The Haute Route (pronounced "oat") is a famous traverse of one of the most dramatic parts of the Alps, usually starting in Chamonix, France, and ending in Zermatt, Switzerland. It takes about seven days, and crosses 180km of glaciers and ridges (with the help of an occasional gondola) through gorgeous, skiable terrain.
I'm not a hardcore backcountry skier, but I'd heard my friends talk about this mother-of-all-ski-trips. Then in late January, my buddy Nick, who's a freelance writer, told me over a few beers that he'd gotten an assignment to write about the Haute Route for Telemark Skier Magazine. "Do you want to go?" he asked.
My skis had been in the garage all season, and the last time I was on a glacier was in college. "Wow, sure!" I said anyway.
That started two months of frantic preparation and worrying whether I was going to be the slowpoke among Nick's friends, who he described as "serious backcountry skiers." Yikes!
My preparation followed this tactic: I may not be able to get into the same shape as my "serious" teammates, but I could out-read and out-gear them.
So in addition to spending plenty of quality time with my new best friend, a Stairmaster 4600CL, I spent days researching and buying gear. Many of my upgrades were informed by Mark Twight's Extreme Alpinism, which took its place of honor on the back of the toilet and which I had pretty much memorized by the time the trip rolled around.
All my gear, ready to be marked off my checklist. Incredibly, I didn't forget anything.
One thing Twight convinced me to do was to forgo real food for lunch, and eat GU instead. I get heartburn easily, especially at altitude, and I hoped the GU would go down easier and give me more energy than cheese and salami. Plus, I have a gluten allergy, and I feared lunch sold at the alpine huts we were visiting would be a breaded affair.