Europaweg (the Kinhütte) for the night, and then hiking the Europaweg from the Kinhütte to Zermatt to conclude the trip. So, we hit the train (accidentally getting on a first-class car and being politely shooed off into the second-class area ;) ) and then the trail. The trail to the Kinhütte was extremely steep, and as we drew near the hut itself it was exposed enough to make me more than a little nervous. Unfortunately I was also beginning to get a little sick, and that always compounds my nervousness about exposure. But on the way to the hut we got our first view of the Matterhorn, still quite distant but very dramatic, and that helped a lot. We also saw a lot more Edelweiss. From the hut, located at the base of the spectacular Täschorn, we had a truly spectacular view of the still-distant Matterhorn. The hut itself was a trip! It’s quite small (but as usual scrupulously clean and comfortable), perched on the edge of a yawning precipice, and largely the work of one man, Viktor Imboden, the proprietor, who has a scrapbook telling the story of the building of the hut. He’s a fairly famous mountain guide (presumably retired, but I’m not sure), and a friendly host, if a bit taciturn (his English is good, but he doesn’t use it much). He gravely shook hands with each guest upon arrival and departure. His wife is a native French speaker, I understand. We were a group of about 9, all the rest of whom were German (really German, not Swiss-German). We had dinner with a boisterous group with whom we could communicate nothing, but later a family of 3 invited us to their table specifically to converse in English for a while. Their English was perfect, and they were on a different tour (the tour de Monte Rosa, definitely something to look at for the future), so we had a lot to talk about.
Mattehorn.jpg
Matterhorn from Kinhütte.

View from Kinhütte.jpg
View from the Kinhütte. Watch your step!

Day 14: Kinhütte to Zermatt. Happily the route down to the Europaweg from the Kinhütte was less exposed than the route up, but my insides were really beginning to act up on this last day of the trip, so the only moderately exposed Europaweg posed a serious challenge. My spouse kept wanting to stop and look at the view, and I kept whining about pushing on to someplace more secure-feeling. ;) Happily, that place turned out to be the small village of Täschalp, where we had absolutely superb (but expensive) apricot cake and tea. Unfortunately, the day was heavily overcast with fits of light rain, so our view of the Matterhorn yesterday was to be our last. We had some good views across the valley, but mostly it was just a day of damp slogging, largely due to my uncooperative innards. We also made a very poor route decision (not in the guidebook), and what we thought was a shortcut actually took us several km back the way we had come but a few hundred meters lower. Sigh. Too bad the last day had to be a bummer, but that’s sometimes the way things go. We finally made it to Zermatt, where we phoned our Swiss friends and were extremely happy to unwind with a beer in the small apartment they had rented there.
Walk under the ledge.jpg
Walk under the ledge! Rockfall and slides are continuous problems on the Europaweg.

Zermatt from above.jpg
Zermatt from high on the wall of the Mattertal.


I’ll be happy to answer any questions people have about this trip. I’ve never done anything quite like it, with its combination of civilization and wilderness, but I’m ready to do another hike in the alps any time! I certainly recommend this particular hike (you can find the guidebook at Amazon—Chamonix to Zermatt “The Walker’s Haute Route”). Here are a few specific points that people often ask about:

• The basic cost of most accommodations, both mountain huts and inexpensive hotels, was 110-150 CHF for two including breakfast and dinner, and when we went one Swiss Franc (CHF) was almost exactly equal to one dollar. We got double rooms whenever we could, so one could do better by staying in dormitory-style lodgings. We also spent money on lunch materials, wine with dinner, and a few cable-car rides and things like that (the Aiguille du Midi ride is pretty expensive).
• Weather was actually pretty good, with no really serious rain or snow, and drizzle and/or fog for perhaps ¼ of the time or so. For the Sierra that would be horrible of course, but for other mountains of the world that’s pretty good. I understand it might be drier later, and many materials I read suggested that September might be the best time for the trip.
• I made all arrangements except the Kinhütte reservation through the Internet. Some places had websites with electronic-reservation capability, and when e-mails were necessary I wrote in French (I speak only very basic French), but I suspect English would work fine (your correspondents can use Google Translate as well as you!). The Kinhütte didn’t have an e-mail address, and I wasn’t sure I could make myself understood on the phone, so I prevailed upon a Dutch friend who speaks fluent German to call them. I’m glad I did, because Viktor wanted to know all sorts of details, like where exactly we were coming from and going to.
• It would certainly be helpful to speak at least a little French, and maybe German, but it’s probably not necessary. Most Swiss speak better English than I speak French, and one can always get along using gestures and drawing pictures. We encountered people on the trail who spoke neither French nor German, and they seemed to be getting along fine.
Last edited by BSquared on Tue Jan 08, 2013 6:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
—B²



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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby The Other Tom » Tue Jan 08, 2013 5:57 am

Thanks for posting this. I'll have to read it in detail and digest it. Maybe my wife and I can duplicate this trip some day.
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby maverick » Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:24 pm

Thanks B2, beautiful report, and love the Alpenhorn Festival Festival and the
smoking Matterhorn shots. Never got a chance to do much hiking when over in Europe
and my visit to Switzerland was much to short. There are some falls that turn to ice
and are famous for ice climbing and photography which I would love to see in person
like the ones in Kandersteg and Trient Valley.
Have always been intrigued by the Alps, especially the Austrian Alps which I first
saw back as a child in the Sound of Music, but my only visit to Austria got me
as far as Salzburg where the movie itself was filmed, but we did not go up in to
the mountains. :(
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby chrisdiercks » Fri Jan 25, 2013 8:19 am

BSquared, it's really nice to see something posted somewhere about the Alps. It seems hard to get good beta in the US on that area. My wife and I went to the Dolomites for the first time last summer and are hoping to get back summer 2014 to do Alta Via 2...then if all goes well on to the Haute Route the year after. Anyway, thanks for posting the TR up!

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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jan 29, 2013 2:36 pm

Thanks for the second half! What a wonderful trip.
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby lbwarped » Sun Jun 09, 2013 11:49 am

Hi BSquared,
Great report! My wife and I are doing the Haute Route in August, and we're trying to plan what to do at the end as an alternative to the Europahut and the "boring" valley trek straight to Zermatt. We'd like to go from Gruben to St. Niklaus, hop on the train to Randa and then hike to Kinhutte, all in one day. Do you think that would be too much? I can't see too much information online about this particular path. The hike doesn't look to be too far from Kinhutte to Randa. How long did the hike from Randa to Kinhutte take? What about Kinhutte to Zermatt?

Thanks in advance!
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby maverick » Sun Jun 09, 2013 2:49 pm

Hi lbwarped,

Welcome to HST! Hope you will post a TR of your trip also. :)
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby BSquared » Sun Jun 09, 2013 3:20 pm

Hi, Ibwarped, and let me add my welcome to Maverick's.

I think it would be a pretty heroic march from Gruben to the Kinhütte. In terms of miles, the hike from Gruben to St. Niklaus is already one of the longest days, although the terrain is less taxing than on some other days. The hike from Randa to the Kinhütte is relatively short, though quite steep and therefore fairly tiring. Put this all together, and you've got yourself one helluva day. Doable? Probably, but definitely well beyond the pace that the Haute Route as published usually requires. On top of that, you'll have to fit your times to the train schedule, although as I recall trains are pretty frequent because it's the main line to Zermatt from everywhere.

Good luck, and let us know what you decide and how it goes! Oh, and don't accidentally get on the first-class car when you've got a second-class ticket, as we did; very embarrassing when they shoo you out in three languages. :o
—B²
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby lbwarped » Sun Jun 09, 2013 5:22 pm

Thanks for the reply. Can you speak to the length of each segment? Gruben to Kinhutte, then Kinhutte to Zermatt? I assume that if we stay overnight in St. Niklaus instead of going directly to Kinhutte, that we would not need to take a train to Randa but could walk all the way from St. Niklaus to Kinhutte in a day? Thanks.
Last edited by lbwarped on Mon Jun 10, 2013 5:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby BSquared » Mon Jun 10, 2013 5:15 am

Unfortunately my maps and books are in Maryland and I'm in Vermont for the summer, so no, I can't give you numbers. However, you can view (free) an excellent online series of maps at map.schweizmobil.ch. You'll have to measure the distances yourself, but all the trails, huts, and so on are there. There is a function for you to plot a route, but you have to subscribe to the Swiss Mobility card in order to do that (CHF 30), and I haven't, so I don't know how well the function works. Instructions seem to be available only in German and French.
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby maverick » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:09 am

HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Swiss "Haute Route" TR Part II

Postby BSquared » Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:17 am

Yah, that page is part of a blog from a guy who calls himself "RetiredNH," and he has a *huge* amount of information about the Haute Route. Good find! It was he who suggested that we do the train-to-Randa thing instead of trying the much-detoured Europaweg in its entirety.
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