Twelve months ago we walked the Tour du Mont-Blanc, our first foray into the Alps and apart from the weather we had a fantastic time. And so, my nearest and dearest side-kick suggested we return. “Why not?” was my gleeful response. Like quick silver he was scanning all possibilities, exploring all options, delving into all the travel companies and their tours. Once again K.E. came out on top with the Walkers Haute Route – Chamonix to Zermatt. “Only one level up from Mont Blanc” said my delighted spouse, “we can do that!” “Of course we can” was my slightly doubtful answer. The holiday was duly booked and our training began in earnest. However, life sometimes gets in the way of pleasure and we found ourselves not only training for the ‘haute’ but also dashing into Wales every 1-2 weeks to help my dad who has had a rough start to the year health-wise. The holiday was fast approaching and with only six weeks to go Bob did his back in!!! Unfortunately he was also leading a group of 18 people over the final part of the Cumbrian Way for three days just before we were due to go away and effectively limped, staggered and groaned his way around. This did not help his recuperation and right up to the Friday before we were due to fly there was still some question over his fitness. However, a couple of visits to the osteopath and some recommended exercises convinced him to “Go For It”.
Saturday July the 11th saw us boarding the plane. A good flight and taxi journey bought us to Argentiere, our accommodation and our travelling companions. “They’re all so much younger – I’ll never keep up” I groaned. Bob looked at me sternly – “We will be fine” he said – and we were!
The weather was hot – a level three heatwave – official! This did make the first few days of walking hard work, coping with temperatures around 30C and acclimatising to the heights took its toll initially. But eventually the “Walklate Plod” got into gear. So what can I say about the Haute Route?
Stunning scenery; mountains in every direction; glaciers like huge tidal waves caught in suspended animation; cols to be ascended; boulder fields to be tackled; large snow patches to cross; ladders to be climbed; bridges, both wooden and suspension, to breach; steep downward paths to skid along; areas of potential rock fall to negotiate; and amongst all this the flora and fauna.
We saw beautiful flowers including the elusive Edelweiss, walked the mountain meadows vibrant with colour and saw the most exquisite blue lakes. Rushing water falls accompanied our journey and all the while the sun continued to beat down. We encountered black fighting cows, saw Marmott, Chamois and Ibex and occasionally there was a raptor soaring overhead. We spent three nights in mountain huts, a truly unique experience, especially, in my opinion, at the final hut following our extremely adventurous day on the Europaweg!
The Europaweg – an experience to savour – in one day we encountered every difficulty a mountain can throw at the seasoned walker. It was tough in the extreme but thanks to the professionalism of our guide, Lindsay, we negotiated every obstacle successfully. Lindsay made it plain that we must follow her every instruction to the letter – if she shouted “Spread out” we maintained a 6-8 metre distance between our fellows walkers, if she called “Tight” we had to walk so closely that as one foot fell another took its place! From the narrowest of paths clinging to the side of the mountain, to crossing “Danger Zones” over potential rock fall areas, crossing fast running streams and swinging over a suspension bridge we moved steadily forward to the Europahutte.
And what a welcome sight that was as it perched precariously onto the side of the mountain!
Our final day took us to Zermatt and our goal of the Matterhorn. We should have continued via the Europaweg trail but due to massive rock falls this has now been closed. Apparently it is too dangerous to try to reinstate the path and suspension bridge as the ground is far too unstable. We could see both the trail and bridge from the hut and it did look rather intimidating! Instead we strolled through a lovely valley, now and again glancing across to the mountain side where we should have been clambering.
We could not have chosen a more propitious time to arrive in Zermatt as the town was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first successful ascent of the mountain by Edward Whymper on the 14th July 1865. A street party was held with food and drink in plentiful supply and music which filled the air. The Matterhorn itself, standing stark and magnificent above the town, was lit up with white lights that marked the route taken by Whymper and his companions. Almost at the top one red light stood out – this marked the spot where four of the party fell to their deaths as they descended. A truly moving spectacle.
So what more can I say – we had a wonderful time, we covered some 130 miles, climbed nearly 39,000 feet (see Bob’s chart for accurate figures) and all in the company of two great professional guides, Sophie and Lindsay. And to top it all we met and travelled in the company of some lovely, friendly people. Thank you one and all for your company and friendship – it has been a great walk!
Haute Route - Statistics
|12/07/2015||Argentiere||Trient||20.6||12.8||1253||4112||Col du Balme (2186m)|
|13/07/2015||Trient||Champex||19.4||12.1||1411||4630||Fenetre d'Arpette (2665m)|
|14/07/2015||Champex||Mont Fort Refuge||23.1||14.5||605||1760||Mont Fort Refuge (2457m)|
|15/07/2015||Mont Fort Refuge||Prafleuri Hut||20.3||12.6||1094||3590||Col Termin (2648 m)
Col de Louvie (2921 m)
Col de Prafleuri (2987 m)
|16/07/2015||Prafleuri Hut||Arolla||20.8||12.9||790||2593||Col Roux (2804 m)
Pas de Chevres (2855 m)
|17/07/2015||Arolla||La Sage||18.8||11.7||952||3124||(2300 m)|
|18/07/2015||La Sage||Zinal||20||12.5||1838||6030||Col de Torrent (2916 m)
Col de Sorebois (2853 m)
|19/07/2015||Zinal||Gruben||19.3||12||1244||4082||Col de la Forcletta (2874 m)|
|20/07/2015||Gruben||St Niklaus||14.5||9||1166||3824||Augstbordpass (2894 m)|
|22/07/2015||Europahutte||Zermatt||16.3||10.1||345||1131||Europahutte (2265 m)|