After almost two weeks of concentrated Olympics viewing through the early hours of the morning, the time had come to get up from the couch in Sheffield to walk the walk with Mont Blanc Treks.
After a bit of research I found the ‘Walkers Haute Route (think you say ‘Oat Route’) described as one of the holy grail high mountain routes and set about finding vaccine paperwork and a backpack. Sara suggested to prepare for some unseasonably cool weather trip and so proper waterproofs, woolly hat and gloves were packed along with poles, boots and summer trekking gear and got on the EasyJet from Manchester to Geneva. Here’s my account of the last three days of Haute Route (8,9,10) with MBT and leader Vic Chelton, fellow trekkers Paul (UK) and Diane (USA).
Day 8: Zinal to Gruben
Hotel Besso in Zinal described as a Swiss Romantic Lodge. It was a warm welcome in a beautiful location with fine views! All too easy to get carried away and have a bit too much wine with the lovely evening meal of brochettes and roasted vegetables. I came to a swift halt on the wine as Vic suggested a 7am breakfast for 8 am depart before the afternoon rain set in en Route to Gruben.
It’s a steep climb out of Zinal (heart rate anaerobic!) but we worked our way gradually above the tree line to the Col de Forcletta in thick cloud. Vic, Diane, Paul and myself in that order. Hats and gloves were pulled on as we reached the top and traversed into the rocky Tutmanntal Valley. As we lost altitude the temperature gradually warmed and the stunning Alpine views unfolded. An Emmental cheese sandwich, nuts and raisins kept my legs going for the descent to Hotel Schwarz in Gruben, where we had beer in the bar and a welcome dish of Chicken (or mushroom) Supreme, peas, carrots followed by creme caramel with squirty cream. Vic gave us plans for next day to Randa whilst I looked at the stats on Garmin: 7hrs 45 mins total trip time with 19.5km covered. More significantly the ascent was 1200m, very steep and my training effect was described by Garmin as ‘overreaching, needing 4 days of recovery’. Diane and Paul seemed very fresh and Vic full of life. I decided not to have another beer and embarked upon another steep climb… 4 flights to a charming pine clad attic bedroom, great views and space to hang wet kit.
Stats: 19.52km, elev gain 1,307m. Today’s trek (including stops) 7hrs 47m.
Day 9: Gruben to Randa
After a good breakfast and take away lunch we were packed and ready to leave. Our rain jackets were soon discarded on the slightly less steep climb straight up to the Augustbordpass. Like magic the clouds lifted. We stopped for a break in the pastures to be immediately surrounded by six beautiful alpine cows, cow bells a ringing. They looked friendly enough but aware of the dangers of cow horns I was grateful to Paul and Vic who expertly shooed them away.
Sometimes in the mountains you get a ‘Now you see it, now you don’t’ moment, and at midday suddenly the stunning vista down the Matterhorn valley of the majestic high peaks capped by ‘The Dom’ (4545m) came out of the clouds. We descended towards St Niklaus through snow patches and came across an impressive family of Ibex sunbathing on the rocks. From there into a patchwork carpet of multicoloured alpine flowers, gentian, saxifrage, campion, bladder wort and cobweb leek. At Jungu a high altitude alpine chalet served welcome coffee and ice cream. The final stage down into Randa was a short cable car and mountain train ride.
Stats: 15.63km, elev gain 1,146m. Today’s trek (including stops) 7hrs 48m.
Day 10: Randa to Zermatt
The final day was a glorious alpine summer. We climbed very steeply up from Randa and on to the Europaweg. The Europaweg is a high altitude traverse which allows you to trek all the way into Zermatt. It’s a trail that the mountains never quite bought in to and each year trail repairs have been undertaken to keep this route open. The first challenge was Charles Kuonen suspension bridge, a breath taking 500m single span. An almost impossible but totally impressive structure, highest and widest span in the world. From there we trod lightly and traversed with care. The Europaweg has a challenging off camber surface with a big fall away. Guide ropes, small bridges, steps and tunnels kept us mindful. The iconic Matterhorn came into view in the far distance just before our lunch stop. This was to be a long but rewarding day. We followed Vic closely, no missed steps on this section!
Eureka moment, we found it on the side of the trail, peeping out from its limestone nest was the elusive Eidelweiss. Frosted, apple white flowers and delicate furry leaves. This was my first sight of Eidelweiss growing in the wild. From that point on we saw several more. A quick coffee stop was had at Augustbord leaving 8km down into Zermatt. This is big finish and views of two of the four faces of the iconic pyramidal Matterhorn (4478m) and the historic mountaineering town of Zermatt became ever present with us for the entire journey. Finally we walked through the doors of Hotel Antika for a very warm welcome and a glass of Matterhorn beer, Christina, our host booked us a table at a local grill where we celebrated our arrival with a Swiss dish of Rosti.
Stats: 30.43km, elev gain 1,541m. Today’s trek (including stops) 9hrs 56m.
The Haute Route is an amazing experience. Many thanks to Sara and Jude at Mont Blanc Treks. Itineraries, overnight accommodation and bag transfers were faultless. A guided trek allowed us to focus entirely on an unforgettable experience for this challenging journey. Every day went to plan.
Big respect to fellow trekkers Diane and Paul for completing this journey in fantastic shape. They were great company. Vic Chelton our highly experienced mountain guide kept us safely on track, with accurate briefings for trail, weather and local information. Vic really knows the Haute Route and her decision making as our leader afforded us the best possible experience. Vic’s fun, smiley personality made every day a sunny one, her excellent cow herding expertise was a bonus. Thanks for spotting my first Eidelweiss Vic!
Janet, 7th August 2021