First I would like to thank to Arno for helping me sort out the travel pass. I have bought the Half Fare card and it was perfect. It saved me a lot of money for trains and also had the benefit of 50% off on cable cars.
I have spent 3 weeks in Switzerland this summer, starting with Haute Route and continuing with climbing a few 4000ers including the highest peak. Not the best weather but the beauty of the country made up for it. The trip report is quite long so I will split it in sections. If you find it interesting feel free to check the other topics as well. Also you can find the original article on my website together with tons of photos and a video: www.alpinetrails.co.uk /walkers-haute-route-chamonix-to-zermatt-18-31-july-2016/
Part 1. Haute Route ( Chamonix - Zermatt)
A few words and logistics
For those who don’t know, the Haute Route is one of the famous treks in the Alps. It starts in Chamonix (France) and after roughly 200 km ends in Zermatt (Switzerland). It can take anywhere from 10 to 16 days and involves a little over 15.000m altitude gain with the highest point being Col de Prafleuri (2987m). It’s simply spectacular and I would recommend to anyone who enjoys spending time in nature to go for it.
Unless you buy a package from an agency, it requires serious planning. I’m not a fan of guided holidays, therefore I prefer to take care of logistics and then enjoy the days as I please. Last year we did a part of TMB while waiting for Mont Blanc summit. It has been an experience that triggered the hunger for treks. So I knew this year it has to be the Alps again. Summer days are the best bet when it comes to weather. The first month of autumn can also be an option if the temperatures are high enough. We’d decided July is better suited for our plans as it will also serve as acclimatization for the climbs to come.
The trail is well marked and goes through many towns, villages and huts. Therefore it can be done by hiking from 4 up to 12 hours a day. I however learned from the previous year that is not advisable to rush it. The plan was 10 days of trekking spending the nights in hotels and huts. It is advisable to book in advance, especially the hotels in crowded resorts like Zinal or Zermatt. Huts can be booked a few days in advance. Most of them offer half board and if you can afford it, get it. It will save you the trouble of having to carry extra weight and shopping every two days. I’ve purchase the Cicerone guide to help me, did a small research on summitpost and a few days later the itinerary was ready – 6 days of 14-16km length and 3 of hardcore 30km pushes in between with one resting day in Zinal.
As Cosmin is a vegan and both of us found that 3 weeks in Switzerland can be somehow considered a luxury holiday, we decided to carry our own food. This was also a good chance on trying some of the expedition dried food brands on the market. This time I went for Expedition Foods ( check my reviews page if you’d like to find out more). Apart from the huts, where you need to call, everything else can be booked online. And this includes the Swiss Travel Half Fare card. It was purchased for the climbing period, but since we had it, why not take it. And it did come in handy a few times. If you only do the trek, then is not worth buying it. Trains are expensive, but post buses reasonably priced.
The next stage was to plan the budget according to every day expenses. Accommodation being already taken care of, I only had to cover food and travel. Some of the towns have supermarkets which will make it easier to shop for breakfast and dinner, and was set to do so every 2-3 days. There is plenty of water on the route so no need to worry about that. Just keep in mind some the huts only sell by bottle. As for transport. the best and easiest way to Chamonix is via Geneva airport. Easy bus offers cost effect connection, but if you are fussy take the train. The last thing to remember is that sometimes it doesn’t work as planned, so be ready to adapt. When weather takes a bad turn is good to know where you can take refuge.
Since the previous year we did a part of Tour du Mont Blanc, the last stage between Argentiere – Chamonix is basically the first of Haute Route. We decided to skip it and keep the 10 days frame time.
Day 1: Argentiere – Col de Balme – Trient
Lenght of journey: 12km/5h-5h30
*Variant: Argentiere – Col de la Balme – Ref les Grands – Col de la Forclaz 15km/6-7hTechnically is day 2, as on the 18th we arrived in Argentiere and spent the night at Gite de Belvedere. But to avoid any confusion will just count the actual days we were on the trek.We woke up well rested and excited to start the journey. After a visit to the local supermarket we left at 9 sharp. As you go uphill and pass by the train station keep the right side and after a few hundred meters take a right just where the tourism office is. Continue ahead for about 5 minutes then turn right again heading into the forest. As you go under the railway bridge a sign marks 3h to col de Balme to the left. The trail makes way through the forest gaining altitude and in about 45 minutes reaches Le Tour. You can fill you water bottle if you need to. From here follow the marked path that goes under the cable car up to the col. Once you get there, the entire Chamonix valley reveals at the foot of Mont Blanc. There is a small refuge where you can spend the night or stay for lunch and refreshments. We stopped to have a picnic and enjoyed the view. Here is where we met a couple from Seattle, and we would meet them again multiple times during the trek.
A few paths come across here, but if you are looking to go down to Trient, there are two options. Left, gaining altitude over Croix de Fer, then straight to the valley. Or right along the mountain face for a more spectacular view. The signs seem to have wrong times and different from the guide book. We decided to take the right one marked 3h to Trient. It turned out to be more like 3 hours to Refuge de Grandes, and from there another 2h. As you come down from the col, over the snowy face and round the mountain slowly gaining altitude. Looking back we realized that the town is nowhere to see now. We had to continue as it was getting late and what was 6 hours will now stretch to almost 9. After a rocky section the path finally takes a turn to right and starts descending into the glacier valley. Soon we reach the refuge. We would have probably staid there, but the booking in Trient forced us to continue. I would actually recommend spending the night at the refuge as the next stage will retrack a part of this day’s section. Unless you prefer a hot shower and a sink to wash some clothes. Nevertheless we continued our descent on what now seems like a man made paved trail secured with chains along a very steep rocky face.
It takes about 1 hour to reach the bottom. The old bridge over the powerful Trient stream is now closed and instead of crossing it, one has to keep losing altitude staying on the left bank. Will soon reach the main road, but don’t be fooled as he day hasn’t finished yet. We continue our descent through the forest again to rejoin the road a few more times until at last we see a few houses – Peuty. A 10 minutes walk takes us at last to our destination at hotel La Grande Ourse. I look at my watch which now rings 7pm. It was clear this was going to be harder than expected. Tired but thankful they kept our booking as the small village was packed with tourists waiting for Tour de France.
The hotel is a bit old, but clean and recently renovated inside. Has a drying room at the basement. Hot shower and rooms with bunker beds, singles or doubles. We slept in a 8 bed room. I recommend having earplugs. It has the half board option for an extra 33chf, a bar and a big garden. Just outside is a water pump to fill your bottles. I did not see any supermarket.Costs:
Supermarket food in Argentiere: 30euro
250g gas canister: 7euro
Hotel in Triente: 35chf
Day 2: Trient – Fenetre d’Arprette – Champex – Sembrancher – Le chable
Length of journey: 27km / 9-11h
*Variant: Trient – Col de la Forclaz – Alp Bovine – Champex 16km/5-6hWe woke up shortly after 6 am knowing there is a long day ahead of us. And Left immediately after breakfast. As you walk a few minutes from the hotel, a post will guide you to col Forclaz. Take the road up and above the pink church and follow the yellow signs. Don’t worry if there is no sign to Arprette. At a road junction take left on the grassy path and gains altitude in a continuous zig zag. It ends by joining again the road but keep straight into the forest. 1h30m after leaving Trient you should reach Buvette du Glacier du Trient. A small restaurant on the left bank of the river. From here on it becomes steeper and steeper. The sun is already up and burning but we are thankful for the cold breeze coming from the glacier.
We continue through the pine forest and rocky terrain to reach an opening. Looking back you can see the Trient and ahead Fenetre d’Arprette. The path is clear and cuts the grassy slopes. There are a few streams with clean water. I filled my bottle while rest of the tourist remained somehow shocked I dare to drink from it. It has a lot of iron content so taste is not the best, but is clean and safe to drink.
Before the pas, the terrain changes into a rocky face, quite steep and care is required. It’s loose and rocks may fall so always keep an eye on the parties ahead you. And watch your footing to avoid a twisted ankle.
After a strenuous climb and 3h30m later there is a great reward. At 2665m Fenetre d’Arprette offers an amazing first view over the valley and Switzerland’s mountains.
From here the descent to Champex Lac is marked 2h30. We did manage to cover a bit of ground at first but once in the forest the terrain is rough and we lost the advantage. Even though is summer, there was a lot of snow on the other side. At places even a few meter deep. My new Scarpa Evo seemed to be handling the snow quite well so with the help of my poles I manage to slide about 100m. Really great fun. For the first half hour one has to cover rocky loose ground. A pain for the knees. After that a clear marked path descents in the valley. At a road junction, turn right and follow the unpaved road. One should take note that there is no water supply until close to Champex. As you continue ahead soon reach a stream and follow it all the way to Arprette, at the cable car. Continue straight for a few minutes and you should be able to see the lake far in the distance. Join the main road and turn right to Champex. Alternatively you can cross the road and into the forest until you reach the lake.
We were quite tired by now and took the road. 10 minutes later we reached the lake. There is a bank, supermarket and bus stop right next to it. Champex left the impression of a nice holiday resort. We did some shopping, had lunch next to the lake, soaked our feet in the cold water and checked the guide book. The trail to Sembrancher descents further into the valley but never too far from the main road. We were planning to take the train from there anyway. We decided is best to enjoy the view and catch the 18.38 bus to Orsieres and continue by train. We did not regret our decision as we had great views on the way down anyway. Even better, as we were above the tree lines. The Swiss transport system is very precise and well organized and one can always find a connection to other destinations.
We reached Le Chable just before 8pm. We spent the night in La Baraque B&B. It’s 5 minutes after you cross the bridge from the train station, but the reception is at the pub. Surprisingly not in the same location and not mentioned in the booking. We had a double room, very small but clean. Has a hairdryer and a TV which is plugged nowhere and has no cables. The two bathrooms are shared between 4 rooms. We washed some of our clothes, had a few beer and went to sleep.
Supermarket – Beer, Sprite and biscuits: 7.6chf
Bus to Orsieres gare: 6.8chf
La Baraque B&B: 75chf/double room
Day 3: Le chable – La Chute du Bisse – Col de la Marlene -Savoleyres – Col de Mines – Les Attelas – Cabane du Mont Fort
Length of journey: 19km / 13h
It’s only day 3 but we seem to be getting up earlier and earlier. The alarm rang for 6 a.m. Tired but pleased that the breakfast was left for us in front of the door. Toast, orange juice, a boiled egg, yogurt, cheese, jam an apple and a chocolate bar. We left an hour later hoping to reach Mont Fort by lunch time.
As you leave from Le Chable, cross the bridge to the main road and turn left. The signpost here is marked 8h to Clambin and Mont Fort. Again different from the guide book. After a few minutes take right on Chemin des Etales through the houses until you reach the road by Cafe Magnin. There is water supply and I suggest you fill your bottles. And if you have a guide book, you should stick to it. The signs showed us other direction, and instead of taking right uphill, we follow the yellow band and made left. Those 8 hours were now 12 and little we knew about it. Without knowing we joined Tour du Val de Bagnes.
So again, take right and follow Les Ruinettes. They should put a sign so people would know where to go. If you are on an unpaved road and see a big water reservoir ahead, you’re on the wrong path. And so were we. Without knowing, an hour later at a cross road the guide directed us to the right. We realized our location is different when we reached a dead end. There was nothing else to do but follow the signs and have the map as a guide. The left path joins a bridge minutes later but turns right into the forest. What should have been an easy ascent under the cable car was now a strenuous climb through the forest on a 40-50 degrees slope. There is no where to go but up until you reach the trail coming from Verbier. A green bench will mark the junction. Bare left and in 30 minutes you should reach La Chute du Bisse (1910m). The view is definitely worth the effort if you have time, but not the 4 hours detour.
At last some signs and we finally find out where we are – Tour du val de Bagnes. To the right, 2h30 to Les Ruinettes and uphill, 4h40 to Mont Fort. The best decision would have been to head to the cable car and then 1 more hour to the hut. But at that time we didn’t have this information so once again trusted the signs. Shortly after one finds himself above the tree line. 180 degrees view over the entire valley, and on the opposite side, Les Ruinettes. Is only know when we realized how many mountains have to crossed before reaching the hut. From here the path gains little altitude until almost above Verbier, then turns right and up to reach Col de la Marlene (2315m) in 1 hour.
We take a few shots and keep going as grey clouds cover the sky. After 15 minutes Savoleyres cable car (2354m) marks 3h to Mont Fort. There are multiple paths and all go in the same direction. First descending for a few minutes only to go up again. The landscape has changed now, and instead of grassy slopes, the path makes way though small bushes and rocks. Another 40 minutes and one more pas – Col de Mines (2320m). Something that one day must have been a refuge now makes a perfect place for picnic. Leaving the hills behind, we guide by the rocky peaks and found ourselves above Lac de Vaux.
At times snow covers the track and some care is required. Just before reaching Les Attelas at a road junction, take the Les Ruinettes direction and ignore the Mont Fort sign up. This is wrong! If you follow it, this goes either up Mont Gele or around him. Unfortunately we did not know. By the time we returned to the path junction we would have already lost 1 hour. It was getting dark and decided to reach the cable car and spend the night outside. Having fire kit, food and water the only problem would have been the weather. But this time the luck was on our side. after crossing to the left under Mont Gele, there it was on top of a small hill – Cabane du Mont Fort. By the time we got there it was 8 p.m., marking the end of a long 13 hours hike day. Without getting lost and a much lighter pack we could have got there way before dinner.
The hut is nice but one should know french in order to communicate with the keeper. It offers half board and hot shower as well as drinking water. We slept on the last floor in a 3 bed room. There is a radiator, some shelves and a few hangers to dry your clothes.
Room with BMC discount: 26hf
Hot shower: 5chf
Day 4: Cabane du Mont Fort – Col Termin – Cabane de Louvie
Length of journey: 7km/3h
The initial plan was to reach Col de Louvie – Col de Prafleuri and spend the night at cabane de Prafleuri. But the weather did not seem to agree with it. We left quickly after breakfast, just minutes past 6 a.m. The clouds were already above us and half hour later started to rain. From the hut, in bad weather is advisable to take left towards Col de la Chaux. Alternatively, go down into the valley and follow the trail turning left by an old stone building. Cross the stream and head up into the mountains. Soon after it started to rain and by the time we reached the col it was a proper thunderstorm. It was cold and windy, and my stomach was asking for food. From here, one can go straight on the ridge and then down to the hut, but not recommended in bad weather. For Mont Fort, turn left and descent into the valley. Half hour later you reach a junction, and by now you should be able to see the Louvie lake and hut. Keep the trail for Col or descend for the hut. We stopped and waited. Jim and his wife, the american couple we met in the first day, were behind us. We all discussed and decided is too risky to continue and should wait for the storm to pass. And as we will find out later, a good one.
We arrived at Cabane de Louvine just after 9 a.m. hoping for a clearing so we can continue. Unfortunately the forecast wasn’t good, and even if the sun came out a few times it was still raining. The mountains covered in clouds confirmed our judgement – we booked the night and changed the plans. The hut is nice, clean and has hot shower. They gave us beds in a huge 18 bed room. Not many people inside which we kind of appreciated and were able to dry our packs. Food is reasonably priced and owners are nice and welcoming. They even called at Mont Fort to informed them about us. Later that day a solo trekker stopped for lunch. We found out that between Louvie and Mont Fort was deep snow all the way and very slippery slopes. We would have probably frozen on the way up. We instead enjoyed playing cards and the fresh air.
Accomodation: 37chf/night (private hut so no BMC discount)
Hot shower: 4chf
Day 5: Cabane de Louvie – Fionnay – Le Chable – Martigny – Sion – Lac des Dix – Cabane des Dix
Length of journey: 14h/ 14.2km walk + 2 buses + 2 trains
I can only assume we’ve made a habit of waking up earlier with each day. The plan was to try and salvage as much as possible from the previous stage. It was impossible to walk all the way to La Sage and we had to finish in 10 days. Therefore the only option was to reach the closes village and take the bus. And so we did. With Grand Combin dominating the horizon, the trail crosses a small stream and descents steeply into the valley – 1h10m to Fionnay.
From here there is a post bus to Le Chable, arriving at the train station. Just in time for the train to Martigny and further ahead with a second train to Sion. Since it was weekend there were only 2 buses to Le Chargeur Dixence which gave us 3 hours to spare. The city is quite big and lots to do and see. The priority was to stock up with supplies and by the time we finished shopping it was late. We didn’t get a chance to visit the castle but instead walked around the city center.
We arrived at the lake at 1 p.m., had lunch and said goodbye to Jim and his wife. From the bus stop take the paved road up to the Barrage de Dixence (2365m) and bear right on the marked trail that follows the cable car – 30m to the top. It offers fantastic views over the valley on one side, and over the lake surrounded by the mountain on the other side. Unfortunately the clouds blocked most of it, and also meant that we have to hurry and stay ahead of the rain.
Stay right of the lake on the clear path – 3h40m to Cabane des Dix/Col de Riedmatten and 5h25 to Arolla. Our final destination should have been La Sage, which meant 4 hours on top. All together just shy of 9h30 without any breaks. Considering it was already 2 p.m. there was no other option but to take the bus from Arolla.
It goes through a few tunnels, but always near the lake to reach the far end. Here turn right and up following the marks. 30 minutes later the trail splits and according to the Kev’s guide, to Col de Riedmatten. However a signpost directs us to the right. Confused but assuming a new path was forced by the retracting glacier, we continue uphill. A new world opens in front of us as we leave the grassy terrain behind. We make way through the moraine and soon reach another junction. Take right for the hut. If you head to Arolla, then left into the glacial valley.
As soon as we started descending the wind picked up, clouds came in and the rain announced her presence. By the time we reached the bottom the storm came in as well. Is only then when the decision to turn around was made. Once again our plan was ruined by the weather. At least Cabane des Dix was close. In good weather one has about 1 hour from the trail split. But in bad weather we did almost twice. Slowly gaining altitude on the right bank of Cheilon glacier, or what’s left from it. When you get to glacier L’En Darrey, to the right, and Tete Noir , a black rocky pyramid in front, turn right and across the snowy slope to reach the col. Metal pols should guide you way. Once at the col cross the glacier La Luette slightly to the left to reach the hut. It stands on top of a small hill offering spectacular views over the North face of Mont Blanc de Cheilon. Crevasse risk is minimal but one should still pay attention.
We arrived at the hut hungry and tired. Surprisingly the goretex insert keep my feet dry. One less thing to worry about. The rooms are clean, beds comfortable and they have bins and hangers in the room to dry your clothes. As a SAC hut, they accept the BMC card. Once again we came across the american couple and were happy to see some familiar faces. We shared some stories over a few beers and as always I have to have a shower before bed. Only this time was outside, literally on the edge of a cliff. An old rusty pipe brings water from a glacial stream. It has to go on top as one of the coldest showers I’ve ever had. By now the sky was clear and the spot perfect to enjoy the sunset.
Post bus Fionnay – Le Chable: 8.2chf
Train Le Chable – Martigny: free (no conductor came)
Train Martigny – Sion: 5.2chf + 10chf (train tax) with Half fare card
Bus Sion – Le Chargeur: 9.2chf with Half fare card
Groceries in Sion: 32chf
Hut accomodation: 25chf (40chf without alpine member card)
Beer at the hut: 7chf – 16chf (over 20 beers in the menu)
Day 6: Cabane des Dix – Pas de Chevres – Arolla – Les Hauders – La Sage – Villa – Col de Torrent – Barrage de Moiry – Zinal
Length of journey: 14h/ 18km walk + 2 buses
The alarm rang. I looked outside and could see the stars. More tired than the night before we took our packs and came in the dining room. A few climbers were getting ready to leave for Mont Blanc de Cheilon. We checked the forecast on the tablet at the reception and left at 20 minutes past 5 a.m. It was still dark and cold. There are no signs to point direction from the hut. After an unsuccessful attempt to find the route over the glacier we decided is safer to retrace our steps and continue from the junction. We lost about 1 hour, but at least didn’t fall in any crevasse. From there one has to descent, cross a metal bridge and turn left into a plateau. The landscape changes drastically and makes you feel like walking on the moon. Cross to the right far end and start ascending. By know you should be able to see the metal ladders from Pass de Chevres. Looking down to the glacier, already in the sunlight by now, we could notice the trail coming from the hut. It would have been a better idea perhaps to wait for daylight before starting.
As you get closer and closer to the rocky face the trails turns left and straight up for Col de Riedmatten and right to reach the start of the climb to Pas the Chevres. There isn’t much difference between the two of them in terms of view. Being in a hurry we took the easier way and start ascending the metal ladders.
Three ladders and 2 suspension bridges take you to 2855m. We had breakfast and enjoyed the 360 degree view. The way down to Arolla is easy, well marked on a clear path. Even if we more ran than walked, we only managed to get there 30 minutes earlier than the suggested times. I strongly believe the meaning of time is different in Switzerland.
The first section is rocky and loose, but only for a few minutes. Grassy terrain makes way and one can speed up. A fine scenery is reveal in front of our eyes. Cows grazing the green pastures, fresh air and a mix of rocky and snowy peaks with its glaciers. We soon see the forest line and Arolla below. We pass by a restaurant and follow the signs into the forest. Looking back we can see Pigne du Arolla dominated by the massive Glaciere de Piecce. An unpaved road takes you to the village. Alternatively take the shortcuts to the right. You should reach Grand Hôtel & Kurhaus. Go left of it, cross the parking lot and turn 90 degrees to the right – 5 minutes to Arolla. A small village with a few hotels and a outdoorshop.
Luck was on our side this time. As soon as we got there we saw the bus leaving. I ran and knocked in the door. The drives did not seem to understand me at first but in the end he took us anyway. It turned out there was no service from here until the afternoon. He saved us a lot of time and even suggested we should stop in Villa and not La Sage if we want to reach Col de Torrent. We thank him and tipped him for his kindness.
We didn’t miss much anyway as the trail from Arolla to La Sage doesn’t go much further from the road. The only think I would have actually wanted to see was Lac Bleu. But in the end a small price to pay considering we should have been there 1 day before. We had much time to recover and none to spare. The staff at Hotel de la Sage was nice and understanding and did not charge us for the room. Which was a relief considering the price – 130chf/double room. I was sad though as I would have wanted to spend the night there.
Once in Villa, from the bus stop take La Sage direction for a few meters. At a cross road signs direct you to Col de Torrent ( as seen above). There is no water supply until the other side so do fill your bottles. The road winds through the houses and joins a a grassy path. Turn right after the last chalet, walk straight for about 50m. Here we leave the main road and take the left path that crosses a small stream. The trail takes us uphill and joins again another road and a few houses. We pass to the right and up one more time. Looking back the entire valley can be see, all the way to Pas de Chevres. We soon reach a lake at Beplan (2536m) – 1h to the col.
As we continued our ascent, covered in clouds and slightly to the right, thunders can be heard in the distance. From time to time there is a clearing and we can see the pass. The more altitude one gains, the better the views.
We slowly gain altitude until there is no where else to go. We were at the Col de Torrent (2919m). One can take the ridge and climb a few adjacent peaks for a panoramic view. Is only worth on a clear day so we quickly took a few shots and start descending – 1h30 to Barrage de Moiry. Too bad the higher peaks were already into the clouds.
Guided by the turquoise lake, at first descending to the left and then slightly right towards Lac de Autannes. (as seen above). If in any doubt, guide yourself after Col de Sorebois which sits just across the valley between the peaks, and one of the stages of the Haute Route. As we reached the lake, 30 minutes later, it started to rain. It wasn’t until the barrage that it stopped and the sun came out again.
The path is well maintained and at some point joins an unpaved road. Either of them take you to the barrage, which by know you should see. As you pass by a few chalets,turn left. Is only here that one can refill his water bottle. I suspect thought that the unpaved road is quicker. But if you want the scenic view take the path. Moiry is a huge artificial lake with turquoise water fed by the glacier with the same name.
It would have been 12 hours of hiking by the time we got to the barrage. The rain started again and we decided is best to take the bus to Zinal. Luckily we arrived in time for the last departure of the day. We did not miss much anyway as after the col one goes straight down either by foot or by cable car.
Bus Arolla – Villa: 5chf (tip)
Bus Barrage de Moiry – Zinal: 3chf
Supermarket: 11,5chf (bread and beers)
Hotel Le Trift: 94.5chf/double room
City Tax: 2.5chf
Day 7: Zinal
Zinal is a small little village in canton of Valais, easily accessible by car or bus. There is no train station here. There is a bakery and 2 supermarkets, a few hotels each having its own restaurant and a handful of houses. It has a cable car system connected to with Grimentz, making it a popular sky destination. It does however become quiet in the afternoon so a good destination if you are not a fan of crowds.
We spent 2 nights at Hotel Le Trift located just off main street. Clean, quiet, wifi connection and a terrace. Could do with new mattresses though. We managed to wash all our dirty clothes and dry them on the terrace just in a few hours. The owner is considerate, respectful but has a touch of humor. The breakfast was good and variate and we also received a free travel pas for the valley. The only complaint was about the locked main door in the morning and nobody to open it.
The morning after we took the cable car up to Sorebois. Unfortunately it was still cloudy so instead of going to the col we decided to return by the other side, to Grimentz. Most of the restaurants on the top were closed, possibly waiting for the ski season. Its a well maintained trail that takes you to La Vouarda (2693m). The cable car has a view point and I can only assume the scenery is fabulous. But it was covered in clouds and we could not see anything. On a sunny day one can see some famous 4000ers as Bishorn, Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn and many other peaks over 3000m. On descent we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the mountains.
Grimentz is like the older brother of Zinal. Bigger, more crowded, more cable cars and a bigger supermarket. Is worth a stop if you find yourself in the valley. From here we took the bus back to the hotel. We spent the afternoon on the terrace, enjoying some local cheese, saucissons and beers. For dinner we tried Fondue and a local white wine. It’s …interesting, but not my cup of tea. The restaurant was full and most of them locals, so we stayed at the bar. In the end a well deserved rest after 6 full days.
Cable cars: free with the pass
Bus Grimentz to Zinal: free with the pass
Beer at the bar: 4.3chf
Superkmarket food: 10.2chf (Cardinal beer: 1.6chf / Saucisse de cerf: 4.9chf/ local cheese:1.6 – 6chf/100g)
Hotel Le Trift: 94.5chf/double room
City Tax: 2.5chf
Day 8: Zinal – Forcletta Pas – Gruben
Length of journey: 14km/ 7h
It’s day 8 and both started to feel a bit sad knowing soon the trek will be over. We decided to skip the breakfast and instead start earlier hoping this time we’ll manage to respect the schedule. The weather was getting better but still cloudy.
The trail to Forcletta starts from the main road and signs can be found next to the touristic office. Follow the yellow arrow until you enter the forest. From here on follow the direction to Barneuza Alpage and Hotel Weisshorn – 1h15m. Is an old road that seems to be used by the locals to access the grazing grounds for their cattle. When you reach a chalet above the tree line next to a cross, turn left and uphill to enter the forest one more time. Looking back we can see a good part of Valais canton and Weisshorn dominating the horizon.
The scenery changes from moment to another. You pass through pine trees, over the pastures into the forest again, then alpine small bushes and rocks. Finally to the right on a leveled path all the way to Barneuza Alpage (2211m). Here take the Hotel Weisshorn direction and follow the rocky rough path crossing on the other side of the mountain. At some point you should be able to see all the way to the road junction. But remember, always look back as the views get better and better the higher you go. On a clear sky day is it even possible to see the col. If you passed over a small bridge and by a stone made building, turn right for Forcletta (at point 2340m). Alternatively keep straight for Hotel Weisshorn. – 4h30 to Gruben.
We continued uphill, passed by a stable and soon reached Tsahelet at 2532m. A few buildings and a stable and surprisingly a few cars. Now you can actually see the pas and use it as a guiding mark. Keep straight ahead, over a few hills and finally you arrive at the base of the mountain. From here is 1 hour to the pas on a steep slope, zig zag-ing through the massive boulders and finally reaching a rocky plateau where it turns left to reach Forcletta Pas at 2876m
We enjoy a well deserved break while waiting for the clouds to disperse. The descent looks dangerous and it’s either snow or loose rock. We have lunch, take a few photos and wait for others to go ahead. Didn’t feel like being hit by a rock so decided to wait. In the end, the snow route offered less risk, while the rocky faces looked very unstable. At start is quite steep and icy and care is required. A fall will make you slide 50-60m so not a big deal, but better not take the risk. Must have been less than 5 minutes when the clouds came in and instantly changed the landscape. It was like stepping in another world.
It was clear a storm was about to start. We rushed to the valley following the marked trail. Luckily in went in the opposite direction and by the time we reached the pastures the sun was up. Soon you will reach Säntumbach stream. Stay on the right hand side and follow to a metal bridge that takes you across. Later on you pass by a few chalets and join the unpaved road. For an easier bu longer descend follow it to he village. Otherwise go slightly right and down towards the tree line – 1h. You should be able to see Gruben to the left, and on a clear sky day Bishorn and Weisshorn on the opposite side.
Later on you join again the main road. You must pay attention here. As soon as you reach the tree line, a sign will direct you to the village, but do not follow the road as that goes on the opposite direction. But instead turn 180 degrees on a narrow path, often covered by grass. We missed and went down the road for 10-15 minutes until we realized. This will take you into the forest and down to the valley. Once at the bottom, the trail normally stays on the left side of Turtmanna and only crosses it before the village. It pretty muddy and I’d suggest you cross the bridge and take the road. In 5 minutes we arrived at Hotel Schwarzhorn. You really can’t miss it – it’s a big white and red building and is the only hotel around.
Gruben is a little village, with a church, a hotel and the first german speaking community on the Haute Route. There are no supermarket and no bars either and the closest and only restaurant Trachu, 10 minutes walk form the centre. The valley is inhabited only during the summer months and the only hotel is Hotel Schwarzhorn which has it’s own restaurant.
We initially book beds in the dormitory. I was however shocked to see that the dormitory is in fact the attic with 20 mattress lying on the floor with absolutely no private space. You would expect at least a bed for 45chf/night. Without second thoughts I changed to a double room, but none of them have private bathrooms. I didn’t know but some of the rooms have balcony and the same fare. So ask for one. The building is renovated, but old. The shower was hot and they do offer towels and toiletries. At that price they should have a sauna. Wifi is present, but not working everywhere. The view from the window however is pretty great. I’d recommend you take the 4 course dinner menu as it’s very good. Breakfast however was basic – tea, coffee, cereals and jam and not worth the price. The younger staff does speak English and they are nice with the tourists. Eating you own food is apparently not allowed even if you use the tables outside. I bought a beer and in the end let me have my dried frozen meal in peace. At least they didn’t see me boiling water on the window ledge. We spent the evening walking along the houses. If it weren’t for the cars and roads you could swear is the early 1900.
Supermarket food in Zinal: 18.85ch ( 2 croissants, viande de grisons, saucissons)
Hotel Schwarzhorn: 140chf/double room
City Tax: 1.70
Half Pint of local beer: 3.4chf
Pint of weisse beer: 6.7chf
Day 9: Gruben – Augstbordpass – St. Niklaus
Length of journey: 16km/ 7 – 8h
From south of Hotel Schwarzhorn take the trail that goes up into the forest and follow the direction Augstbordpass -3h / St. Niklaus – 4h50. Despite the altitude gain, the day is not very demanding but long. Nevertheless we left just before 8 a.m. and quickly passed above the tree line and over alpine pastures. Even if at times changes direction, it’s mostly a straight line from the village and over the pass. After one hour we reached a 4 way junction – Gruobalp at 2151m. Take right path for the Turtmann Hut, or continue ahead for the pas. Minutes later you come across a mountain road and shortly pass by 2 chalets at Ober Gruobu Stafel (2369m). To the north the Bishorn dominates the valley. Continue ahead and over a rocky muddy hill. Once at the top of it the Augstbordpass is now visible.
From here the trail continues straight and then slightly descends to the right before the final climb. (as seen above). Steep and on loose rock the ascent is slow and demanding but the rewards on top, high. The landscape transforms from green to grey and white. Stony regions with rocks and boulders from times covered in snow will guide you through the valley.
As you start descending, cross slightly to the left and follow the path through the rocks. At times is lost and one can get confused and follow old stream beds. Try to have as a direction point the green patches where the trail is visible. and always descent into the valley, slightly left. Go over several hills and ascend through a narrow path by a big boulder.
From here keep left over a few more hills until you finally reach the green grassy fields at a path junction. Take the Jungu – St. Niklaus direction to the right and once again on rocky terrain. Cross to the other side and start ascending into the mountain. You might think one has to descend but first the path reaches almost the top and over the mountain.
As clouds came in and visibility was low, we thought is the wrong way. In fact it was the correct direction. Too lazy to take out the map and guide, and certain we have to descend, decided to cross back from where we came, and spotted a trail further down. As we got closer and closer we realized there is now a powerful stream to be crossed. It’s quite a scary feeling when you think a flash flood can swipe you in a second. Thinking back I now think it wasn’t the best decision. So always check your map before altering a plan or if uncertain. As we got to the other side a signpost marked Augstbordstafel (2257m) and suddenly knew – we had been on the right track. It was no turning back so continued descending. A few minutes later we reached a crossroad. We turned right and start ascending hoping to rejoin the initial route.
I would have probably been very upset about our poor judgement if the mountain wouldn’t have been covered in clouds. But again, on a clear day we would have seen the signs. We slowly gained height crossing to the other side to reach Obri Abi (2190m) – 40m to Jungu cable car and 2h to St Niklaus. As we continue through the forest and right by a cross, the trail starts descending and we can see the villages below us. I can only assume the view would have been magnificent on a sunny day as before our eyes lays the entire Mattertal and 4000ers as Bishorn, Weisshorn, Dom and Monte Rosa massif and many others. Unfortunately it was cloudy and could only see a part of it. Nevertheless it was breathtaking.
The trail continues slightly to the right across the mountain rocky face and down o the cable car which now we could see in the near distance. One has to take care as it’s quite narrow at places and very exposed. The almost 1000m drop to the bottom would certainly be fatal.
We soon reach the Jungen plateau at 2000m. There is a recreational park and a small pond and a view point. We decided to take the cable car down to St Niklaus. Is more like a 4 people cabin. You have to hold the door in order to squeeze in and then push the start button. Then pray for you life because it looks and feels very unsafe. Once down, a member of staff comes to collect the fee. From here turn right and under the railroad bridge to reach the city center.
We would spend the night at Im Edelweiss, just by the main road and across Migros supermarket. Only the owner speaks English and does make sure to show us the room and explain about breakfast. The room is big, clean and combines modern with traditional. Has private bathroom, towels but surprisingly no toiletries. The wifi doesn’t work either, and there is no balcony as mentioned in the booking. We didn’t bother to ask but instead showered and left to visit the city and do some shopping at the supermarket.
There is not much to do and the fewer bars and restaurants close early. I could not find a place to eat so instead we settled for a beer at the local pub. There is a mountaineering museum which we did not visit as it was, yes you guessed, closing time. St. Niklaus feel like a true mountaineering village with narrow street, not too many hotels, a few bars and access to some of the highest peaks in Switzerland. There is a bank and a train station in the center as well as supermarket just outside by the main road. It started to rain again so we spent the evening enjoying a few weiss beers in the room.
Cable car Jungu – St. Niklaus: 12chf ( is private owned so doesn’t accept swiss pass)
Supermarket food: 18.35chf ( bread, beers, chocolate and dried beef)
Pint of beer at local pub: 4.7chf
Hotel Im Edelweiss: 130chf/double room
Day 10: St. Niklaus – Herbriggen – Randa – Tasch- Zermatt
Our journey would soon come to an end as we woke up and started the last section of The Haute Route. We initially planned to take the Europa Hut alternative but since the higher peaks were still covered in clouds we felt it didn’t worth the effort. Especially that there was no plan to spend the night there. Instead agreed for a relaxing last day along the Matter valley.As we leave from St Niklaus, the trail starts in the center, just below the train station. Pass by the touristic office, the climbing museum and through the narrow streets until you reach the main road. As it turns left to cross over a bridge, break right and uphill until you find yourself along the railroad – direction Birchmatten and Topalhutte. From here on signs will guide you all the way to Zermatt. The path never goes too far from the road or railway but it gives you the chance to enjoy authentic Swiss villages as you pass by.
Keep walking along the railway on an unpaved road that later on will become what is knows as the “old” main road. After Ze Schwidernu at 1163m, go by an old church and straight until you reached Mattsand. There are a few paths, some more to the left in the woods but we preferred to enjoy the Swiss architecture. Follow the signs and cross the rail passing by a few houses. Keep straight for a few minutes and cross the bridge to the right to reach Ausgleichsbecken. A small water storage by the forest, a few benches and a superb view over Monte Rosa. Perfect for a quick snack stop.
From here go round the lake, to the left at first and then right passing by a small camping site on a dirt road. Keep straight following the Gornera river on your left which will guide you until the end. Enjoy the beautiful waterfalls , cross a bridge and slowly ascend uphill to reach Herbriggen. Unless you want to go into the village take the path head, otherwise cross the river to your left.
We will soon enter the forest, pass by an old barn and get to a 3 way junction. Follow the sign to Randa -1h10/ Tasch – 2h30 / Zermatt – 4h always guided by the river. Further ahead cross the railway and the river, continue and join the road one more time. Take left uphill but do not cross the bridge instead stay on the road. Ignore the signs to the right and down the river bank as they seem not to be in use. From here, on a clear day one can see Weisshorn,Bishorn, Dom and Monte Rosa that dominates the horizon.
We continued our journey crossing a few more times both the river and the railway before reaching Randa. Here you can either keep the right bank of Gorner or cross the bridge for the village. Soon after we crossed the bridge and head into Tasch in search of a supermarket. Prices are resonable and cheaper than we expected. There’s a huge parking and I’m positive the main occupation must be taximeter. As you get of COOP, turn left and across the railway bridge to rejoin the trail. Right after go by a camping site at Schopf (1435m) and continue through the forest. At first keep straight and gain a few meters in altitude just to turn left and then right crossing two wooden bridges. Be careful not to continue uphill on the path that goes into the mountain. You should reach a view point at Schlangengruebe (1540m) 35m from the village.
From this point we slowly gain altitude, slightly to the right, at first crossing an iron fence over a railway tunnel. Then over the tunnels following the bike track. Until at last the great Matterhorn reveals itself and in the end Zermatt. We found ourselves above the village and as the trail goes by the helipad turns left just before the train terminal. In a few minutes we reach the city center and head to our hotels before we go out to celebrate.
Supermarket food: 18.2chf
Hotel Alfa Zermatt: 65chf
Pint of beer at Brown Cow pub: 8.5chf
Strange mixed feeling of sadness, joy and accomplishment in the same time. It’s quite hard to describe in words what one feels. Certainly happiness and proud to have finished the hike in 10 days as planned. A bit sad that we had to make use of public transport due to bad weather. I would have liked to spend the night at Prafleuri. Unfortunately we can not control the weather and have to adapt. We did expect more clear sky days though.
When we left from Argentiere it was hot, maybe too hot (32C at 2800m). But on the 3rd day the storm came in and lasted for 2 days, with only a few hours in the morning of sun. The rest of the days we have had mixed weather with light rain but always partially cloudy sky. Just enough to obstruct the views. Would have made a great poster a shot of the entire Matter valley with it’s snowy 4000ers. But there’s is another reason to return in the near future.
In the end is not only about the summits and the views. The journey itself plays a more important role. We shared great moments that will always carry with us wherever we go.
To part 2