Last week I climbed the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt. I have made some similar treks to this in the past and felt I had a good handle on what it takes to prepare. Though arduous and tiring as it was, it was a fulfilling 6 day experience. Here's how I prepared!
The Haute Route is a 6 day, 5 night ski tour starting in Chamonix in France and ending in Zermatt in Switzerland. For the non-mountaineers, ski touring requires off-piste skis mounted with up-hill/down hill bindings. When going up, you need to glue “seal-skins” (not made of seal anymore) to the bottom of your skis to allow for ascending mountain tops. It is the most efficient way of travel in high altitude as the weight distribution of the ski stops you from sinking into the snow, while the skins prevent you from sliding back down.
The Haute Route is a 180km trek above 3000 meters in altitude over cols and glaciers to get from the Mont Blanc to the Matterhorn, two of Europe’s most mythical mountains.
I was most concerned with my fitness level as 180 km seems like a long way to go in just 6 days! I am not much for cardio, but I love HiiT classes. I upped my Hiit class regime from 2 to 3 times per week. I also parked my motorcycle and switched it for the heavy publicly available bicycles that tests one’s thighs. I no doubt kept up my yoga practice. Being an activity that I love and live for, (being the founder of OHMME) I stand by it's all-round benefits to the body and believe it to be almost essential in maintaining flexibility and mobility. This of course came in really handy for me during the trip.
THE HAUTE ROUTE
The Haute Route has 5 refuges (huts) where you can find a warm meal and a bed for the night. These unfortunately tended to be noisy places, but comforting nonetheless after enduring a day of trekking.
The first step is to adjust to the altitude which reduces your body’s ability to regenerate. I found that a relaxed flow with slow focused breathing after every climb made me adjust to the altitude faster. The primary cause of altitude sickness is the lower concentration of oxygen, which your body needs to adjust to. Slowing everything down, stretching and calming my heart rate made the adjustment much easier. Doing poses that released tension in the hamstrings and the hip flexors made the soreness of the previous day dissipate!
Skinning up mountains is exhausting and causes even the most able and fit to sweat profusely. For this, I wore the OM Tee and during the early stages of the morning, I would wear the Orion long sleeve to keep warm. I was not let down. During transitions when we took the skins off to ski down hill or to attach skis on our bags to then put boot crampons on to climb an icy ridge, your sweat cools down and you would get very cold, very quickly. When arriving at one of the huts, we would dry all our gear and get ready to rest and hydrate. It was vital to get loads of water in our systems as fast as possible to ensure a full recover for the next day.
Over the trip I had decided not to drink alcohol, which would have made recovery a lot harder at altitude. However, I felt I had been working hard throughout the journey and my daily yoga practice was fulfilling enough, that I I decided to break this rule to try the local Genepi. The guide Miha and I became good friends talking late into the evening and playing backgammon most evenings.
All through the trek, I would get up over another ridge and would be stunned by the beauty of the world. It always brings to light the dulling nature of modern technology. Our devices are oversaturated with dazzling photos of mother natures rainforests, mountain tops and vast blue oceans. With just a tap of the fingers, we are taken around the world on a tiny screen. Nothing beats the real things though. The deep impact of true immersion in nature is undeniable. The glaciers are some of the most stunning, misunderstood lifeforms on earth. Glaciers move, breathe, shape the environment around them and give life to millions on earth. They are also dying. On the Haute Route you cannot miss the signs of the rapid retreat of their long bodies. Traces of their recent passage is all too visible along the edges of valleys. In the past 30 years the mer de glace in Chamonix has lost 4 to 5 meters a year. A floor in a building has on average 9 steps, this means that since 1988, the glacier has lost a 40 story building worth of its body of ice.
This redoubles our commitment at OHMME to spreading awareness on climate change and trying our best to making clothing as ecologically sound as we can.
THE FINAL ASSENT
The final assent of the Haute Route is a breathtaking experience. You climb up a final ridge to see the Matterhorn looking back at you in the distance. In retrospect, I think that the most useful tool I brought to this expedition, apart from my skis, skins and crampons, is my yogic breathing. Climbing in high altitude is very similar in a way to a very difficult yoga class. It’s all about keeping your breath steady, having no one else to face but yourself, and pushing on.