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Top Ten Treks in The World - #5 - Haute Route, France, Switzerland

Haute Route - France, SwitzerlandBoth the Tour de Mont Blanc and the Haute Route offer similar highlights. Either could be listed before the other on any top ten list of great hikes. Both are significant undertakings with knee punishing elevation gains and losses. I've placed the Haute Route ahead of the Tour de Mont Blanc simply because it is a destination trek. There's something special about hiking somewhere and not just in a circle. Maybe it's my bias from too many repetitions around a track, but I love the idea of not ending up where you started. With the Haute Route, you get just that. A glistening beacon, the Matterhorn, guiding you to your final destination.

Haute Route, in French, literally means "high route." While there are many high walks now dubbed an Haute Route, the original is the Alpine path connecting Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. Passing ten of the twelve loftiest peaks in the Alps, it is no surprise that it is skied extensively during the winter and well-hiked during the summer. Most hikers choose to travel from Chamonix to Zermatt for a dramatic finish at the base of the majestic Matterhorn, but you can go in either direction. We followed the traditional route and were glad we did. After so many days on the trail, the Matterhorn was a remarkable icon to lead us to the trail's end Shorter options are plentiful, ranging from very accessible day hikes to multi-day excursions.

We hiked the Haute Route directly after finishing the Tour de Mont Blanc. We were also fortunate enough to time both perfectly for the unmatched display of wildflowers. Hitting the peak season during our hike around the Mont Blanc massif, we continued following the peak season as we gained altitude and walked the higher Haute Route. As you hike by meadows filled with abundant wildflowers, shimmering tarns and glaciers, you climb up ten alpine passes known as cols. You will be humbled by the scale of the valleys spilling in front of you.

Similar to other treks in the Alps, it is crowded without many usable campsites and reservations for the gites & auberges (huts) are recommended. However, unlike the seemingly uncontrolled masses on Mt. Kilimanjaro or the Inca Trail, the crowds were manageable and there was plenty of room on the trail to spread out and find some solitude.

Planning your trek requires great flexibility due to the ever-changing mountain weather and you are sure to encounter inclement weather. We did and we suffered for it. Far better would be to plan for extra days and sit out a day here or there when the weather turns against you.

There is a choice to take a higher route requiring some technical skill and crampons. However, my goal is to hike not climb, so we traveled the lower level option that does not require crossing glaciers that can collapse rendering the trail impassable. While the lower route does have the risk of rock slides, avalanche areas are well marked. Our only casualty was my GPS which picked a very inopportune time to pop off my belt. It dropped into the scree of an avalanche zone and sits there probably to this day.

Traveling through two French speaking countries, it is helpful if you can speak a little French and any effort is appreciated. For me, my French speaking wife made this very easy. However, if you are linguistically challenged enough English is spoken at the huts to get by, but in some of the very small, rural mountain communities only French is understood. Whatever your language skills, you are sure to take in unrivaled views as you travel through the birthplace of European mountaineering in the 1900’s.

You can read a more complete story of our hike at our sister site www.greattreks.com or purchase our book A Journey Along the World's Great Treks.

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