by Bobby Melville
Like most people the world over, being confined to 4 walls for 3 months has left me bursting from the seems to do something exciting and in the illustrious words of Freddie Mercury; I want to break free! What better than a great adventure into the unknown. After all, I have time to do some planning although my two sons under the age of 3 don’t get that the world doesn’t revolve around their every need!
I have always longed to live somewhere nestled between mountains and the sea, ideally very close to each other but haven’t quite made the leap yet. Many wanderlust buddies have cited New Zealand and Patagonia as great options; fitting but if I’m being more realistic somewhere on the same timezone as my extended family is a more likely possibility. But until then I will have to be content with the odd jaunt!
Anyway enough of my 5-10 year dream move and to the present. What is possible today? I reckon with a newborn I could get away with a 1-week trip if I expressed my eagerness to do it to my ever-enduring and patient wife + washed all the dishes for 2 … 3 weeks, plan kids meals and laundry colour segregation! With many promises made, I got the green light.
Now there are a few mountain ranges that take my fancy in Europe. The Alps (of course), the Pyrenees (lesser-visited) and the Carpathian range (much lesser visited) in Romania are all near the top of my list. But for this trip, I want to do a classic I have heard so much about so have decided on the Haute Route.
The Haute route?
There are a few routes that claim this name but the original is the ski tour high line route over glaciers from Mont Blanc (the second highest mountain in Europe) in Chamonix, France to the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland. Then came about the ‘walkers’ Haute route. Typically a 12-15 day hike during the warmer months of July, August and September ( enduring the best chance of completing without snowfall and cold temperatures at high altitude). The other Haute route is the 1 month + trip, if doing the whole thing, across the Pyrenees and the French / Spanish border from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean.
Unlike an Ironman where you have to train in 3 sports for over 8 months to get your body to a point that it can be stressed to the limit for 12 hours without a break, a trip like hiking the Haute route requires a much slower pace en route and therefore a much easier training plan beforehand. Upon consulting the experts in outdoor fitness and as it turns out nutrition ) Tommy Matthews from BeMilitaryFit gave me a plan for the two months leading up to the trip. The basic outline was to train in a way that is as similar to the adventure or race you are going to be doing but build up gradually to get the muscle memory up to speed- makes sense! Most of it is common sense. Although when I trained for rowing the Atlantic Ocean there is only so much ergo rowing you can mentally achieve in a gym or your living room and the odd run is needed for sanity if nothing else. My plan for this trip was to run 5 x 10km per week, alternating between carrying an 11kg backpack (I didn’t have all my kit together yet so used paperweights and books with a jumper for back padding) and no pack. The days I had no pack I would add the below HIIT workout at the end and try and do when not running:
- 1. Warmup
- 2. 10km run
- 3. HIIT
- 20 side lunges hands together
- 20 press-ups
- 20 seconds wall sit
- 20 dips triceps
- 20 sit-ups with weight
- 20 seconds plank
- 20 squats
- 20 sit-ups heal touch
- 10 press-ups with arm raise
- 20 side plank with arm rotation
- 20 sit. Weight from side to side
- Finish: As many pull-ups as possible.
I nearly stuck to it but relaxed in the last couple of weeks to try and prevent injury.
Route and Accommodation:
Most people aim to do the entire route in 12-15 days including a rest day. The night time sleeping options range from deluxe- hotels in the valleys each night, mountain huts that provide a bed and sometimes half board and are an experience in themselves, campsites which have food and showers mostly and then wild camping that obviously has no amenities.
I am planning on doing the route in 8-9 days, solo and wild camping as much as possible. Arguably not making it easy on myself but there is something I loved when crossing an ocean in a rowing boat about being self-reliant and needing to think and plan for yourself. No one else will in remote and wild environments and I find it empowering. Most of us have creature comforts every day of our lives so I’m keen to have a break from the norm, explore outside my comfort zone and test myself a little.
I certainly am no expert on the location I’m travelling to and like with all IGO adventures trips, I consulted a local operator with the highly unique knowledge of the trails, weather patterns, local safety and health and who has done risk assessments etc to advise me. See image below of the route stats :
With the training coming along nicely I turned to the itinerary for the route and the kit list. I have done a fair amount of these for IGO adventures trips but each location and time of year etc requires starting from scratch, in my opinion, to get it right. My key considerations regarding packing were that I would be mainly wild camping and therefore needed a tent, camp mat, sleeping bag etc PLUS a way of boiling water for freeze-dried food. Everything needs to be as light as possible as I will have huge elevation changes whilst also taking into account enough calories and my level of required comfort. The kit list below includes some luxuries eg: Aero press for coffee and some necessities eg: good hiking shoes for speed in my case hence innovate brand. I have consulted many who have done the exact route (although majority stayed in huts or hotels along the way and/ or had transport to carry the bulk of the kit from a-b as the individual hiked) and read countless blogs:
- Backpack 50L Osprey.
- Tent – Terra nova single man.
- Sleeping bag – season 2
- Sleeping bag liner + pillowcase + Thermarest.
- Thermarest sleeping pad
- Hiking Poles
- Dry bags
- Camping mat – cheap for under sleeping pad.
- Goretex trail shoes
- Warm down/puffa jacket for the evenings
- Fleece mid-layer
- Hiking Socks x 2
- Hiking shirt x 2
- Hiking Shorts x 2
- Rain trousers
- Sun hat + Cap
- Microfibre towel
- Thermals to sleep. Top and bottom
- Cooking stove/MSR pocket rocket/ Gas
- Mug + spork
- tea/ coffee flask.
- Water bottle Nalgene
- Face mask & eye mask
- Book – Shanteram!
- Toothbrush + Paste
- Wet wipes + tissues
- Lip balm
- Head torch + spare or at least batteries (mine- REMEMBER 4 AAA batteries)
- Map + Compass
- Battery pack
- Bit of gaffa tape. Bit of cord. Bungee cord.
- Tent pegs large
- Cash Euro and CHF
- ID card/ passport.
- Small med kit – Zinc Oxide tape, Compede, pain killers, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic cream, cotton gauze, non-stick gauze, compression and triangular bandage, plasters (normal and blister), hand sanitiser.
I think before any trip to a new place it’s good to think about what to expect and write it down. That way you can go back and compare to the reality without getting confused later down the line. With everything that’s going on re COVID I’m intrigued to see how many people will be on the trail or in the mountain huts. Governments all over the world are changing quarantine restrictions at a moments notice so I’m guessing that only the hardiest of foreign travellers who also don’t mind being quarantined upon return to the home country will be on the trail. I think a lot of French and Swiss will take advantage of domestic travel and explore their own countries. I have heard so much about Chamonix being the mountaineering capital of the world so am excited to feel the buzz as I get the last few items on my packing list. Some sections of the trail are advised to avoid if the weather comes in including vertical ladders, 500-metre suspension bridges, and 3000-metre mountain passes so it’s going to be key to check the weather each evening and make the decision on taking an alternate route if needed. There are thunderstorms forecasted all of next week so it’s going to be key to monitor this. What I’m really looking forward to is the disconnect from mainstream media – normally bad news of late, and an opportunity to gain some headspace and free thought to see where the mind wonders whilst being in one of nature’s most stunning areas on earth. It will be remote, wild, totally new to me and I can’t wait!
With the bag packed, the itinerary and route mapped out and a quick check-in the weather forecast and I am ready to start the adventure….