Milly decided to run 225km over the Swiss Alps with a mate. Five days and 14,000m of vert later they had a new appreciation for dinner time, fruit tarts, and the life-giving boost of a Snickers bar.


It’s 10pm at night. We’re sitting at a wooden table inside Cabane Aiguille Rouge at 2810m. Dinner is a bowl of watery soup and half a Snickers.



Not a lot of sustenance after running a marathon with 3km of vertical over technical mountain terrain. The ogre of a hut keeper is listening to Nickleback in his office like an angsty 90s teenager. Chad Kroeger is screeching and my stomach joins in, ‘Are we havin’ fun yet?’

I look at my friend Lea. My long-distance-running, bag-piping, Gaelic-speaking Scottish pal from Dornie in the Scottish Highlands. His nose ring glints in the light from the ogre’s office.

Earlier that day, we’d started on the Via Valais, with approximately zero hours of planning. A conversation from a week earlier went something like this:

‘Hey, do you wanna run the Via Valais soon?’

‘What is it?’



It’s been hailed: ‘The Grand Tour of the Alps!’, ‘A runner’s version of the Haute Route!’, ‘The best trail running route in the world’. Designed by the team at Alps Insight, the Via Valais is a running tour through the Swiss Valais region from Verbier to Zermatt.


Sore Knees & Snickers Bars: Trail Running the Via Valais, Milly young, swiss mountains


The route follows flowing single track and steep technical terrain, up mountain passes, and down into glacially carved valleys, to offer up breath-taking views and breath-taking quad burn.

The basic statistics: nine days, 225km, and 14,000m of vert. I suggested to Lea we do a variant of the route in five days. He was in!

First Steps

The smell of cow shit wafted on the summer breeze as we took our first steps off the gondola above Verbier. The time was long past midday, far from an alpine start.



We shouldered our running packs full of gear for the week; not as much gear as you may first think. The route links together a series of mountain huts which provide food and board, so all you really need is some spare clothes, and a wad of Swiss Francs for demi-pension (half-board) and evening beers.

With my bamboo toothbrush cut in half to save weight, the big question was how many pairs of undies to pack; I opted for three.

The terrain changed rapidly as we moved through the vertiginous landscape. Alpine meadows rambled down to turquoise lakes.

Knife-edged peaks stretched to the horizon. Shepherds’ huts clung to craggy mountain sides and glaciers glittered in the afternoon sun. In the golden hour, Mont Blanc de Cheilon stood tall in the distance, her striking triangular face cast a long shadow over the valley.



On our final steep climb of that first day, Lea offered me half a Snickers. I enjoyed that distinctive nougat, peanut, caramel crunch as the world outside the Valais faded into the distance.

We reached the red wooden doors of Cabane Aiguille Rouge at 8pm on that first night, wildly late for dinner, but glad to have made it after a long day.

A large man with a thick moustache, beady black eyes and a rapidly reddening face yelled at us in French (picture Shrek but not green and very angry). He fed us a measly bowl of watery ‘soup’ that contained the caloric density of about half a carrot.

A few climbers playing cards at a nearby table told us the real dinner had been a hearty stew. We cursed Shrek, shared a Snickers for dessert, and fell asleep dreaming of burgers. That lesson was learned the hard way: don’t be late for dinner.


Life On The Trail

The trails on the Via Valais are some of the best trails I’ve ever run. The single track flows, the climbs are steep, and the descents are knee-battering-ly good.

On too many occasions we acted like kids on PeeWee 50s, opening the throttle and bombing it downhill, feeling that sweet thing they call flow state.



As the days rolled on we settled into our new routine: coffee (often resembling motor oil); a breakfast of fresh bread and fruit maison; more coffee (especially if the guy on the bunk below had snored all night); stretch; tape our lower limbs; apply nappy rash cream in between the toes; run; run some more, and try to make it to the hut in time for dinner.

We enjoyed many a shared Snickers on a high mountain pass with the sound of cowbells rippling up from the valley.

In fact, Snickers made up the majority of our diet out in those hills. Snickers, coffee, and the prolific tarte aux fruits. (FYI: the award for Best Alpine Fruit Tart goes to the Linz Tart at Topalihutte!)

To keep (kind of) clean, we bathed naked in glacial lakes, and occasionally ducked out the back of huts at night with a Nalgene full of water for an ‘APC wash’ (for anyone that’s wondering that’s an Arm Pits and Crotch wash – a handy skill passed down to me by my intrepid Grandma) for when we were feeling particularly stinky.


Ephemeral moments were shared with strangers. Hut keepers beamed warm smiles as they poured coffee. Shepherds offered nods as we passed.

Hikers shook their heads and laughed as we fine-tuned our pole technique up steep scree slopes. One particularly jolly old lady made a lasting impression walking alongside us to 3000m over the Col de Terret.



She had rough, leathery skin that had seen the wind, the snow, the rain, and about 70 laps of the sun. Her eyes sparkled with the marvels of the mountains.

Her smile hid a well-kept secret. It was clear she hadn’t squandered her years in front of a computer screen.

Late for dinner again? Not a chance! Not with the haunting memory of Shrek and the watery soup. Each night, hut keepers offered up three courses of delicious, home-cooked meals.

Any seasoned mountain traveller knows that a warm meal after a day in the hills tastes five star, but those were no ordinary rissoles. The hut chefs were tapping into some real Sal Kerrigan magic.

Every day held the promise of a new adventure…and a new injury. My knees and feet were taped up to the nines.



Lea’s chafed nipples were accessorised with a crisscross of black electrical tape and his toes treated to a daily coating of nappy-rash cream to calm the blisters. Everything hurt! But, as the abdominals of Ben Cousins always say, ‘SUCH IS LIFE’ for a long distance runner.

Chasing Dreams

On day four I sat in the morning sun with my motor oil coffee and watched children play. There was a blonde girl flying paper planes.

Her hair was tied up in a high pony that made her look like a pineapple. She wore pink crocs and a T-Shirt that proclaimed: ‘GO AFTER DREAMS’. Amen, sister.


Off to chase our dreams, we started up the trail before the sun touched it, headed for the Schollijoch. The descent from the Schollijoch is dubbed ‘the crux’ of the route.

It requires an 80m downclimb off a steep rock buttress onto a glacier, via a series of sketchy ladders, ropes and chains.



There was a moment of panic as laptop-sized rocks broke loose from above whilst we lowered down the final piece of tattered rope bridging a nasty looking bergschrund*. We were lucky to have been clear of the fall line.

* A crevasse near the head of a mountain glacier.

That afternoon we took a break in the town of Randa. We sat eating M&Ms and hot chips (a health-giving diet for any endurance athlete), lamenting the 1200m climb we had between us and our final hutte.

I did a quick inventory of injuries: both knees, left ankle, right hamstring, some blisters. I was hurting and so was Lea.

But it was 4:30pm and we had to be at the hutte for dinner at 6pm. We dug deep and motored up that slope. Flashbacks of Shrek lit a fire under our asses.

Finally, Kinhutte came into view, stapled to the mountain on a craggy fold beneath the towering pyramid of the Kinghorn.

I heard singing and laughter. As I clambered up the rocky trail and crested the final step the balcony erupted in cheers, hugs, and the familiar ‘chink’ of steins. Strangers immediately became friends; fellow tired, unwashed humans, connected by a love of the mountains.


Final Strides

Our last morning was a Swiss postcard. The sun rose to meet the moon, which was hanging high in a pink and purple sky.

We drank coffee on the balcony of Kinhutte and watched the first rays of light hit the Matterhorn. Himalayan prayer flags danced in the cool morning breeze.

As we descended from the hutte, our last Snickers was halved beneath the towering Weisshorn.

The adventure ended abruptly. The bustling streets of Zermatt brimmed with tourists and marching bands.

We’d been dreaming about oat flat whites for days, but when I sipped my first one I was nostalgic for the motor oil coffees we’d grown to love.

Nothing seemed to taste quite as good as it did in the mountains, not even the post-adventure biers. I guess a shared Snickers bar mixed with the smell of cow shit wafting on a high-mountain breeze is hard to beat.