The Haute Route – walking the Swiss Alps, August 2015

It was time once again to challenge the physical body and so I have just returned sun-bronzed and weary from hiking the walker’s ‘Haute Route’ – a classic summer trek across the Swiss Alps. From the shadow of Mont Blanc in France to the iconic Matterhorn in Switzerland this alpine journey has taken me 10 days and 170km on foot, brushing by around 40 of the 4000 metre- plus peaks dotted along the roof of Europe. A stroll this was not with the average day demanding more than a 1000m ascent and descent crossing over a dozen mountain passes! The rewards for the energetic, however, are stupendous panoramas of snowcapped peaks, glittering glaciers and the formidable serrated slate peaks of the Alps.

The vertiginous sheer slopes drop down to valleys dotted with Swiss villages – the cookie-cutter wooden chalets are resplendent with blooming geraniums and pansies spilling from planter boxes this time of year. Hidden below ridges are turquoise blue glacial lakes – jewels for the adventurous. The soundtrack of my hike across the Swiss Alps has been the tinkling and clanging of cowbells as you cross high mountain meadows and the trails are lined with ephemeral wildflowers – their vivid colours a distraction from the heavy pack on your shoulders and the ache in your knees. From deep violet gentians to white snowbells, yellow buttercups, pink flockenflume & hollyhock and purple asters, the sun-drenched ridges turn into an urgent summer floriade. Wild berries hang from rambling bushes by the trail – raspberries and blueberries were an easy forager’s treat. Marmots and ermine darted among burrows squeaking their alarm calls at our approach and we spotted high mountain chamois and ibex clinging to the sheer cliffs.

Mountain huts dot the Haute Route mountain landscape for shelter- simple refuges serving hearty meals and dormitory rooms that sleep hikers and climbers by the dozen (BYO earplugs!). On many days however a knee-breaking descent (or occasional convenient cablecar) can drop you down to the nearest village where a cold beer awaits and roesti and cheese fondue are well earned supper. Memories of this extraodinary trek for me will also be the endless click-clack of trekking poles, scrambling across boulder fields and loose scree slopes, wading knee-deep across a swollen glacial river, clinging to chains edging my way along knife-edge precipices and climbing 20m high ladders to the crest of a glacial moraine (“near- death experience number 9” according to my fellow hiker Mike from Vermont, USA).

I’ve travelled with an Alpine guide (Happy Tracks) and a small group and shared the camaraderie with other hikers undertaking the arduous but exhilarating journey. The aches and bruises are quickly forgotten when you stand together atop a mountain pass eye to eye with jagged summits or when regaling the challenges at the end of the day with the adventurous few!


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