Hiking the Haute Route in the Alps: a variant from Chamonix to Nendaz

Waymarkers, Fenetre d Arpettes, first high pass of the walkers Haute Route

Just over 100 km, but with an accumulated altitude difference of 6300 m! We spent 8 days in July and August hiking the Haute Route, or a variation on it. We walked from Chamonix over the mountains to Nendaz in the Rhone valley.

We arrived in Chamonix on a pleasant afternoon with a tent, warm clothing and a view to possibly hiking the Haute Route all the way to Zermatt, from Mont-Blanc to the Matterhorn, on the famous Haute Route that crosses major mountain chains directly west to east. With 30 kg of luggage between the two of us, we would see how far we could get.

Hiker looking over clouds and mountains

The first pass: the Col de Balme

Shelves & French signs in the Refuge de Col de Balme

The hut on the Col de Balme at 2191 m marks the border between France and Switzerland. It looks like an ancient relic from the early days of Alpinism and the caretakers are possibly just as ancient and quite grumpy. Nevertheless, they serve us a cup of hot cocoa, and we are glad for it as we have been walking up here in constant rain and fog from Argentière near Chamonix (France).

The first day brought us to a fabulous campsite near Argentière on the end of the Chamonix valley, and the rainy second day was luckily the only one with really bad weather.

Reaching up to the Window

Woman scrampling on a steep hiking path with large backpack

On day 3, a wonderful sunny day, we tackled the Fenêtre d’Arpette, a 2665 m high rocky pass popular with day walkers and organised international tour groups on the Tour de Mont-Blanc circuit. Our backpacks were quite heavy, but the hiking and the landscape amazing. We set up our tent in between and it took us two days to reach Champex, the so-called “Little Canada of Switzerland”.

Tent and hiking gear in a mountain landscape

For the next pass, the Col de Mille, we took again two days, hiking from Liddes over the mountain range to Lourtier and Champsec, with a beautiful campsite at 2100 m, overlooking the Val de Bagne valley and the resort town of Verbier on the opposite site.

Hiking off-route

Finally, we decided to turn off the direct Zermatt route and take another pass towards the Rhone Valley: Our last two days led us to Verbier and over the Croix de Coeur to Le Tzoumaz and Nendaz.

Wooden houses in a Swiss mountain village

The village of Sarreyer halfway to Verbier we found actually far more charming than Verbier itself: cute renovated woodblock houses, and a similarly good location.

Woman hiking the Haute Route near Nendaz

From Le Tzoumaz to Nendaz, we walked along a historic bisse, a water channel that the villagers took much effort to construct along the steep hillsides. Most of them dried out when new technologies made their difficult maintenance unnecessary, but the maintenance paths have recently been restored for hikers.

Practicalities of hiking the Haute Route

Not counting (sometimes unintended) detours, we have walked 102 km altogether, with 6300 m ascent and 5550 m decent.

As we had the tent and camping stove with us, we could hike at our own pace. Wild camping is officially forbidden in Switzerland, but is tolerated in most cases above the timber line and if you set up camp/bivouac only for one night.

Contact us for GPS tracks of the hike.

4 Comments

  1. Well done! What a wonderful trip – very envious of your energy, perseverance, determination etc., etc. Thanks for your sharing, as usual.

  2. Beautiful, I would love to do a hike like this. Spanky not so much. Champex: “little Canada” – do you know why?
    Nothing like hiking in the mountains when the weather is good…but nothing more miserable than when bad. We did the same in the Berner Oberland, using Lauterbrunnen as our base. Spectacular. The Alps so beautiful.
    You guys pretty tough carrying those heavy backpacks!
    Frank (bbqboy)

  3. They say it’s because of the snow-covered forests and the general landscape…
    So it’s apparently not about language, although to our surprise, we found that there were many English-speaking tourists in the French-speaking part of Valais (we had expected mostly French). The Germans, obviously, prefer the German-speaking Eastern part. Many locals speak all three languages anyway.

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