Haute Route – Final Thoughts

Hiking in Switzerland is pretty much paradise.

It is a beautiful country with lush green valleys, snowcapped peaks and many (receding) glaciers. Transportation is easy and efficient, making point to point hikes very doable without complicated logistics.

There are mountain huts in very remote areas (resupplied by helicopters frequently) and hotels in small mountain towns. These huts and hotels serve food and one can opt for a half board (dinner and breakfast) option or just a place to sleep. These amenities allow hikers to trek from hut to hut with only a small day pack with clothes, snacks and water.

Hiking all day with a light backpack and being treated to a 4-course meal and cozy bed at the end of it — hiking life doesn’t get much better than that!

For the most part the Haute Route was well marked and distance is indicated in hours rather than miles. These predictions are moving time and can be achieved but without any dilly dallying.

The routes that we took were the hiking routes (indicated by a red and white blaze). The mountaineering routes (blue and white blazes) are more technical, higher in elevation, with a greater chance of snow and, from what we heard from fellow hikers, not as well marked.

When we first planned this trip we wanted to backpack the entire thing. But after doing some research and reading mixed opinions about camping, we decided to ‘do as the locals do’ and stay in huts and hotels at the end of each day.

Our post hike impression is that tenting along the Haute Route is doable, but it requires a lot of extra planning. Tenting is generally frowned upon near cabanes (mountain huts) and towns unless there is a designated campground.

If you plan to camp we would recommend setting your itinerary to camp midway between cabanes or at least an hour out of town. There are no developed camping options along the Haute Route (as you would find in the States) so one would need to be flexible, creative, prepared for long days and be comfortable reading a topo map to look for possible camping locations.

If we were to do the Haute Route again we would do a hybrid trek (some camping, some cabane-ing). This would force us to have heavier packs which may not always be enjoyable but would allow for more flexibility.

We would definitely stay at Cabane de Moiry and possibly aim for Cabane de Dix but would skip Cabane de Prafleuri (the least friendly staff and underwhelming cabane we stayed in).

The Haute Route offers an opportunity to walk through breathtaking scenery without the crowds of the Tour de Mont Blanc. The trail is steep (both ascending and descending) but the hours of hiking each day is manageable to allow for decent breaks.

It was a wonderful trek and we would do it again in a heartbeat. Actually we might do a longer one – Andy is already scheming a 500 km route combining the Tour de Mont Blanc, Haute Route and Tour de Monte Rosa.

In summary,  if you are considering the Haute Route, start packing your bags. You will not be disappointed.

 

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Day 10 – Casual day hike in Zermatt

August 3, 2017

Trail: Edelweissweg

Miles: 13.3

Elevation: +3,965/ -3,924

Ok so it wasn’t so casual. 

We prefer trails to crowded streets, and rice cakes and cheese to fancy restaurants. So rather than spending the day ‘relaxing’ in Zermatt, we took to our happy place – the trail.

Our bodies were tired the night before. As we have done most of this trip, we slept soundly.  Following a nice breakfast of yogurt and fruit we wandered through the streets of Zermatt as the 8:30 church bells rang.

We chose a hike that would provide nice views of the Matterhorn without the crowds.

After meandering through Zermatt we hiked out of the valley up toward Trift. The trail switchbacked in the trees following a stream up towards its headwaters at a glacier.

One hour into our hike we came upon a hut with smells of carrot cake wafting out the kitchen windows. Each hut offers food and drink and it is hard to walk past them, but we had miles we wanted to cover.

From here it was another hours walk to Trift, a single hotel at the head of a valley. Switzerland is amazing in this way. You can hike and hike uphill to your heart’s content and find yourself at a remote hut in a meadow or perched on a cliff serving kuchen (cake), soup and more.

From Trift we had a ~500 foot climb up to the high point on the trail. Andy decided to push it and took off while Laurie kept her slow and steady pace. Once at the top we once again traversed the green hillsides.

We walked across the alpine tundra staring at the snow capped peaks and glaciers surrounding us. Unfortunately the Matterhorn summit remained hidden by clouds. Andy referred to it as the “shy mountain.”

The wind picked up as we searched for a protected spot to have lunch. It was only 11 am but after our big all-you-can-eat hut breakfasts, yogurt and fruit didn’t hold us for very long.

After a lunch consisting of hard boiled eggs, cheese with rice cakes, and bratwurst, we continued on, staying high, past more flowers and a flock of sheep.

Eventually we descended into a valley with a hydro-electric plant. It was amazing to see the amount glacier run off and wondered if this plant provided all of Zermatt’s electicity.

Our trail was rerouted around a rock slide so we joined the road and fellow hikers descending from the gondola stop to the town of Schwarzsee.

Neither of us particularly enjoy road walks. They allow us to cover more miles but are harsh on our feet, not to mention boring. We both wished we had turned around when at the high point to make this a more scenic tour (and eat carrot cake!). Oh well.

We descended back into Zermatt around 4 pm. Patrick had allowed us to leave food and a pack at his place, so we headed there to grab our things.

From there we walked to our hotel, where we showered after checking in and ate leftovers. Later in the evening we walked through town looking for chocolate to take home for family.

We ate dinner on our patio looking out at the still partially occluded Matterhorn. “Good thing we got to see it from Cabane Bella Tola because we might not see it in all its glory during our time here” said Andy.

We attempted to go out for a walk after dinner but Laurie quickly faded and fell asleep at 9pm. Andy watched some tv, stayed up way too late and slept around 11pm.

Tomorrow we leave Zermatt and Switzerland to start our journey home. We have loved our time in Switzerland, the cows, the alpine tundra and the mountains.

We will certainly be back again to hike more of this country’s majestic mountains, perhaps a 500 kilometer loop that includes the Tour de Mont Blanc, Haute Route and the Tour de Monte Rosa. But that’s for the future. 

Goodbye Switzerland. Thank you for the memories!

Tonight we are grateful for delicious Swiss cheese and chocolate.

Looking down onto Trift and the sole hut there

Lunch with a view

Sheep!!

Cute sheep!!

Day 9 – End of the Haute Route

August 2, 2017

Europahütte to Zermatt

Miles: 12

Elevation: +2,256/ -4,383

Total miles: 92.9

Sharing a dorm with 4 other adults meant we pushed our comforters off of us within 10 minutes of laying down and slept only in our silk liners.

Even with the window open and us closest to it, Laurie was uncomfortably warm all night. On the plus side, the beds have been comfortable everywhere we’ve stayed, so we felt rested when we woke up at 6:30am.

We had hoped to leave at 7am but since that’s when breakfast was being served, we didn’t hit the trail until 8:15am.

Under worryingly dark clouds, we left our last hut of the trip and descended toward a new bridge that bypasses an entire valley.

A mere 5 days prior to our arrival, the 494 meter (1,620 foot) bridge opened, making it the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. It took us almost 7 minutes to cross it! 

Being Swiss construction, it is incredibly stable and if you aren’t afraid of heights, totally safe. We were both expecting it to wobble about but even at its midpoint it was quite sturdy.

This massivs bridge exists because the valley it crosses is notorious for rockfall that takes out the trail and previous bridges regularly. So the Swiss went big hoping it will be a permanent solution to an ongoing problem.

Our excitement for having crossed the new bridge wasn’t enough to offset the burn in our quads as the trail switchbacked up the forest and above treeline to meet up with the previous trail.

Along the way, Andy – as ever with his eyes wandering all over the place – spotted a chamois. These goat-like creatures have been the hardest to spot on our trek through the Alps. They move quickly and even though this was the closest we’ve seen one, it was still at a distance too great to see clearly.

Once above treeline we continued our traverse through more valleys with even more surprises. Neither of us had read much about what to expect today, so we were quite surprised to turn a corner and find a tunnel blasted through the mountain in yet another notorious rockfall area.

Once through, Laurie noticed a sign for hikers headed in the opposite direction warning them of falling rocks. “How come we didn’t have that warning sign?” Laurie asked.

“Because rocks only fall on hikers going that direction” remarked Andy jokingly. “Actually, there used to be one for us too but it looks like it was flattened by a rockfall long ago and never replaced. Why bother?”

There wasn’t a lot of evelation gain today but when we did climb they were short and steep. But as always, the climbs were worth it because we stayed above treeline for many miles and enjoyed tremendous views of mountains and glaciers.

Unfortunately the Matterhorn remained shy all day, with its top third hiding in clouds.

No matter though. The views were still enchanting. We turned another corner and guess what? Another rockfall prone area. This has been such a problem that the Swiss have built concrete canopies and blasted tunnels to protect hikers. In some sections the canopies were breaking apart, undoubtedly from the weight of boulders crashing down on top of them. The canopies were at least a half a mile long, if not longer.

We took a snack break under sunny skies, fantastic views of giant mountains and glaciers, contemplating whether to high tail it to town or take our time up high.

The clouds were building and our Airbnb host had to be at work at 2pm. We didn’t want to wait until 7pm (when he got off work) to check in so we needed to be in Zermatt before then. But we also didn’t want to rush off the mountain and into 4 walls.

So we decided to take our time with an eye on the clouds.

We casually descended into Zermatt, seeing more and more people with every foot of elevation we lost.

We’ve heard Zermatt is very expensive and quite touristy, so we wanted to stay in the mountains as much as possible. But we were also excited for fresh food and to walk through a town where cars are prohibited.

After a never ending downhill we made it into the outskirts of Zermatt. Posh hotels and fancy homes all built to face the Matterhorn lined the streets.

We made a plan to get our train tickets, meet our Airbnb host at his work to get keys, and shop for groceries so we can have tomorrow free for more adventure.

Once in the center of town we had wished we’d stayed in the mountains longer. It was hot, there were tourists everywhere, cigarette smoke invaded our lungs and small electric vans whizzed by us at alarmingly fast speeds.

And then there were the cyclists. Many locals use bicycles to get around, and when going downhill they ride way too quickly. No horns, no warning. Just a loud whoosh when they blast by.

We stayed focused amidst the chaos, with Andy bowing cold air onto Laurie in a failed attempt at keeping her cool.

We met Patrick at his work, picked up our keys and made a beeline for the supermarket.

With quinoa, black beans, lentils, veggies, bratwurst, fruit and ice cream in hand, we began our walk through town, in search of home for the night.

Not long into our urban adventure we decided to sit on a massive wave of a chair next to the river and devour our ice cream. The piercing sun was no match for the delicious vanilla ice cream.

But the cigarette smoke from others in the vacinity did annoy us quite a bit. We sat for about 10 minutes, taking turns feeding one another while we watched hikers, mountaineers and tourists with selfie sticks walk past.

Eventually we managed to roll off of the massive chair and continue walking. Andy carried the heavy grocery bag while Laurie guided us.

With inconsistent street signage and hidden house numbers, we had a tough time initially finding the Airbnb. We walked up the hill only to turn around and walk back down again. Eventually we found it, glad to be there and away from the hustle and bustle of Zermatt.

We showered, cooked, ate and enjoyed views of the Matterhorn from the balcony. Around 730pm Patrick came home and we asked him about potential hikers for the next day.

With a plan in place we retired to our room and fell asleep around 930, sad that our hike is over, but proud of our accomplishments.

Tonight we are grateful for fresh vegetables and well stocked grocery stores.

THE bridge

Chamois in the woods. They’re very quiet.

Love the Swiss signs

Nearing the end of the trail

Laurie on a mini ropes course. It was hilarious!

The Matterhorn from our balcony. Not too shabby