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No Sleep before Zermatt

British adventurer, Aaron Rolph ski tours the Haute Route non-stop in 31 hours. Thought to be the first successful single-push of the popular Verbier route, he shares his experience on what most competent off piste skiers aspire to complete over a week.

Aaron Rolph

My heartbeat is pounding through my head like a drum, and although I’m at altitude, I realise I’m pushing a little too hard. Picking up a skin track that meanders through the fresh snow in the glaciated valleys above Chamonix, I’m letting the excitement of this big adventure get the better of me. If I’m to ski the Haute Route in a single push, I need to settle my nerves and temper my speed. After all, I’m no superhuman skimo racer, but a 90+kg Brit who learnt to ski pretty late in life, attempting to do in a day what capable skiers aspire to do over a week.

As I approach the Aiguille du Tour, well over 100km away from my end goal of Zermatt, I realise I’ve caught up the group making the very tracks I’m sliding over; I soon find myself traipsing through a few feet of deep powder attempting to bootpack up the steep col that leads eventually to the Glacier de Trient plateau. This is meant to be the easy bit, the section I know the best, the well-trodden part. Instead, every step is making my lungs burn a little more in the thinning air. After this anticlimactic col reaches its high point, the slope gradually starts leaning in my favour. But this expansive glacier is giving me no free rides. Instead I’m forced into a sort of Telemark running technique which proves to be the most effective way of making headway through the untracked snow, using up yet more valuable energy.

The glacier does, however, start to drop away, rewarding me with a series of incredible deep powder turns, although impressive crevasses and daunting seracs force me to stay alert. Taking a hard right, I slide as far as I’m able towards the climbing pitch of Col des Ecandies (2793m). Assisted by the fixed line, I make quick work of the mixed scramble, relieved to settle into a proper descent down the stunning Val d’Arpette. Once again, there are sections of amazing snow, and any slow progress before now fades into insignificance as the smiles take over. I think to myself, not only am I attempting to ski this huge route in one day but I’m even getting face shots of pow – my kind of Haute Route.

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