We have finished the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. We did roughly 85 miles over the past nine days, our longest day was 14 miles and we usually did 9-10 but that really doesn’t mean much – what really mattered were the climbs and the passes or cols we had to transit each day. We ascended more than 20,000 feet (6,000 meters), some of it quite steep.
The views were stunning – words really don’t do it justice. We spent most nights in hotels in small alpine villages or ski resorts but also two nights in mountain huts. Very few people use tents, not sure if that is discouraged or just not done. Pretty much everyone stays in the huts on those sections where hotels/hostels are not available. The huts have big dorm rooms (10-16 beds per room), a flush toilet (or two) and a single shower (or two).
The huts we stayed in can sleep 50-60 people and were very nice. Our group consisted of 12 hikers and 2 guides, though one of our group decided not to hike after the second day when he realized he could not keep up.
A note on the “Haute Route”. There are really many variations. Some people hike every mile from Chamonix to Zermatt, about 110 miles. This takes most people 12-14 days (at least). The Alpenwild variation has all the major passes (or cols) and most of the great views, bypassing some of the valley slogs, and using some conveniently placed chair lifts and gondolas (a good part of the route is in ski country) to get the hike down to 11 days (9 hiking days, an acclimation day at the start and a rest day at the end).
And, of course, the big plus using a guide service was that our bags were ferried from hotel to hotel. So, except for the hut nights, we only had to carry our foul weather clothing, water and snacks. Speaking of weather, we had nine glorious days – sunny or partly sunny the whole way.
As I type this in Zermatt it is raining and 49 degrees (with a chance of snow this weekend!), so we were very fortunate. And it is hard. We had a pretty fit group and the tough climb days (>3500 feet) were tiring. Our age range was 55 to 70 with most of us being around 60. We were mostly Americans, with a couple of delightful Aussies thrown in for variety. Most of the passes were 9,000 to 10,000 feet and most nights were spent below 7,000 feet.
We joked that the Swiss have yet to discover switchbacks. And 90% of the trail is either ascending or descending, there are almost no flat sections. Everyone was tired but the time we got to Zermatt. We ate breakfast/dinner in the hotel/hostels/huts and lunch was usually a wonderful picnic supplied by our guides (cheese/meat/bread/fruit/chocolate) and we ate a lot – hiking 6-8 hours a day burns a lot of calories.
Water was plentiful (most of the time) and we drank it straight from the streams/rivers without treating or filtering. And there were (almost) no injuries!