Chamonix Zermatt Haute Route

April Haute Route
May 11, 2009

img_6306Whenever I haven’t written in my blog for awhile I find it difficult to get started writing one. Often it is not because I don’t have anything to write about it’s usually because too much has gone on and I feel daunted trying to write it all down. For instance my last entry was posted in the middle of March. Since then I’ve ice climbed with Hakan and Mike who were training for Rainier, I climbed with Ed and his grandson for two days, I I taught two 4 day AIARE Level II Avalanches Courses, got to climb with Harold who has been coming up to climb at the end of March for as long as I can remember and I got to climb with Jacky and Tim. That list ended my March. At the start of April I left for Chamonix to do some ski tours, I had scheduled two Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Routes, the first with Ryan, Mike and David the second Haute Route was with Joe, Cameron and Tom.

The first trip started April 5th with a ski down the Vallee Blanche, although this ski descent isn’t very steep it is very scenic and is a good way to get over the jet lag and begin the process of acclimatizing. The next day we took off and started our tour to Zermatt. The weather on this trip was not as good as I have had in the past but it wasn’t so bad as to prevent us from completing the tour. The poor weather we did get had the benefit of creating some really good skiing, particularly the last day where we got good powder skiing down toward Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background. 

The weather did have it’s challenges though. We had two very poor days, the first was the day from the Dix Hut to the Vignettes Hut, the second was so bad that we couldn’t move so we stayed all day holed up in the Vignettes Hut. The day from the Dix started out pretty good but it soon turned cold windy and eventually so foggy we were in a whiteout. This day also happens to be the highest point you reach on the Haute Route, going over the Pigne D’Arrolla at a height of 3790m (12,435ft). Fortunately I had a good route plan (sample pdf) and we were able to follow that to the Vignette Hut. The route plan I had made for the Haute Route was used as a sample in the book Backcountry Skiing By Martin Volken, Scott Schell, Margaret Wheeler.

After waiting a day at the Vignettes Hut we woke to less wind but the weather still looked marginal. We started that day with the idea that we would give it a try for a couple of hours and if the weather did not improve we would either turn around or descend the Haute Arrolla Glacier as an escape. As we crossed the first of the three cols we had to climb to get to Zermatt the weather started to improve and we made it to the last col in pretty good weather. Once we arrived at the final col the clouds had moved back in and I was getting prepared to navigate the complex glacier down from the col to Zermatt. We skied a couple of hundred meters and we were greeted with clearing skies, a beautiful view of the Matterhorn and powder skiing. It was a brilliant finish to a challenging trip.

After a few days off in Chamonix I met my second group. Our first day was quite eventful. The Haute Route starts with a lift to the top of the Grand Montets ski area and from there quickly leaves the piste and heads down the very popular Glacier de Rognon. After a 30 minute descent down the Glacier de Rognon you cross the Argentiere Glacier and begin your climb to the Col de Chardonnay. We began our descent from the top of the lift and within the first 20 minutes one person in our group took an awkward fall and twisted his knee. Apparently the injury will not require surgery but he was unable to continue the tour. After a couple of hours he was evacuated back to Chamonix and we continued the trip. Unfortunately the delay along with some acclimatization problems slowed us down to such an extent that we all returned to Chamonix. The next day we took the train to Verbier where we stared our trip back up. Fortunately the rest of the trip went well and 4 days later we were in Zermatt.

Since I’ve been home I have had three days of rock climbing in beautiful weather climbing a average of 12 pitches per day with Richard and Jim and then a trip to the Boston area to teach an AMGA Single Pitch Instructors Course. It was quite a change going from skiing in the Alps to rock climbing on NH granite but it was nice getting to enjoy some warm rock. 

Skiing down past some crevasses and seracs

Just before getting to the first hut on the Haute Route

Getting ready to ski down the Val d’Arpette on the second day

Good skiing in the Val d’Arpette

Powder skiing below the Rosablance on day 4 

More powder as we get to the Prafleuri Hut on day 4

David with the Matterhorn in the background during a side trip to
La Luette

Skinning up with the Dix Hut in the background just before the weather went “white”

The group with the Matterhorn clearing up just before a great powder run!

Fresh snow on the Glacier de Rognon
Trip 2

Climbing up to the Col de Momin
Trip 2

Powder to the Prafleuri Hut
Trip 2

Spooning in the turns
Trip 2

The Prafleuri Hut after a great powder run
Trip 2

A beautiful view at the Nacamuli Hut
Trip 2