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Guided or unguided tours
Posted: 09 May 2009 04:57 AM  
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2009-05-08

I have been touring the Sierras in California for many years, and am considering a Haute Route trip.
After reading O’Connors’ book I wanted more first-hand accounts from people who’ve done it
I’m looking for opinions of people who’ve skied the Haute Route tours, either guided or unguided, regarding the necessity of guides.
Greg Turk
Carlsbad, CA

Posted: 09 May 2009 08:59 PM   [ # 1 ]  
Total Posts:  2234
Joined  2003-10-24

I will point this thread out to KenR who has done the HR a couple of times and probably has some good advice.

Posted: 10 May 2009 11:26 PM   [ # 2 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

Yes I’ve done the Chamonix-Zermatt HR twice, both times without a guide. Both times we had good weather and snow conditions. Both times we were not committed to doing the whole thing, just what parts we had good weather for.

But that was a few years ago. I hear it’s gotten more popular since then. So just negotiating with the guardians of the huts could be much easier with a guide. (and if you’re going to go with a guide, I recommend getting them as _local_ as possible—there’s plenty of good English-speaking European guides: local knowledge of the current state of glaciers matters, and local knowledge of alternatives for bad weather matters).

The Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route crosses lots of crevasses (unlike the Sierras), and a couple of pass crossings which are technnically more difficult than most passes in the Sierras. (I’ve skied the whole “red line” from south of Mt Whitney to north of Yosemite, also the “Sierra High Route")
If you’re not sure how you’ll handle crevasse-fall hazard and steeper passes, you should go with a guide.

If you feel you _need_ to accomplish “finishing” the route, then you should hire a guide.


* there are 327 more interesting skiing things to do than the HR in the Western Alps. I do not understand why Americans get so fixated on the HR. The percentage of serious European backcountry skiers who have done the HR is rather small. (I did it a second time only because I was dragged along by my American partners—before I discovered I could do much better in the Alps if I connected with local European partners.)

* the traditional standard time (with decent weather) for “tourist” skiers finishing the HR is about 6.5 days. (Actually lots of groups don’t finish at all). But by modern European touring standards, that’s a slow pace. A fit party could to finish in 4 days, by skipping some huts. I think serious racers can do it in 2 days.
I think most guided groups will stick to the 6.5 day “program”—and a pace that slow would drive me nuts. That might be a reason to look for an alternative to the “standard” guided approach.

Posted: 11 May 2009 03:57 PM   [ # 3 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  139
Joined  2005-05-06

I think “people” ie “us” need to start off with the big name stuff for a number of reasons.
1. We have to start somewhere and the big name stuff is the most obvious.
2. If we do this stuff we can mention it to our mates and they know what we are talking about.
3. Because we want to know what all the fuss is about.
I did the Haute Route as my first ever tour in ‘98 (the first time I ever put skins on was on the Argentiere glacier at the start), I went unguided with a mate in mixed weather and had a really great tour, the mixed weather meant a lot of parties didn’t set off which left us with about 6 people on the route which ended up as just us on the last day. we went via the Plateau du Couloir - I think most people go via Verbier nowadays.
I would not be interested in doing it again though.

As far as guide VS non guide. We had fairly minimal off piste skiing experience but lots of Alpine climbing experience. We figured if the skiing was that hard then we’d take the ski’s off and walk (very British). The weather worked for us. On the days we needed good visibility we had it, on the snowy days the navigation was straightforward. Our luck was in and we were out for 4 nights. But if we’d faced a bad weather day on a crucial leg then we could either wait it out or head for the valley.

My philosophy for climbing Alpine peaks has always been “keep climbing up until you reach the top or you can’t go on, then turn round and descend” (obviously this poses a problem on a traverse). It’s more of a philosophy than anything else. It says to me “you don’t have to reach the top”. I guess I have turned back as many times as I have “summited”. The less experienced count the retreats as failures. The same holds true for ski tours.


[ Edited: 11 May 2009 07:25 PM by endlessride]

Posted: 11 May 2009 10:16 PM   [ # 4 ]  
Sr. Member
Total Posts:  270
Joined  2008-01-31

Yes I think you’re right about why lots of English-speaking skiers do “big name” stuff. But there’s other “big name” stuff that actually has more interesting _skiing_ than the Chamonix - Zermatt HR—or else a higher “density” of the scenery stuff people are likely looking for in the HR.

Simple better alternative is to spend 4 days around Chamonix and 3 days around Zermatt (with local guides)—and skip the hut-to-hut stuff in between which doesn’t include good _skiing_.  Yet simpler: 7 days around Chamonix. There’s nothing stopping you from staying in huts while you’re around Chamonix or Zermatt—as long as they’re used to get you close to great _skiing_.

So here’s my start on a list of “better” big name stuff:

around Mont Blanc:
* Three Cols tour (could be done w 2, 1, or 0 hut nights)
* Aiguille d’Argentiere
* Col d’Entreves or Tour Ronde or Punta Helbronner starting from Aiguille du Midi and finishing down Mer de Glace to Montenvers.
* Breche Puisseux
* Mont Blanc: climb up by the “Three Mont Blancs”, descend north side.
* Mont Blanc (or Dome du Gouter): climb up from Grands Mulets hut via north Ridge of Dome du Gouter, descent north side.
* something starting at the Flegere lifts and ending at the Buet train station.
(plus several other great tours with English-language guidebook descriptions).

around Zermatt:
* Dufourspitze NW side, finishing on W ridge mixed rock/ice climb.
* Signalkuppe + Zumsteinspitze from Monte Rosa hut
* Castor + descent Schwartztor (from Klein Matterhorn lift)
* Liskamm

between Chamonix + Zermatt:
* Arolla - Dix hut - Vignettes hut - Arolla loop (with 2 or 1 or 0 hut nights)
. . . various side trips possible.
* Arolla - Bertol hut - Col du Mont Brule - Arolla loop (with 1 or 0 hut nights)
. . . (or for either of those two above, optional finish in Zermatt).

Savoie in France:
* Grande Casse
* Grand Bec by the loop route in the Cabau (Olizane) guidebook.
* Mont Pourri
* Dome de la Sache by the loop route in the Cabau (Olizane) guidebook.
* Aiguille de la Grande Sassiere by the loop route in the Cabau guidebook.
* Carro - Evettes - Averole traverse: Yes it’s hut-to-hut, but with skiable peaks.

Ecrins in France:
* Dome de Neige des Ecrins.
* Grande Ruine (and various other tours from Refuge de l’Alpe de Villar d’Arene)
* various tours from la Berarde and nearby huts.

(plus lots more in France)

central Switzerland:
* Berner Oberland 4000m peaks—huts with _skiing_, and no feeling of a need to move on to another hut every day.
* some of those 4000m peaks around Saas Fee must be worthwhile (though I haven’t done any yet).

eastern Switzerland:
* Piz Bernina (not often in condition for best skiing approach)
* Toedi

It used to be that we did the Haute Route because it was the only thing we could be English-language guidebooks, and because we hadn’t heard of much else.

Well nowadays many of the tours listed above do have English-language guidebooks.

And if you’ve read this note this far, now you _have_ heard of them.


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