(Walker's Haute Route) Lac de Louvie

The Walker's Haute Route: A guide to the trek

Walking guides - see all our background pages


Bare facts

The Walker's Haute Route is a walking trail through the French and Swiss Alps, for 200km (125 miles) from Chamonix in the West to Zermatt in the East.

The highest point reached by the standard route is 2,987m (9,799ft) and the height gain on the route is around 15,200m (49,867ft).

Trekkers typically take 14 days to complete the trek, give or take a day or two.


Best bits

Our clients say...
We ask our Haute Route clients which stages they enjoyed most. Many love the thrilling finale on the Europaweg, being the last two days into Zermatt, but also popular are the days to Champex via the Fenetre d'Arpette, a high rocky pass, and to Cabane de Moiry with its stiff climb into the mountains.

With good weather the Europaweg section allows the perfect view down into Zermatt, and up to the Matterhorn, as you traverse the rocky hillsides high above the Mattertal.

Other highlights
Other stages on the Haute Route have their own attractions. The three-day crossing from Le Chable to Arolla is perhaps the toughest but the most rewarding section of the whole route. Its more remote sections are a true challenge even in clear weather.

The pastoral sections have their own charm, giving a glimpse of everyday life in rural Switzerland. These sections include the Champex to Le Chable stage, and the alternative valley stage into Zermatt that can replace the Europaweg for those who prefer a quicker and lower finish.

Photos from trips: Walker's Haute Route


Names - a brief note

The Walker's Haute Route is the proper title, in order to distinguish this trek from the original mountaineering route from Chamonix to Zermatt which is best referred to as the Classic Haute Route. This Classic route is the ski or mountaineering route across glaciers, taking a line generally to the South of the Walker's Haute Route. The French term Haute Route simply means High Route, as indeed it is!


Is it for me?

The joy of trekking
There is great satisfaction in completing stages of a long-distance trek, even more so when it's a famous one like the Haute Route. There might be times when the climb seems too much effort, and when you encounter bad weather; at such times the goal keeps you going. Equally there should be days when you feel all-powerful, tackling the mountain trails as if they were paths in the park!

One of the best feelings on trek can be nearing the end of a stage, once you're well into the walk, knowing that you've ticked off another leg of the quest. At such points you've also got an evening in a new village to look forward to. Travelling in a self-sufficient manner through the culturally and linguistically diverse terrain of the Haute Route, this all makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying holiday.



La Sage in the Swiss Val d`Herens
La Sage in Val d'Herens


Can I manage it?
The Haute Route is manageable for the fittest mountain walkers who are happy to walk for between 6h and 8h 30m or more per day along a long-distance trail. It will greatly help your enjoyment of the trek to arrive fit at the start, used to walks of similar distance and height gain to those that you are about to face.

One tough stage for many trekkers is the 17km (10.5 miles) walk from Cabane de Prafleuri to Arolla. This involves a total ascent of 920m (3,018ft) to cross the Pas de Chevres at 2,855m (9,366ft). Another tough stage can be the walk from Gasenried to the Europahutte along the Europaweg.

The villages and huts used determine the distances each day, of course, and we book many variations on our schedules according to how our clients want to approach the Haute Route. If you'd like a fast dash or a trip that minimises the longest days, please contact us to chat about the options. It is hard to make the trek too quick while still taking the most interesting variants, and equally there always have to be some tricky stages between spaced-out accommodation.

For those wary of walking the Haute Route in one go, there are many towns and villages along the route suitable for rest days. Our normal schedule does not include a rest day, because 14 stages is quite a long time on trek to start with and because two stages (that to le Chable and that to La Sage) are easier half-day walks anyway. We can add one rest day in Arolla, for example, or two rest days in Champex and Zinal.

Of course, the Haute Route can also be tackled over two holidays each fitting into a week. We offer both the West and the East halves and we enjoy booking these as excellent trips in their own right.

Long weekends are quite possible too, as indeed are trips of any length. Please contact us and we'll plan a trek for you over a suitable section of the Haute Route.

What's it like underfoot?
Underfoot you will experience a variety of tracks and trails on the Haute Route. Standardly the mountainous sections run on single-track paths that can be rocky in places, sometimes with steps but mostly just the bare earth. Mud is not a problem in the same way as on paths in the UK, for example! Tracks are also common - perhaps gravel forest roads, ski pistes, or rough tracks for vehicles over agricultural land. There are some sections of country lanes. Unusually even for an Alpine trek at this level, some of the mountain passes are particularly steep, loose and rocky, calling for good experience and steady balance. An alternative to one of these steep cols is a series of ladders, almost vertical. There is also a very short section of glacier, at a near-flat and usually unglaciated section of it, in normal circumstances being just a walk on snow.



A big signpost in le Chable on the way up to Cabane du Mont Fort
A big signpost in le Chable


Is the route obvious?
The Haute Route has sections that are particularly difficult to navigate, if the visibility is poor. Other sections are reasonably clear. It is crucial to note that there is no set 'Haute Route' trail; instead the route follows pre-existing paths and tracks. It's crucial therefore to pick the correct ones! The trickiest sections to navigate come on the rockiest and most remote terrain, where sometimes there are painted waymarks to follow but at other times a keen sense of direction is needed, allied to map and compass skills.

During each summer season, snow falls on typically two or three or more occasions. It tends to go away equally quickly and tends not to be deep at the altitude of the Haute Route, but for the time it remains it can make navigation even more challenging. Under a cover of snow, ground features are hidden and reliance on map and compass skills is key.

It is essential for all parties on the Haute Route to have at least one competent navigator with a map and compass, for those situations where the route is not marked at a turning or where the clouds have closed in. The best maps for the route unfortunately still have mistakes, which comes as an additional hazard. Our routecards, notes and maps give you all you need to complete the trek under your own steam.

Is it technically difficult?
The Walker's Haute Route is first and foremost a walk, but it is essential to note that it is at the very top end of difficulty in terms of Alpine trekking. The difficulty of the terrain is often underestimated. There is no glacier walking except for one narrow glacier that in normal circumstances can be treated merely as a snow patch, and there is no rock climbing. There are however some sections where the path crosses exceptionally rocky and steep ground. In particular there is a long near-vertical ladder section on the standard route to Arolla. This ladder has a nearby alternative, but this alternative is such a steep and loose climb to a col that it is hardly any simpler. Additionally, our main route finishes with the two-day Europaweg into Zermatt which presents any trekker with loose hillsides, boulder fields, and navigational challenges. Please contact us and we'll be happy to describe these spots in more detail. Your joining notes contain detailed information about likely hazards on the trail.

Unseasonal weather
The typical summer's day in the Alps brings hot sun, perhaps with occasional rain or afternoon storms, but in any case paths that are clear of snow. However, fresh snowfalls occur each summer on a handful of occasions. Most often, these leave a coating of an inch or two on higher passes only, and they disappear in a day or two. However, sometimes the snow stays for longer periods and is deeper. While the Haute Route should be approached as a summer Alpine trek, with snow quite unlikely, it is wise to know that snow can fall even in summer.

We show this photo in order to be clear what an unseasonally wintry day can mean for the terrain underfoot. This is the Haute Route near Cabane de Prafleuri, in the morning, setting out on the stage to Arolla.



A bridge above Trient
Snow near Cabane de Prafleuri (photo by Dave Newman)


When to go?
Our Walker's Haute Route season runs from the middle of July to the middle of September. This short season is imposed by the weather: the chance of late-Spring snow patches remaining into early July across the higher passes, and the chance of the weather deteriorating into late September. Because we can't predict the weather for the coming summer, we have to set these dates in advance. The Haute Route is a particularly high route and this is the reason for the later start than our other Alpine treks.


Where to stay

The Haute Route's accommodation is a major attraction of the route. At various points there are choices of mountain huts, campsites, luxurious hotels, more modest hotels, and auberges with a mix of rooms and dormitories.

Most accommodation is family-run, even in the larger places such as Zinal. Our Haute Route clients often volunteer how much they enjoy the variety of the places we book for them; we aim to give a true experience of the Alps and of the Haute Route. In Zermatt we book a superbly well-run yet not extravagant hotel, for a memorable finish.


The route

Here's a brief guide to the places and experiences on the Haute Route, on our normal 14-stage schedule.



Looking back towards Arolla from above La Sage, Switzerland
Looking back towards Arolla


Stage One
Start in Chamonix at about 1,000m (3,281ft). On this first stage we describe two routes. Our main route takes to the hillside across from Mont Blanc, with a cable car possible, to reach the beautiful mountain lake Lac Blanc at 2,352m (7,717ft). The route then descends steeply to Argentiere which is the night's destination. The alternative route sticks to the valley, being a steady and picturesque climb to Argentiere through woods and meadows. The high alternative gives an appreciation of Chamonix before the Haute Route sets off into Switzerland; the low route gets there more directly but is still a hard walk.

Stage Two
From Argentiere the Haute Route crosses the Col de Balme at 2,131m (6,991ft). This is a gentle pass, grassy slopes rising up on the French side in what is a busy ski area in winter. Dropping down the far side, the path is steeper but this stage remains a moderate introduction to the Haute Route's theme of crossing cols. We drop into the hamlet of Trient for the first night in Switzerland.

Stage Three
The next stage offers another choice of routes. Our routecards describe the main route over the famous Fenetre d'Arpette at 2,665m (8,743ft), and also the alternative route via the alpage of Bovine at 1,987m (6,519m). Both routes are taxing, but the Fenetre (literally 'window') in the rock is an experience in the mountains to herald challenges yet to come. Arrive in Champex, a small Swiss resort next to its emerald-green lake.

Stage Four
Today's aim is the working village of le Chable in the Val des Bagnes. This fourth stage comes as a contrast to the mountain routes so far. It's largely in the valley, first descending through woods and fields to Sembrancher where the railway from Martigny is met, and then crossing fields in the valley floor as far as le Chable. This is a chance to recharge before three hard stages all involving much ascent!

Stage Five
Setting off from le Chable, settle in for 1,700m (5,577ft) of ascent to the day's destination, Cabane du Mont Fort at 2,457m (8,061ft). A steady rhythm sees the hillside chapels, wooded glades, tracks and paths pass quickly enough, all the time gaining height above the valley. In clear weather, Mont Blanc comes into sight. This is a stage of great transition, from everyday working rural Switzerland to the edge of the high mountains.

Stage Six
After a night at the Cabane in its grand setting rimmed by jagged rock peaks, it's time to leave for one of the Haute Route's most exacting stages. Any bad weather can make it a real challenge for even the most experienced groups. Two cols are available to reach the high basin above Lac de Louvie... Col de la Chaux or Col Termin. Chaux is wild and rocky, Termin is more amenable, and both have a particular set of scenic views. This first col out of the way, the route continues to two more: Col de la Louvie and then Col de Prafleuri at 2,987m (9,800ft) which is the highest point reached on the Walker's Haute Route. A final drop to Cabane de Prafleuri completes this remote and rocky stage. Knees will be glad of the rest after the almost entirely pathless and often bouldery miles.

Stage Seven
Possibly the hardest stage of the Haute Route comes today. This is the walk to Arolla. First climb over Col des Roux to enter the grand basin of the Dix reservoir, an impressive setting. The route continues beyond the waters up to Cabane des Dix, a useful stopping point that we can book to break up this long stage. Again we are at just under 3,000m (9,843ft) in altitude. A tiny glacier is crossed, that in most conditions is no more difficult than a snowpatch and that requires no special kit, before a choice of two difficult cols is reached. There is the Pas de Chevres with its formidable near-vertical ladders, or Col de Riedmatten with its loose rocks and steep angle. After this section the roll down to Arolla is a breeze. The village is tiny but has all we need, at the head of Val d'Herens.

Stage Eight
Three hard stages marking the crux of the Haute Route are over, so today is a welcome contrast. The walk down to Les Hauderes then up to La Sage is solidly in or just above the valley, on decent tracks and paths. It is also a modest distance, giving time to restock and relax. La Sage is a village typical of the Valais, our region here in the Swiss Alps, with heavy stone flags for roofing and with agriculture carrying on all around.

Stage Nine
Once more into the mountains! Our normal route takes us over Col du Tsate at 2,868m (9,409ft), to then descend to the Lac de Moiry basin before a second distinct climb to Cabane de Moiry. At 2,825m (9,268ft) this is the highest overnight stop on our normal route; only the optional Cabane des Dix is higher. Our alternative route is just as scenic in a different way, crossing to Lac de Moiry via the similar Col de Torrent route before dropping down to the village of Grimentz instead of climbing up to the hut.

Stage Ten
From Cabane de Moiry the Haute Route retraces its steps a little, traverses high above Lac de Moiry, then climbs to Col de Sorebois. This col at 2,835m (9,301ft) is a grassy and easy one compared to many others on the route! A long descent takes us down to the pleasant village of Zinal in one branch of Val d'Anniviers. If starting from Grimentz, various routes are described: back up to Lac de Moiry to regain the normal path, direct to Zinal via the forests, or onwards via different routes to St Luc and Hotel Weisshorn.

Stage Eleven
By one of two main routes, the next valley reached is the Turtmantal. We are into German-speaking Switzerland at the rocky ridge dividing Val d'Anniviers and the Turtmantal. From Zinal the route climbs to the Forcletta at 2,874m (9,429ft), a rocky pass to new Alpine landscapes. High-mountain views abound from this point. If coming from the St Luc or Hotel Weisshorn directions, perhaps having taken advantage of the funicular railway above St Luc, then the crossing is by the similar Meidpass. Both routes roll downhill to the small village of Gruben.

Stage Twelve
Today's is the last stage with the Haute Route's classic up-then-down pattern. From Gruben we climb steadily to the rocky but wide Augstbordpass at 2,893m (9,492ft). In descent, we enter the Mattertal... the valley shared with the Matterhorn, no less. That celebrated peak remains hidden by high mountain walls. After the high alp of Jungen with its barns and houses, the route zig-zags down to St Niklaus in the industrial part of the valley floor. At last in the final valley, we are near our goal!



A bridge above Trient
A bridge above Trient


Stage Thirteen
Today we start the two-day finale into Zermatt, called the Europaweg. We offer various ways to reach the start of this path, at Grachen or Gasenried. Once up and on it, the route crosses in and out of seemingly improbably rocky combes on the steep hillside. The Matterhorn comes into sight at the head of the valley. Rounding a spur we reach the wooden Europahutte at 2,265m (7,431ft) and our home for the night. (As an alternative to this difficult 2-day finish, we also offer the easier 1-day valley route from St Niklaus to Zermatt.)

Stage Fourteen
The Europaweg continues, today's initial sections retaining the characteristic challenge, but these challenges giving way steadily to easier walking as Zermatt is reached. Tunnels and avalanche-protection walls are interesting features. Finally walking high above Zermatt, the full height difference with the Matterhorn's summit can be seen. A last descent past barns and huts at Findeln brings us into town. The bustle of Zermatt brings no problems of adjustment, such is the magical nature of this town.


The Walker's Haute Route in context

The Haute Route relative to treks in the UK
Compared to most treks in the UK, the Haute Route has lower daily distances but more ascent. The Coast to Coast route in England, for example, has an average stage length that is twice as long, as per our normal schedule, but most stages do not climb as much. Of course, the altitude is higher throughout on the Haute Route, as it is on most Alpine treks. The high valleys in the Swiss Valais are around 1,500m, but the highest point in England is under 1,000m!

The Haute Route relative to the TMB and the AV1
The Walker's Haute Route is by some margin the hardest of our three main Alpine treks, the others being the Tour du Mont Blanc and the Alta Via 1. Compared to the TMB, the Haute Route climbs to higher passes, tackles looser and rockier terrain, and spends more time in wild locations where walking experience is key. Compared to the AV1, another factor is that the AV1 spreads out its ascents whereas the Haute Route's tend to come in solid morning-long uphill sections. Here we compare all three treks in a table:

Conclusion
On the face of it, these three routes are similar, being treks of about a fortnight in the Western Alps. However, the Haute Route is significantly the toughest of the lot, and will not suit as many people as the TMB and AV1. So, the TMB is a good all-rounder but still tough, the AV1 needs more 'mountain sense' and occasionally balance, and the Haute Route is fairly specialised and suitable only for trekkers with particularly solid experience and strong fitness. This is our comparison based on our own research: each trek has different possible configurations, each giving a different feel to the route. Please ask us any time for more details; with details of your walking experience we can suggest which trek you might enjoy most.


Trek the Haute Route with Alpine Exploratory

Alpine Exploratory offers three self-guided options for the Walker's Haute Route, plus one guided trip. We're also pleased to book shorter or longer sub-sections of the route according to your available dates. Please contact us to discuss options.

Our self-guided holidays give you what you need to complete the route under your own steam. We book your accommodation in a mix of hotels, auberges and huts and we give you our detailed routecards, the local maps, and lots of notes. Importantly we will advise on the ideal schedule and accommodation to suit your approach to the Haute Route. As well as the full route from Chamonix to Zermatt we offer half-routes which we call West and East. These end and start, respectively, in the roughly half-way village of Arolla.

Our guided trip is similar but gives you the benefit of an Alpine Exploratory leader to show the way.


Guided and self-guided holidays - see our full range


Research 2017

Keith Miller at Alpine Exploratory Keith Miller
Keith will lead Alpine Exploratory's 2017 Haute Route research, in July



Trips 2017

Alpine Exploratory offers the following holidays based on our Walker's Haute Route research:

Walker's Haute Route
Walker's Haute Route (Guided)
Walker's Haute Route West
Walker's Haute Route East
Tour du Val d'Anniviers (Guided)



City breaks after trekking

Our Walker's Haute Route holidays come with notes on the following cities, in your info pack:

Geneva in Switzerland
Zurich in Switzerland
Bern in Switzerland

City breaks after trekking





Map showing the route of Alpine Exploratory's Walker's Haute Route walking holiday






Happy clients

Arolla: "Excellent choice for a rest day."

La Sage: "Very special; food and rooms fantastic."

Cab de Moiry: "What a facility in a special place."

Zermatt: "An absolutely perfect hotel - faultless."

Derek McCallum, UK
(Walker's Haute Route)







Happy clients

"Your service and preparation details were excellent. No hitches."

Scenery? "Very, very good. But lots and lots of rock, both to walk on and look at. (But that's what mountains are made of)."

On La Sage:

"Better than excellent. We all absolutely loved this place. And the meals were extraordinary - the chef provided us with our best meals of the trip."

On Zermatt:

"Fantastic! What luxury, and what a view of the Matterhorn!"

Andrew Nixon, Australia
(Walker's Haute Route)







Happy clients

"Overall, I'd highly recommend your service, and hope I get a chance to do another walk with you in a couple of years."

Jestyn, Switzerland
(Walker's Haute Route)







Happy clients

"Was harder than expected (but you did your best to warn me!) :-) My son's unexpected knee problem caused us to adapt the trip here and there, but we still were able to complete much if the route and enjoyed it immensely!"

Steve Dunham
(Walker's Haute Route)







Happy clients

"So good to have everything planned for us - worth the extra money than trying to book it ourselves.

[Favourite stage?] "Too many favourite walks! Glacier du Moiry stands out as you get so close to it; Cabane Bella Tola had great views and the walk to Gruben was just beautiful; the views from Col de Sorebois and of the Mattertal really stand out.

[Chamonix] "Great to be in the centre of Chamonix. Good breakfast.

[Zermatt] "What a fantastic choice of hotel for the end of our trip! Beautiful hotel with great views. Breakfast was sooo good in a lovely light open room that was nearly all windows"

"This was an amazing trip which we will remember for the rest of our lives. So much varied scenery and terrain. Great exercise. No end of bread and cheese!

"Suggest recommending taking waterproof gloves - ours were wool and got wet in the snow and rain. Beware of hut guardians not actually knowing the weather accurately - and need to check weather from all sources and then still be prepared for it to be different.

"In summary, this was the most incredible trip we have done - forever in our memories. We would use Alpine Exploratory again and will recommend it to others."

Elaine
(Walker's Haute Route)







Happy clients

Scenery? "Like walking around in a postcard."

Favourite stage? "Mont Fort to Prafleuri. This was a difficult day of walking, but the high Alpine terrain was just so beautiful and varied."

"The route cards were typically very accurate in their descriptions of the route."

"So thanks for a great trip. We really enjoyed it, and have a good feeling of accomplishment."

Vicky and Robert Dickson, US
(Walker's Haute Route)







Happy clients

"I loved every day (except first half of Europaweg - a bit too scary).

"Want to do it all again tomorrow."

Mandy, UK
(Walker's Haute Route)


Alpine Exploratory
Alpine Exploratory is a system of knowledge on the best mountain trekking in our areas, giving clients superb holidays based on this exploration.
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