Aaron Rolph is a full-time adventure athlete and photographer who loves nothing more than throwing himself in at the deep end. If the mountains are involved, he’s all in, and his single-push assault on the mythic Haute Route proved to be no exception.
The Haute Route
The Haute Route is a 125km high-altitude journey that connects the iconic alpine towns of Chamonix and Zermatt. First completed on skis in 1911, today it is one of the most prestigious and coveted ski tours in the world. The route is usually completed over 6 or 7 days, with skiers staying in mountain refuges along the way.
Aaron, however, decided to attempt this grueling journey in a single push, non-stop in under 35 hours, a feat previously achieved only by the world’s most elite ski mountaineers. With high hopes and a full backpack, Aaron set out to break the mold and undertake this epic expedition solo:
One man. 125km. 8000m ascent. No sleep before Zermatt.
Aaron: “I was stoked about the idea of attempting this 8000m ascent route non-stop in one single push. After doing some digging, I found that none of the successful single-push attempts had gone for the Verbier route, and those attempts had only ever been completed by the very best international skimo racers and the most decorated mountain guides.”
Aaron set about putting his kit on a serious diet, although he was keen to avoid sacrificing too much downhill satisfaction and would definitely draw the line at skiing in lycra.
Aaron: “The Agent 1.0 with the all-new lightweight ATK bindings proved to be the perfect setup, light enough to fly up and yet still loads of fun on the way down. At 1650g per ski including bindings and at 86mm under foot, the ‘charging chopsticks’ are my new favorite skis.”
Leaving Chamonix Church at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, April 23, Aaron made his way up Glacier du Tour before traversing the Trident Plataeu and dropping down through some deep, untouched powder into Champex. Ever the purist, Aaron completed the next section by bike, ensuring that the journey was entirely self-propelled, and making quick work back up to Verbier.
Energized by the seemingly everlasting sunset, he made steady headway touring up closed pistes while the vivid oranges turned to pinks and eventually faded into darkness.
The night that followed would prove to be the crux of his big journey — skiing through the night solo seemed a daunting task — yet for the most part he found himself thriving through a situation that required tremendous self-reliance. The torchlit descents through the wild and icy alpine terrain demanded all of his attention. He made good progress until he reached the metal ladders over Pas de Chèvres; by now his food supplies had dwindled to nothing and he felt totally depleted.
After completing one final moonlit descent, Aaron reached his smiling support crew who’d prepared a steaming portion of eggs and bacon. Refuelled after 20 hours of skiing, he set about for the final 30km up the Glacier d’Arolla towards Zermatt.
Aaron: “It’s easy to feel small on that glacier that sweeps for miles up the valley, but eventually I reached the Col du Mont Brulé for the final boot-pack. From the top I could see the last col which effectively meant once I make it there, it was all downhill to Zermatt and I couldn’t wait.”
By now the sun had returned and the heat was inescapable, but despite the fatigue and thinning air, Aaron mustered enough grit to get the job done and soon came face to face with the Matterhorn.
Aaron: “The Stokji glacier feels like an otherworldly ski experience. You can’t help but stare at the overhanging seracs as you weave through countless crevasses that could swallow entire buildings. It was a fitting finish to a such an epic route.”
At 3:27 p.m. on Saturday April 24, 31 hours after leaving Chamonix, Aaron Rolph arrived still smiling into Zermatt after the adventure of a lifetime.