The Haute Route by Jim Scharfe
In April this year I had the pleasure of skiing The Haute Route which starts in Chamonix and ends in Zermatt. It is without a doubt one of the most scenic ski tours in the world. Using mountain huts to allow skiers to stay high and cover substantial distances, it winds through the highest, most dramatic peaks of the Alps from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. It requires good weather, favourable ski conditions, and a very strong effort to complete. Because of this, roughly half the skiers who begin this tour do not complete it. First successfully completed in 1911, it has a good many variations to the route, our trip was no different. At the beginning we added a day of ski touring by descending the Valle Blanche and Mer de Glace from L’Aiguille du Midi. This was a super impressive one day trip down a couple glaciers winding its way through ice falls, huge saracs, open crevices, snow bridges, etc. A good start on a beautiful sunny day. For the trip I was with three friends from New Plymouth, and our Mountain guide Phillippe. After deciding to do the trip the group elected to go through a guide service, On Top Mountaineering, they supply a guide for the duration. Phillippe the guide was invaluable, a huge wealth of mountain knowledge and smarts. For 20 years he was head of Mountain rescue in Chamonix, so he had a few stories to tell. Plus we were all impressed with his professional attitude, and ability to make us all laugh. The trip itself is hard work, if you decide to take a trip like this on, you must be in top physical condition, you will push yourself quite hard. So if you want to enjoy this, one has to be in good shape. We all trained for 6 months prior, and that made a huge difference in our enjoyment. Whats involved? Skiing through huge Glaciers, skinning up hill, with skins and ski cramp on’s, carrying your skis in your pack (average weight of about 10-12 Kgs with all your required gear) booting packing with cramp ons, rope work, climbing up Cols. And skiing endlessly down, down and further down, all the while knowing at some stage you will be skinning back up. It was one the best trips I have ever done, everything was on a grand scale. The days are long, psychically demanding, but boy did you feel good doing it. The scenery is stunning, peaks in every direction. Our last day we had to opt out due to heavy snowfall, white out conditions and avalanche danger. At the last hut Vignettes, we aborted the trip, and skied down to the valley floor. This was a wise decision, so to make up for this the guide suggested we climb Mt. Breithorn the next day on our own. So we hit the local mountain shop, bought a rope, and summited Mt. Breithorn (4165M) and then ran into a couple German fellas on the summit, they said stick with us and they took us for a fantastic run down and out through the Schwarze Glacier, which took us to the end of the day. That was a super hairball experience. Especially the outrun, negotiating around waterfalls, crevices, rock faces, etc. Let us say a great it was superb skiing and route finding. I managed to lose my ice axe that day, so if your there and find one, my names on it! I am sure some lucky soul will find it this summer. I could go on and on about this trip as it was one of coolest things you can do on skis. If anyone would like to discuss it, I am a club member, and can be contacted easily on 027-274-9328.