Guide Steve Bank’s account of the 2010 Haute Route European Ski Tour: April 10-18.
Another successful Haute Route ski mountaineering week from Chamonix to Zermatt with two Aussies, father and daughter, and two good buddies from Vermont. The week provided the best weather in a long time. The route has a 50% success rate, mostly due to weather, but this week had no excuses.
Day 1: We warmed up on the classic Valle Blanche with sunshine and great spring conditions. The next day we headed off of the Grands Montets tram and down the Glacier du Rognons to the Argentier hut. We were greeted in the morning by 10” of fresh and blue skies. This would set the scene for the week.
Day 3-4: We would have usually headed over the Col du Chardonet, but I got word that the back side had melted out quite a bit and the usual jam up of skiers at the top of the pass was getting out of hand. I decided to swing off the beaten path and to the Col du Passon instead. This led us into a more secluded area with just a short climb up a couloir to put us up on the massive Glacier du Tour. Crossing this huge plateau in the warm sunshine, we were treated to an air show by local stunt pilots buzzing the granite spires and doing touch-and-go landings on the glacier. Another climb over the Col du Tour and we traverse the Trient Glacier into Switzerland and on to the Trient hut, one of the nicest on the traverse.
That evening it clouded up and began to snow. This could be an issue as the Trient hut is not situated in an area conducive to skiing in a whiteout or with elevated avalanche danger. Luckily we awoke in the morning to another 8” of fresh snow and bluebird conditions. Unfortunately, Ian blew out a binding descending down to Champex, forcing some creative one ski action through the new snow. A quick taxi shuttle to the ski lifts of Verbier found us at a good ski shop which was able to make the necessary repairs and get us on our way up to the Mt. Fort hut for the evening.
Day 5: We again woke to fresh snow and blue skies, could this be possible? Up and over the Col du la Chaux and on to the coveted Rosablach Summit. Here we were able to ditch our packs and make a few laps in the fresh snow.
Continuing on we cruised down to the Prafleuri hut for another afternoon of beers in the sun. This afternoon we were treated to another air show with helicopters using explosives for avalanche control work to get ready for the upcoming Patroullie du Glaciers ski mountaineering race coming through the following weekend.
Day 6: Took us along the traverse of the Lac du Dix and up to the Dix hut. Incredibly warm temperatures and sunny skies left us melting on the glacier in the mid day heat. Cold beers at the hut were a welcomed treat, and we spent the afternoon drying and tanning in the sun.
The next morning again gave us a few inches of fresh snow with the morning sun shining off of the amazing peak of the Mont Blanc du Cheilon. A long day with perfect conditions took us over the Col du Serpentine, the Cold du Brenay and up to the summit of the Pigne d’Arrola. Here the skiing was amazing, and untouched as most people, including the heli-assisted skiers, ski the other side of the peak. We ditched our packs at the bottom and made three great laps in perfect boot top powder before heading down the other side to the Vignettes hut. This final stop on the tour is certainly the most dramatic. Weaving through crevasses and seracs high above the valley floor, the hut is perched on the side of a cliff. It is truly a wonder of Swiss engineering. Our last evening in the mountains we were treated to a fantastic meal and the drinking songs of the German ski tourers at the next table.
In the morning we found cloudy skies and snow obscuring the skies. A long day over the Col de E’veque, down the Arrola Glacier, up the Col du Mont Brule and into Italy on the Haut Tsa de Tsan Glacier in whiteout conditions proved a bit challenging, but the snow conditions made it entirely bearable. The skies began to clear as we skinned up the Col du Vapelline and we got a magnificent view of the Matterhorn and our final destination of Zermatt. Entering the Stockji Glacier, and our final climb of the trip we found great snow for the long descent down onto the Zmut Glacier and then cruised along the base of the North Face of the Matterhorn and onto the ski slopes of Zermatt. Stopping for celebratory beers and snacks at the first restaurant we were ecstatic with the success of the trip, the perfect weather and fantastic skiing along the way.
Join us next year for the 2011 Haute Route Traverse - Dates just announced!