On Tuesday morning I was sat with 4 friends who I had only known for a couple of weeks. Björn received a text from another friend, Phil, who I had only briefly met twice – “Do you want to cross the Haute Route in 3 days? Leave tomorrow”.
The Haute Route, originally pioneered by the British, is a ski tour through over a 100kms of the high mountains starting in Chamonix and ending in Zermatt. With just as much descending as ascending, the route is normally completed in 7 days.
Tuesday was our rest day, Wednesday was supposed to be too. The weather window was only 3 days. Presuming that Bjorn’s text was an open invite to all of us, we started planning immediately. Food and safety were heavily discussed, motivation was never an issue.
1 Brit, 2 Icelanders, 1 Swede, 1 American and 1 extra Brit for the first day.
Steve Wakeford, Hinrik Olason, Björn Ingason, Martin Grannäs Brännström, Phil Fandel and Olly Alkema.
We taped each others feet, smuggled each other into hotel rooms to avoid extortionate hut fees, laughed at increasingly bad body odour, solved mechanical problems in extremely unorthodox manners, an eye procedure was performed, Björn did an amazing impression of someone being avalanched whilst skinning – an image that will probably make me chuckle forever. We accepted, helped and supported each other as true friends for the next 3 overwhelmingly stunning days.
Back in the everyday world, on the journey back to Chamonix a kind man crammed 6 pairs of skis, 5 bags and all of us (along with our aggregate body odour) into his Suburu hatchback. Previous to that the Swiss train guard had laughed in my face when I tried to ask a question in German. My blood boiled at the reality check.
It’s not often I get to spend 3 days living simply, free from human confrontation. These were some of the best of my life.
The plan. Day 1 – Cloud Inversion over Chamonix from Grands Montets. View from Col du Chardonnay back to the NF Aiguille Verte – the site of our 21hr epic a few days beforehand. Olly rapels down the other side of the Col du Chardonnay. Martin, Hinrik, Steve, Björn and Olly. Skinning up the Fenêtre de Saleina. View from the top of the Fenêtre de Saleina over the Plateau du Trient. Hinrik takes in the massive snow field that is the Plateau du Trient. Plateau du Trient Björn doing much the same. A wee side trip to ski down 5 different kinds of snow within 100 metres. Skiing down onto the Glacier du Trient. The view from the top of the Col des Ecandies down the Val d’Arpette. Martin, Hinrik, Phil, Olly and Steve. Skiing into Champex. Day 1 done! The road here was dead, hitching to Verbier was unfortunately not an option. We paid €11 each (in Swiss CHF) to take 1 bus and 2 trains to Le Chable (Verbier). Buses seemed to be every half an hour until 1830. Time on the platform at Semblancher to plan the next day. Hotel du Giétroz is very close to the train station in Le Chable which is also where you start on the Verbier lift system the next day. We paid about €180 for a 4 person room that easily slept 6 if you took the mattresses off 2 of the beds and slept on the bed bases. Day 2 – Up to the top of Mont Fort with the Verbier lift system. Looking back over Day 1’s route from the top of Mont Fort. The view over the backside of Mont Fort. The descent on this side is steep and was my first experience of a no fall zone. I side slipped most of it. Fixing Hinrik’s feet with climbing tape. Our comprehensive first aid kit didn’t include blister plasters. The group having skied down the Glacier de Prafleuri. The Col des Roux lays ahead on the right of the picture. Martin, Hinrik and Phil at the top of the Col des Roux. A busy scene at the top of the Col des Roux. The long, seemingly never ending traverse alongside the Lac des Dix lays ahead. The snow here was sketchy with some whumpfing wet slab, luckily at less that 30 degrees, but still! Björn has been wearing this shirt since I met him 3 weeks ago and I love him for it. Looking back down the Lac des Dix. Martin forges ahead up towards Tête Noire and Mt Blanc de Cheilon. I was really starting to feel the fatigue at this point. The ominous looking Mt Blanc de Cheilon with its stunning hanging glacier on the left and Tête Noire plus the Cab. des Dix on the right. We headed east over Pas des Chèvres. Björn looks back over Mt Blanc du Cheilon. Phil celebrates before heading down the valley and eventually ski piste into Arolla. We stayed at the Hotel des Glaciers for 64 CHF each. That included a great bed, 3 course evening meal and big breakfast with enough to make a sandwich for the next day. Phil still wanted to sleep outside. It took Bjorn and Steve 45 minutes to get half of a ripped contact lens out of Steve’s eye. Day 3 – Off down the road for 1km to join…. …. the skinning track up the Glacier d’Arolla. 1800m of vertical gain over sometimes questionable skinning terrain lay ahead. This avalanche debris became pretty run of the mill, the north facing icey slopes on the route were much more of a problem. Ski crampons or booting was in order for some of the way. Reaching the corner of Plan de Bertol Björn fulfils his water duties in his “Mountaineering Jacket” that he is so proud of. Steve with the Glacier du Mont Collon in the back ground. Phil admires the same. Supplies being taken to the Cabane de Bertol. Phil. Björn Steve – Top of the Col de Bertol with the Matterhorn poking up over the Glacier du Mont Miné Phil and Hinrik – Top of the Col de Bertol The final skin over the huge snowfield of the Glacier du Mont Miné. We had to put the pace on here as the weather started coming in. I think this is Mt Miné. Tête Blanche and some concerning cloud. Nothing Zermatt er with that! Hinrik shows off his bespoke Mercedes gloves (he messed up trying to draw the peace symbol). Happy gang, not least at the site of the end but also as we still have a relatively cloud free and light sky. Tiefmattengletscher (we have skied across a language barrier by now). Matterhorn from south Matterhorn from west Matterhorn from north west. “Are we there yet?”
Walking 2.5 kms from Martigny station to the road out of town to Chamonix to hitch.
We took 2 trains to Martigny, changing at Visp. I suggest buying the ticket before you board as it is much cheaper.
Björn was actually sat on my neck in this photo. We got back to Chamonix at 330am. The road was dead after a while, I managed to get a lift with no skis, collected my van and then went back for the crew.
The start of things to come.