Haute Route Journal


Another year, another adventure. Andrew and I decided to tackle the Haute Route.

This is a spectacular and demanding summer hike: a strenuous high-level traverse in the French and Swiss Alps,
walking from Chamonix in France to Zermatt in Switzerland in 10 days.

The route traverses below the summits of ten out of the twelve of the highest peaks in the Alps,
and crosses several high passes. The highest pass is at 2964m (9,800ft).

This is a world of glaciers and towering, snow-capped peaks. The route also meanders through green alpine valleys
with flower-covered meadows and picture-book villages.  A trek of contrasts.

The route passes through the centre of both the French and Swiss Alps: two distinct cultural regions
with different languages and architecture.

July 3/4 2010

I left on July 3rd to Geneva Switzerland. My United
flight went from RDU to Dulles to Geneva. I arrived
in Geneva on July 4th @ 7:30 a.m. I had to wait 3 1/2 hours for Andrew to arrive from Lithuania. He had been visiting
Kristina's parents.

Once Andrew arrived we then went to the train station attached to the airport and bought tickets to
Chamonix France. We would have to change trains twice. The first change was at Martigny. We arrive at the train on track
3 but not all the stops are listed anywhere. We asked 2 people and they said this train would get us the Martigny. The
next 30 minutes on the train we questioned if we were on the right train. Finally a conductor came by and confirmed we
were on the correct train. Our route took us along lake Geneva. We made our stop and changed over to the Mont Blanc
Express train. This train went up some steep grades. At the French border we changed to another train that would
take us into Chomonix.

As we arrived at the Chamonix train station it started to rain. Luckily we made it down the street to our
hotel before it really started coming down. We checked into the lovely Hotel Mont Blanc. After we unpacked we
headed down the main street in town. We hit a nice coffee shop/bakery. I had an awesome hot chocolate. After
refreshments we hiked a a mile or so to find a geocache. We then made our way to McDonalds to use their free
wi-fi. I was able to use Skype to call home.

All our hotels include breakfast and dinner. At the Mont Blanc we had a 5 course meal. With the 1/2 board option
you get a small menu of items to choose from. Tonight I had an amuse-bouche, foie gras, artic char, cheese course, and
a lemon meringue tart for dessert. Wow, what a meal to start off the trip.

July 5

Chamonix to Argentiere, France
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
                 loss: 3,200 feet
Started the day with a great breakfast at the hotel. The sky's are clear and very blue. We headed into town
and bought lunch supplies and a knife. I also found someone to fix the pin that busted in my watch.
After that, the trek began. We headed up hill and took the Brevent/Planpraz cable car up. At the top we had
nice views of Mont Blanc and many other peaks. We hiked along a trail and passed lots of ski lifts. At
Flegere we stopped at a hut and had a great lunch of a salad and quiche. As we proceeded down the trail
we made a wrong turn and went up a steep hill. Luckily we could cut across to the correct trail and not loose
much of the elevation we had gained. Following the trail we headed to Lac Blanc, a nice alpine lake. At the
lake there was a hut where you could get meals and beverages. We enjoyed a nice beer while enjoying the scenery.
They get the food up there by helicopter. Interestingly we found beer cheaper than soda on the trek.
After our refreshment stop it was time to head downhill to the town of Argentiere.  On the way we passed
several Ibex. Some had some pretty big horns. Downward we went until we arrived in town and made our way to
the hotel Les Grandes Montets.  The room was nice but they only had a tub and hand shower for bathing. We arrived
to find out the pool and hot tub close at 6:00 p.m. Drat, we could not enjoy the amenities.
For dinner tonight we had to select our food from a chalk board menu. Everything was in French and the
waitress did not really speak English. Luckily the limited selection made it easy for us the choose. Tonight
I had an amuse-bouche, Cesar salad, pork with Béchamel sauce, and dessert. After dinner we did some laundry
and went to sleep around 11:00 p.m.

July 6

Argentiere to Trient, Switzerland
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
                 loss: 3,000 feet
Had another great breakfast and hit the trail by 9:00 am. We hiked through Argentiere and then climbed up to
the Hamlet of le Tour. We walk through le Tour and then by a chair lift took a steep trail up. After climbing
up for a while we reached Chalets de Balme hut. We broke out our lunch. I enjoyed an icy cold coke and Andrew
a beer. I love these refreshment stops! We then continued climbing up to our high point at Col de Blame. This
is also the border between France and Switzerland. We took some photos and then started the downward portion
of our day to Trient. At the bottom of the mountain we came to a meadow filled with cows. They had huge bells
attached to their necks. The bells made a nice sound as the cows grazed and swatted flies. In the valley we
hiked through Le Peuty to Trient. At the end of the road we found our hotel, Relais du Mont Blanc. This was
more like a hostel. We had a room with a shared bath in the hallway. Nothing fancy but our room did have a
kitchen. For dinner we had a fondue with potatoes. We ate with a father and son from England that we had
passed on the trail today. We watched a little of the world cup and then headed to bed.

July 7

Trient to Champex Lac
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 2,900 feet
                 loss: 2,200 feet
We decided to take the easier route today. My feet and hips are pretty sore. I have several bandages on toes
and one heel. Breakfast was lame today, juice, bread and yogurt. We wandered through town and eventually
found the start of the trail. We spent a long time trying to figure out if this was the right trail. The trail was
pretty steep from the start. We started seeing a pattern with each days hike. Start with 5 to 6 hours of endless up,
hit a high point and then 3 to 4 hours of endless down into a town.

Near the top of today's trail we encountered lots of meadows covered in wild flowers. Our trek notes said
this part of the trail was magical and fanciful. We had lunch today at a hut at
the Bovine. The view from the hut was fantastic. Cows to the right and the valley below. We enjoyed
the sounds of the cow bells while having our lunch. I had some alpine swiss fare today. A rosti au fromage. A rosti is
like a giant coarsely shredded hash brown. Accompanying this I had an icy cold coke. After lunch we continued trekking,
starting our downward leg. At Plan de l'Au we stopped for cold beer. We rested our feet and enjoyed the view.

Back on the trail to Champex. Eventually the trail ended and we hiked down the road into town. We stopped to pick up
some food and some more band aides. As we walked through town we paralleled a good sized mountain lake. Today it took
us forever to find the hotel. Our directions were not supper clear. Eventually we found the Hotel Belvedere.
Today was our first day off the Tour de Mont Blanc trail. The two routes overlap a bit. The crowds really dropped down.
We were the only trekkers
at this tiny hotel. By a stroke of misfortune they gave the tired trekkers the room on the 3rd floor. We were in
part of the old attic. There were only three groups having dinner tonight. A husband/wife team run this hotel. She
cooked us a great meal tonight. We had a salad with dried meat, perch meuniere, and panna cotta with strawberries for
dessert. After dinner we walked around town and enjoyed the sunset. Our hotel bar was all decked out with
Germany football stuff. We watched a little bit of the world cup before going to bed.

July 8

Champex Lac to Cabane Mont Fort
Distance: 3 miles
Elevation gain: 734 feet
                 loss: 111 feet
We were up and going early today. We hit breakfast at 7:30. Today's buffet was good, lots of meat, cheese, croissant,
cereal, and home made yogurt.

Today is any easy day. We caught a bus down the street to a train station. The bus ride was 6 CHF (about $5.50 US)
for a 10 minute trip. At the train station we met another trekker who showed us how to get train tickets from
the automated machine. These machines require a pin code for your credit card. Luckily Andrew had one.
We rode the train for 15 minutes and got off and waited for our next train. While waiting we borrowed someone's
wireless connection and sent some e-mail. The 2nd train ride was about 10 minutes long. We arrived at La Chable.
We then purchased gondola tickets. We rode the gondola about half way up and got off a the town of Verbier.  This
is a beautiful little ski town. We wandered around for a bit. Andrew bought some post cards. We found a nice outdoor
cafe and had something drink while Andrew filled out the his cards. The cafe had wireless so I was able to use
Skype and leave a message for Karen. After posting his cards we had lunch at the Milk Bar. I had a "complete" crepe
with ham, cheese and egg. Andrew had a giant ice cream sunday. After lunch we headed back to the gondola and
went all the way to the top.

We then hiked for about an hour to Cabane Mont Fort. This is a high mountain hut run by the Swiss Mountain club.
This was a really nice hut. We stayed in a room with 2 bunk beds. The hut was very quiet so we had our own room.
Bathrooms with running water, toilets, and pay showers were down the hall. We enjoyed hanging on the
hut deck and drinking beer and reading. We meet a group from Australia that were starting their hike today.
There was only one guy manning the hut and he cooked a good dinner for all the guests. We had soup, salad,
spaghetti with meat sauce and vanilla pudding for dessert. We also bought a pricey bottle of wine.
After dinner we enjoyed watching the sunset. It started to get cold so we retreated to our room and went to bed.
It got cold outside that night but our room was toasty.

July 9

Cabane Mont Fort to Cabane Prafleuri
Distance: 11 miles
Elevation gain: 2,896 feet
                 loss: 2,572 feet
Slept just OK last night. Breakfast this morning was bread and jam. Not a lot of calories for the trip ahead.
Today we will cross 3 mountain passes and cross the Grand Desert.

We set off about 8:30, the last group to leave the hut. We opted for the less treacherous Col Termin trail at
the start of the hike. This added an hour but passes through some of the best scenery of the trip.
About 20 minutes out the hut manager caught up with us. He kept mentioning ticket to us. We had no idea
what he wanted. Eventually he went back to the hut. The next day we figured out the guide service had not
paid for our hut. We fixed this when we were back in the states.

The trail to Col Termin had fantastic views and easy up hill hiking. The hike to the next pass, Col del la Chaux,
was steeper and slow going. We hit a few ares where chains were bolted to the rocks for us to hold on to. We also
hit our fist sections covered in snow. We finally made it to the Col and could see the Grand Desert below.
The desert is an area formally occupied by a glacier. Because of this it is filled with rocks and scree.
We have come to realize the time specified on the route signage is way off. If you ran the trail with no pack
you may be able to do the time. From Mont Fort the signs said 3:45 to the next hut. In actuality it took us
9 1/2 hours.

As we descended into the Grand Desert we hit some steep snow covered sections where we could slide down. That
was fun and refreshing. Once at the bottom we headed right and climbed up a snow covered slope and followed tracks
leading to the other side of the desert. Many times the footing gave way and we went up to our thighs in snow.
This eventually opened up and we could hear water running under the snow. Andrew fell through twice getting his
boots totally drenched in water.  We had to ascend down a steep slope and then climb onto a knife edge mass of snow.
There was room for a small trail. On either side were steep slopes. If you fell you would slide down several
hundred feet. Luckily we crossed with no issues. This was the the most scariest and dangerous section of the day.

We then had to climb out of the desert over snow, scree, and large boulders. Luckily there were blazes painted on
the rocks so we could easily navigate the route. Finally after climbing up and over the Col de Prafleuri we were
closing in on the hut. Only problem was we had to go down to a valley, cross a flood plain and then hike straight
up for 5 minutes.

Today's hike was a tough and demanding hike. We faced many obstacles today: long trek, snow (falling through, knife
edged slopes), steep snow covered terrain, hiking over giant boulder fields and heat. Did I mention they have been
having record heat over here? We were exhausted. Our boots were drenched from the snow.

We checked in and were put in this large room where sleeping pads were lined up along
both sides of the walls. Luckily our room was not full so we had space between the futons. Dinner sucked tonight.
Even so we gobbled down every calorie we could. We had soup, salad, chewy stew meat over rice and a canned pear.
You couldn't drink the tap water here so we bought water for 8 CHF ($7 USD) for 1 1/2 liters.

After dinner I worked on my blisters. I have some new ones today to replace the ones that healed in other spots.

July 10
Cabane Prafleuri to Arolla
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 2,400 feet
                 loss: 4,450 feet
Another so so breakfast. Tea, bread, yogurt and a few pancakes. When pouring sugar into my tea, the top
fell off and the entire container of tea ended up in my cup. Great!. As we were leaving the hut manager
stopped us and said we owed her for our stay. Evidently our service did not make the correct payments.
$122 CHF seems like a lot for a bunk room and two bad meals.

Out of the hut we followed the trail straight up to a Col. It was a good hike up. We then descended
down to a huge lake. The lake was really long (2 miles or more). We hiked along the lake shore and chatted
with a gal from Finland. She had this tiny pack. We felt way over packed compared to her.  Along the lake we
saw many Marmots. At the end of the lake we stopped and had a snack. At this end water was gushing into the lake
from a hole carved into the mountain. An amazing amount of water was being fed into the lake.

After our snack, up the mountain we went. We eventually caught up to a guided group of Russians. We passed them
and continued on. As we headed up the trail got steeper and very rocky. We had to cross over large boulders.
We followed a trail against the mountain. On the narrow sections they had chains bolted to the mountain for us
to hold on to.

We ended up at the bottom of Pas des Chevres. From here we climbed ladders up about 10 stories to reach the pass.
Two ladders were bolted together. You had to step from ladder two to ladder three using a small rock out cropping
for footing. On top the view was great. We could see huge glacial moraines. Finally we descended into the small
town of Arolla.

We stayed tonight at Pigne d'Arolla hotel. Ugh, our room was on the third floor. A small hotel with a nice room.
Our beds were in a loft (another set of stairs to climb!). The hotel was very quite tonight. We had a great dinner consisting
of a salad, duck breast, and dessert.

July 11

Arolla to Les Hauderes
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 2,800 feet
                 loss: 3,200 feet
Woke up early, worked on my blisters and packed. Breakfast was really good. We even had warm croissants.
We left the hotel and walked through the village to find the path to Cabane des Aiguilles. We headed up
a really steep path. After a bit we passed an empty herding settlement. We continue up on a carriage
road. Eventually the road ended and we followed the trail. At the end of a ridge the trail turned
into a big talus field. We followed the trail blazes through the rocks and worked our way up
to the Cabane. At the hut we got some rosti and sausage for lunch along with a nice beer.
It's nice to get a hot lunch in the middle of nowhere.

I dragged on today's hike. Just one of those days. After lunch we headed down through a continuing talus
field. We took a short cut and crossed the river. We continued our downward descent until we came upon
Lac Blue. A picturesque maintain lake. We took a break here. Andrew had to cool his feet in the icy water.
There is a cheese place near here but they were closed today. We then hiked down to the town of Les Hauderes (about
1 hour more). We checked into Hotel les Melezes and had a nice room with a heart theme. It was pretty quiet for dinner
tonight. Only a couple of people. We had a salad, ham in sauce, bow tie pasta, and fruit.

Tonight was the world cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. The bar started filling up as we were finishing
dinner. All the people coming in were rooting for the Netherlands. They were dressed in orange, wearing orange wigs, and
some crazy mascot on their shoulders. We watched for a bit but were so tired we headed up to bed. Sometime in the
middle of the night were heard a big commotion from the crowd below and then they left. The next day we found out
the Netherlands lost in OT.

July 12

Les Hauderes to St. Luc
Distance: 10 miles
Elevation gain: 3,800 feet
                 loss: 2,100 feet
We got up early, slammed down breakfast in order to be at the buss stop in time. We even got there
5 minutes early. The bus never showed. Instead of waiting for the next bus, we hiked 2 kilometers up the
highway through the village of Le Sarge to Villa. At Villa we found a small store where we stocked up
on sausage, local cheese, and pumpernickel bread. The cheese was made in Les Hauderes where we started from today.
We then headed down the road and found a small cafe. Andrew needed another cup of coffee. We meandered thru some streets
following signs to Col de Torrent. We went eventually hit a carriage trail that we followed up the mountain.
We followed the carriage road and passed many small cottages on the mountain. We passed a guy with a machine that was
chopping down the high grass. We assumed they would come back later and pick the dried grass up to make hay bales.
Upward we went. Finally we based a small group of buildings and then hit a real trail head. We were ascending higher
up the mountain. I felt good today, great energy, feeling very strong. We finally reach Col de TOrrent and stopped
for lunch. The food we picked up in town was awesome. This is the life, high up a mountain, great views and great

After lunch we headed down the other side of the mountain. At the bottom of the
mountain we came to a huge lake with a large curved damn. We got to walk across the top of the damn. The water was
pretty far down from the lakes maximum. On the other side of the damn was a restaurant. There is also a bus stop here.
It took us a while a while to figure out we had about 90 minutes until the bus. Well worth the wait versus hiking
down a few more miles to the next (more frequent) bus stop. We sat outside on some comfy chairs, drank some beverages
and soaked up the views. The bus arrived. It was 16 CHF to St. Luc with one bus change. The final bus stop was right
in front of our hotel. The Hotel Bella Tola was an really nice 4 star old hotel.

We were on the fourth floor but this place had an elevator. Of course the fabulous pool and spa closed right as we
got there. We went downstairs for dinner. The menu was custom printed for us. It said welcome Mr and Mrs Majercik.
I thought this was funny. We had an awesome meal tonight of: carrot and cream soup, salad, ostrich with mash, and a
chocolate dessert. We finally found an ATM near the hotel. I had been borrowing from the Banca de Andrew since I paid
for our last hut stay. Did some laundry and went to bed.

July 13

St Luc to Gruben
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation gain: 3,750 feet (includes 1,600 foot funicular ride)
                 loss: 3,200 feet
Had a good breakfast today and then hiked through the village to take a funicular.
A funicular is a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up
and down a steep slope; the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other. We purchased our tickets
and headed to the top. This saved us a 1,600 foot climb. Plus we got to ride another mode of transportation.

At the top we hiked along a wide trail with a large group of senior citizens. We eventually parted ways and took
the trail to Meidpass. Of course it was steep all the way up. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to reach the top.
This pass marks the border between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland. We had lunch on the pass
and then headed down the other side.  

We came to a large pasture with lots of cows with bells on. The trail went right though the pasture. I had fun
checking out the different bells and collars on the cows. One of the big cows blocked the trail and I had to got around.

I powered downhill ahead of Andrew. I hit the end of the trail for him. 20 minutes later he finally made it down.
We hiked down the road to Hotel Schwarzhorn. This was more like a big hostel. Our room was very
funky. Two twin beds laid out end to end. I get to play footsie with Andrew tonight. After a shower and some laundry
we headed to the deck outside for some beers and ice cream. I was able to use Skype to call home. We also ran
into our Aussie buddies from Mont Fort.

Dinner was horrible. Something was wrong in the kitchen and dinner took forever. The meal was pretty small and
not very good. I couldn't take it anymore, I left before dessert. Andrew gladly ate mine.

July 14

Gruben to Zermatt
Distance: 9 miles (hiking)
Elevation gain: 3,500 feet
                  loss: 3,100 feet (this includes gondola down?)
Today is our last day on the trail!!!
Packed up and had a quick breakfast of bread, jam and yogurt. Then it was straight up a
meadow behind the hotel. Eventually we started switchbacking up the mountain. We passed a large empty
herders settlement. Up we went in another high meadow. We ran into some light brown and white cows. One
smaller cow came up to me. I scratched her head as she trick to lick my hand with her tongue. She was a very
friendly cow. Onward we climbed, up past one false summit. Then the path leveled off before the final
steep scree field to the Meidpass. We had a nice view from the top but it was very windy. We found refuge behind
a large outcropping of rocks. We hand lunch and chatted with an older couple who were just starting on their trek.
Lunch was some beef sausage, cheese and bread.

Then we headed for our endless down portion of the day. There were a lot of sections with scree and boulders.
We enjoyed great views on the way down.

The trail eventually leads you to the top of a cable car line in the village of Jungu. Only one 4 person car operates at at time. There is
no attendant at top. You have to call down for the operator to send up the car. He only speaks German. The car shows
up and you put your packs in a rack on the outside of the car. Eventually the attendant keeps repeating something
in German. We had no idea what he is saying. They have a camera up there but it doesn't point at the car.
Someone in line spoke German and said something to the operator. Our car started down to St. Nikalaus. It was a steep dramatic
ride down. I'm glad we didn't choose to walk down. This is the way to go. At the bottom you pay the attendant for
the ride.

We then bought a train ticket to Zermatt. We wondered around the village for a bit and then waited for the train. This
train is a cog train. The tracks have a third rail with notches in it. This is used when climbing steep sections.
Did I mention the trains are not marked very well. A train shows up at the appointed time and we hop aboard. Just
as we are pulling out of the station another train pulls in from the opposite direction. I see a sign with the
two end points and then big letters saying Zermatt. We got on the wrong train! We had to go 20 minutes up the line
and then wait about 5 minutes for the next train to Zermatt.

We arrived in Zermatt. No cars are allowed in town. Only electric carts. We found our hotel, the Marabeau. It's a
very nice 4 star hotel. We had a nice room with a view of the Matterhorn. Andrew went down and enjoyed the pool.
He finally got to enjoy the amenities.

We had a fantastic meal in the hotel. I had Rilletes of smoked trout and salmon, soup, salad, veal cordon bleu,
and poached apricots. Great meal. Afterwards we walked around the main street in Zermatt. All the shops close at 6:00.
There are lots of shops selling expensive swiss watches.

July 15

Explored Zermatt

Had a great breakfast downstairs and then walked across town to Groner Gorge. Some guy in the 1920s build a
elevated walkway in the gorge. On the way we walked passed a river that cut through part of town.  The Gorge was
interesting. Lots of water moving through. On the way back we headed to the other side of town and up the
mountain to this giant cross. There wasn't a clear way to get there so we had to go all over to get there. I
needed to find a cache in Switzerland. I found the cache and we headed back down. We shopped on the way back.
through town. We stopped at local chocolate shop and stocked up on the sweet stuff. For lunch we headed to
the Cafe du Mont for authentic swiss fondue. We got a huge pot of cheese with mounds of bread and
potatoes for dipping. The wacky owner came by and showed us the proper fondue technique.

On the way back to the hotel I bought an old cowbell complete with leather strap. I had been searching high and
low for one. I didn't want the standard painted tourist bell. Fondue and cow bell checked off my list.

The Matterhorn was in the clouds most of the day. So we opted not to take an expensive train for a better view.
We found an antique store with lots of good cow bells. Too bad I already bought one. They had the
very large bells for $850 USD. They were nice but I couldn't figure out how to fit one in my luggage.

Dinner at the hotel restaurant. Another great meal.

July 16

Zermatt to Geneva

After breakfast we boarded the train to Geneva. It was a lovely ride back. Around the lake we passed lots
of hillside vineyards. We arrived at the Geneva airport train station and waited for the hotel shuttle. We picked
the Holiday Inn Express because it was near the airport. I have an early flight out the next day.

We checked into the hotel and then got directions on how to take the bus downtown. We explored down by the lake.
There is a huge man made fountain that shoots water up hundreds of feet in the air. We checked that out then walked
around the downtown streets checking out the various stores. I saw lots of high end cars in the downtown area.
We had a nice pizza dinner at a small Italian cafe. We sat outside in the shade. Unfortunately as the sun set
we got blasted by the last rays. We were both pretty sweaty by the end of the meal.

It took us a while to find a bus stop for the appropriate bus back to the hotel. I did some laundry and prepared
for my early morning flight to Florence Italy.