Haute Route Ski Tour 2009…
Crested Butte Mountain Guides has once again successfully completed our guided ski tour of the world famous Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route Ski Tour. This year CBMG Owner & Guide Jayson Simons-Jones and Swiss IFMGA Guide Cedric Zulauff took a group of 5 Americans (4 from local Crested Butte) on this 9-day European ski tour.
This year we were greeted with excellent snow conditions having arrived on the tail end of a stormy and snowy week in Chamonix and then were blessed with, an incredibly rare for the Alps, 8-day stretch of immaculate Colorado bluebird weather of which to enjoy our surroundings.
To balance out our luck of good snow and nearly perfect weather we were of course forced to deal with some logistical challenges and an injury that turned our original 5 folks into a final 2 that finished the complete traverse to Zermatt.
As per usual we started Day 1 with a day trip to the world-famous Vallee Blanche, a 9,000′ glacial valley ski run accessed from the top of the Aiguille de Midi cablecar and finishing by skiing through the forests into the town of Chamonix.
Despite the incredible first day, the sheer length and vertical of this descent proved too much for our one participant from Taos, NM, and he opted to meet us in Verbier in a few days and then call it quits for the trip from there. Better to have found out here though, as after all, this is why we choose to start with this day as an intro to the upcoming week. Thankfully though bluebird and warm weather made for an incredible start to our trip!
Day 2, the real start of the tour, has us leaving from the top of the Grand Montet cablecar in Argentiere and skiing down to the Argentiere Glacier, where we were forced to forgo the under construction Argentiere Hut, and head straight into Switzerland via the technical rappells over the Col du Chardonnet and then another ski and climb up and over the Fenetre de Saliena and on across the mighty Trient Plateau to the Trient Hut….where we just made it in time for dinner. High winds and a stormy morning made this day the longest by far and dished out the worst weather we saw all trip.
Day 3, after a quick ski down the Trient Glacier and a short climb over the Col des Ecandies, we headed down the long and broad Val d’ Arpette, where unfortunately near treeline, Kate Tippie (KT) fell in the challenging snow and ended up with blown knee ligaments requiring an extraction down to the tiny town of Champex via our guide’s rescue sled and a short snowmobile ride from a local farmer. Instead of a great ski and quick taxi transfer into Verbier, we ended up with a slight detour and lost KT and her brother Chris (leaving for support of his sister getting around on crutches) for the remainder of the trip, leaving us with just the other brother/sister duo of Eric & Celene Bridgford and their super VIP status with 2 guides.
Day 4, now we were finally in the flow as this stretch from Verbier to Zermatt is a continuous ski tour without anymore lifts and taxis and consisits of just the daily routine of leaving from the hut early in the morning, ski touring through some of the most incredible terrain in all of the Alps and then finishing by early-mid afternoon at the next hut, with enough time for a beer, a plate of roesti, and a nap before dinner and then doing it all over again.
This day out of the Mont Fort Hut on the Verbier ski resort takes us up and over 2 cols and down onto the massive glacier below the Rosablanche. Here we were able to summit our first peak (Rosablanche 3344 meters), and then enjoyed an incredible ski run down the glacier to the sunny and warm Praflueri Hut.
Day 5, saw us take a pre-dawn start and then a fairly large detour up onto the Pointe du Vasevay (3356 meters) above Lac des Dix instead of the standard long sidehill traverse along the Lake. Here we were able to get off the beaten path and enjoy the majority of our day with the solitude of just our group and the mountains (a rarity in the Alps), and got an incredible 1000 meter ski descent through powder and perfect corn down to the end of the lake, before a scorching and slow grind of a climb up the glacier in the hot sun to the ever popular and always crowded Dix Hut.
Day 6, was another big day (~1000 meters) up over the Pigne d’ Arolla (3790 meters), the high point of the route, where we enjoyed our small summit with nothing short of 50 other European ski tourers before a great ski down to the precariously perched Vignette Hut and an afternoon in the sun at the hut admiring our tracks and sharing storied around the crowded hut with all the other international parties in the hut.
Day 7, we enjoyed a long and mellow glacial climb up to the Col L’Eveque and a long and mellow glacier ski on the Arolla Glacier down towards the small Swiss viallge of Arolla, before cutting out and climbing up to the unbelieveable and incredible feat of hut engineering that is the moderatley sized Bertol Hut. Perched at 3311 meters and requiring a hair raising rock scramble protected with big heavy chains bolted into the rock for a handrai,l and then a looooong and exposed steep metal ladder climb to reach the hut, this shelter brought to mind a shipwreck on a rock outcrop high above the surrounding glaciers.
As one would expect in the Alps this hut was of course full too, despite the taxing approach, and a joyous and celebratory atmosphere was enjoyed that evening over rounds of genope and under the alpenglow on the towering Matterhorn (4476 m) and Dent Blanche (4352 m) peaks just across the glacier….for this was the final night of our tour.
Day 8, the final climb to the summit of the Tete Blanche (3702 m) and then a looong descent into the Swiss village of Zermatt, all the while under the towering presence of the Matterhorn and its imposing North Face. As had become the pattern, we once again enjoyed cloudless skies and endless views across Switzerland and on into Italy and France as well.
Then it was down, down, down, turn after turn for almost 10,000′ onto the ski slopes in Zermatt and on down to one of the mid-mountain restaurants where we met up with KT & Chris for a celebratory drink and our final descent straight into the car-free streets of Zermatt and a short walk across town to our hotel, awaiting clean luggage, a hot shower and a much earned celebration that evening.
Over all, despite KT’s injury, Chris’ brotherly sacrifice and Steven’s opting out, the trip turned out to be a blast…with incredible picture perfect weather almost the entire time, some great skiing, incredible scenery, and some magical moments amidst the mighty European Alps.
Thanks all for an incredible trip, …it will be hard to top next year.