Classic Haute Route Overview
Stretching slightly more than 180 kilometres (110 miles) from the charming resort town of Chamonix, France to the iconic mountaineering hub of Zermatt, Switzerland, the Classic Haute Route is one of the world’s top trekking destinations.
Over the course of two weeks, trekkers will traverse a series of high alpine passes, cross through stunning valleys and over the massive glaciers that created them.
Overall, participants should expect to make a combined ascent of 15,200 metres (50,000 feet) over the course of the two weeks.
Each night, trekkers stay in a classic mountain hut, enjoying some of the best views in the Alps before heading out onto the trail the following morning.
While the entire trip can be done by fit participants in as little as six days, many opt to take the full two weeks. This allows trekkers to head on side hikes or climb some of the mountains en route.
Quick Facts about the Classic Haute Route
- Away from the Classic Haute Route, there is also a Walker’s Haute Route. At slightly more than 200 kilometres (125 miles), the route is perfect for participants with no mountaineering experience.
- Most people who opt to take the Classic Haute Route will begin the adventure with an ascent of Mont Blanc.
- During the winter, the Classic Haute Route becomes a popular ski touring destination. Over the course of a week, skiers can take either a high or low variation (depending on ability level) of the route almost continuously from Chamonix to Zermatt.
History of the Classic Haute Route
Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, members of the English Alpine Club would travel to the base of Mont Blanc and spend about two weeks trekking to the Matterhorn, climbing various peaks along the way.
These Englishman called the trek “the High Level Route” and it soon rose in popularity, eventually being converted into the French translation of the name, Haute Route.
By the beginning of the twentieth century the modern route that people take today was well established and attracting avid outdoor adventurers each year.
By 1911, the ski touring version of the Haute Route was also established. Since then the route has continued to grow in popularity.
Experience Required for Trekking the Classic Haute Route
While the Classic Haute Route is not overly technical, it does require some glacier hiking with crampons and ice axes. As a result, most guides recommend some previous mountaineering experience.
Participants planning to head out on the Classic Haute Route should also have a fairly high level of physical fitness as completing the route in time requires consecutive hours of hiking on rough terrain and at fairly high elevation (3,000 metres/ 9,800 feet or more).
Ski tourers planning to head out on the Classic Haute Route should be very strong off-piste skiers with prior avalanche rescue training and some mountaineering experience as well.
For those without the necessary experience, it is possible to take the Walker’s Haute Route, which stays at lower elevations throughout.
Main Routes on the Classic Haute Route
Overall, there are about 13 variations of the Haute Route. However, the Classic Haute Route starts in Chamonix and follows a fairly uniform course.
En route to Zermatt, trekkers will stay in a variety of mountain huts and villages, including: the Le Tour village, the Albert Premier Hut, the Cabane du Trient or Orny Hut, the town of Champex, the Valsorey Hut or Chanrion Hut, the Vignettes Hut, the village of Arolla, the Bertol Hut and the Schonbiel Hut.
Trekkers will spend most of the classic Haute Route at fairly high elevation, crossing mountain passes and traversing glaciers, while occasionally descending into wooded valleys and passing by lake shores.
Weather conditions and the fitness level as well as ability of the group will dictate the exact combination of trails that are taken.