Haute Route Trip Report

Southern California and far-away places. Hiking, wildlife, cycling etc.

Haute Route Trip Report

Postby Ellen » Sat Jul 19, 2014 1:51 pm

Haute Route TR

This adventure and life-long dream would not have been possible without the leadership of our Captain Heather -- she completely organized the trip (route, transportation and lodging), adjusted our itinerary as necessary to keep us safe, and demonstrated the patience of a saint. Heather has extensive mountaineering experience, knows the Alps and speaks French and German.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to Heather's "number one" Regina, who assisted Heather and provided wonderful comic relief. I am sure the Bloody Blonde, Sister Sally and Miracle Marilyn tried our leaders' patience :roll: It was fitting that Sally started referring to us as three stooges :lol:

Sally, Marilyn. Regina and I flew out on June 24 from LAX on Air Canada and arrived in Geneva on June 25. Our friend Heather met us in Geneva (she had just completed a bicycle tour with friends in France) and we rode the Alpybus to Hotel Les Campanules in Les Houches, France.

On June 26, the five of us took the train from Les Hoches to Chamonix and rode the Aguille du Midi tram. We were treated to exquisite views of the valley below us and portions of Mt Blanc. Every now and then, the Petite Dru would peak through the clouds. We saw hang gliders descending and mountaineers climbing up to the tram.

The only downsides were having to carry our daypacks (no lockers at the train station due to terrorism concerns) and the number of people on the tram. My blasted 70 cm ice-axe tip stuck out way beyond my short pack, so I had to be very careful to not jab anyone. I was tempted to leave the darn thing at one of the refuges. Fortunately, I did not.

We met Liz at the lower tram station and headed into Chamonix to have lunch, look around and shop. We took a short train ride, then walked uphill to Chalet Alpin du Tour in Le Tour, France – the starting place of our trek. At the Chalet, we met a large group of Aussies who were also trekking the Haute Route.

Day 1, June 27
We left Le Tour, France and hiked over the Col de Balme into Trient, Switzerland. We hiked 7.5 miles and gained 925 meters. The first day was easy but also the beginning of revelations regarding the numerous differences between the Alps and Sierras. We quickly climbed above the trees (the tree line in the Alps is much lower) and the ascent and decent were much steeper. I took a picture of our fearless leader Heather at the Swiss boundary – she has Swiss ancestry. We stayed at the Auberge du Mont Blanc in Trient. Since we arrived too early to check in, we soaked our feet in the stream and walked around town.

In the evening, we saw sheep being herded through town through our room’s window. Regina helped Marilyn lighten her pack. The funniest part of the pack purge was when Regina pulled out Marilyn’s bee-keeper bug hat. She donned the hat, than ran laughing back into her room to show Heather. I really wish I’d taken a photo.

Day 2, June 28
We left Trient and hiked over the Fenêtre d’Arpette into Champex, Switzerland. We hiked 9 miles and gained 1386 meters. Initially we went off route and my legs got nailed by stinging nettle. Once we got back on track and started to climb, I could tell that I was having a bad day. Sister Sally stayed back with me and took numerous pictures of amazing Alps wildflowers. I started feeling a little better on the final climb up to the Arpette. Once we started down, I realized something else about the Alps – you are often scrambling over rocks and following a marked route rather a trail. We spent the night at Pleinair Lise Cachat-Chiodoni in Champex-Lac. To put it bluntly, I was shattered.

Day 3, June 29
We were going to hike from Champex to Le Châble, then take the Verbier ski lift part way up to Cabane du Mont Fort. The weather conspired against us and we awoke to rain. Heather and Regina took a bus to Le Châble, then rode up the Verbier ski lift and spoke with the guardian at the Cabane du Mont Fort regarding weather, snow and route conditions for the following day.

Sally, Marilyn, Liz and I went to a beautiful botanical garden in Champex-Lac before hiking 8 easy miles to Le Châble and gaining only 104 meters. This was exactly the recovery day I needed. We regrouped at the Ruination Café (that really is the name) in Le Châble and spent the night at the Gondola (lodging associated with the ski lift).

Day 4, June 30
Our plan was to hike from the Cabane Mont Fort (over the col Termin, the col de Louvie and the col de Prafleuri) to the Cabane de Prafleuri. However, the premier guide on the Haute Route written by Kev Reynolds notes that in poor visibility or stormy conditions, problems may arise on the stretch from the col de Louvie-col to the col de Prafleuri. There is no real path other than a trail of cairns and paint flashes. Reynolds also notes that the Sentier de Chamois between the Cabane du Mont Fort and the col de Louvie should also be avoided during bad weather.

After speaking with the guardian of the Cabane du Mont Fort and consulting the weather forecast (the weather would not clear until Tuesday July 1), Heather and Regina recommended changing our itinerary. Even in the best conditions, finding the route from Cabane Mont Fort to Cabane de Prafleuri is difficult. New snow could obscure the route and trigger dangerous rock fall. Liz did not agree with the route change and left to hike with a family she’d met on the day before.

We took the train and several buses from Le Châble to the Dixence Barrage. As we went inside a café below the base of the massive dam, a cigarette trash can fell over and gouged my right forearm. I’ve always known that cigarettes are a health hazard. Following a lovely coffee break, we started hiking uphill into the mist past the dam. Our goal for the day was the Cabane de Prafleuri. The trail eventually took us away from the dam and we started traversing along the side of a canyon.

Suddenly my friends stopped to watch two ibex down in the canyon. I couldn’t see them, but could hear the unmistakable “crack” as they locked horns. Sally took a movie of the confrontation and will post it when she has time. We continued on to the Cabane Prafleuri. It is located in a valley where extensive quarrying took place below the Prafleuri glacier. After checking in the Cabane, we left our packs and day hiked up to the Col de Prafleuri. The views up, down and at the Col were spectacular.

Day 5, July 1
We left the Cabane de Prafleuri and hiked over the Col de Roux. We encountered icy snow on the ascent and donned our microspikes for the first time on the trek. We descended to the Lac des Dix and walked for quite a while along a wide track on the west side of the Lac. We finally started the climb up to the Cabane des Dix and were treated to a glimpse of the Matterhorn. The views of the north face of Mont de Blanc Cheilon were breath-taking. After a short stop at Cabane des Dix for lunch, we descended and crossed the Glacier de Cheilon.

After a bit of route finding, we found the path to the ladders of the Pas de Chevres. There are three ladders securely attached to the near vertical rock face. Climbing up the ladders to the Pas de Chevres was exhilarating and enjoyable. (Note – no one has ever been injured climbing the ladders). Once at the Pas, we were treated to beautiful views of the Veisivi-Bertol wall above the town of Arolla. We savored the descent to Arolla. We hiked 13.2 miles and gained 1,040 meters. We stayed at the Colonie Les Ecureuils in Arolla.

Day 6, July 2
We took the bus from Arolla to Le Sage. Our goal was the Cabane de Moiry. Once again, the weather had deteriorated and we hiked up to the Col de Tsate in a cold rain. I started the climb in long pants, which surprised my friends. Although I kept adding clothing as I climbed, I never felt warm. After our lunch stop, we dropped down to the Parking du Glacier road (south of the Lac de Moiry), then started our climb up to the Cabane de Moiry. The weather worsened – we were soon hiking in a dense fog. We walked by an area we dubbed “Cairn Point” The trail narrowed with drop offs on each side – reminded me of the Devil’s Backbone. We started traversing along a ridge and ran into a long stretch of snow.

Sally heard Heather recommending that we take out our ice-axes. Heather and Regina were just up ahead but we couldn’t see them. After pulling out our axes, we continued on. We rounded a bend and encountered a challenging section – the foot prints in the snow traversed up a steep slope. Fortunately, ropes had been placed. This was a left handed traverse, so we held the ice-axe with our left hand and the rope with our right hand. Heather and Regina coached us -- it was a relief to get through that part.

The rest of the climb was up steep switchbacks along the ridge. It was a wonderful to see the Cabane de Moiry appear through the mist. Thanks to the excitement, my body was no longer cold but my fingertips started turning blue (they’ve never been the same since my San Jacinto misadventure).

We couldn’t believe the mass of humanity in the Cabane. A group of high school kids and adults had climbed up to the Cabane via the glacier. The high school kids were noisy and obnoxious :? I wanted them to go outside and play on the glacier so we could get some sleep. Arocknoid -- my version of WC Fields' famous quote about kids :wink:

The Cabane has a magnificent glass-walled dining area overlooking the Moiry glacier. I was so exhausted that I barely stayed awake during dinner.

Day 7, July 3

Fortunately, the weather had cleared so we had excellent views of the glacier and surrounding peaks. We donned microspikes and ice-axes shortly after we left the Cabane de Moiry. We had to retrace our route back down through the snowy sections (ugh) until we reached the junction for the Col de Sorebois. Thanks again to Heather and Regina.

Our new route started by traversing along a grassy hillside, overlooking the jade-green waters of the Lac De Moiry. We finally started the steep climb up to the Col de Sorebois. Once at the Col, we had lunch and an excellent view of the Wiesshorn. We walked down to the tram and took it into Zinal to save our knees. We stayed at the Auberge Alpina in Zinal.

Day 8, July 4
We left Zinal and started the long climb up to the Forcletta, a bare saddle on a ridge studded with individual peaklets. I felt good and climbed well. I pulled out my American flag bandana for a picture before starting the descent into Gruben. As we left the alpine landscape and dropped into the forest, the trail became very overgrown and narrow. I stumbled over a root and fell to the right sideways over a steep slope. a tree arrested my downward progress and Sally helped me get back on to the trail.

After that, I just wanted to get to Gruben and have a beer. We continued to descend and exited the trail onto a paved road in the middle of the dairy farm. We looped around in cow strewn pastures trying to find the blasted town of Gruben. I became very cranky. Finally, we left the trail and opted to walk along the road into Gruben.

When we arrived at our lodging, Heather and Regina recommended the hot apple strudel. Yum! They knew we were coming when the proprietor said he’d seen three older women – one bleeding profusely – heading down the road. We stayed at the Hotel Restaurant Waldesruh. We walked about 9 miles and gained 892 meters.

Day 9, Friday July 5
We left Gruben and started the climb up to Augstbordpass in a mist. As we started to climb in earnest, we were assaulted with cold wind and rapidly moving clouds. I was very happy to reach the pass to escape the wind and don more clothing. I was expecting a relatively easy descent – ha! We crossed snow fields and maneuvered over and around rocks. We traversed along a slope of boulders and rocks and then finally reached a distinct trail. The path narrowed and rounded the mountainside. We rounded a bend and arrived at a spur with a breathtaking view of the Matteral. We took our time savoring the views and taking pictures. We rode the cable car from Jungu down to St Niklaus after enjoying celebratory beverages. We stayed at the Walliserkeller.

July 6 to 9
We had hoped to hike the Europaweg from Gasenried to Zermatt on days 10 and 11. We learned from other trekkers that a bridge across a deep gully had failed, requiring trekkers to descend 1500 ft through sketchy terrain into the gully and then climb back up 1500 on that same sketchy terrain. Reynolds notes that the unstable nature of the Europaweg cannot be overstated. Thus, our trek ended at St. Nicklaus.

We took a cab into Zermatt, dropped our gear at our hotel and happily cruised around town. Heather and Regina walked through the Gornergorge, rode up the Matterhorn tram and visited the Riccola botanical garden, while Marilyn, Sally and I spent the majority of the day being tourists.

The next day, we moved to another hotel by the train station. Sally, Marilyn and I took Heather and Regina’s advice and walked through the lovely Gornergorge. The skies opened up as we headed back down to Zermatt. We arrived just in time to see goats being herded through town.

On July 8, we took the train to Les Hoches, dropped off our gear and returned to Chamoix for last minute shopping and an incredible Rachlete dinner.

The morning of July 9, we took the Alpybus back to Geneva and flew home.

Pictures:
https://picasaweb.google.com/1164992793 ... Route2014#

Miles of smiles,
Ellen
Last edited by Ellen on Mon Jul 21, 2014 11:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Ellen » Sat Jul 19, 2014 2:20 pm

Image

Team Haute Route at the Cabane des Dix
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Postby Sally » Sat Jul 19, 2014 2:42 pm

Thank you, friend, for doing a beautiful job on our TR. It is perfect in every way. Your ability to recall the details far surpasses mine!

I'll keep working on my pics, although you have done a great job on that, too.

Arocknoid, stay tuned for my "National Geographic" quality movie of the fighting ibex!
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Haute Route trip report

Postby Cy Kaicener » Sat Jul 19, 2014 3:16 pm

What a wonderful and detailed trip report with great pictures. Thank you Ellen
. Please visit my website at www.hiking4health.com for more information especially the Links.
http://cys-hiking-adventures.blogspot.com
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Postby OldnSlow » Mon Jul 21, 2014 10:03 am

Wow, what a great TR and bucket list trip. I too learned the hard way that Alps routes are much different than we are used to. At least in the Bavarian Alps, much of it was follow the red dot rather than any trail. Oh and they don't really have many switchbacks. SO hats off on your wonderful trip!
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Postby zippetydude » Mon Jul 21, 2014 1:08 pm

Wow, what an amazing trip! I loved the views, looks like it was astounding just about every day. Ordinarily I'd say the rainy day was an unfortunate loss of time, but your recovery day turned out to be just in the nick of time it seems, so even that worked out well.

BTW, I thought of Arocknoid too at the mention of the ibex! Those shots, even without the movie being uploaded yet, still begin to give me some idea how close you were to the real, natural experience that most of us have only seen on TV.

I especially liked Cairn Point and, even more so, the Gorner Gorge walkway. What an amazing idea that was to build that! How did you like the signs with time, not distance as a measuring tool? Sort of a novel idea to me, we normally have distance and then a range of time as a secondary estimation here on the board.

I love how the culture there seems to have embraced the wilderness in a very different way than we have here. I would not like to see buildings in the wilderness in our Sierra, but they look totally appropriate there in the Alps. Even the little towns look so very quaint. Your pictures really help to show what the whole experience was like.

Thanks, Ellen, for your great TR. Along with Sally, I commend you for your incredible ability to retain a clear memeory of events and details from your adventures. Sally, Marilyn, glad you had the chance to go also. To all three Adventurettes, I look forward to seeing you in person and hearing from you first hand your favorite stories of the trip.

Congrats again on a major accomplishment and thanks for sharing it with us.

z
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Postby arocknoid » Mon Jul 21, 2014 10:13 pm

What a Fantastic Voyage!

Ellen, your detailed commentary was compelling, and I found myself absorbed in the rich experiences you all enjoyed and endured. You engaged all the senses, and I could close my eyes and be right there along with your team.

The photos pulled me further into the realm of the Haute Time. I must review and re-read -- there was more than my enjoyment quota can handle with one pass! Twas truly a spectacular journey; thanks so much for sharing it.

Lots of humor there, too, I see:
proprietor: "Three ladies are approaching."
Heather: "Is anyone bleeding?"
Proprietor: "Ja, die Blondine."
Heather: "That's our Ellen."

and good WC Fields ref.; one might say your quote was delicious.

So glad to hear that you and Sally and Marilyn returned A-OK, and that the five of you had such a marvelous time.

Sally, I look forward to the ibex images/vid. What a treat that must have been!


kilometres of smiles,
arocknoid

(And I think y'all have prodded me to break my rule about no Bighorn images, for a one time post to come)
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Postby guest » Thu Jul 24, 2014 7:31 pm

Wow Ellen (7 friends),
What an amazing journey, your photos are crazy good, (I know, it's hard to take a bad pic in wilderness like that)!
Thanks for sharing this, what a trip of a lifetime, makes me really want to do some trekking, in what looks like a hikers paradise.
Those ladders look like a real adrenaline rush, almost straight up, with a pack, you gals rock.

Happy trails,

Scott 2
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Postby Klancey » Fri Jul 25, 2014 7:23 am

I just read your amazing TR and am thoroughly green with envy over your experience in the Alps. A wonderful TR as always and very informative with the unique "Ellen" humorous flair. I need to make the pilgrimage!! I'm tired of the rocks and dust on Vivian!

Interesting, I watched in my office in the hospital around 0530 and by the time I finished and walked out into the medical chaos beginning to take over as people are making their way in for treatment I was struck by the huge transition it was from viewing the Alps to what was happening. I think it was the distance between the two worlds that was so stark.

Thank you Ellen, for giving me a mental therapy break that I needed today before diving into the maelstrom of life.

As always, keep on trekking,


Lance.
The man from Outback.
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Postby Sally » Fri Jul 25, 2014 12:37 pm

I've been wanting to take my video clips from the Haute Route and make a creative movie (like the ones that Backwoods does) but I just can't seem to get around to it, so here goes, the raw footage:

Haute Route, THE MOVIE!

https://picasaweb.google.com/1009477359 ... directlink
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