The Haute Route
I hope some of the following will be useful - I was certainly looking to answer these kind of questions when I was planning the trip! If not, you can try contacting me but I can't promise I'll remember anything else useful.
Guide Books and Route Selection
THE HAUTE ROUTE CHAMONIX-ZERMATT by Peter Cliff
This was our main source of information for choosing our overall route from home and daily route selection along the way. You definitely need this book or an equivalent, but it was not as detailed as I expected and the sketch maps are not really much help.
The book describes many different winter skiing and summer trekking routes, as well as some easy summits. It takes awhile to piece together the different route options without a good overall map.
When it came to detailed route selection, we were often surprised by how brief the description of each day was. More than once we were left wanting more information about the route down a certain glacier.
The hut wardens were also limited in their assistance on route selection, although it didn't help that we could only speak English. Some wardens were helpful and occasionally we got good advice from other people on the route. Other times this information was conflicting or did not agree with the guidebook, so in the end you have to be prepared to make your own judgements!
Day 1 Bourg-St-Pierre - Valsorey Hut: Despite aiming for the higher route to the Grands Plans, we ended up on what was probably the lower route which is still a well worn path with a short section of fixed chains.
Day 2 Valsorey Hut - Plateau Du Coulouir - Chanrion Hut: This was our first full day which I found very challenging. The ascent to Plateau Du Coulouir was made much harder given that there had not been a hard freeze overnight. Consequently, this (and other climbing sections in soft snow conditions) took much longer than the guidebook notes suggested.
We used the following SwissTopo 1:25,000 maps from Bourg St Pierre to Zermatt:
1366: Mont Velan
1347: Matterhorn (Monte Cervino)
I was happy with these maps. They are relatively small, so there's a bit of looking between two maps but I would rather have this and the extra detail of the 1:25,000 maps. The IGN 1:25,000 Map 3630 for Chamonix/Mont Blanc completes the set required for the entire Haute Route. In Zermatt, we had some difficulty finding the additional map we needed for the Italian side of the summits.
I was also surprised to find that the hut wardens did not have detailed or printed daily weather forecasts. Language was a limiting factor, but often the only forecast we could get was 'tomorrow same as today' or 'bad weather coming Sunday'. So all we could do was look at the weather each morning before setting out and watch it during the day. In the end, we were fortunate to get good weather along the route, although it was not cold enough for a hard freeze some nights, and we only had to wait out one day of high winds in Zermatt before attempting some summits in our last few days. Even in Zermatt it was very difficult to find a good mountain weather forecast like those I would commonly find in hostels for hillwalking areas of Scotland.
Cabane (Mountain Huts)
It was difficult to find out much useful information about the huts before we left. We were not sure whether we needed to book ahead for each hut or what would happen if we were delayed by weather. In the end, we booked ahead for as many huts as we could (some phone numbers not answering etc). We discovered that June 26 when we started was very early in the summer season and not all huts had officially opened, so it was a good thing we had phoned. So, we had some quiet nights and the huts were not too crowded which was definitely a bonus. We also didn't have any delays so we met all our bookings and the few we hadn't booked we were able to phone ahead from the previous hut. Once the summer season really kicks off, I imagine many of the huts could be very crowded, especially at weekends, so booking ahead is worthwhile. There are pictures of many of the huts in the Gallery.
Evening meals were amazing, given the remote location of the huts. Plenty of soup and huge serves of main course, I certainly never went to bed hungry. Breakfast, however, was surprisingly sparse - a few bits of dry bread and large serve of hot water. I guess it's difficult to eat much in the early hours, but I really needed more than this to start the day. After the mistake on our first full day of assuming we would get lunch at the next night's hut, for longer days we bought lunch from the hut and this certainly made a difference.
If you've read this page - thanks! If you found it useful, it would be great if you could use the contact page to tell me, so that I know somebody appreciates the information. Cheers, Phil.