Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route • April 2004

This year we again spent our spring season skiing hut-to-hut in the Alps. Our first trip was a Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route, April 5 to 12.

We were joined by Adam Wilson and his son, Max, the foursome of Gerry Shattuck, Claudio Guerra, Dan Sladkus and Jay Sylvester, and also by David Warfield and Alfie Aversa.

The weather this year was actually pretty terrible, with lots of snow, and plenty of foggy travel. Though the bad weather was good for the glaciers (which suffered greatly from last summer's heat wave) it played havoc with our planning. As you can see by reading through the captions below, we had to frequently change our plans. But it was a fun trip anyway, everyone was a good sport about the crummy conditions, and, in the end, we were rewarded with a perfectly clear blue-sky day for our run down into Zermatt from the Vignettes hut.

Other Recent Trips

This photo was actually taken the day before the trip started, when Kathy and I did a "test run" down the VallÈe Blanche. This is the Requin hut, the normal lunch dining area.

On the day we did the Vallèe Blanche with the group, we had a white out nearly the entire way. Pretty tricky route finding. But the snow was good and we were able to enjoy some good skiing, in spite of the limited views and flat light.


From left to right, David, Dan, Claudio and Gerry, enjoying breakfast, part two, at the base of Aiguille du Midi lift, while we wait for them to open. Often on days following a big snowfall, as was the case this day, they are slow to open the lift. The cafe at the base does a brisk business.


Moving right along....

After our ski of the Vallèe (whiteout) Blanche, we reconsidered our options. A big storm was forecast for the following days. Rather than attempt to ski to the Trient hut (which would most likely be out of the question in the forecast weather, and rather than going into the Argentière hut, only to get stuck there, we opted to do another day tour in the Chamonix area, then continue our Haute Route by taxi, moving on to Bourg-St-Pierre on day 3.

So on day 2, we headed up in the storm to the Flégère lift, hoping to do a short tour above the ski area. The weather was truly nasty, and we managed to get to Lac Blanc in a blowing snowy whiteout, before declaring that we had had enough!

Day 3 began with skiing the lifts of the Grands Montets, enjoying the big dump of the previous night. At about 4 pm, we hired a taxi to take us straight away to Bourg-St-Pierre, where we spent the night.

The following day, the day on which this photo was taken had somewhat better weather, and we continued up to the Valsorey hut. Despite the fact that Max Wilson is shown here doing some fine grass skinning, there was more snow on this part of the route than we have ever seen, and we were able to skin up right from town, something we have never done before.


Looking up at the Grand Combin, from just below the Valsorey hut.


Well, the weather closed in again while we were at the hut that night. Lots of snow and cloud and snow prevented us from making the difficult climb over the Plateau du Couloir. Continued forecasts of poor weather suggested it was not worth trying to wait it out. So on day 4 we were forced to ski out back to Bourg-St-Pierre, and continue again by bus and train to Arolla.

Here we are skiing down the valley floor on the way to Bourg-St-Pierre. Actually this was a pretty fun ski out, with some interesting "water skiing" as we cross the creek.


After spending the night in La Gouille, near Arolla, we continued on day 5 up to the Vignettes hut. The weather looked pretty good in the morning, but quickly socked in and was snowing heavily by the time we arrived at the Vignettes hut.

Here we are crossing a large moraine not far from the small Arolla ski lift complex.


Below the Vignettes hut on day 5. As we approached the hut, the clouds descended and it started snowing.


So we waited at the hut. On day 6 we simply passed the time in the Vignettes hut, telling stories, jokes, playing cards and eating the excellent Rösti, a local concoction of hash brown-like potatoes garnished fried eggs, cheese and bacon, as you like. This mountain food stays with you for some time.

On day 7, the weather finally cleared, after dumping almost a meter of new snow. So early in the morning, we skin up and begin the trek to Zermatt


Finally, blue sky and deep new snow. But there can be too much of a good thing! Trail breaking through the bottomless snow was slow going and hard work. Of all the skiers who started out from the Vignettes hut, there were only two groups planning on getting to Zermatt that day, as the other one, a group of 3 led by a New Zealand guide, slept in late after a big day previously. They did not catch up to us until hours later, leaving us alone in the trail breaking for the first half of the day.

This photo is of the Dent d'Hérens was taken from the Col de l'Evêque.


Jay smiles for the camera as we climb over the Col du Mont Brulé. We had feared that there would be too much now snow on this col to permit a safe climb, but it turned out to have less snow there than we had predicted. So we carried on.


Claudio climbs up through the deep snow to the Col. Unfortunately the warm sunshine made the snow on the last descent to Zermatt heavy and difficult.


Finally, the Col du Valpelline and the Matterhorn. The weather stayed fantastic the entire day.


Claudio arrives at the Col du Valpelline


The New Zealanders start off down from the Col. They had to break trail downhill, though the very deep snow.


The skiing down was quite challenging. The new snow, warmed by the day's sun, had become heavy, and as the sun began to sink in the west, the surface froze, creating an interesting concoction of crust and mashed potatoes – crème brûlè.

But it was beautiful, nonetheless. We arrived pretty late into Zermatt, tired, but happy.


Because we arrived in Zermatt on our day 7, we had one more day to play with. So for the few crazies who had either more energy, or fewer pain neurons, we did the Schwarztor–Zermatt's answer to Chamonix's Vallèe Blanche.

Actually, it was a fantastic day. The north-facing snow stayed cold the previous day, and was light and wonderful for our descent.


Into the Icefall section of the Schwarztor....


Max eyes his line for the next 100 turns.


Heading the lower slopes of the Schwarztor with the Matterhorn and Dent Blanche in the background.


In the lower portions of the Schwarztor, one can often enter the ice "canyon" carved into the Gorner Glacier. The was one of those years, and we were able to do this fun roller-coaster exit out.

Post Script.... The weather clagged in again the next day, and stayed fairly crummy until a good sized clearing came during the last half of our Ortler trip. Check out those photos!

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