HIKING THE ALPS: I’ll Take the High Road: Trek from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, Guest Post by Owen Floody



In June 2016, our friend Owen Floody hiked the Haute Route from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland. Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.  He writes, "A personal goal in the early years of my retirement is the completion of many of the world’s most scenic and famous treks: These fit perfectly with my interest in landscape photography and also represent activities that are best done now, while you know that you can." Here is his report of his trek and a few of his excellent photographs.
The Haute (High) Route is one of the most famous and challenging of European treks.  It begins near Mont Blanc, in Chamonix, France, and ends near the equally famous Matterhorn, in Zermatt, Switzerland.  My specific trek (the Classic Haute Route, offered by Wilderness Travel) involved about 65 miles of hiking spread over 8 days (total duration of trek = 12 days, including practice and rest days) and concentrated at altitudes of 6000-9600 ft.
The significant physical challenge posed by this trek related to altitude, but also to the many ascents and descents.  These each averaged about 2900 feet per day, with maxima of 4300 (a descent about which one of my knees still complains).  
Second and possibly most important of all, the terrain was varied and often very difficult, including everything from slippery loose scree to large rocks to even larger boulders to ledges and even ladders.  Imagine a steep descent over scree or hopping from rock to rock or scrambling through a boulder field and you will get the picture.
Any negative impact of these challenges was greatly eased by our amazing luck with the weather: In a summer of very mixed weather in Europe, we were blessed with clear sunny skies on all but one day.  In addition, we could recover in comfortable lodgings (dormitories in mountain-top refuges on two nights, rooms in small village hotels on most of the others), though only after enjoying the wonderful meals and wines forced upon us by our enthusiastic guides. 
I am sure that all of us expected to also be compensated for our efforts by spectacular mountain views.  I am happy to say that we were not disappointed.  We enjoyed the expected, but still wonderful, views of snow-covered mountains.  In addition, we marveled at massive glaciers, lovely lakes, high mountain passes, and beautiful Alpine meadows.  Still I think that my favorite section of the trek was that passing through the Grand Desert, a relatively stark, but starkly beautiful, moonscape of a valley scoured out long ago by a retreating glacier.  And, of course, the stunning views of the Matterhorn that greeted us upon our arrival at our ultimate destination of Zermatt didn’t hurt either.
In conclusion, this clearly was a successful and impressive trek through a beautiful and easily accessible part of the world.  Even so, I am uncertain about how to compare this with my other European trek, the equally famous Tour du Mont Blanc.  These share a focus on the Alps and even have routes that overlap in part.  The Haute Route definitely is the more strenuous of the two.  But are the views that it offers superior to those on the TMB?  My personal belief is that the views are more similar than different in quality, and that the TMB, as a consequence, may offer the better value for the money and effort.

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