Along the way, the trail passes by 10 of the 12 highest peaks in the Alps, as it winds its way through glacial valleys, alpine meadows and enchanting villages.
I walked the Haute Route in 2009. All logistical details have been updated as of February, 2017.
*Please note that the information below is largely directed towards independent hikers, rather than people going as part of an organized trekking group.
The Haute Route
Distance : 112 miles (180 km)
Avg.Time : 9 – 12 days
- Chamonix (France) – Zermatt (Switzerland)
- Which way?: I don’t think it makes a difference, though most people seem to begin their hike in Chamonix.
- Geneva is the closest major airport to both trailheads.
- Once you’ve arrived in either France or Switzerland, public transport to both towns is relatively simple. Multiple bus, shuttle and train options available.
- Hiking season is generally between mid-June and late September. Accommodation in mountain huts is often full during July and August (see Sleeping below). If you plan on staying indoors, be sure to book ahead.
- Afternoon thunderstorms are common during the summer months.
- History: The idea for a high level route between Chamonix and Zermatt was first conceived by the British Alpine Club in the 1860’s. In it’s current incarnation, the Haute Route is renowned as both a summer hiking trail, as well as a cross country skiing route in the winter.
- Maps: Two excellent maps by the Carte nationale de la Suisse cover the entire Walker’s Haute Route: #5003 Mont Blanc-Grand Combin and #5006 Matterhorn-Mischabel. If you’re unable to purchase them online, both sheets are widely available in Chamonix and Zermatt.
- Guidebook: I carried the Cicerone Press guidebook, Trekking Chamonix to Zermatt; The Classic Walker’s Haute Route. The latest edition of this excellent guide was published in May, 2015.
- Trailblazer Publications also publish a Haute Route guidebook, however it hasn’t been updated since 2008. Go with the Cicerone option.
- Language: German & French. A basic knowledge of either definitely comes in handy, however, most of the locals along the route know at least a little English.
- Wildlife: Ibex, chamois, marmots.
Resupply & Water:
- Ample on both counts.
- Supplies can be obtained in the villages along the way. Meals can also be arranged at all of the mountain huts (though not necessarily cheaply). Unless you choose to, you’ll never have to carry more than a couple of days food at a time. See the Cicerone Guide for details.
- Water: Similar story on the H2O front. I can’t remember carrying more than a litre at any given moment. In regards to purification, I treated if there was livestock in the vicinity, but otherwise drank the water as is. I didn’t have any intestinal issues.
Route / Conditions :
- Navigation: A well marked trail from start to finish. From a navigational perspective, chances are all you will need are the sketch maps and trekking notes in the Cicerone guidebook (as well as a compass and/or GPS). However, if you’re interested in doing some side trips and/or just like a little more in the way of detail, I highly recommend picking up the aforementioned topographic sheets.
- Elevation: Although it may be easy to follow, the Haute Route is nonetheless a physically demanding trail. During its entirety, hikers will cross 11 mountain passes and negotiate more than 12,000 metres (39,370 ft) of combined altitude gain and loss .
- There are various route options along the way. Given reasonable weather, “not to be missed” stages/alternates include:
- Col de Balme to Chalet du Glacier.
- The crossing of the Fenetre d’Arpette.
- Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla.
- The Europaweg for the final stage into Zermatt, rather than the valley floor route.
- Be sure to bring warm clothing and wet weather gear. Snow storms are not uncommon even in summer.
- Tip: More than 90% of Haute Route hikers are part of an organized trekking group. From what I could tell, most of these parties seem to begin their hiking day around 8 am and finish about 2 to 4 pm. For the independent hiker this is a bit of a boon, as the trail is virtually people-free during what I consider to be the best times of the day (i.e. early morning and late afternoon). That being the case, my advice is to get out on the trail around dawn, enjoy a swim and/or a big lunch (in that order) in the middle of the day, and then hike until dusk.
- Due to the wide range of accommodation options available, it seems as if 90 – 95% of hikers stay exclusively indoors on the Haute Route. The mountain huts in particular, are generally packed during peak season. For that reason alone, I suggest carrying your own shelter (Note: It’s a lot cheaper as well).
- That being said, I highly recommend spending at least a one or two nights in mountain refuges or small villages. Enjoy a few beers, a glass of wine, a big meal and a chin wag with fellow hikers.
- Officially speaking, “wild” camping is discouraged along the Haute Route, however, as long as you are discreet and practice no trace camping principles, there shouldn’t be any issues.
- Arguably Europe’s most beautiful long distance trek. Digestively speaking, the food and wine are pretty good as well.
- Favourite stage: The crossing of the Fenetre d’Arpette.
- Favourite refuge: Refuge les Grands
- Favourite village: Jungen
- Tip: If you’ve got the time and inclination, I highly recommend also hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc while you’re in the area. Indeed, depending on route choices, the two classic trails largely coincide from Chamonix to the picturesque Swiss village of Champex.