Haute Route Grand Lui

The most famous ski tour in the world is the Haute Route. This six-day trip travels between Chamonix and Zermatt, through the heart of the French, Italian and Swiss Alps. The Haute Route has three common variations. The Classic route requires a taxi between Champex and Bourg Saint Pierre. The Verbier start requires a taxi from Champex to Verbier. And then there's the Grand Lui variation. Ben Williams, a friend in Anchorage, clued us into the Grand Lui. Cathy and I had never heard of the Grand Lui, but the name sounded cool and we figured it could be less populated and therefore more romantic for our ten-year wedding anniversary.

Cathy and I met in Chamonix where the Haute Route starts. I arrived via bus and train after guiding two Ortler ski trips in Italy. Cathy came via Reykjavik after a two-day layover at the Blue Lagoon. 

On our first day we in toured in whiteout and clouds from the Grand Montets telepherique, over the Col du Chardonnet and the Col du Saleina to the Trient Hut. See that coulee in the mist? 

The Trient Hut below the Aguilles Dorees. The obvious coulee is the 55-degree Copt Coloir. Anselme Baud writes, "...a good place to consolidate a taste for steep skiing." I wanted to do some consolidating.

On day two we spurred onto the Grand Lui–a three day variation adding an extra day to the Haute Route. On the Grand Lui we broke trail and saw almost nobody. Here is Cathy dropping past the Aguilles Dorees onto the untracked Salenia Glacier. 

And the skiing was so good she almost forgot to hang a right to the Col de la Grande Lui. 

Below the Col de la Grande Lui we swapped skis for crampons, crossed the bergshrund and climbed steep snow and ice to the Col. After taking this photo I learned that front pointing black ice in flexible boots with flexible spikes gives bonus adrenaline. 

Cathy using Whippet technique #468 while dry tooling the summit block from five feet away.

After a night at the empty town of La Fouly, we toured to the Great Saint Bernard Monastery (the doggies were in Martigny for the winter). Beyond Cathy is Mont Blanc and the rock behemoth of the Grand Jorasses. 

The Saint Bernard Monastery was comfy despite not serving horses. I was super hungry. We then toured for five hours to see this: the Grand Combin (4,314m) with our destination–the Valsorey Hut–dangling somewhere on that face. We joined the classic route in the valley below and followed 50 people up to the hut.

Beers and rosti at the Valsorey Hut with my WOMAN!! The funny thing about Swiss rosti is that it's the all-American hash browns and eggs breakfast, just served at the wrong time. Breakfast in Switzerland is white bread and jam served on the table with no plate. The all-American breakfast is much more civilized. 

The Valsorey Hut at 3,030 meters on the Grand Combin for our fourth night.

Full moon setting over Mont Blanc and the Grand Jorasses as we left the Valsorey Hut at 6am.  

Booting the steep wall above the Valsorey to the Plateau du Couloir.

Cathy and I selected the Bivacco Biagio Musso as our retirement home. We'll sit all day in our rocking chairs. Sip martinis. Reminisce about the sweet lines we skied on Mont Velan. 

Joe and Mrs. Right after after deeming the Bivacco Biagio Musso suitable for retirement. 

Past the Plateau du Couloir is the Col du Sonadon and a mega descent to the Chanrion Hut. 

On several days our schedule matched a fun North Cascades Alpine Guides group. Cathy hangs with guides Larry Goldie and Jeff Ward, friends that I run into once a year, but rarely get to hang with.

Climbing above the Chanrion Hut past the Grand Combin on day six.

Skiing down to the Otemma Glacier.  

Hoping more ice blocks don't plop off while climbing up the Otemma Glacier to the...

...Nacamuli Hut in Italy. Yummy Barbera at the Nacamuli.  

Day seven. We skied from the Nacamuli, over several passes, through some icefall and got terribly dehydrated. 

So we had to stop at the first place in Zermatt for bevies before catching the lift over to Cervinia in Italy for several days of anniversary.

Above Cervinia, after a long lift ride and an hour of skinning, is the Breithorn with the Matterhorn beyond. The Breithorn is perhaps the easiest 4,000-meter summit in the Alps. And it's a quick run back to Cervinia for more Barbera. 

And then the trip was over. Back to Chamonix and Geneva and Anchorage. At least we have about 55 more anniversaries coming up.

Our overall impression of the Haute Rotue was amazement. This rugged route and dramatic tour is only possible with a small pack because of the huts and well-established route. Our trip, with seven consecutive days of 7-9 hours of touring each day, made a dreamy journey. But then we had great weather and solid stability.