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SPEED HAUTE ROUTE–Chamonix to Zermatt and back again in five days on skis and bike

A fast and light Haute Route with return by bicycle has been a dream of mine for years and this spring, 25-29 April 2012, I finally put it all together. Graham Barnes and I have been climbing together for over 12 years and when I proposed this trip, he was up for the challenge!

Nina and I have been ski mountaineering racing for the last 8 years and the idea was to put what we learned into the ski tour and make it fast, light and fun; also to use the resources Switzerland has to offer from great ski touring, to a great public train network to send equipment back and forth while remaining “carbon neutral”, to great bike routes.

On the ski tour  we were able to follow much of the famous Patrouille des Glaciers route and plus have hotel comfort. We started from Chamonix and made it to the chic ski area of Verbier for the first night, Arolla (quiet mountain village) the second night, then Zermatt the third! The return trip by bicycle took two days with a stop in the ancient Roman town of Sion in the Rhone Valley. After all the high alpine snow and glacier travel of the first few days, it was great to see flowers and green grass cycling through the valley!

 

Day 2, descending the steep couloir de Rosablanche and onward towards Lac des Dix.

 

Part way up the Col de la Forclaz, overlooking the Rhone Valley of Switzerland. Our second to the last col of the trip!

 

 

Day 1: Chamonix–Verbier. With a slow start due to the tram at the Grand Montets pretending they would open for a couple hours we finally started skinning from the mid station at 11 am. The weather was not good, but we pressed on towards the Col du Passon, climbed the couloir which despite (actually because of) the Foehn wind was NOT dangerous or loaded with snow. On the contrary the southern wind had scoured the snow from the south facing couloir. Then we crossed the Tour Glacier, and the Trient Glacier descended to Champex where a taxi waited to wisk us to Verbier. A nice dinner and hotel in Verbier awaited us and an early sleep as the next day was the earliest start of the trip, 4 am.

Day 1, skinning up towards our first col of 12 cols in five days. Col du Passon. White out conditions made my GPS extremely useful!

 

Day 2. Verbier—Arolla. The Verbier gondola opened up at 4 am to bring spectators up high to watch the Patrouille des Glaciers ski mountaineering race from Zermatt to Verbier. So, that helped us get up high and make it just a short skin to the Col de la Chaux, the Col de Mormin, and then up the very windy Grand Desert towards Rosablanche. Spectators gather there at the Col de Rosablanche to watch the racer hump up the last big climb towards Verbier with their skis on the backs. Supporters are also allowed to feed racers at this point. But we were going the other direction and eager to get across the traverse of the Lac Dix before the snow got too warm. A lot of pushing later we were across and skinning up the Pas De Chat and then up and over the ladders of the Pas de Chevre. In no time we had skied down the Pistes of the Arolla Ski area and were walking into the tiny lost village of Arolla, Switzerland. Arrival at 1:30 pm allowed for pleanty of time for a big meal in the hotel restaurant, a beer and a nap!

 

Day 2, Beautiful but windy weather on the way to Rosablanche, above Verbier.

 

A well merited Swiss draft beer in Arolla

Day 3. Arolla–Zermatt. The last ski day, and the Haute Route was already 2/3’s fininshed! A reasonable start of 6 am lead to a pretty hike on foot, then on ski up the Arolla Valley to the foot of the massive Mt. Collon which looms at the head of the valley. A short skin to the Plains of Bertol, then a pretty steep and long climb up the col de Bertol and the cabin. But we didnt stop at the cabin, we pressed onwards and upwards up to Tete Blanche. They we finally ripped our climbing skins off for the last time! Zermatt here we come. With the Matterhorn staring us in the face, we started our last down hill run to town, which would last almost three hours! Always the Matterhorn over our right shoulder, until we skied by it and were literally straight up it’s giant north face from its beginnings. Finally we made it to town and were happily able to ski all the way to town with no walking! We arrived the same day as my my wife’s start of the second wave of the Patrouille des Glaciers at Midnight, which we stayed up to watch.

Day 3 to Zermatt. Our last day was long, but very rewarding once we crested Tete Blanche and descended into Zermatt.

We arrived in Zermatt in time see off my wife, Nina and her teammates, Lyndsay and Sari who were competing in the Patrouille des Glacier ski mo race. Here they are at the start in downtown Zermatt. They departed at midnight.

Day 4. Zermatt—Sion. We had picked up our bikes the night before which were conveniently waiting for us at the train station and had shipped back our skis, keeping the trip carbon neutral by not having cars come exclusively for shuttling our gear. That way as we set off for our two day cycle tour home, we had only a toothbrush and credit card to way us down. The first 30 km are downhill. We arrived in Visp mid morning and found a tail wind that would blow us all the way to Sion that afternoon. Following bike paths and we swept through fields of flowers, cows, goats, and grapes, we felt free and liberated as we spun our legs in shorts in the warm springtime temps. What a difference from the last three days in the high mountains and full winter conditions! Upon arriving in Sion we stumbled across the Tour de Romndie, a Pro Tour stage race with all the top racers including Cadel Evans, winner of last years Tour de France. In chatting to a Liquigas Team mechanic, he generously offered to look at my SRAM Red titanium front derailleur, which sould throw the chain sometimes. He said it was adjusted fine–I was worried about its angle and height off the chainring, but then proceeded to give my bike a full tune up–wheel true, front and rear derailluer tune up, cable end stops, etc. What a generous act from a busy man in charge of the whole team’s bikes.

Day 4. Leaving Zermatt on two wheels with the Matterhorn looming over Grahams shoulder. We started our ride with a 30 km descent!

Flying downhill for 30 km was sure fun. Out of the snow and into……

Day 4. Yes there were flowers and smiles on the floor of the Rhone Valley! Nice bike paths too!

Upon arrival in Sion we found the Tour of Romandie Pro Tour bike race. Posing in front of a Katusha support vehicle!

Got to know a really nice guy and Liquigas mechanic who took a look at my Sram Red/BMC for me! His advice was throw away the titanium front derailleur!

 

Day 5. Sion–Chamonix. Our last day! We were accomplishing our dream! We set off from the small town of Sion early Sunday morning along the walking streets where there were only a few people strolling around or sitting at the outdoor cafes reading their papers and sipping their coffees. We rolled out of town along quiet roads through vignards and a warming sun shining on us. And the wind, but still at our backs! Soon we stopped in Martigny for a few sports drinks to fill our bottles and snacks for the last two climbs of the whole trip, the Cols de Forclaz and Montets. The Forclaz climb is long out of Martigny and with only 2-3 little breaks on the way up and with a fast clip it still took almost two hours to make it up! A nice lunch stop at the top, then over the last col and a descent all the way back to Chamonix! The weather stayed ok–no rain and we got a good view of the Bossons Glacier upon arrival, but the Mont Blanc summit was buried in clouds. We were tired but excited to be home!

Day 5–Graham and I attacking our big climb of the day, from Martigny, Switzerland up over the Col de Forclaz, over 1000 meter of climbing!

Day 5–our last climb of the trip! Chamonix here we come!

 

Day 5. We made it back to Chamonix about 3 pm after starting our trip 5 days before from the same place. Here we are on the main street in Chamonix, with the Bossons Glacier in the background.

 

Chamonix and Kudos to POWERBAR. My first and most loyal sponsor!

PowerBar climbs with High-Alpine Mountain Guides in the Alps!

The winter season is winding down. Check out all my posts on Facebook. January-mid march was full on off piste and ski tour guiding around Chamonix, then a Haute Route ski tour with Olympic Gold Medalist marathon runner, Joanie Benoit Samuelson and her crew. In between it all I went up to Garmisch, Geramany and fullfilled my certification in Level 1 and 2 for PSIA.

Finally, PowerBar gave me the energy to get through this winter season where I guided over 100 days out of 110. They are my first and most loyal sponsor supplying me with great energy products since around 1990!!! I remember PowerBar sending me bars to Joshua Tree while I taught rock climbing there and worked the Outward Bound Semester course rock camps there!! THANKS PB!

Check out my PowerBar photo essay on my Facebook page!

UnderArmour gives a new look to High-Alpine Mountain Guides this winter!

The red grid pattern and the cool metal UA logo on the Hooper Jacket makes it the perfect place to pin on my IFMGA international guide's pin!

High-Alpine Mountain and Ski Guides warmly welcomes UnderArmour as it’s apparel sponsor. We are excited to be supported by the dynamic technical clothing company that is growing in the outdoor and ski market. Their technical materials, cutting edge design, and great looks make these some of the best clothes I’ve worn. 

Today was my first day guiding in my new ski apparel from UnderArmour! And so far, so good!!!! It is nice looking stuff with great features and function. The red ski jacket you see me in here is the Hooper Jacket. It has all the things I rely on in a good ski jacket:  a removable hood, great pockets for ski passes, audio, goggles, etc., and a nice cuff that goes over my hand with thumb loops that really seals out the cold under my gloves. It is well insulated for the -14 degree centigrade temps today, and has zip ventilation which will really come in handy for spring skiing.  It’s fully seam taped too so can really handle all the elements (rain, snow, wind, etc.) with ease. All in all, a super comfy warm ski jacket, perfect for alpine skiing, off piste skiing and heli skiing. 

My UnderArmour Hooper Ski Jacket was just the thing for the cold temps on the north facing slopes of the Chamonix Valley. It was super comfy--I really liked the fleece padding under my chin. It sure beats zipper rub at -14 degrees centigrade!

The UnderArmour Hooper Jacket really has good range of motion and never feels binding.

The Hooper Jacket was the perfect thing for teaching skiing in the Alps in Chamonix, France. Red is the best colour for not getting lost in the crowd and being seen by my clients! However today there wasn't much of a crowd anyways!

The Red UnderArmour Hooper Jacket was also perfect for ripping it up with my 6 year old, Birken, after my lesson!!

Let the Season Begin,18 December 2010, Chamonix, France

Today was the first day of winter guiding for the 2010/2011 season. Or should I say teaching beginning skiing. It was fun though. I had two sisters from Lebanon (not New Hampshire) who live in Paris. They were great; one of them brought along for the lesson her husband who is a very good skier, but it made for interesting dynamics. Any way it was a good first day. The snow is cold and plentiful in Chamonix.

It was also my first day guiding in my new apparel from UnderArmour! So far, so good! It is nice looking stuff with great features and function. The read ski jacket you see me in here, Hooper Jacket. It has all the things I rely on in a good ski jacket:  a removable hood, great pockets, for ski passes, audio, goggles, etc. and a nice cuff that goes over my hand with thumb loops which really seals out the cold under my gloves. It is well insulated for the -14 degree centigrade temps today, and has zip ventilation which will really come in handy for spring skiing.  It’s fully seam taped too so can really handle the elements with ease. All in all, a super comfy warm ski jacket, perfect for alpine skiing, off piste skiing and heli skiing.

Carmen, Carol and the fearless guide/ski instructor at Les Planards, Chamonix on 18 dec. 2010

The guide/ski instructor tell them how it is. snow plow, press on your outside foot, look where you want to turn, rotation, skis parallel, snow plow--that kind of stuff. They did great and really loved it!

They were really getting the hang of by the end and Carol went on to bigger and better slopes!

My son Birken joined us at the end. Already, I can barely keep up with him!

10 dec 2010, BMC Bikes HQ, Grenchen, Switzerland

I had a chance to visit the BMC bike headquarters with Bike Switzerland partners, John Klemme and Chris White. John and I first discussed working together over five years ago when my family and I  were still living in  Switzerland, but it was last year I first led a few trips for him. It was a great experience and I look forward to continuing next summer, and developing some hiking tours in the future. 

It was a good time to catch up with John, as we met in the Geneva train station and trained up to Grenchen together. Chris hopped on board along the way and the three of us chatted about bikes and next years trips. 

We were warmly welcomed at BMC by Steven Jonckheere, BMC’s Swiss Marketing Manager, and given a five star tour. Later Markus Eggiman, the BMC Brand Manager, explained in detail two of the bikes we use at Bike Switzerland. We got to see and shoot the offices, from marketing, to administration, to research and design, but when we headed to the neighboring building housing the IMPEC facility, we had to leave our cameras at the door (although see below for some select images and videos)! Top secret technology is needed to build one of the best bike and certainly THE most innovative and original carbon fiber frames on the planet. 

It starts with a machine to weave the tubes and each tube is woven for its specific place on the frame in a specific size. Whether it be a 57 cm seat tube or a chainstay for the 53 cm model, the one robot would weave each tube around a form. Then these tubes were cooked and trimmed. Afterwards they were all glued together on a frame table and heated again to set the glue; then painted. Almost everything was done by a robot allowing for high precision whether it is for injecting the exact same amount of glue to each joint for lay up or weaving a tube that has exactly the same thickness in the same places each time. This gives consistent quality throughout the process and throughout the production cycle. 

Back in the main HQ building we got to see where BMC stocks their frames and parts, IMPEC and others,  for their SWA or Swiss Assembly program. This allows them the ability to build up bikes specifically for the Swiss market to interesting specifications, such as lower gearing for climbing in the High-Alpine! 

All in all, a very exciting and informative visit. I left BMC with a greater understanding of what it takes to run a successful bike brand and to how it looks when you pay such great attention to detail and have dedication to quality. Long live Swiss Precision! 

Me, Chris White, and John Klemme (l to r) in a strategic planning meeting Swiss style, on the train to Grenchen and BMC.

 

It was a grey day, but bright and cheery inside!

 

3 jerseys greet you as you walk in the door: the Stars and Stripes (the 2010 US Nat. Champs jersey of George Hincapie), the BMC Pro Team jersey, and of course Cadel Evans' Rainbow jersey of the 2010 World Champiohships in Australia. BMC Pro Cycling Team just received the exciting news that they were selected for the Pro Tour 2011!!!

 

Looks like a busy office where things get done. There was cool BMC kit, frames and bikes everywhere you looked.

 

Here's a BMC cyclo cross bike!

 

Steven is telling us that these Team Machines are ready to be built up right here at BMC HQ!

 

The Yellow IMPEC is Cadel Evans' from the Tour and the all black one is called the Noble. Sweeeeet!

 

They even had the controversial Floyd Landis's Tour winning Pro Machine on the display floor.

 

My favorite rig in the whole place was our friend Tyler Hamilton's Olympic Gold Medal winning time trail bike.

 

Even though I couldn’t bring my camera into the IMPEC FACTORY, BMC could and they made some great videos that show how things work in there: 

BMC IMPEC Factory Tour