Chamonix to Zermatt Glacier Haute Route Hike

Hiking on a crevassed glacier

In 2003, we hiked the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route, on trails, up and over countless passes, for a Backpacker Magazine feature. Ten years later, nothing much has changed, yet everything is changing. We’re still making photos of mountain sports and living in the Alps, but the mountains we work and play in are very much different than just ten years back. The glaciers are disappearing and leaving scars in their wake.

Two days ago we arrived in Zermatt after six days of walking from Chamonix, it was our fourth time making our way from Chamonix, twice on skis, twice on foot – but this time on foot and on glaciers, the Glacier Haute Route.

We’d been hearing more and more about the tour and how special it is to travel on the glaciers, especially at a time when they are rapidly decreasing in size. Our friends Mark and Kathy of Cosley Houston Alpine Guides have started, with great success, offering the tour on their schedule. The glacier version is actually easier than the hiking trail as there is much less up and down. For the glaciers, the route stays high and avoids the valley floors, sticking to much the same route as the ski tour itinerary. It also requires glacier travel and route finding skills, good weather and knowledge of the Alps.

We did the trip as a project for several publications with writer Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad and our good friend Jennifer Senik. For six days we walked under mostly solid blue skies, and for five nights we slept in wildly placed mountain huts.

On our first night, at the Cabane d’Orny, we had the pleasure to speak with the hut keeper who’d been there since 1986. She let her photos do the talking in response to our questions. We gathered around in shock at her clear evidence of what is happening, we only had to peer out the windows to compare our now with her photos of a not so distant then. I encourage anyone wanting to witness this landscape to come and take a walk, but make it soon.

Day 1, leaving Chamonix alongside the Glacier du Tour

Brendan and Jennifer at Cabane d’Orny

Brendan ready to roll out of the Cabane d’Orny

Brendan and Jennifer dodging rain drops, day 2

Day 3, arriving to the first sight of the Glacier d’Otemma, a long walk.

The toe of the Glacier d’Otemma

Checking the map where the glacier splits

Day 3, Glacier d’Otemma, a good, long time to stare at your feet

Day 3, evening walk to watch the moonrise from the Vignette Hut

Day 4’s hut, the Bertol, is in the center of the photo

Jennifer in the Bertol Hut

Day 4, Jennifer headed for a date with the sunrise

The crew on the Tete Blanche, the last high point before the long drop to Zermatt. The Matterhorn is in the distance.

Day 5, Back on solid ground

Day 6 is about finished, Janine smells the hut, and after 5 days, she also happens to smell like a hut

The Schonbiel Hut sits across from the not often seen northwest side of the Matterhorn

Day 6, headed for Zermatt

The huts may spoil, but they don’t have real coffee – finally, town.

A huge thanks to Outdoor Research for keeping us out and in perfect gear.

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Comments 4

  1. Aren’t the Swiss huts the only places were you don’t need real coffee? Instead they have Ovo which surely makes up for it fora few days ;-).

    1. Post

      I don’t understand your sentence, “where you don’t need real coffee” – is this something possible? 😉

  2. So that’s where Mr Semi Rad was hanging out this summer :-).
    Impressive pictures, especially the feature image. This looks like Alaska with “refugios” 🙂

    Keep it up!

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