I’ll start by apologising for the length of this but there is so little info out there in English that I thought a detailed report would be appreciated.
For those that don’t know, the WHR is a lower level version of the classic Haute Route that avoids the glacier travel.
Firstly some general info, then specifics on each day.
The main comparator I had was the Tour de Mont Blanc which I did a few years back. The WHR is generally harder with the passes being higher and less rideable (up) than those on the TMB. The descents are also harder. If you’ve done the TMB and thought it was too much carrying then the WHR is probably not for you. If however, you did the TMB and thought ‘what next’ then read on.
Like the TMB a bit of time spent looking at the options pays dividends, for instance on many occasions there were landy tracks that went part way up passes eliminating some of the carrying on the walking route.
We had 5 days and this proved inadequate to get all the way to Zermatt. We made a few errors that cost us time but I’d suggest that depending on exactly what you do 6 or 7 riding days is realistic.
A lot of the days naturally split into valley-pass-valley. This is neat but it makes for either shortish days or very long days. For example, we arrived in Zinal at about 2pm with plenty left in the tank but the prospect of another 1000m+ of climbing in the heat was not attractive.
Accommodation wise my missus met us at the end of each day in the camper van which was pretty much perfect There is plenty of accommodation in the towns and using huts might allow for a better split of days. It might also allow you to start the day with a descent rather than a massive climb.
Our experience on the route and discussions with a walking guide we met and some Swiss bikers suggests that we rode most of what was worth doing. Sure, you could (and people have) taken bikes on the whole thing but the section between Verbier and Arolla and the Europaweg are probably not worthwhile. To quote the Swiss dude we met “Ya, it don’t flow so good.” My conclusion was that if you can work out a good route between Verbier and Arolla and from St Niklaus to Zermatt then you would have an absolutely first class week of riding.
Day 1: Le Tour to Champex
Reasoning that riding up the Chamonix valley would be dull we started at Le Tour. Having been stung here on the TMB we took the landy track to the Col du Balme instead of the walking route. This is 100% rideable.
From here we took the variant route via Les Grands. This is a mix of carrying and riding but leads to a superb and uber-techy descent to the Chalet du Glacier. Here we made a grave error and went over the Fenetre d’ Arpette. This is a carry up and down and an utter ball ache. A better option if still not great is to go via Bovine. We’d planned to go to Le Chable that night but having taken 11hrs to get to Champex we cut it short.
We were busted so we elected to go to Verbier and make a decision on the hoof as to whether to continue to Arolla. A glance at the climb above the Cabane du Mont Fort and a look at the map convinced us to sack it and ride the lifts at Verbier for a day. We then drove round to Arolla to pick up the route there. Later discussions confirmed that this was probably the right decision.
Day 3: Arolla to Zinal via the Col du Torrent and Col de Sorebois.
A much better day. With a bit of planning it’s possible to ride up to 2487m on landy track it’s then a reasonable carry to the Col du Torrent. We chose this as the walking guide book said the pasture went almost all the way to the pass whereas the other option was rocky. A nice but not too hard decent leads to the impressive Barrage de Moiry. From here you can ride maybe half way up to the Col de Sorebois. The descent from here is initially easy down pistes but in the bottom half becomes very steep and technical. I’d say almost all of it is rideable in individual sections but to ride the whole thing would be truly heroic (any takers?). At the Col de Sorebois we met a walking guide who gave us some info on the rest of the route. Walker’s info can be a bit of a double edged sword as they often have little idea of what’s rideable however she was a biker too and her recommendation for the next day proved to be a peach.
Day 4: Zinal to Gruben via the Meidpass.
About an hour’s carry takes you to a balcony path with stunning views and easy riding to the Hotel Weisshorn. From here it’s a mix of riding and carrying to the Meidpass. The descent from here to Gruben is awesome. We continued down to Turtmann for a 2200m descent. At the pass we met the only other bikers we’d seen, two Swiss guys with excellent English (fortunate as our German is non-existent). They were planning to do the Augstbord pass the next day. We’d planned to miss this out on the walking guide’s recommendation and do the Europaweg to finish in Zermatt. One of the Swiss chaps had walked the Europaweg and although he said it wasn’t ‘death on a stick’ like the walkers suggested he made it clear it probably wasn’t worthwhile. We decided to join them on:
Day 5: Gruben to St Niklaus via the Augstbordpass
Quite simply a brilliant day. A landy track can be taken to about 2200m after which it’s mostly carrying to the pass. We agreed it was strangely easy going. Perhaps we were getting used to it? The descent is utterly superb. There are short technical sections but mostly it’s just completely absorbing riding. There is one technically easy but ‘don't cock up' section on which I found myself riding with a pronounced list away from the drop. The views are jaw dropping and the hamlet of Jungen a reminder that people still make a living out of farming in the traditional Heidi fashion.
And that was it for us.