The Haute Route is one of the most spectacular multi day walks in the Alps, ~200km through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Longer, harder and more varied than the more famous Tour du Mont Blanc, I saw so many memorable things in the nine days I spent walking it, here were the highlights, followed by a few lowlights.
There were some beautiful bodies of water passed on the track, from the surreal Lac Bleu to the sublime Lac des Dix, from the alpine lake fest of the Grand Désert to the reflective Lac de la Bella Tola, Lac De L’Armina, and an unknown one I found near these when I wandered off the track…
The Haute Route passes by the greatest concentration of >4,000m mountains in the Alps. I couldn’t name most of them, but it was hard to miss Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc de Cheilon, and the Matterhorn.
Over half of my nights on the Haute Route were spent in accommodation with incredible views of glaciers – the Glacier du Trient, Glacier de Corbassière, Glacier de Cheilon, Glacier de Moiry, and the Riedgletscher – and there were more seen during the days.
It’s amazing how different neighbouring valleys can be, making the crossing of each pass a moment to savour, as the unknown comes into view. For example heading up from the breathtaking Val des Dix with it’s epic lake, into to a barren rocky glacial landscape around Cabane des Dix, which turns into the lush Val d’Hérens after crossing the Pas de Chèvres. The barren snowy Grand Désert and Val de Moiry were only days walk away from the epic Mattertal.
I’ve never seen so many relatively large animals while hiking, getting fairly close to ibex, chamois, mountain goats, marmots, and mountain sheep.
I’d previously walked in the Alps in September, which is a very pleasant time to visit, but the flowers in July were simply incredible. I’ve never seen so many, or such variety of wild flowers, quite beautiful. As well as seeing them in the wild there were lovely examples at the Alpine Botanical Garden in Champex.
The Haute Route passes through probably more than 20 villages of varying sizes, all home to exquisite alpine architecture and surprisingly few shops and cafes!
There were far more churches along the Haute Route than places to eat, with almost every village having a church, not always in proportion to the size of the village. Each one was of interest (to me at least) and all bar one were unlocked.
Less common than churches but always well maintained. The main cemetery in Zermatt was particularly colourful, while a smaller cemetery by the main church there is dedicated to mountaineers.
Scenically located crosses
Continuing with the religious theme the Swiss love placing crosses in the landscape, making for good photo opportunities.
The accommodation in towns was fine but I particularly enjoy staying in places unique in their landscape, which Cabane des Dix and Cabane de Moiry were prime examples of. There’s some serious engineering and design work that went into building these literally in the face of giant glaciers.
The Haute Route had some unusual features not common to most of the hikes I’ve done. For example it includes the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge, the half kilometre long Charles Kuonen Hängebrücke, and not long after the 100m long Wildikin Tunnel takes the track literally through the mountainside.
In terms of less interesting parts there were a few sections that could be skipped if you are tight on time or energy, though it was rarely far between things of interest. The brilliant Swiss public transport system gives options almost all the way along.
Stage 1 – Chamonix to Argentière is an underwhelming couple of hours to start the Haute Route with, easily skipped by bus or train
Stage 4 – Champex to Le Châble passes through some pleasant villages but there is a lot of road walking (though mostly unpaved), and it can be skipped by catching a bus to Orsières and train from there to Le Châble
Stage 8 – Arolla to La Sage is more scenic than stage 4, particularly Lac Bleu, but again is a valley walk though villages that could be skipped by bus
Stage 10 – Cabane de Moiry to Zinal was the only section I actually skipped, catching the infrequent bus from Parking du Glacier to Zinal. I did walk down from Cabane de Moiry to Parking du Glacier in thick snow though, and didn’t fancy trying to get over the 2,847m Col de Sorebois in those conditions. I met a couple who also skipped it but not due to weather, but the long, steep, near viewless descent put them off…