The Alps’ Haute Route: A Brief History

haute route history

The Name

The name “Haute Route” is French and is pronounced “Oat Root,’’ translated into English this means “High Road.” Those who have trekked it, can testify that the name fits the bill. The Haute Route begins in the Chamonix valley (France) and ends in Zermatt (Switzerland) at the base of the Matterhorn. It contains 11 mountain passes and completes between 69,000 ft and 93,000 ft of total elevation change (ascent and descent). It take approximately 12 days to trek the 120 miles of the Haute Route through the Swiss Alps. 

Haute Route history

The Background

The Route was first completed in the mid-19th century as a summer mountaineering route by the English Alpine club. It began as the “High Level Route” in English, but was translated into French when it was first completed on skis in 1911. Since then, the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route has stuck as the original name. 

The Haute Route provides a unique experience, it crosses country borders as well as language borders. Beginning in Chamonix, within a day or two, you will find yourself across the border in Switzerland. Many are surprised to find that the language does not change with the border crossing. For most of the route you will hear French spoken, that is until you hit Gruben, Switzerland the language then switches to Swiss German. 

Matterhorn Haute Route
Arriving at the Matterhorn is celebratory moment after accomplishing the Haute Route.

What most people complete nowadays is the “Walker’s Haute Route.” This is different from the original mountaineering route, as it follows well marked Alpine trails and does not require special gear to accomplish. The Route is situated in the Western Pennine Alps, within the Savoie region of France and the Swiss Canton of Valais. The Walker’s Route stays below 10,000 ft elevation and takes advantage of mountain huts and small inns along the route. The Haute Route can be completed between the months of July and September, a short season, as the routes are covered with snow during the rest of the year. 

At Alpenwild, we offer a guided Chamonix to Zermatt Walker’s Haute Route and a Deluxe Haute Route. If guided tours aren’t your jam, check out our Self-Guided Haute Route. If you haven’t experienced trekking the Haute Route yet and are in good shape to, you’ll certainly enjoy it!

Jamie Cheney
Latest posts by Jamie Cheney (see all)

Sign Up for Our Email Newsletter

Stay up to date on the latest Alpenwild news. You're free to opt out at any time.