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Tour du Mont Blanc - Part One

Tour du Mont Blanc - Part One

Postby GariochTom » Tue Sep 20, 2011 6:20 pm

Date walked: 20/08/2011

Distance: 160 km

Ascent: 10000m

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Day 1 – Transfer to Les Bossons

Day 2 – Les Bossons to Les Frasserands

We took the train from the campsite to Les Praz and squeezed onto the telepherique from there up to La Flégere. where our Tour du Mont Blanc trek would begin.
Day 2.JPG

It was hot and sunny (as it would continue to be for the entire trek) and the first few hours of walking in the heat was tiring but rewarded by the ever better views across to the peaks and glaciers of the Mont Blanc massif.

After a couple of hours we reached Lac Blanc – our lunch spot and the high point of the day's route. A few of the group had a dip in the ice cold water – rather them than me.
Day 2a.JPG

We spent over an hour lazing on the rocks above the lakes, which were very busy with other tourists and walkers. Eventually, we made a move and headed down to Les Frasserands, having to negotiate a few iron ladders at steep sections along the way.

We dined out at a restaurant close to the camp site – a huge buffet to start; steak for the non-vegetarians and an omelette for me, followed by a selection of desserts.

Day 3 – Les Frasserands to Trient

We made an early start and were soon climbing steeply through pleasant woodland before passing the treeline, above which we could see down to the campsite far away in the valley bottom.
Day 3a.JPG

We zigzagged up to l'Aguillette des Posettes, where we had lunch. Our next stop was the Swiss border, but there was first a hard slog up the track, made more tiring by the continued intense heat and lack of shade.

Eventually we reached the border, where the Refuge Col de Balme is strategically positioned to cater for passing walkers.
Day 3c.JPG

After the obligatory photographs at the border, I went into the hut to see what I could buy. We had not heard good things about 'Madame Zin', but she didn't seem that bad – she even smiled occasionally! As the shade of the refuge was already taken, I sat in the sunshine, having my lunch and hoping the nearby cows didn't get too close. The cows do indeed wear big bells around their necks – it's not just an Alpine myth.

We continued, contouring around a few shallow gorges and after an hour a small group of us took an enjoyable diversion up an 'airy' ridge with dizzying drops to both sides, to an iron cross. I'm not sure whether the '1984' is a date, or the height...
Day 3b.JPG

The route then involved another steep descent, back below the treeline, to the commune of Trient (which has a nuclear shelter, as seems to be mandatory for settlements in Switzerland).

It was 'rough camping' tonight, but the campsite was reasonably well appointed anyway, with a large timber shelter, toilets and tap water – what more did we need? (other than showers...)

Day 4 – 'Bovine Route' to Champex

The day started with a walk along the road through Trient, then a climb to the Col de la Forlaz. The walking from this point was gentler, through rolling meadows, following the annual route that the cattle take up to fresh pasture land. Apparently, 'alps' are actually these areas of pasture rather than the mountains! En route there were plenty of raspberries and bilberries to pick and graze on.

Lunchtime was spent at the Bovine hut (altitude 1987m) where there are pictures of prize cows in the toilet, and which is tastefully decorated by sprigs of heather. I enjoyed a crème brulee from the hut – delicious!
Day 4b.JPG

We made a long and fairly gentle descent into the trees, before reaching a cafe where we enjoyed more alfresco drinks with a view. There was then only a short walk to the campsite for the night, by Champex.

I had wondered whether I had made the right decision to choose the Bovine route rather than the more demanding Fenetre d'Arpette route which a few of the group had chosen. However, at the end of the day I was pleased with the choice.

Day 5 – Champex to La Fouly

A 'breakaway faction' of us set off early and at speed from the campsite the next morning. We wanted to get to the next campsite by lunchtime so that we could do an extra walk in the afternoon.

We passed the reflective Lac de Champex and descended through forest which featured numerous tree carvings – of personified mushrooms and of wild animals (wild boar, ibex and strangely, kangaroo) – before reaching the Val Ferret.
It was then a meander through attractive villages with stone and timber buildings of various angles, featuring piles of chopped wood as high as their walls.
Day 5a.JPG

We later walked alongside the Drance de Ferret which had a wide gravelly floodplain reflecting its glacial nature.

We arrived at the campsite near La Fouly by midday, where we had lunch under the shade of some trees before heading off to start the ascent towards Glacier de l'A Neuve. There were some menacing clouds above and we kept fingers crossed that a thunderstorm did not materialise. By this fifth day we were acclimatised to the temperature but walking in the heat was still wearying. The Cabane de l'A Neuve was just visible, and appeared to be at the top of an impenetrable rocky cliff. We wondered whether we would actually reach it.
Day 5b.JPG

At around the height of the glacier, I was overcome by fatigue and had to stop walking until a fellow walker, who was also suffering, caught up and shared an energy bar with me. The energy bar worked and after an awkward near-vertical section of rock where rope banisters provided some security, we eventually reached the hut.
Day 5c.JPG

The sense of elation was increased by some delicious chocolate & orange cake and hot chocolate – the guardian of the hut is a very good cook! And the view from the outside toilet is quite something – definitely a room with a view!
Day 5d.JPG
Room with a view...

Day 6 – La Fouly to Planpincieux via Grand Col Ferret

One of the first events of the day was a race up 'Horror Hill' (that was what our walk leader called it, although I can't find it on the map). I don't like to admit that I'm competitive but I am - sometimes at least! Apparently 16 minutes (with rucksacks) is a very good time for the hill, and I was first, with a time of something between 14 and 15 minutes.... I don't like to brag, either :) .

The next stop (after I eventually finished wheezing) was a hut at La Peule, where we had coffee and lunch and I stocked up on Swiss chocolate. There was then a quite gentle ascent to Grand Col Ferret on the border between Switzerland and Italy, at a height of 2,537m. There was a bright yellow pod at the top, containing emergency supplies for the Ultra TMB race.
Day 6a1.JPG

The rugged landscape and steep sided Val Ferret in Italy was very different to the rolling Swiss side.
We descended the valley and stopped for ice-cream and coffee at a cafe before catching a bus to the campsite near Courmayeur. The bus was packed – standing room only, which on the winding Italian roads was quite an experience.
Day 6b.JPG

Day 7 - Free day – Courmayeur

Day 8 – Around Courmayeur

After catching an early bus up the Val Ferret, we were walking through the forest again. We caught glimpses of the surrounding mountains through the trees, but once we got higher than the treeline we could see the entire Grand Jorasses range behind us.
Day 8a1.JPG

We reached the Refuge Bonatti before 9am, with the intention of waiting there to see the leaders of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc as they passed through this half way point. It was surprisingly cold – we even had to don fleeces – something of a shock after the hot weather over the last week! After about an hour we spotted the leading group of 3 Spanish competitors scaling the hill (including, we later discovered, the ultimate winner - Kílian Jornet Burgada, Number 1501). They didn't look particularly tired, despite having already run 90km! Amazing.
Day 8a2.JPG

After watching a couple more runners pass through, we set off ourselves at a rather more sedate pace. Our leader took us on a route away from the UTMB trail, so that we did not hinder the race. We went through what seemed like a 'hidden valley' and up to Col Sapin, and a few of us walked up a nearby hill to enjoy even better views.
Day 8a3.JPG

Day 8c.JPG

We had lunch on a grassy knoll with a brilliant view across to the Mont Blanc massif. The cloud that had obscured Mont Blanc itself cleared, making the view even better.
Day 8d.JPG

At the beginning of our descent, we passed several tall and weathered 'fence' structures and wondered what they were for – surely they could not be to prevent avalanches, being almost at the top of this mountain?

We rejoined the UTMB route on the steep descent down to Courmayeur, and clapped, encouraged and moved out of the way of, the many runners as they made their way up.

Continued at http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=15295
Last edited by GariochTom on Tue Sep 20, 2011 11:16 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Tour du Mont Blanc - Part One

Postby mountainstar » Tue Sep 20, 2011 6:36 pm

Looks an amazing "walk" one I have always fancied doing, nice to see it on Walkhighlands. :D
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Re: Tour du Mont Blanc - Part One

Postby Rekrab » Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:18 pm

pic 8a3 is amazing

and so is 8d!!

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