Haute Route Beta


Original Post
Tom Halicki · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 5

A friend and I are hoping to do the Haute Route in April without a guide. Since the guide services typically make the hut reservations for clients, I'm looking for some beta on making hut reservations. I know the typical advice is to make reservations as soon as possible.

Is anyone aware of any companies or guide services that will make the reservations for you if you pay them? They're making reservations for their trips so I was wondering whether they'd be willing to make some easy money by booking two more individuals, just not as part of their trip.

If I have to get all the phone numbers (and the odd web site) for the huts and call them and make reservations myself, how do they handle cancellations and weather delays? Since there's a good chance of bad weather, how easy is it to stay an extra night in a hut or rebook a hut for the next day? I should imagine this happens regularly. What happens if you're making good time and can skip ahead one hut that you don't have reservations for? Do you actually get turned away?

I'd appreciate anyone sharing their experiences with making their own reservations.

BigNobody · · all over, mostly Utah · Joined Nov 2013 · Points: 0

My only advice is to not "piggyback" the guides and their clients. They will be rather frosty towards you at the hut and on the route. Find your own way through the glacier skiing. I have a few old friends who are Euro guides and this ticks most of them off.

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,115

I have skied the Haute Route multiple times.

It used to be the easy way to do it is to have the Office de Haute Montagne in Chamonix call the refuges/cabanes you want to stay at. However, most have email and on online form so you can just send them email.

For instance, here are the huts along the way.

Argentiere Refuge: chamonet.com/accommodation/...

Trient Cabane: cas-diablerets.ch/trient.htm

Valsorey Cabane: valsorey.ch/page/index.php?...

Vignettes Cabane: cabanedesvignettes.ch

If you get stuck at a refuge/cabane because of weather or turn up without a reservation you will not be turned away. However, you might be sleeping on the floor without a blanket and you will probably not be fed anything hot unless there are left overs. That said if you get delayed the refuge staff will often call to the next refuge/cabane to get you reservation or at least let you know that you will be sleeping on the floor.

As for skipping a refuge/cabane. I have done that (I actually went from the Valsoray Cabane to Arolla in a day). However, part of skiing Haute Route is the experience of hanging out, drinking wine, eating snacks, etc. taking with folks. All depends on the weather.

A couple of tips - join the AAC so you have rescue insurance and will get a discount at the huts. Watch your shit, theft is problem, bring ear plugs, bring slippers (crogs) for the huts and the train, hope you do not stuck next to Hans who like sausage and stinky cheese and likes to cuddle while snoring in your ear. Check your dates - if over Easter breaks it will be crowded. Oh bring your credit card and a light pack.

When in Chamonix take a day and ski the Vallée Blanche.

Tom Halicki · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 5

Thanks Allen. So you would recommend a light down sleeping bag in case we have to sleep on the floor? Also, we're thinking of taking the Verbier route. How straightforward is it to get a conveyance to Verbier after skiing the Val d'Arpette to Champex? Once at Verbier, do you just hit the ticket office and get a one-way lift ticket to go to the Mont Fort hut?

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,115
Tom Halicki wrote:Thanks Allen. So you would recommend a light down sleeping bag in case we have to sleep on the floor? Also, we're thinking of taking the Verbier route. How straightforward is it to get a conveyance to Verbier after skiing the Val d'Arpette to Champex? Once at Verbier, do you just hit the ticket office and get a one-way lift ticket to go to the Mont Fort hut?
During the regular season season I have not take anything more than the clothes I want to wear. I have gone early season when only the winter part of the hut is open and then we did take a light bag.

As for getting from Champex to Verbier, you should not have any problem getting a taxi. And yeah just grab a one time lift ticket at the office. Not a big deal.
Tom Halicki · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 5

So, Allen, did you not take a harness, glacier rope, etc?

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 9,632

Keep in mind the glaciers in Europe are changing rapidly.

So sections of the HR which used to be "normal" are now avoided.
A local guide will know the current state -- and will have equipment (which the guide will actually be practiced in using it) to get you through some of the sections which have gotten merely "very difficult". Or alternate routes.

Especially this year: virtually no snow at all so far (so gaps in the glacier are not going to fill in by April).

And the long-term climate forecast for April 2017 is very very hot. So bridges will collapse early in the season. Frequent bad visibility (because warmer air carries more moisture).
Lack of overnight refreeze because of general warmth and lack of radiative cooling on cloudy nights. Much easier to punch down into a covered/hidden crevasse. Likely to have giant wet-snow avalanches.
If don't get hit by one or buried, some sections might be very difficult uphill or unskiable downhill because of previous-avalanche debris.

my suggestion ...
If you're going to France Alps and southwest Switerland this April, be very flexible in your plans (as in bring some rock-climbing gear?). Come prepared to do only a section of the HR that fits a favorable weather window. Bring a list of shorter tours that are not connected with the HR.

Ken

P.S. Calanques (in case the HR conditions/weather turns really bad) ...
hiking and trail-running and sport and multi-pitch (white limestone rising up our of the deep blue sea) can be great down by Marseille + Cassis + La Ciotat at that time of year. Only 4 hours drive from Chamonix.
. . (Or sport climbing at Finale Ligure is easy to drive to, starting from the Mont Blanc tunnel or Grand St Bernard tunnel).

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,115
Tom Halicki wrote:So, Allen, did you not take a harness, glacier rope, etc?
Sorry, I should have been clearer as I was referring to just clothing / sleeping gear. But yes, we took all that as well as crampons/ice ax and everything needed for crevasse and avalanche rescue. At the Col du Chardonnet I just down climbed with crampons and ice axe rather than rappel because of the bottleneck, waiting for a rope, and the wind was ripping. I also used crampons for the Grande Combin. The only place that cracks were a real concern was the last day going into Zermatt. But it all varies.

One other item to consider, if you are using randonee skis, a ski crampon maybe worth considering. It just depends on conditions and comfort. The last time I was on the route the snow was firm and fast, not enough for a ski crampon but under certain conditions it would be.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 9,632
Allen Sanderson wrote:At the Col du Chardonnet I just down climbed with crampons and ice axe rather than rappel because of the bottleneck
I would never cross the Col du Chardonnet with a partner who could not down-climb it on crampons.

Often the N side is much more difficult than it used to be, can be a Zoo with multiple parties confused and skiers hung stuck in mid-rappel.

In recent years, many guided parties just take a different route.

Ken
Tom Halicki · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 5

Thanks, all. Very helpful. Not great news about the snow there currently.

ARK · · New York, NY · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 155
Tom Halicki wrote:If I have to get all the phone numbers (and the odd web site) for the huts and call them and make reservations myself, how do they handle cancellations and weather delays?
I've made hut reservations in Switzerland and usually they just take your name and phone # and are pretty relaxed about cancellations/changes, especially if it's due to weather. It's not like they could automatically charge your credit card even if they wanted to.
ARK · · New York, NY · Joined Sep 2014 · Points: 155
Allen Sanderson wrote:A couple of tips - join the AAC so you have rescue insurance and will get a discount at the huts.
I don't think AAC membership alone will get you a discount (didn't work for me last summer). You need this as well: americanalpineclub.org/hut-...
Tom Halicki · · Boulder, CO · Joined Jun 2006 · Points: 5

Thanks, ARK.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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