Friday, May 25, 2012

Ken’s Pick: the Hiker’s Haute Route




It’s not often that our guides divulge their favorite Ryder-Walker hiking tour, but 15-year Ryder-Walker veteran and senior guide Ken Fuhrer finally spilled the beans. Will this inspire the rest of our trip leaders to break their silence? Maybe with the help of more wine.

Here is the Hiker's Haute Route in Ken's own words. 

When people ask me about my favorite hiking tour, I usually give a decidedly vague answer. I usually skirt the issue by talking about the trip I like “this year,” or I’ll defer to something that happened at “that place.” Truth be told, my favorite Ryder-Walker hiking tour is the Hiker’s Haute Route. There. I said it. The Haute Route is definitely my favorite hiking tour, and not just because it’s the summer version of the legendary ski tour either.

I like the Haute Route for many reasons, but I really dig the way it begins above Chamonix, France, with the legendary Mont Blanc mountain chain reflecting in the high alpine tarn, Lac Blanc. It's a great way to start a tour.

I enjoy the food, too. The cheese, (of course!), comes from small batches made in tiny alp houses, and it has a melt-in-your-mouth flavor that you just plain do not get anywhere else.

There is also nothing that compares to the chocolate-almond croissant that you can only find at a particular bakery in downtown Argentiere. A croissant, I must add, that actually brought tears of delight to one of our guests, an in-the-know New York specialty food grocer, as he stood on the French/Swiss border on the Col du Balme.

I love the lakeside village of Champex, and the three generations of the Favre family that greet you at the Hotel Belvedere. They’re doing it right! But course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the hiking and the unexpected, progressive views of all the big, dreamy mountains.

From the views of the Matterhorn as we ascend the Pas de Chevre, to the Dent Blanche and its cozy position with the Weisshorn as we look east from the Col du Torrent, the views are as good as it gets in the Alps. In addition to the views, the trail itself amazes me. We follow ancient paths that have connected these valleys for as long as history has been keeping record.

The great Val d' Herens cows deserve some credit too, big black and often sporting their numbers from the early season wrestling matches. The cows still have their sides adorned with chalk numbers from the annual Combat de Reines, (the "Battle of the Queens"), and it looks like they survived a demolition derby. With large horns and bells clanking, the cows are an instant crowd pleaser.

It must be said, that the Valais is also the greatest wine region in all of Switzerland. On the Haute Route, we get to try local wines featuring unique hybrid grapes and delicious blends that always surprise.

In addition to the croissants, and the cows, and the wine, I love hiking over the language line, crossing the Forcletta pass from the French-speaking part of the Haute Route to the German-speaking side.

Making the descent into the quiet and very remote Turtmanntal is always a treat. Then we recap the day and share trip stories with other 'Haute Routers' while the sun goes down. It is a valley that time has forgotten, a point driven home upon the following day's arrival in the bustling capital of the alpine world; Zermatt.



The feeling of completion and accomplishment, while holding a beer and gazing up at the Matterhorn, provides the big finish for what is, I admit, my favorite Ryder-Walker trip.

-Ken Fuhrer


Editor's Note:
We asked Ken how long he’s been hiking the Haute Route, and if he’s noticed any changes in area over the years. This was his response:

I have been doing the trip as far back as my first summer. I hiked it as a private trip with Ron and Jeff Silverman, who are still clients and happen to be our connection with Janice Kaplin, who, incidentally, made it on the cover of this year’s Ryder-Walker catalog. (She’s the girl on the far right). The trip was shorter then. We used to start in Arolla, and we hiked to Saas-Fe, skipping Zermatt. We still offer the shorter version. We call it the Swiss Haute Route because the hike stays entirely in Switzerland.

Anyway, I like the balance of the trip now, and, as it is the original High Level Route from France to Switzerland, it is only right to start in Chamonix, France and end in Zermatt, Switzerland. As far as changes go, change fortunately comes slowly to Switzerland (as many people know), and when something does change, it doesn't change by very much. I would say that in the years that have gone by, I have changed more than the place!

Images: Top to Bottom: Col de la Forcletta by Ken Fuhrer; French pastries by Chris Pranskatis; Zermatt, Switzerland by Chris Pranskatis.

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