Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route • Via Plateau du Couloir • April 25 - May 2, 2007

Our second Chamonix-to-Zermatt jaunt this year was by way of the Plateau du Couloir route. Our company is seen here at the high point of the tour, the Pigne d'Arolla, on a cold day as high clouds turned to fog and eventually a little snow.

Other Recent Trips


Our companions for this tour are, from left to right: Louise Wholey from Saratoga, CA, sportin' the patriotic tuque; Chris Bulkley from Mammoth Lakes, CA in blue behind her; (Mark kneeling in front); Paul Nordquist, buddy of Chris, from San Francisco; Jerry Minzel hiding unrecognizably in his very stylin' homemade red hood!; Rick Billingham, his buddy (both of them from the Seattle/Bellevue area); and finally Jim Wholey on the right, husband of Louise.


This time we did indeed get to ski the Vallée Blanche. The weather was warm and hazy, with thunderstorms in the forecast that mercifully did not materialize. Here, Mark provides a few comments and instructions to orient us to descending glaciated terrain in a guided group.


The first few steps, down the exposed ridge from the Aiguille du Midi téléphérique, are always exciting. The bomber handrail provided by the Compagnie du Mont Blanc helps a lot. The views are spectacular on a day like this!


The group pauses briefly to photgraph the impressive walls of a crevasse as we pass near one end of it.


The reflector-oven effect of the hot late morning sun threatened to make mashed potatoes of the snow, but Paul doesn't seem fazed at all. It can be hard to keep moving when around every corner the views seem even more incredible than ever.


Warned that the Requin hut, where we often stop for lunch, was inaccessible due to serac fall and lack of snow over rock slabs on the approach traverse, the group brought a picnic lunch to enjoy at the aptly named "Salle à Manger", a relatively safe flat area below the hut. Paul got the right idea, here! His bindings provided an adequate cutting surface for the locally made sausage.


The cumulative effect of a light snow year at the mid altitude levels, and the hot, stormless month of April, began to take its toll as we ran out of snow shortly before the exit from the glacier at the bottom of our descent. Here we walk for about 5 minutes on unstable rock-covered ice, to the "Grotto" and the Montenvers train station.


Chris and Kathy on the téléphérique from the Grotto to the train.


On our first day of actual touring, we pause at the top of the Fenêtre de Saleina for our last glide toward the Trient hut.


The following morning, a snow squall sent us on our way. It didn't last; the rest of the day was lovely.


Once again we were carrying our skis a little higher than normal. The crocuses were out in the fields above Champex.


On day 3 of the tour, the dry conditions had a silver lining, this day being an uphill day anyway; we were able to drive higher than usual, cutting nearly an hour from our hiking time en route to the Valsorey hut.


The following morning, the group gets started as the early morning light is just appearing.


The view from halfway up the Plateau du Couloir; Mont Blanc makes its appearance behind.


Topping out on the Plateau.


And approaching the Col du Sonadon.


We found lovely corn conditions as we descended the Glacier du Mont Durand!


And were able to link together patches of snow to the Chanrion hut, only needing to remove skis briefly once or twice.


Heading up to the Col des Portons on the next day, the Grand Combin looms behind. Our descent route of the previous day comes down the Glacier du Mont Durand, seen here to the left of the Grand Combin.


The "Mountaineering" part of ski mountaineering! We always have a little rock scrambling here to get over the Col des Portons and onto the upper part of the Brenay Glacier, but there were about 20 additional feet of fun and games this time!


The Grand Combin again, fading into the mists as high clouds thickened and moved lower. Here we near the end of our long plod up the Brenay glacier toward the Pigne d'Arolla.


Probably the longest, hardest effort of the week, we were rewarded in the Vignettes hut by a special treat; wild meat "harvested" personally by the hut-keeper, a skilled and avid sports hunter. It was delicious, by the way.


Leaving the hut the next morning, a light snow fell, sparkling in the light of our headlamps as we made ready.


Most of the week we had been relatively alone, but this last day into Zermatt is often the busiest. Here we remove skins for our first descent of the day (and the best snow of the tour, by the way!), along with a couple dozen of our new best friends.


Still grinning from the satisfaction of "almost-first-tracks" in great snow below the Col de l'Eveque, we near our next col, the Col du Mont Brulé. Unfortunately, this visibility persisted over the Col de Valpelline as well, so we got only partial views of the Matterhorn as we passed below it.


Not surprisingly, our walk to Furi (the gondola station from which we download to Zermatt) involved a couple of hours' extra walking, but we were happy nevertheless to complete the tour on schedule and in good weather!


Er, yes, in fact. Wilkommen in Zermatt!

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