Chamonix to Zermatt
   Walker's Haute Route

Difficulty


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Dates
offered on a private basis

9 days trekking

Maximum Ratio
8 trekkers per guide

Required skills

Booking info

Book as private trek

Guiding Fees

Equipment list

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See also:
Trekking Overview
Glacier Haute Route
Berner Oberland Trek
Berner Glacier Trek

The famous Haute Route trek between the resort towns of Chamonix in France, and Zermatt in Switzerland, has followed nearly endless variations since it was pioneered in the mid-19th century. The walker's variation we have chosen here has the virtue of taking us through the most spectacular scenery while allowing us to avoid the technical and glaciated terrain of the "High Level Route" (see definitions below). We pass through rustic villages that retain their centuries-old charm and rural way of life; wildlife abounds in the high alpine meadows, giving us good odds of seeing ibex, chamois, marmots, eagles and more. Every day but one ends in a comfortable hotel or inn with all the amenities, allowing us to carry only relatively light day packs; finally, our strategic use of cable cars, taxi, bus and train transfers means we can complete the route in a 9-day trip, including a warm-up day in Chamonix.

What exactly is the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route? Actually there are three distinct Haute Routes commonly done, and we offer programs for all three:

  • the Skiers' Haute Route done on touring skis in March and April;
  • the original summer "High Level Route" pioneered in the 1860s by members of the Alpine Club of Britain and others, this route travels largely on glaciers and crosses many high alpine passes (our Haute Route Glacier Trek);
  • the "Walkers' Haute Route" which follows mostly marked trails and avoids glaciers and the highest passes.

The route described here is the latter. Less arduous and technical than the High Level Route, it is attainable by the very fit and adventurous hiker who has not acquired mountaineering skills. However, although more accessible, this is still a very tough trek. We cover a lot of distance every day, up to almost 17 kilometers some days. We cross high passes and descend far down into the valleys; our trail is not always well marked nor easy, and includes rough rocky sections, boulders, perhaps even occasional snow. Some days may see us climbing ladders or using cable handrails. Spectacular situations and awe-inspiring views are the order of the day, and every day brings challenge and discovery.

There is one night in a true mountain hut. The remainder of the nights are in comfortable hotels and gites.

The Matterhorn, from Zermatt

Booking your trip

We offer this trip as either an open trip, on which you can sign up by yourself and join a group, or, as a private program for just you and your friends/family.

For booking either an "open" trip or a private trip, you can fide more information on the booking procedure here, Booking Trekking Information.

Guiding fees are the same for either an open trip or a private trip. Fee information for the Walker's Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route can be found here.

Group size and composition

Kathy can take a maximum of 8 trekkers. We are happy to run the trip with as few as a single trekker. However, as you can see from the fee structure, the price varies with the number of trekkers.



Nature of hazards and difficulty

The Walker's Haute Route is a long and demanding trip requiring very good physical fitness and preparation. After our first two relatively gentle days, we cover from 10 to almost 17 kilometers most days, through great changes in elevation; ups and downs per day are usually well in excess of 3000 feet, and often more than 4000 feet (1200 meters). Some of the trails are quite rough, involving movement over boulders, rocky slabs and possibly even some snow—although though we offer this trip in early September, when the weather is typically dry and relatively warm, new snow is possible especially at higher elevations, and this can make travel considerably more difficult. Good endurance, balance, and agility are required to get safely and comfortably through the toughest days.

The most significant hazard is injury resulting from a misstep or a short slip or fall. Weather and temperature extremes also can entail hazards we must be prepared to manage. Proper clothes, and care in keeping warm without sweating, should help us to avoid many problems. Much more common, but not so life-threatening, are blisters and sunburn.

 

Prerequisite Skills

This is a trip for experienced and very fit walkers. Most important prerequisites are a very good level of fitness and stamina. Agility, a head for heights, and a sense of adventure are also very helpful.

If you have any questions about the appropriateness of this trip for you, please contact us.


Summer blooms in the upper Val d'Hérens.

Chamonix to Zermatt Walker's Haute Route

Day 0

Rendezvous in Chamonix, evening meal and night in the hotel.

Day 1

Warm up hike in the Chamonix Valley

We have several options for this day, depending chiefly on the weather and trail conditions. In any case, our hike will take us high into the Aiguilles Rouges, with spectacular views across the Chamonix valley to Mont Blanc, its satellite ridges of spiny granite needles known as the "Aiguilles de Chamonix", and the famous snaking glacier, the Mer de Glace. We will ride the cable car to the Planpraz at 2000m (6560 feet) to begin our walk, thereby jump-starting our bodies' acclimatization to higher elevation.

Day 2

Le Tour to Trient

We begin with a short bus transfer up valley to the village of Le Tour, and hike up above treeline to the Col de Balme. After a pause in the col, we descend into Switzerland, take in our first up-close views of the Glacier de Trient, and then stroll the last easy path through woods to The village of Trient, and our hotel.

• 6 hours walking
• total ascent 950 m (3116 ft)
• total descent 890 m (2920 ft)
• total distance 15.5 km

Day 3

To Champex

We begin with a steady climb over the Fenêtre d'Arpette. We are cheered on our way by the nearby views of high glaciers, and by our steady uphill progress. After a pause for views at the col, a long descent down the Val d'Arpette brings us through scattered larch forests, into deeper evergreen woods and finally to our lodging at the trailhead. We will be met by a taxi to take us to our hotel in Verbier for the night.

• 6 hours walking
• total ascent 1050 m (3444 ft)
• total descent 1170 m (3840 ft)
• distance 12.6 km

Day 4

Verbier to Cabane Louvie

We will be met by a taxi to take us to Le Chable Where we ride the cable car to Ruinettes at about 2200 meters. We then follow an easy trail, wandering up through meadows, into a rocky cirque and finally over the Col Termin. A shorter descent brings us to the lake and Cabane de Louvie.

• 5-6 hours walking
• total ascent 780 m (2558 ft)
• total descent 750 m (2460 ft)
• distance 10 km

Day 5

Cabane Louvie to Grand Dixence

This long and rather tough day takes us over two passes, and across sparse track, at times exposed, at times rough and bouldery, perhaps even some snow to deal with. We are rewarded at the end of the day by a comfortable night in a hotel near the base of the enormous Grande Dixence dam.

• 6-7 hours walking
• total ascent 1100 m (3600 ft)
• total descent 1000 m (3280 ft)
• distance 12.5 km

Day 6
Our hotel in Arolla, the Kurhaus.

Dixence to Arolla

This is another long day ending in a beautiful old hotel in a quiet and remote village. We begin by contouring around the Lac des Dix, to pass around its southern end. Our trail then climbs the western slopes of the Monts Rouges, gradually nearing the edge of the stagnant and boulder-covered lower Cheilon Glacier. Trail markings keep us on track in this confusing maze of rocks. We climb either up over the steep Col Riedmatten, or the even steeper vertical ladders of the Pas de Chèvres, depending on the group's tolerance for heights! From here it's a long descent through tumbling stream drainages and flowery meadows to our grand old hotel tucked deep within mature larch forest in Arolla.

• 7-8 hours walking
• total ascent 1100 m (3600 ft)
• total descent 1380 m (4525 ft)
• distance 15.5 km

Day 7

Cotter to Grimentz

This morning starts with a short taxi ride down the steep and winding road out of the Arolla Valley, to a fork in the upper reaches of the Val d'Hérens. The Val d'Hérens is one of several high mountain valleys penetrating deep into the Alps southward toward the crest and border with Italy, and which run roughly parallel to the famous Mattertal further east. In fact this days' walk will bring us over a ridge crest to the equally beautiful and unspoiled Val d'Anniviers, the next jump eastward. Unlike the Mattertal whose upstream terminus is the high-end resort of Zermatt, the towns tucked high in these other valleys retain much of their rustic charm, peace and quiet. We'll get a sample of this as we transfer to our trailhead above the village of Evolène.

We cross the Col de Torrent, and if we are lucky with the weather we'll enjoy some of the best views of the trip so far, from Mont Blanc behind us, to the dominating Dent Blanche and Grand Cornier closer by. We are in the midst of a real connoisseurs' alpine playground, and tantalizingly close to Zermatt and the Matterhorn, if only we could fly like the eagles we might also be lucky enough to see!

• 4 hours walking
• total ascent 876 m (2870 ft)
• total descent 700 m (2300 ft)
• distance 8.5 km

Day 8

Zinal to Gruben

Today's climb jumps a ridge that rises to the spectacular snowy pyramid of the Weisshorn. We may get our first views of the Matterhorn during this climb. From our high point at the Col de Forcletta, we descend into the last and most remote of our parallel valleys, the Turtmanntal, to spend the night in the summer village of Gruben.

• 7-8 hours walking
• total ascent 1350 m (4428 ft)
• total descent 1290 m (4230 ft)
• distance 16 km

Day 9

Gruben to St. Niklaus - (cable car at the end) and taxi and train to Zermatt

After one more big climb over the high Augstbord pass, we are finally within reach of the end of our journey. At the top we are met by a new vista of 4000 meter peaks. Just across the valley is the sharply chiseled Mischabel range separating the Mattertal from the Saas valley. Further up the Mattertal our view is dominated by the Breithorn, one of the giants above Zermatt. A last rugged descent among rocky ridges and basins brings us at long last to a cable car, which we take down to St. Niklaus. We'll catch the train in St Niklaus which will take us to Zermatt. After a good hot shower and celebration dinner, it's time for a long and well derserved night's rest.

• 6 hours walking
• total ascent 1260 m (4130 ft)
• total descent 1100 m (3600 ft)
• distance 13.5 km


Descending the high alpage from the Pas de Chèvres to Arolla.

 

A glimpse of the Dent Blanche above the village of Les Haudères.

Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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All images, layout and text ©2009 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved


Fireweed above Zermatt.

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