The Haute Route, (or the High Route or Mountaineers' Route) is the name given to a route (with several variations) undertaken on foot or by ski touring between Chamonix in France and Zermatt in Switzerland.
First charted as a summer mountaineering route by members of the English Alpine Club in the mid-19th century, the route takes around 12+ days walking (or 7+ days skiing) for the 180 km from the Chamonix valley, home of Mont Blanc, to Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. Originally dubbed "The High Level Route" in English by members of the hiking club, the term was translated into French when first successfully undertaken on skis in 1911. Since then the French term has prevailed. While the term haute route has become somewhat genericized for any of the many multi-day, hut-to-hut alpine tours, the "Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route" remains the original.
Besides the original Haute Route, there is nowadays also a "Walker's" Haute Route, which is an alpine hiking trail that follows a network of well-marked and signposted paths. The "Walker's" route stays below 3000 meters and takes advantage of the popular mountain huts and small inns and hotels in the villages along the way. In the spring, summer and fall, this route is safe, entirely non-technical (requires no ropes, crampons, or protection devices, unlike the actual Haute Route) and while challenging because of its daily elevation gains and distances, is achievable by any hiker in reasonably good physical condition.
The original Haute Route has large portions of glacier travel, for which suitable mountaineering gear and experience is necessary. In the winter, ski touring gear is required, and depending upon the weather and route chosen, may require crampons, ropes and avalanche protection gear.
There is occasionally a danger of collapsing glaciers which can render the path virtually impassable. However, a lower level variation exists that avoids crossing glaciers. Majority of hikers complete it in 12-16 days
Huts and villages on the summer Haute Route glacier trek
Low level "Walker's Haute Route" variation huts and villages
First successfully completed in 1911, The Haute Route ski tour is probably the most famous and coveted ski tour in the world. Using high mountain huts to allow skiers to stay high and cover substantial distances, it winds through the highest, most dramatic peaks of the Alps from Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn. It requires good weather, favourable snow conditions and strong effort to complete this line. Because of this, roughly half of the skiers who begin the tour do not complete it.
There are many variations of the HLR (High Level Route) that work their way between Chamonix and Zermatt, including those listed below. It is also possible to add ascents of a number of ski peaks to any of the routes. The winter Haute Route deviates from the summer route to avoid terrain that is dangerous or impassable when snow-covered. Many people also ski the Haute Route in the opposite direction, by variations that select better ascent and descents.
The winter Haute Route's original line which involves long climbs and mountaineering with ice axe and crampons.
The purest skiing line, and the most frequently done.
A longer, harder, more technical route that eliminates the road break of the Verbier and Classic variations.
See the route descriptions.
Optional ski peak ascents along the listed Haute Route variations include the Mont Blanc, Rosablanche, Pigne d'Arolla, Mont Blanc de Cheilon, Mont Vélan, Breithorn. Some of these peak ascents will require an additional day or more, and range from easy to very technical and difficult.