We alighted at the Col
de la Forclaz. It was breezy and cool, so the first stop was the hotel
for coffees in the warm! When we couldn't find any more excuses for delays,
we set off, on the start of the Tour de Mont Blanc. It couldn't have been
a smoother or nicer start. The contouring or 'bisse' path was level, and
wound round above the valley among pine trees. A water channel gave a
pleasant sound and there was no chilly wind as we'd had on the col. The
pines had been cut and the stumps had been used to create carvings - mostly
of mushrooms, but also of other objects or animals. These were set against
the backdrop of the Trient glacier and a blue sky. top
Up the road a little, then a zigzaggy well graded
path, soon reaching the cloud base at 1600m, and emerging over an hour
later at 2000m. A steady pull. We carried on to a high point at 2060m,
where we found a sheltered spot next to a pond for our midmorning brew
and second breakfast. Intermittent views, but they were incomplete, which
was a disappointment as this "Balcon Sud" is supposed to be
one of the best walks in Europe for views.
However, Sue spotted two magnificent
ibex nearby, which somewhat
compensated for the lack of view. It was cool at the brew stop, but we
wrapped up and enjoyed another excellent cup of tea. There were others
on the path, including a Scotsman in shorts who was patiently waiting
at a viewpoint - for a view that never properly came. He warmed himself
by passing us on the way to Flégère. We duly arrived at
La Flégère at 1.20pm.
The meal was superb. Good
soup followed by pork chops with pasta and gherkins, in a nice sauce,
then a selection of cheeses before finishing with a chocolate mousse.
All prepared by three jolly teenagers, who seemed to be running the refuge.
The two girls later had a mega water fight with the chef, who kept appearing
in only a towel-like loincloth before disappearing into the night. He
obviously wreaked some revenge as one of the girls was soon standing in
front of the fire, stripped down to her bra, other clothing being dried
by the fire. top
It was around another three quarters of an hour
to reach the summit of Le Brévent. The path was beautifully constructed
and included two iron ladders up a steep section. The cloud swirled to
give views into the Diosaz valley to the right. The view opened to the
left before we reached the top and provided a glimpse of a snowy peak
above Chamonix. It didn't last long as the cloud obscured it again! The
last stretch was on a steepish wide track, accompanied by the tourists
who had come up on the cablecar from the valley. Initially, no view was
visible, but just as we were about to start the descent, the cloud parted
to reveal a view of one of the glaciers. We were chilled by a cold wind
during the drop to a suitable lunchstop, but the view continued to improve
and we had a scenic stop, in the lee of the wind. Martin brewed more tea,
while I made a pâté and tomato sandwich. top
We get the 5th cablecar out of Chamonix, and after
changing at the Plan station at 2310m we arrive at the stupendous Aiguille
du Midi télépherique station at 10am. It is -7 degrees C.
It's a fairly vast place (extremely vast given its 3842m height). We queue
for 10mins to get the lift to the high viewing platform. Later the queue
was very much longer. Perfectly clear day with even the Matterhorn, 50
miles away (and rather small) showing clearly.
Eventually descended to the
Plan station at 2310m and commenced a stroll along another lovely balcony
path, in strong sunshine. Gradually we warmed up and within an hour of
being at -7 degrees C in full waterproofs, we were sharing our last tin
of mackerel before stripping into t-shirts and shorts. Lots of people
on this contouring path, which led in a leisurely 1½ hours to the
large hotel at Montenvers - 1900m. Here we sat in the sun below the magnificent
rock summit of les Drus, with Aig.Verte behind, enjoying a late lunch.
Our route continued for another 20 minutes on a
track alongside the railway. At 'Bellevue' we had a last good view down
the Chamonix valley, with snowcapped mountains towering above, and the
sound of cowbells. The path now headed through woods, undulating until
the start of the descent to the bridge over the glacier river (Bionassay).
The view down the wooded valley was a pretty one and the view up was of
the rubble-strewn ice of the glacier.
The suspension bridge was
about 30m across and bounced! It made a good spot for photos. Until now,
we'd seen few people, but behind emerged a large party.
The path climbed again, with
the Col de Tricot as the next objective. The scenery was spectacular,
with the Dôme de Goûter above the glacier, and the pine covered
lateral moraines to our left. The lunchstop was on a terrace covered with
bilberry bushes, which took in this view, and it became the envy of several
passers-by. Initially, it was a peaceful spot for brewing tea and making
rolls with tuna in satay sauce, kindly donated by the Scotsman! Finished
off with a handful of bilberries. Martin watched a couple of avalanches
on the glacier, given away by the enormous crash, a bit like thunder.
On we went up the ancient Roman road, built steeply and directly up the
hillside, cloud level rising and falling above us, but thankfully no rain.
We passed an ancient bridge (went over it) over a deep gorge. I missed
this due to being in autopilot mode. We went over a mini col past Nant
Borrant, and La Balme came into view a little further up the hillside.
As we strode along we passed an elderly bearded person. In good humour
due to rising cloud, we stopped for lunch at La Balme (the Americans'
destination for the night). A smallish cup of tea and a filling cheese
and ham omelette saw us on our way and on up the steepish climb to Col
du Bonhomme. All this in the company of Mr Eyebrow man, and our departure
was supervised by a penetratingly curious English woman and her amiable
husband. The cloud rose and the wind rose. Trouser legs were donned at
La Balme, and higher up a fleece was also needed. Most had waterproofs
to shelter from the cold wind, including Sue. It took only 50 minutes
to climb up to the classic Alpine col of 'du Bonhomme'. Some Germans had
bagged the shelter so we sat outside with the bearded elderly man, admiring
the views and shivering. Eyebrow man was a little behind.
The meal is at the usual time
-7pm, and the main course is slightly delayed by the guardian and the
chef dashing outside to photograph the evening light on Mont Pourri -
3779m. Soup, followed by rice and pork chops with gravy, then cheese,
and also a piece of sponge cake - lots of home baked bread (Sue saw the
flour) thrown in. This was interrupted /followed by an increasingly dramatic
sunset, which exploded into all sorts of reds, oranges, mauves and gradually
the colours subsided gently into darkness over the course of the next
We were on the way again at 8.30. The sky was perfectly
blue and ice had formed on the ascent to Col de Fours. It was cool, despite
being in the sun. It didn't take long to reach the col. Here, the rucsacs
were abandoned in a rocky hollow, and we continued up to a summit, fettered
only by camera and binoculars. Saw a group of 4-5 ibex just below us as
we started the ascent.
The plate describing what
we could see was broken, but that didn't spoil the clear view we had in
360o. The Matterhorn and Mont Blanc were clearly picked out. Also our
route up to Col du Bonhomme was clearly visible. It was a memorable point,
with clear, cool air - on top of the world. We loitered for some time
before descending to pick up the sacs and continue the descent to Ville
The next nearly 2 hours were
spent ascending further to Col de la Seigne, which forms the French-Italian
border. Large zigzags eased it somewhat, and while Martin was photographing
gentians, I saw an eagle soaring just below me. It was a steady climb
and we met our friend again at the col, where views in both directions
were spectacular. Mont Blanc again, together with views into Italian valleys.
It was another spot to loiter, and we successfully did so for half an
hours descent the other side, with the sun behind and shadows lengthening,
brought us into an open valley, just above which was the Elisabetta refuge.
The glacier behind it was imposing and still lit by sunshine. Fortunately,
places were available (albeit in a room which potentially holds 28 people
in 3 rows of bunks). We sat outside soaking up the last of the sun, waxing
boots, and having a drink, then strolled a bit further up, to survey the
glacier, until the sun sank out of view. Saw two more marmots!
No wind, clear sky, early sun. That meant Sue and
I started in shorts (+ T shirt for me). Again the sun beat down unrelentingly
all day. Brilliant views to the rocky Italian side of Mont Blanc, as we
descended to the valley below Elisabetta. We had said goodbye to Mr Eyebrow,
who has given up and is going to the valley for a bus ("sac too heavy,
body too heavy").
Before the bridge, we turn
right up an ascending path that gives even better views of Mont Blanc,
and a look across to mini ice-floes at the foot of a huge glacier. We
watch a marmot, oblivious to our presence, shortly go into hibernation.
At "Harpers corner" we stop for a welcome brew, and nosh some
curranty biscuits bequeathed by Mr Eyebrow. The Americans stop briefly,
but pass us. We gradually overtake them again on the wonderful balcony
path that leads to Col Checrouit.
We couldn't linger at Refuge Bertone as there was
more climbing ahead and we were soon dripping. The next short stretch
was very steep, to reach a small summit with a 'table d'orientation'.
The views extended back to where we'd come from, and across to the Mont
Blanc massif and glaciers. It was from here that we saw a paraglider launch
from the tip of Mont Blanc!
The path continued, thankfully
more gently, up the crest of Mont de la Saxe. On top here, the views all
round were spectacular. We brewed on a crest in a fine spot, with the
Grand Jorasse behind and the wooded valley above Courmayeur ahead. Since
it was 12.30 by then, we had lunch - baguette with goats cheese and tomato.
This provided energy and reduced weight (!) to continue ascending, over
the top of a small summit, and down the other side steeply to Col Sapin.
Again, beautiful views, which
we retained while walking down a wide side valley. The path wove through
rocks and the mountains ahead developed shadows across its glaciers. Dropping
over the end of the alp, it was only 15 minutes further to the Refugio
W Bonatti, a brand new refuge opened in August 1998. top
After finishing our drinks we were soon off up to
the col (Grand Col Ferret), in the company of the other two. Chu fell
behind, but he enjoyed chatting to us for the hour or so that it took
to climb nearly 500m to the col.
There we brewed up and had
a late lunch in the lee of a Swiss breeze. We admired the view of our
entire route through Italy, from Col de la Seigne, quite a few miles away.
There followed a long descent, quite exposed at times, and led us to the
trough and La Paule, where cows were being herded, pigs were pigging,
chickens were chicking, and all manner of produce was for sale. top
The following two hours were spent gently descending
the valley, first down a track, then on a path that provided a good view
of a long waterfall to the left, only half of which was so far in sunshine.
The path entered more pine woods, where we saw jays and different types
of tits. Better still, I saw two black squirrels, the first only glimpsed
but the second had a good look at me and revealed his white stomach. They
were red squirrel sized. Also lots of eyebright on the woodland floor.
The path generally contoured while the slope we were on became very steep,
so much so that there was a handrail to prevent any falls below! It was
a lovely cool part of the day, with the sun dappling the path through
the trees, and the only sounds were the river below and the birds.
At the sign R for Praz de
Fort, we turned L and descended a short way to a meadow filled with bistort.
In the shade, we had a banana for the second breakfast, to provide energy
for the forthcoming 5,500 foot ascent!
Lunch was on the bend of a
zigzag at 2065m, overlooking the Saliena glacier. While Martin brewed
one of the best cups of tea this trip, I made tuna rolls with fresh baguette.
The remainder of the ascent followed, made easier by the zigzagging path.
The Cabane d'Orny came into view, together with the Glacier d'Orny, all
of a sudden, accompanied by a cool wind blowing from the ice. The last
part of the climb followed a path on the top of the glacier's lateral
moraine, parts of which weren't a stroll. Looking back, was the Lac d'Orny,
a blue glacial lake. A final few steep steps and we had arrived at the
(thankfully open) refuge, where we ordered four tins of lemonade and removed
sweaty boots. The wind was too chilly at 2811m to sit outside, so we adjusted
to surroundings which would become increasingly comfortable as the evening
drew on. top
We took the day slow and steady. Our first objective
was the col de la Breya, which involved turning left at three separate
path junctions, the final one taking us off the well used path to the
chair-lift to Champex, and on to a thin exposed trail, involving at one
point taking off the rucsac and crawling through a rocky hole, dragging
the rucsac behind. Sue climbed around this obstacle and accused me of
being stubborn because I didn't take her advice and follow her up the
precipice. We eventually reached the col de la Breya and stared down into
the abyss ahead. So we brewed up and spent an airy half hour in this lonely
spot - no other traffic on this route today. Then we dropped down into
the Val d'Arpette, our objective, the Fenêtre d'Arpette, looming
larger by the minute. Breya is 2401m and Fenêtre d'Arpette 2665m.
The descent was fairly easy - the first 20 minutes or so was very steep.
We spent a happy half hour
at the Fenêtre d'Arpette, admiring the Trient glacier and looking
back to Breya and beyond. Eventually we parted company with the genial
physio and followed the other two groups down the never-ending route to
Chalet du Glacier, some 900m below. The path descended close to the Trient
glacier, giving a wonderful view of the glacier and its huge seracs, from
all the angles imaginable from such a descent.
It was warm and after taking
some self-timed photos and congratulating ourselves on completing the
circuit of Mont Blanc (purist style, unaided by cablecars, etc, keeping
as close to the mountain as practicable) we had a final brew beside the
bisse path. top
The continuing path contoured above huge pines for a while, then started
to drop more steeply to cross a couple of streams to the other side of
the valley. During this descent, we met a few of the 'Wilderness' Americans
- the others were doing the alternative route over Fenêtre d'Arpette.
At one point, we waited patiently for the sun to emerge from behind a
small cloud, to photograph a shrub with bright red berries. The path crossed
some mossy woodland, then met a jeep track on a fairly level gradient.
Two black squirrels were seen during this section of the descent. At the
end of the track, where the path restarted, it was after 1pm and time
for lunch. Martin brewed soup with croutons, while I made hard work of
opening two tins of tuna in tomato sauce with the penknife. Yet again,
washing and tent had an opportunity to dry out before we moved on.
The path cut through woods, where, again, the warm air was filled with
the scent of pine, to Champex d'en haut, a small cluster of houses in
an open meadow. Cow bells could be heard.
Fortunately, the terrace at
'Plein Air' was still in sun, and we had an extremely pleasant hour or
so diary-writing, aided by a 'grande biere', as the sun sunk from the
clear sky. top
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