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So the Famous Haute Route….. or part of it at least!
Here is my review from the Haute Route trip with Adventure Base. Overall a sensational few days, and only mother nature stopped us completing the most famous ski touring route in the world.
Arrived in Chamonix at around 4.30pm, and walked to the hotel where we were staying. The Six Nations rugby was on so dropped my bags and went to watch the rugby. At 8pm we (myself, Gregg and Andrew) met our guide Miha. He was a Slovenian mountain guide who discussed the route, the potential weather (good for the first part of the week, mixed thereafter) and we did a kit check list (see later for advice on kit!) We had some dinner at the hotel, then an early night.
Woke at 7.30 and had a last breakfast in civilisation before hiring skis and meeting Miha at the hotel at 9am. We had a 20 min drive to Argentière, before taking the Grandes Montes cable car to the top of the col des Grandes Mottes. This took nearly 3 hrs, but once there we skied the Glacier des Rognons to the Glacier d'Argentière. Skinned up for about 1hr (220m), before practicing techniques such as the 'kick turn', (a method to turn on a steep face) before arriving at the refuge d'Argentière at 3pm. We found our room with 13 beds!, before going outside to do some avalanche training, and then dinner at 6.30pm. This was soup, some couscous and Bolognese sauce, and a crème brûlée for pudding. Nearly 100 people crammed in, made for a lively atmosphere. We had an early night in the 13 man dorm was a little hot and sweaty... but not too many snorers! The Bottled water market was at €6 for 1.5 litres tonight, will be interesting to see how much this changes as the week goes on!
Total ascent: 210m
Total descent: 665m
This was the first big day. We woke at 5.30am and had breakfast at 6am. Crazy amount of people at the refuge, but we were the first to leave. We skied down a rather icy Glacier d'Argentière, before arriving at the base of the col du Passon. This was a 650m climb to the top, which included a very steep section at the couloir, requiring crampons to walk the last 50m up to the top. It was made worthwhile by a stunning cloudless view at the top. This was followed by a short but powder ski down to a hot and open powder bowl on the Glacier du Tour. We then skinned a flat section in the bowl, where there were 3 airplanes practicing landing and taking off (magical at first, slightly annoying after a while). After some lunch (the refuges provide packed lunches, sandwich, fruit, chocolate bar and fizzy drink), we ascended the col du supérieur (350m of vertical ascent) with a very steep last section through the couloir (scramble with crampons) to the summit where we were given a spectacular view of the Swiss alps one way and the French alps the other. We then skied the Plateau du Trient, via the Col d'Orny to the base of the Cabane du Trient. A short skin up for 20 mins (80m vertical) to the hut followed and we were the first to arrive and sat overlooking the Plateau du Trient, which provided some sensational views. The weather was warm although windy at 3170m high. The dinner was delicious, soup followed by salad, then rice and meat and then meringue and strawberries for pudding. The bottled water market had increased to €10 a bottle (or Swiss francs..) although there's not much you can do about it... a better nights sleep, only 10 in a dormitory this time! A hard and hot day, but an amazing view to top it off.
Total ascent: 1,100m
Total descent: 700m
Transition day from the Mont Blanc range to the Valais range. Up again at 5.30, with a delicious Swiss breakfast before a 6.30 start. We descended the Glacier du Trient, before bearing right to the Col des Écandies. This was a very steep section, a mixture of ice and rock. We were roped together for an exhilarating 50m climb to the top of the col. Not for the faint hearted! The view at the top was sensational, with the clouds covering the valley and a beautiful view over both mountain ranges. This was followed by a 1,400m descent down to Champex. The snow conditions at the top were good, but it became tough and very icy further down. We arrived in Champex at around 8.15, before a taxi to Verbier. After a cable car to the col des Gentianes, we skinned up to the Col de la Chaux, which was 240m of ascent. The view at the top was again sensational. We skied down to the Lac du Mont Fort before another short skin up to the Col de Monin (250m) and another climb up to the Rosa Blanche (150m). This gave us our first spectacular view of the Matterhorn. The ski down the Glacier de Prafleuri was sensational powder, down 500m to the Cabane de Prafleuri. The Cabane was bathed in sunshine, and a delicious cup of tea and a cold beer soothed the aching muscles. Dinner was delicious, and then headed to bed, for a long night after a good game of shithead and cheat!
Total ascent: 850m
Total descent: 2,970m
We woke to some very mixed weather. Miha has told us the night before that the weather was due to get bad. The weather did clear enough and we skinned for 1hr (c200m) to the top of the Col des Roux. Following this we traversed the Lac Dix before entering a white out. We got lost and ended up having to ski down before traversing back up to the path. The lake is the largest man made lake in Switzerland, and during brief breaks in the cloud it was spectacular. After leaving the lake we skinned up to the Cabane du Dix. The final section was incredibly steep and with gale force winds and snow, was an awesome challenge. Once there we looked at the weather forecast, which was turning for the worse, so Miha decided that we would descend to Arolla. We descended to a point before putting skins first, then crampons to ascend to the (fond name). This involved a 30m ladder climb (fortunately they had replaced the old ladder, which was a brutal 30m single climb with no fencing. A final descent into Arolla, before a welcome pint (or 3), and a drive all the way back to Chamonix. A sad day in some ways, but the correct decision.
Total ascent: 837m
Total descent: 533m (excluding decent to Arolla)
We spent the next 2 days day touring around Chamonix. The First day the weather was good enough to embark on the Day Tour over the back of Le Flegere to Le Beut. spectacular views once again.
This is probably the most important bit of all of this….
Backpack – a hiking touring backpack. I had an off piste bag with an avalanche ABS.
Skis - touring skis with skins - must be lightweight, you don't want to be shifting bricks on your feet!
Poles - adjustable height, and big base! - Hold on to your poles, noting more annoying than climbing back down!
Ice axe - small fits on the back of your pack - mine was huge and looked like a flag pole!
Crampons – lightweight
Ski Crampons – make sure they fit your skis!
Base layer - essential and preferably light in colour. White reflects, black absorbs!
Touring jacket/vest - Best thing to have as this is what the guide had!
Ski touring trousers - tight fit anything too baggy and it will rub!
Down jacket - easy to put on when you stop/ take off when you walk
Waterproof jacket – in case the weather closes in. Lightweight wind protector is best!
Socks (2pairs) - most important item as they look after the most important thing! your feet!
Toothbrush - cut it in half!
Small deodorant can - you will smell, but a shower in a can - there are no showers in the refuges!
Harness - you can hire one if you don't have one. essential
Phone - and charger! refuges have plugs, but bring an adaptor!
Wallet - the water is very expensive!
Camelback - mine broke.... but I imagine it would be useful
Cap - to try to stop you getting burnt
Sun cream - lots of it, you will get burnt, and you will know about it!
Sunglasses - obviously
Goggles - if it snows, I didn’t use them personally
Helmet - I bought one, no one else in my group had one...
Torch - imagine navigating your way around a 13 person dorm in the dark...
Kindle - sometimes you arrive at the refuge at 2pm. some reading material will keep you sane!
NOTHING ELSE! anything else is a waste of both space and weight. you can pick up food and water
Overall a fantastic experience, curtailed by the weather.
Time to try again next year!