Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route "More or Less" • April 22 - 29, 2009

Our second Haute Route trip this year was an attempt to repeat the Mont Vélan variation of the Plateau du Couloir route. The weather intervened in a big way with this trip, but we managed to have some fun days of skiing and touring as always.

Other Recent Trips

Things looked good, if bony, for the beginning of our tour. Here on the lower part of the Vallée Blanche descent are, from left to right, Mark Houston; Mark Longstaff from the Seattle area; Gary Rowles of SLC, Utah; Tom Drake of Vermont; Peter and Lynne Staub from New Zealand, and Fred Larke from Denver.


Tough snow, but great weather on the upper Vallée Blanche.


Taking in the high glacier scenery.


On our first day of the tour proper, again we have beautiful weather for our launch from the top of the Grands Montets ski area.


Approaching the Col du Chardonnet.


Sunrise on day 2 from the Trient hut.


We got an early start, in view of our plan to get all the way to the Vélan hut on this day. The Val d'Arpette, into which we are about to dive, is nice and frozen!


After our mid-day taxi transition from Champex, we begin our hike up from above Bourg St. Pierre.


We arrive at the surreal Vélan hut in wind and snow, but the following morning dawns clear.


Fred steps back into the sunshine after the steep climb over the ridge of Col de la Gouille.


Once that was past, we had a long skin to the top of Mont Vélan. However, as the sun warmed the slopes and the other skiers ahead of us headed for the summit, we began to worry a bit about the wind-loading in the couloir we planned to descend, and also about the long climb back up to the Valsorey hut. We decided to head straight to the couloir, to give ourselves time to reverse course should it prove too loaded.


It's OK! (just!). Tom shows tell-tale signs of powder fun as he joins Mark at the bottom of the steep couloir.


Skiing kinder slopes below.


Our night in the Valsorey hut brought a transition to much worse weather. A strong foehn wind from the south blew gusts strong enough to blow us off balance, along with heavy snow up high. We bailed out in order to duck around to Arolla.


Waiting for the taxi to pick us up in Bourg St. Pierre.


After a pleasant night (and hot shower!) in the Hotel de Glacier in Arolla we begin our journey to the Cabane des Vignettes in decidedly wet conditions.


En route to the Cabane des Vignettes in blizzard. GPS tracks from our previous trip ten days prior, made this relatively worry-free.


After spending a day holed up in the Vignettes hut as the weather continued to howl, we had a clear-ish sky on our last day, and we made a break for it.


Beautiful dawn skies as we trek across the glacier toward the Col de l'Eveque.


Approaching the col at dawn.


We can see the Col de Valpelline and the Dent d'Hérens in the background as we rip the skins for a beautiful powder run.


And what a run it was! Deep new snow. HOWEVER, by the time we were near the base of our next climb, up the steep and wind-loaded Col du Mont Brulé, the blizzard had set in once more. After sniffing around the lower slopes for a safe line up it, we finally had to admit we could not be sure enough of the stability to justify the risk of this crux section. We reluctantly turned back and bailed once more to Arolla, via the Haute Glacier d'Arolla.


Mark finally gets some welcome visibility after a couple of hours of complete white-out navigation down the glacier. But the fun's not over! Wind-blown snow over warm, deep glop meant hours more entertainment as we post-holed down the gentle grade of the valley leading into town, stopping every few steps to beat the gluey snow from the bases of our skis! Oh lordy!


However, we did get our reward in the end. Our time was up, but the weather being deliriously beautiful the next morning in Zermatt, Mark proposed a Schwarztor add-on. We were the second group out of the gate, the best of all possible situations as we had a beaten-in track to follow to the col here.


The forecast did not call for weather quite this good! No complaints though!


We had absolutely no competition for these powder runs! A rare and beautiful thing.


The glacier is so nicely filled in this year, one had a wide choice of lines through the icefall.


Lynne stops to savor the magic.


The lower Gorner Glacier was a bit sloppy, but well covered at any rate!


Duly noted, but ignored.


A quick last beer to get us happily on the train home. Prost!