Updated 24th Jan 2019
Find out what fried chicken has to do with answering this question and creating the perfect Walker’s Haute Route self-guided hiking itinerary for you
What is the Walker’s Haute Route?
The Walker’s Haute Route is a world-class multi-day hiking trip starting at the Mont Blanc Massif in France and finishing at the Matterhorn in Switzerland. It is regarded by many as the best hut to hut hiking trail that the Alps has to offer.
There is not one single trail that leads hikers between the two mountains, rather a network of trails offering ten main route variations with a total distance ranging from 160km (~100mi) to 207kms (~128mi). Hikers are required to climb over 11 mountain passes with up to 24,000m (~79,000ft) of total elevation change (ascent + descent) as they wind their way through some of the most breathtaking scenery the Alps has to offer.
If you’ve just discovered the Walker’s Haute Route, you can find out everything you need to know about the trail by clicking here or read my trail report from the first time I hiked the route by clicking here.
How long does it typically take to hike the Walker’s Haute Route?
Hikers typically take between 9 and 14 days to complete the Haute Route. Anything quicker requires Olympic speed walking or part trail running, anything longer is an indication that the hiker has multiple memory sticks full of photos and a mindfulness that others envy.
Rather than leave you with this frustratingly vague range that doesn’t actually help you plan your hiking trip, let me breakdown how I determine how long it will take a hiker.
There are two main factors that will determine how long it takes someone to hike from Chamonix to Zermatt;
I have been thinking about how to ask these two questions for over 18 months now. The answers would become the key inputs into my itinerary model where I would marry them with detailed, up-to-date trail information to produce the perfect hiking plans.
Since August 2018, I’ve worked with over 70 past and future Haute Route hikers from around the world to create the perfect custom itinerary for their needs. The most popular of these itineraries have been turned into my range of instant downloadable packages.
Rather than keep my model a secret, I want to go through how I produce a custom itinerary. This way you can either confidently create your own itinerary, determine whether I already have the perfect itinerary for you ready to download, or that you need a little extra help designing a custom plan. A friend of mine said doing this would be like the Colonel sharing his recipe for the 11 herbs and spices…maybe it is, but if you use this information to create a self-guided itinerary for the Haute Route you’re confident in, I’ve achieved my goal!
Lets get started.
1. Hiking Style
A hiking style encompasses both speed and endurance. Unfortunately it is not enough to simply identify each hiker as a tortoises or a hare…as fun as I thought that would be! Rather, I need to understand the extent that these factors combine to determine how far a hiker should travel each day.
This led me to originally ask the following two questions to determine hiking style;
What is your average hiking speed?
What is the maximum time you’d like to be hiking each day?
If hikers could answer these two questions, itineraries would be easy to build, right? I quickly found that less that 30% of hikers were able to estimate their hiking speed. Elevation changes and high altitude trails are both factors which can change a hiking speed and so I wasn’t too surprised that most found it difficult to estimate. Without an average hiking speed, I needed another way to determine hiking style.
I discovered the solution from going back and forth with hikers on what their pace might be. We’d start by trying to find a comparable trail they’d done then discuss what kind of shape they were in. However, as soon as I shared a table of information with trail statistics for some of the different itinerary lengths, hikers could immediately determine which was best for them. Bingo!
So to answer the first question, I've come up with this statistics summary to help hikers determine their style;
Using a common route puts all the key information in the hikers hands to chose which style suits them best. So these stats have become the ‘herbs’ in my secret itinerary model recipe. Lets move onto the spices.
2. Hiking Preferences
I started out by asking two questions to determine hiking preferences;
How many days do you want to complete the hike in?
Are you planning to camp?
Most hikers were able to answer these questions, however, I found that conditions usually accompanied the answers that required updates to be made before I could use them. For example, there was often conflicts between what the best number of days was for a hiker to complete the Walker’s Haute Route in based on ability and the days they had available to complete the trail. I also found my model was making too many assumptions on accommodation preferences and highlights to be included when some hikers had a very clear view on these components.
Based on the subsequent discussion with customers on their hiking preferences, I’ve found it is best to break this question down into the following parts that focus on the individual variables. Depending on the answers to each, the number of days indicated against the hiking styles in the table above may need to change to create the right self-guided itinerary.
a) Accommodation Preferences
The following accommodation options are available on the Haute Route;
Wild camping: Only permitted in some locations on the trail. I have written a blog post on camping which covers where it is permitted along the trail
Campgrounds with amenities: showers and toilets, sometimes shops and laundry
Mountain huts with no food or showers: Only located at two points on the trail. Cooking facilities/utensils are available at these locations.
Dorm rooms: 4-16 bed rooms are available in mountain huts and some accommodation providers in the alpine villages
Private room with shared bathroom: Most villages have accommodation with these rooms available. There is also 2 x 2 person private rooms at Cabane de Louvie, 4 bed rooms at Cabane du Mont Forte & Cabane de Moiry, and 4-6 bed rooms at Europa Hut for an extra charge.
Private room with ensuite: Most villages have accommodation with these rooms available. No mountain huts has private rooms with ensuites.
In half the locations with accommodation, hikers, will have most of the options above available to choose from. However in the rest, hikers will be limited by choice so may need to compromise on their accommodation preferences if their itinerary requires them to stay a night their. The most common compromise will be to stay in alpine huts which have shared dormitory style accommodation to ensure they see a trail highlight which has been stated as a priority. For this reason, a hikers accommodation preferences can influence the route they take.
Based on the accommodation available, the following options are provided for hikers to choose from;
Private room with ensuite mandatory
Your route will ensure that each day finishes at a location where you can book a private rooms with ensuite. It may result in you missing out on a highlight (such as a night at Cabane de Moiry) where no private room with ensuites are available.
Private room mandatory, ensuite when possible
Your route and itinerary will ensure that each day finishes at a location where you can book a private room. If there is an option to stay at two locations near each other and one has a private rooms with ensuites and the other does not, the former will be chosen. This choice will only be made if it does not materially impact the hiking difficulty for that day and the day after. It may result in you missing out on a highlight (such as a night at Cabane de Moiry) where no private room available, unless you are in a group where booking a room of 4-6 people is possible.
Private room preferred, but not if it means missing a highlight
The primary focus of your route will be to include all the trail highlights (such as a night at Cabane de Moiry) and secondary focus will be finishing each day at a location where private rooms can be booked.
Dorms or low-cost private rooms only
Because the mountain huts all have dorm rooms, the primary focus of your route will be including all the trail highlights. If there is an option to stay at two locations near each other and one has a dorm/low cost private room and the other only has more expensive private rooms, the former will be chosen. This choice will only be made if it does not materially impact the hiking difficulty for that day and the day after.
Wild Camping whenever possible, otherwise campground with amenities
Your itinerary will priorities finishing each day at a wild camping location. If it isn’t permitted or possible for wild camping, a campground with amenities will be chosen
Wild Camping whenever possible, otherwise mountain huts/B&Bs/hotel
Your itinerary will priorities finishing each day at a wild camping location, otherwise in a location with mountain huts/B&Bs/Hotels for you to take a break from your tent
Campground with amenities whenever possible, otherwise wild camping
Your itinerary will priorities finishing each day at campgrounds with amenities, otherwise a wild camping area will be chosen.
Campground with amenities whenever possible, otherwise mountain huts/B&Bs/hotel
Your itinerary will priorities finishing each day at campgrounds with amenities, otherwise in a location with mountain huts/B&Bs/Hotels so you can have a warm shower every night!
Please Note: Choosing a hiking style does not lock you into purchasing that type of accommodation every night. I will ensure that type of accommodation is available for you each night, however, it is then up to you to choose which you'd actually like to book. For example, there are dorms, private rooms with ensuites and private rooms without ensuites in Champex-Lac. If you select the option that 'private rooms with ensuites mandatory' and your itinerary has a night here, your portal will be loaded with the other accommodation types for you to review and choose from too. This way, if you generally prefer private rooms with ensuites but want to have a couple of nights in lower cost accommodation, you can go ahead and book that.
b) Time Constraints
Some hikers only have a set amount of time to complete the hike. Depending on your hiking style and days available, I may be able to provide a self-guided itinerary with a more direct route that can be completed in a shorter amount of time, or suggest parts to skip via bus/train/gondola. This may be at the expense of skipping some of the highlights…but the satisfaction of completing the trail is an important part for hikers that I want to help them achieve! If you don’t have time to complete the shortest route, I’ll suggest where the best places are to enter and exit the trail so you can complete the Walker’s Haute Route in multiple trips.
If you don’t have any time constraints, just say you’re flexible and I’ll use hiking style and other preferences to come up with your route.
c) What are your baggage transfer preferences?
If you want to see your bags throughout the trail, I will not change your overall route, however, I may make small adjustments to your finish locations each day. This will allow you the flexibility to use use my cost effective baggage tranfer plan or a local private company that will provide dedicated support.
All other baggage transfer options will just ensure I include details of relevant service providers in your portal - no impact on your itinerary.
d) Trail Highlights to include
This is a part of my itinerary model which allows specific customisation to ensure I can include specific route highlights at a hiker requests. Having hiked these trails over the last two years, there are some highlights I try to include in every itinerary provided accommodation preferences allow. Here are the main trail highlights along the Haute Route I think hikers should consdier;
Sentier Trail: Amazing balcony trail above the Bagnes Valley with views of the Grand Combin Massif where the original Haute Route ski tour crosses
Grande-Dixence Dam: Stay a night at the base of this Swiss hydroelectric engineering marvel. It is the tallest gravity dam in the world and the tallest dam in Europe
Crossing Chelion Glacier: Experience a self-guided glacier crossing after stopping in at Cabane Des Dix to plot your path and enjoy some food on their patio
Cabane de Moiry: Spend a night at the modern Cabane next to Moiry Glacier with a huge glass facade in the dining room to enjoy the spectacular view
A night at Hotel Weisshorn: An institution of the Swiss Alps, Hotel Weisshorn has been in service for over 130 years. It is perched in isolation with views of the Rhone Valley and the Bernese Alps that come alive at sunset
Europaweg Trail: A high alpine balcony trail running up the Mattertal Valley to the Haute Route finish line, which includes the world's longest suspension bridge.
e) Mountain Huts to include
Similar to trail highlights, most people have seen or heard about a mountain hut that they definitely want to include in their itinerary. I provide a list of these huts for hikers to chose from which are also listed on our accommodations page. If a hiker wants to only stay in private rooms but indicates they want to stay at Cabane de Moiry, I will ensure the itinerary includes this.
3. Bringing it all together
Now that you have my herbs and spices, the final step is combining them with the chicken and cook it! In this case, it’s my database of up-to-date Walker’s Haute Route trail information that I’ve gathered and tested over the last 2 hiking seasons. Not only does it contain statistics like distance and elevation changes for over 90 sub-sections of the trail, I’ve also captured the location of water re-fill, toilets, shortcuts and restaurants/kiosks/supermarkets which are helpful to hikers.
The answers to the questions above are combined with the trail database to determine what the best route and self-guided itinerary is for each hiker plan to complete the Walker’s Haute Route.
How can I help you?
I hope you’ve enjoyed my secret fried chicken recipe. If you’d like me to prepare an itinerary for you or use one I’ve prepared earlier, click on the button below which will take you through the process I’ve just outlined;
Choose your hiking style
Review the itineraries to find one that has the same hiking preferences as you
If you can’t find an itinerary that meets your needs, select the custom package option and I’ll create one just for you!
I’m here to help you self-guide the Haute Route with confidence. Contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org