The walker’s Haute Route part 2: From Arolla to Zermatt [guest post]

A view down the Turtmanntal valley from Gruben to St Nicklaus

A view down the Turtmanntal valley from Gruben to St Nicklaus on day 8

The second guest post looking back at this summer is from Helen again. Helen and her husband Tom did the walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt this July. Having walked from Chamonix to Arolla in five days, Helen and Tom continued to finish the whole classic trek in just six more days. Once more, many thanks Helen! Everyone else, enjoy the read! ^marketa

Part 1, Days 1 – 5: The walker’s Haute Route part 1: From Chamonix to Arolla [guest post]

Day 6 (Friday 24 July): From Arolla to La Sage via Lac Bleu

Distance 8 Miles; Ascent: 822 feet/ 250 meters; Descent: 2043 feet/ 622 meters

Approcahing the village of Les Hauderes

Approaching the village of Les Hauderes

Today’s walk promised to be a wonderful, gentle walk through Swiss countryside from Arolla to the village of La Sage. However, my blisters were determined to make it an unpleasant day!

From the hotel we made our way up a lovely forest path, high above the valley, to a small lake, Lac Bleu. Here people were bathing in the heat of the day. We only had a 10 minute break for a snack and a drink and moved on.

The rest of the route is downhill. We dropped down to the village of Les Hauderes, which is very traditional and picturesque. A short ascent from there took us to the village of La Sage, where we stayed in a private en suite room in Hotel de La Sage. We bought lunch in the local shop the following morning.

Day 7 (Saturday 25 July): From La Sage to Zinal via Col De Torrent and Sorebois

Distance: 12.5 miles; Ascent: 6039 feet/ 1840 meters; Descent: 3437 down/ 1047 meters

At the top of Col de Sorrebois looking over the Lac de Moiry

At the top of Col de Sorebois looking over the Lac de Moiry

Another two days of the Haute Route in one. From La Sage we had a long day ahead. We climbed through Swiss mountain pastures to the sound of cow bells to the Torrent mountain pass. The path was newly cut into the hillside and was at a great gradient to allow for fast progress, we practically ran up, full of energy.

The views up the valley back to Arolla were stunning. At Col de Torrent we spoke with a local lady who was very surprised that we were going all the way to Zinal today “you have a long way to go” she said as she departed!

As we made our way down from here towards Lake Moiry, it was the only place we saw the rare edelweiss flower growing wild. The descent took us to the beautiful Moiry Lake and across the amazing dam before the second climb of the day.

I had refilled my water bottles from a stream earlier and as the climb took us nearer to the Sorebois pass I started with awful stomach cramps. This continued right through the night – lesson to be learned, use the purification tablets!!

Because of the horrific pain I was in, we caught the cable car at Sorebois down into Zinal. A real shame, because until now, we had used no form of transport and I felt like we had cheated somehow. Sometimes though, you have to go with what your body tells you – and the blisters on my feet were also screaming for the cable car!

We (I) hobbled into the village of Zinal where we were in a private room in Hotel le Trift. The bathroom facilities were shared and unisex. We bought lunch the following day at the local Boulangerie and a large supermarket.

Day 8 (Sunday 26 July): From Zinal to Gruben via Forcletta

Distance: 12.2 miles; Ascent: 3907 feet/ 1190 meters; Descent: 3455 feet/ 1053 meters

From Zinal it was a left turn out the hotel, past the church and straight up into the tress where we traversed upwards through pine forest to the Forcletta pass. This path was steep at first but levelled out for quite a distance.

Coming in the opposite direction were many people on what must have been an organised running event. From the pass we reached a small holding and then onto a farm track, high above the Turtmann valley where Gruben sits.

This is the only day where the signs, books and route cards all contradicted each other and we ended up staying on the farm track which was rather boring and uninspiring, taking us in the complete opposite direction for where we were going for well over an hour.

The alternative was to stay high and head across the hillside to Mittel Stafel. Our route cards suggested another forest option, but the terrain was impossible to cross. The farm track took us steadily down hill and to Gruben, which is the beginning of the German speaking part of Switzerland.

We stayed in the historic Schwarzhorn Hotel, we had a private room with an outside terrace and shared unisex bathroom facilities. We ordered a packed lunch for CHF15 each, as there are no shops here.

Day 9 (Monday 27 July): From Gruben to St Niklaus

Distance: 8.9 miles; Ascent: 3498 feet/ 1066 meters; Descent: 2970 feet/ 905 meters

Mountain view from above Gasenreid

Mountain view from above Gasenried

The Haute Route trail starts directly outside the hotel and takes you up to the Augstbordpass. This was the only day during the trek where we were cold on the climb, there was a brisk breeze and our jackets came on until we reached the other side and some shelter.

Despite the cold it was still a lovely sunny, clear day. The ascent is not a difficult one on a clear path and through lovely high meadows with the ring of cow bells. The descent is a rocky one and we saw a little chamois as we traversed the hillside.

This is where we got the first glimpse into the vast Mattertal valley. The number of gigantic mountains in every direction is phenomenal. We sat for quite a while to take it all in. This valley is where the Haute Route heads for the rest of the tour, ending in Zermatt.

The route continues along a good path to the old hamlet of Jungu. We jumped on the cable car here. You have to summon the cable car by using the phone at the station, we waited quite a while inside the gondola before it trundled safely down to St Niklaus, CHF24 for both of us.

This avoided a long descent on foot. We stayed in a private suite with bathroom at Hotel Im Edelweiss and were treated like royalty. We bought our lunch for the next day from the supermarket across the road.

Day 10 (Tuesday 28 July): From St Niklaus to Europahütte

Distance: 10.2 miles; Ascent: 3483 feet/ 1061 meters; Descent: 1397 feet/ 425 meters

From St. Niklaus we took the bus from the stop outside the hotel to the small village of Gasenried. The driver was great, telling us where we needed to change to get the next bus. It was only 10 minute journey in total.

At Gasenried, we took the very steep path up through the forest with sun and blue skies, to join the famous Europaweg. This route traverses high above the Mattertal.

The walking on the Europaweg is challenging and interesting. A head for heights and careful footing at times are both needed. There are very narrow sections of path with exposed drops to the valley below. Some are secured with rope, but just when you really need it, there is no rope!

We made the short diversion to the St Bernard statue, this is worth doing and only takes about 5 minutes. It was from here that we were treated to our first views of Matterhorn in the far distance.

The Europaweg continues, getting ever closer to the Matterhorn. There are danger areas with signs warning of rock fall, and the path diverts a few times. The scree is very loose in places and you need to take care.

We spent some time on the path walking with a flock of large black and white goats. The scenery is fantastic all day long. Before you reach the Europahütte, there is a long suspension bridge. Again, not for the faint hearted. Some of the wooden floor boards are a little past their best and it’s a bouncy crossing!

We stayed the night high up in the hills at the Europahütte in bunk beds where the dorm slept six. Showers again are on a token and are unisex. The toilets are a dry, long drop.

We purchased a packed lunch from here. You also need to buy water here – although I saw them fill my bottle from the tap! If I remember right it was CHF2 per bottle of water

Day 11 (Wednesday 29 July): From Europahütte to Zermatt  

Distance: 9.6 miles; Ascent: 592 feet/ 180 m; Descent: 2738/ 834 meters

The Matterhorn from The Europaweg

The Matterhorn from the Europaweg

We chose to do the final leg of the Haute Route to Zermatt by dropping down from the hut to the Mattertal valley floor and follow the valley to our destination. This is where we saw our last Ibex of the trip.

You can complete the second half of the Europaweg if you are prepared to take a very long diversion. This is because the second suspension bridge, that you can see from the hut, is closed and has been so for about 5 years. It is sign posted for a diversion, you have to go down and then all the way up again to rejoin the path.

We reached the valley floor at Randa and then a level path takes you through to Täsch, then goes up hill for a distance, and finally, past the heliport, train station and into the historic centre of Zermatt.

It has to be said that this final section of the Haute Route was a bit of an anti-climax as it lacked the views of all the previous days. Although there was not much of an uphill, I really resented it, and had to mentally dig deep, when we reached a section with a bit of a climb.

However, the feeling of euphoria at reaching the end, 130 miles completed and nearly 40,000 feet of ascent, was amazing to say the least.

A bottle of bubbly was purchased and the celebrations went into the evening. We stayed the next few nights in Hotel Helvetia, situated on the main street, Bahnhof Strasse.

Day 12 (Thursday 30 July): Free day in Zermatt

We decided to take the cable car up to the Klein Matterhorn; “The Matterhorn Glacier Paradise”. The cost was CHF100 each and takes about 45 minutes to reach the top.

Despite being 20C+ in Zermatt it was -5C at the top, so we were pleased we took all our layers of clothing. This was the only time we had to wear winter gear the whole tour!

At the top there is a restaurant, a viewing platform and you can go inside the glacier, not to mention fantastic close up views of The Matterhorn. We were lucky because the cloud cleared once we got up there.

This is also where you would start your guided climb of the Breithorn, if you had planned to do it. It’s only a couple of hours to reach the top from this point. We wish we had taken the time to organise this now, it looks amazing and not technical. It does require full winter gear and a guide though!

The Breithorn from Glacier Paradise viewpoint

Helen and the Breithorn from 360 viewpoint at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Day 13 (Thursday 31 July): Depart from Zermatt

Breakfast in Zermatt and then we caught the train back to Geneva Airport. This is a 4 hour journey, changing at Visp. As expected the trains ran on time and it was a really pleasant trip. We bought our tickets online before coming to Switzerland and got them 50% cheaper than the face value at CHF50 each.

The full Haute Route – stage breakdown:

Day 1: Chamonix to Trient via Argentiere and Possettes

Day 2: Trient to Le Chable via Champex

Day 3: Le Chable to Cabane Mont Fort

Day 4: Cabane Mont Fort to Cabane Prafleuri

Day 5: Cabane Prafleuri to Arolla via Glacier De Cheilon

Day 6: Arolla to La Sage via Lac Bleu

Day 7: La Sage to Zinal via Col De Torrent and Sorebois

Day 8: Zinal to Gruben via Forcletta

Day 9: Gruben to St Niklaus

Day 10: St Niklaus to Europahütte

Day 11: Europahütte to Zermatt

Days 1 – 5: The walker’s Haute Route part 1: From Chamonix to Arolla [guest post]

Summary

This has been the trip of a lifetime, it was a shame that I suffered with sore feet from the beginning. That has not put us off though and I’m not sure how we will find anything to come close to this experience in the future.

This was our first time in huts, and although we only did three nights in huts, we really did not like the dormitory sleeping. This may limit our next adventures in the Alps, which is a shame.

As for carrying everything, we would do this again to save on luggage transfer costs. We used everything we carried, and I can’t see where we could save any weight, except the sleeping bag liner and a few other things we took just for hut sleeping.

Thank you for reading our Haute Route experience, if you want to ask me anything, I am happy to answer.

Regards,

Helen Smith with Hubby Tom.

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3 comments

  1. Jean-François Veilleux · · Reply

    Hi! Thank you for you telling us your great trip. I want to do almost the same trip. I have a question: how long it was from the hotel weisshorn to St Niklaus?

    Votre sac à dos était de combien de litre de capacité? Avez-vous lavé votre linge en chemin?

    Thank you

  2. Vicki Lacy · · Reply

    Great post thank you! We are doing the WHR in July and I found this really useful both for travel tips and route preparation (particularly a few stages that I’m a wee bit nervous about)! We did the TMB in July last year, and I am wondering whether we met Helen & Tom on the Fenetre d’Arpette as we were going in opposite directions – we were there on the same date!

    1. Hi Vicki! I’m glad that you like Helen’s post. The world is small, isn’t it.

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