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blacknose sheep above Zermatt

Via Valais: The Runner’s Haute Route

Mark Brightwell
Guided by Mark Brightwell
The Via Valais tour was, simply put, fantastic. The route can't be compared. We saw ibex up close, and picked wild blueberries all week. The weather was perfect and had the smells of the season changing to autumn.

We were a small group of four running the Via Valais, a point-to-point journey from Arolla to Zermatt in the Valais region of Switzerland. We stayed in a combination of hotels and mountain huts along the way. Early September is ideal for running this tour as the trails and huts are a little quieter and are preparing to close for the season. The trail goes high into the Alps and we get the chance to feel summer coming to an end. 

Before we start our daily running commute, we ease into it with a shake-out run to the Cabane des Aiguilles Rouges above Arolla. The begrudging service at the hut became a source of humor for the rest of the week. The hut keeper is known for having a gruff manner, but also for making great pie! Tim and I climbed Pic d’Etoile above the hut – a bonus peak. Kelly and Steph were more prudent and returned early to the sunny beer garden at the Hotel Kurhaus where we stayed. 

Now to begin the Via Valais.

Highlight out on the trail

The collective favorite day seems to be running from Cabane Becs de Bosson into Zinal. We extended the run to head up the valley, away from Zinal, heading deeper into the mountains, threading through some massive rockfall debris along an airy balcony with glaciers all around, before dropping back down to the valley and into town. 

Another highlight came after a gourmet lunch at Täschalp. We cut via the Pfulwe pass. It is barren and wild up there. We saw no one else and laughed hard over beer on the Fluhalp terrace later on when Kelly described one of the highlights as “We didn’t die in the rubble field!” Which is a good thing anytime you pass through a rubble field.

A final highlight?  The trails in the Turtmanntal are beautiful, and while at the Turtmann hut we were lucky enough to see golden eagles and bearded vultures.

Low point

A tough moment was the steep climb out of Zinal with no warm-up. The trail goes straight up out of the village, but eventually, when we finished the climb, we got the usual fantastic descent. 

Memorable moment

The first views of the Matterhorn were made all the more epic by having spent the previous 6 days crossing through the Alps, all on foot, to arrive in its presence. We watched a gorgeous sunrise from Fluhalp, with the sunlight illuminating the east face of the Matterhorn and a full moon right next to it. Running into Zermatt, we all felt tired but with a strong sense of accomplishment.

Favorite overnight stop

The nights spent at the huts were special, and then arriving at the luxury of Hotel Europe was a wonderful finale in Zermatt. Becs de Bosson was great, as always. An epic thunderstorm rolled through that evening. We all loved the party vibe at Fluhalp. Reini, the warden, has been there 29 years and you get to track his life via all the photos of riotous parties that adorn the corridor walls. What a great host. 

Kelly said she got her best night of sleep all week the night we stayed at Turtmann Hut and were lined up in a full 10-person dorm room. We all thought it was hysterical and would joke about her needing to be surrounded by others to sleep well.

Funniest moment

We enjoyed the humor of the hüttenwirte, the hut keeper, at Berggasthaus Trift above Zermatt. When a cocky young alpinist who’d just made his first ascent of the Zinalrothorn – and wanted everyone to know it – asked if he’d climbed it, the hut keeper merely replied in his clipped English “20 times,” and walked off.

hut drinks

Cheers to another great day on the Via Valais. Photo: Tim Davis.

Heading out from one of our favorite stops, Becs de Bosson. (Photo: Steph Lefferts)

Lac de Moiry

Group shot in front of the unreal blue of Lac de Moiry. Photo: Tim Davis.

Lac de Moiry

Lac de Moiry. Photo: Tim Davis.

Where to next? Photo: Tim Davis.

That color can’t be real! Photo: Kelly M.

rock debris on the Via Valais

A rubble field where we did not die. Photo Tim Davis.

Two-toned goats sharing the trail. Photo: Steph Lefferts.

Ibex. These truly are mountain goat trails. Photo: Steph Lefferts.

Moody sky over the Zinal Valley. Photo: Steph Lefferts.

That’s a real backdrop! Photo: Tim Davis.

Turtmann Hut. Photo: Kelly M.

Rösti at the Turtmann Hut. (Photo: Kelly M)

Nose to nose with Valais blacknose sheep. Photo: Steph Lefferts.

First light on the Matterhorn

First light on the Matterhorn. Photo: Tim Davis.

Moon and Matterhorn. Photo: Steph Lefferts.