Tag Archives: TMB

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 9 & 10.
Back to days 7 & 8.

Day 9 – La Peuty to Tré la Champ – Switzerland to France – 12km

tmbstage9-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

After the storm overnight, the morning was fresh but everything outside was wet. This means I’ll be carrying at least an extra kilogram or more of rainwater as I won’t be able to dry the tent. After breakfast, and with a heavy feeling pack, I set out from the campground and following the sign, began the climb up the hill. My legs feel fine, even after the hard downhill yesterday. The trail soon cut up into the forest with steep switchbacks and the occasional view back to La Peuty.

dscf9987-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After more than 20 switchbacks, I emerged from the forest to see Chalet du Col de Balme above me marking the border with France and the return of my phone coverage. I slogged on up the hill towards the 2200m height that would be the ceiling for today’s climbs. I came over the crest to the chalet and the brilliant views. Switzerland has plenty of views, but it’s not until you see the massif that you remember what you’ve been missing.

dscf9990-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

At the chalet, I took the opportunity to drop the pack and ordered a crepe and a soft drink. The only way to dry things after a stormy night is to hang it from my pack. So, I took out my still sopping tent and slung part of it over my pack before setting out again.

dscf9991-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

In the sun, I walked down the hill on grassy switchbacks to Col des Posettes then climbed again the 200m of elevation to Aiguillette des Posettes.

img_6959-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The second peak was made of layered ridges of rock and jagged outcrops, a different kind of rock to that seen anywhere else on this trip. The wind picked up, and I climbed carefully, not wanting the breeze to catch my tent and drag me off. When I reached the top I found a large flat grassy area and 360º views. I dropped my pack and took some photos.

dscf9996-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I then unpacked my tent and lay it out in the sun to fully dry. I also took the opportunity to get out of my boots. When everything was dry, I packed and began my descent.

dscf0001-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I followed the trail to the end of the flat area before the climb down grew steeper with several switchbacks and wooden stairs. I stopped at a large rock for a view down into the valley and a small hamlet under a glacier.

dscf0002-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The rest of the descent was in the forest. An hour later, I emerged then a short walk to Tré le Champ and the campground. The 2 Dutch couples were there, along with the Dutch guy and Dutch girl, although we had separate sittings for dinner, so didn’t hang out. After dinner, the rain continued and I dove into my tent to sleep.

Day 10 – Tré le Champ to Chamonix – France – 12km

tmbstage10a-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

The forecast for today was not good and when I awoke the clouds were down to near ground level.

img_6964-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Climbing in the mountains is not advised in the rain, or even a deep cloud cover such as this. I decided to have breakfast and wait to see if any changes were coming. But when more rain came, I decided not to risk the mountain and instead walk the 12km low route direct to my hostel in Chamonix. The route I mapped had very minimal climbing, indeed, a 350m descent over the course of the walk. When the rain stopped, I headed out, following a dirt trail beside a stream.

img_6967-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I followed it for a couple of kilometres until it came to the township of Argentiere where I stopped for a morning snack. I pushed on at a march alongside the river with cyclists and day walkers enjoying the walk before the rain.

dscf0007-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After about 9km I walked alongside a golf course, crossing through it at one point to a Les Praz de Chamonix. But with 2km to go, it began to pour. I found a tree and stood under it waiting for the rain to pass, but it just kept on falling. After 30 minutes, I set out again and thirty minutes later, dry inside my waterproof jacket, I arrived at the hostel. I showered and set out my tent to dry in the dining room before heading down into town for a drink and some lunch. Later I would have dinner and drinks with many of the people I’d met over the last few days, The British couple, the 2 American couples, the 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl. Even the Polish girl from the 2nd day of the hike made an appearance. It was a fitting end to a great hike which turned out to be more than just a walk in some rather tall mountains.

cxnr3475-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Overall Impression on the Tour du Mont Blanc
While I’ve had harder days on other hikes, overall, the TMB was the most difficult hike I’ve completed. It started out as just one of my hikes for the year and became something I’ll always remember. The landscape and the massif itself is up there in the most beautiful regions on earth I’ve experienced. As I walked this hike during Coronavirus infested 2020 there were far fewer people than normal, but it still turned out for the best. Maybe better because of less crowds.

dscf9920-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

And, while I began alone as always, I didn’t finish that way. Part of the hike was the people I met and shared this experience with, thanks to those people for being part of this experience. And, as always, this hike wasn’t just an external experience, but an internal one. During the long meditative days, great insights into my life were had. I hope to see them come to fruition in the future.

img_6958-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Would I suggest others do this walk? Definitely, but it will take courage, good health and a certain level of fitness.

Next, my adventures take me to another part of Europe I’ve yet to visit – Portugal and Spain, for a partial Camino de Santiago.

Until then,
The Lone Trail Wanderer.

Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 7 & 8.
Back to days 5 & 6.

Day 7 – La Fouly to Champex – Switzerland – 14km

tmbstage7-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

After a conversation with yet another Dutch couple at the campground, I discovered the last part of today’s leg will be a bit of a slog. The wife walked it alone last year, and so they are planning to skip the last half of the day by catching the bus from Issert. I certainly wasn’t going to take the bus, but I took note. I walked out of the campground and headed along an open field towards the woods where I would follow an easy slowly descending trail. It was still warm, even early in the day, so I was glad for the shade for the first few kilometres.

img_6930-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

While the views from the Swiss portion are not as good as the other sides, the mountains are still beautiful.

dscf9966-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After a brief climb, the trail hugged the lower slopes of the mountain on a thin path, and one section even had a chain to hold onto, just in case. The trail then headed through the forest, and it felt as if I was walking along a long thin tree-lined avenue – a 1.5km long section of very straight trail with only two bends.

img_6936-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

When I came out, the trail headed onto grassy fields past a Swiss hamlet. It then worked its way towards the village of Praz-de-Fort where I went looking for a cafe and a cold drink. I found the Dutch guy at one also having a drink, so I stopped for a chat.

dscf9965-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I headed off a few minutes after him and came around onto another road with a quaint village ahead where I stopped to retrieve my lunch from my pack. I was preparing to leave when the Dutch girl came along after me. We walked together for a bit, but she stopped in the next village for a break, while I pushed on to Issert.

dscf9968-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

A hundred metres after the village the trail cut up a hill made more difficult by the summer heat. Issert sits at 1040m above sea level and my target Champex is at 1500m, not a huge climb compared to other days. The trail went into the forest for shade, but forests have their own humidity, so it is warm either way. As I had been warned, the climb was a slog, with little along the way to see. Someone, however, had carved various animals into tree stumps to give us something to see. There’s a viewpoint along the route, and well worth the wait.

dscf9970-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

And another 20m further on there is a water fountain, something common along the trail, with potable water and another view.

dscf9969-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Four kilometres after Issert, I came out of the forest and climbed around the streets of Champex until I found myself above Lac de Champex. I walked to and along it for a kilometre until I reached my campground.

dscf9971-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After pitching my tent, I headed back to the lake, where I ran into the Dutch guy. We found the English couple and the young Dutch couple from the night before, along with (yet) another Dutch couple, the girls from each Dutch couple being sisters. Yes, the Dutch invaded my TMB, but no complaints from me. A large portion of walkers are French who speak various levels of English. The few Italians along the way were similar. The Dutch I met, to a person, were fluent in English, which made it easy to connect with them. Later, after eating with the Dutch guy, everyone got together to play cards, along with an American couple — all good company.

Day 8 – Champex to La Peuty – Switzerland – 14.5km

tmbstage8a-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

The official route today via Alp Bovine is supposed to be a forest walk with some spectacular views. However, there’s a variant, more challenging and with a climb above 2600m, the highest point of my TMB, with unmatched views. Leaving the campground, I followed a path away from the road then turned sharply and followed an irrigation channel. The trail climbed into the forest-covered valley for 1.5km until it came out at the chalets of Relain d’Arpette where I ran into the British couple from the past two evenings. I walked with them for a short time as we slowly climbed through wildflower meadows. They were faster walkers that I, so I wished them well and set my own pace into the grand view ahead.

dscf9974-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After 2km, the trail grew flatter, and I followed the line of mountains up the valley. I eventually saw the point I would be climbing to, the lowest point of the mountainscape to the right of the photo’s centre.

dscf9975-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The trail turned steeper and rockier, and I clicked back into the pace I had perfected over the past 8 days. With my legs used to the effort, the steep climb seemed fairly easy, although the sweat continued to drip from me. Looking back the way I’d come…

dscf9976-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The climb is quite varied, and after a time the trail cut through a massive boulder field. Bouldering is fun, trying to balance while skipping from one to the next. Some find it hard, but it didn’t take me long to work my way past it. There were some snow patches on the mountain and one right on the trail. On the far side a very steep zigzagging path to the crossing point – Fenêtre d’Arpette.

dscf9979-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

This last part of the climb was the most difficult, and I stopped after each short zigzag to catch my breath. But still, it didn’t take me long to make it to the top and cast my eye back.

dscf9980-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

And of course, the sight you wait for while climbing… the other side. At 2665m, I sat to eat lunch and enjoy the view.

dscf9981-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The greatest problem with climbing something tall is climbing back down again. The trail was quite thin, and after my break, I headed down, slowly. While my legs seemed used to climbing up, they still hadn’t gotten used to the down part. I descended beside the Glacier du Trient, the slick rock below it having once been covered by the glacier. As I continued down, my knees starting letting me know how much fun they were having. And, again annoying to see trail runners bounding down these slopes like they’re running down a short hill.

dscf9982-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The trail hugged the edge of the mountain for a time on a thin trail before zig-zagging down the centre. I continued down for an hour before reaching an old hut where some people had stopped. The person before me was trying the water fountain, but it was only running warm, so I pushed on. Thankfully I found a glacial stream and drank my fill of the sweet cool water. I continued my descent for some time before the trail cut into the forest where I got a good view back up the mountain to the glacier.

dscf9983-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Another hour and I came out at a cafe where several trails met and ran into the American couple from last night. As I’d just run out of my water, I bought a couple of soft drinks and sat with them for a chat. Then with dark clouds looming I headed off. The trail was now flat and had been purposely cut around the side of the mountain as a tourist walk. After 1.5km, I came to a downslope and to the annoyance of my legs, followed it down a zigzag path. Halfway down, I heard thunder and it began to rain lightly. I made it to the campground at La Peuty, not too wet, and ran into some of the others. In the gentle rain, I put up my tent with their help. After a shower, I booked dinner and ended up with the whole group again – British couple, 2 Dutch couples, the Dutch guy and the Dutch girl sitting around the table in a large teepee, eating burgers and drinking whiskey.

Tomorrow I head back into France where I will finish this epic trek. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland/France – Days 9 & 10.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 3 & 4.
Back to days 1 & 2.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta – France to Italy – 13.5km

tmbstage3-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

Today I cross the mountain border into Italy, and the bonjours will change to Buongiornos. From Les Chapieux there’s a bus that cuts out the first 1.5 hours flat walk to La Ville des Glaciers, a small hamlet just before the first climb. My companions from yesterday afternoon went with this option, and that was the last I saw of them. I decided to walk, but before I left, I ran into someone who seemed familiar… the Dutch girl from the beginning of the first day. She was walking with a Polish girl and invited me to tag along.

dscf9907-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The initial part of the trail was only flat for some of the way, but it was fresh walking in the shade of the mountains. From time to time as we walked, we watched a bus running along the road above as it carried people to La Ville des Glaciers.

dscf9909-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

About a kilometre past the hamlet the climbing began with many steep switchbacks. We were part way up when we heard an orchestra of bells on the slopes opposite. We watched a herd of cows trotting along the road to the farm as a bus tried to get past. Our climb continued, not as steep as before, but hot under the beating sun. The three of us took several breaks, stopping to drink from glacial springs whenever they appeared. It’s best to drink at higher altitudes, where it hasn’t been polluted by cow dung. The water was fresh, cool and rather moreish.

dscf9915-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

We crossed the border at Col de la Seigne (2515m), taking but a short break in the cool breeze, before setting off down the other side, where small patches of snow still clung to the ground.

dscf9917-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The trail down was not painful or strenuous, and we took our time. We passed what appeared to be a museum of sorts, but didn’t stop.

img_6878-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The gentle slope continued for another hour down to 2165m, where the valley flattened out with tall peaks to either side. The beauty and magnificence is everywhere, all to the soundtrack from the Sound of Music. After a kilometre and a half, we walked past a ruin to see Refugio Elisabetta hung on the mountain above and climbed to it. While this was my stop for the night, the girls stopped for refreshments, but were continuing on.

img_6880-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Once they’d departed, I showering and hung out in the common room where I got talking to a Dutch guy….

Day 4 – Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur – Italy – 18km

TMB Stage 4

With no huge climb today, I was hopeful of an easier day. After breakfast and coffee with the Dutch guy, the entire Refugio packed up and cleared out like an exodus. We picked our way down the path to the dirt road that would lead us out of the valley. While it was early, the beating sun caused a sweat even though it was a slow descent along the 2.5km of the valley.

dscf9923-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

At the end of the valley, we found the path to the first and only climb of the day. Refugio Elisabetta is around 2200mm, with a dip down to 1950m at the end of the valley. The climb would take us up to about 2400m. The trail began steeply but became steadily more gentle as we went. After days of climbing, the muscles in the legs had grown used to the effort. This, along with muscle memory from years of hiking, and the climb didn’t seem so difficult.

dscf9924-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

My Dutch companion and I climbed on before taking a rest at a hut. While we were there, I noted a lone figure climbing along the trail behind us and recognised her walk… the Dutch girl. Little did I know, but this was the beginning of the Dutch invasion of my TMB, not that I minded. We had a brief chat before heading off. It didn’t take us long to reach the high point of the trail and standing on the top of the small peak the view along the valley was amazing.

dscf9928-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After a brief rest, we again headed off. For the first hour, the trail followed an easy slope along the side of the mountains. We came to a green area overlooking a small lake and stopped for lunch. From here I thought it would be an easy descent into Courmayeur for the rest of the day. But I was wrong, very wrong.

dscf9940-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After lunch, our little group split, with the Dutch guy taking a different route, and the Dutch girl catching a ski lift. I climbed around past a pair of rifugios, before beginning my descent down the grassy ski fields. With the first sign of rain threatening since I began four days ago, I cut past the top of a ski lift with views of the town below.

dscf9933-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

With the mountain behind me blocking the slight wind, the temperature went up, and as I cut into the forest, it grew muggy. I zigzagged down through the trees for the next 2 hours on a steep, dry and dusty path. When the rain finally came, it was glorious, for all of the minute it lasted. With aching knees, I finally reached the bottom a minute or two after the Dutch guy and stopped for a quick drink with him before heading off across Courmayeur to my Airbnb.

img_6893-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I was thankful to arrive and chatted to my host’s son who could speak English. After the hot day, I drank buckets of water and was able to take a soaking bath. In the evening, I went down into the town for dinner – pizza, of course – and a beer.

Next, after one more day in Italy, I head into Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – Italy/Switzerland – Days 5 & 6

In the Coronavirus infested summer of 2020, I walked the 10-day Tour du Mont Blanc. Here describes days 5 & 6.
Back to days 3 & 4.

Day 5 – Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti – Italy – 11km

tmbstage5-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

After a good night’s sleep and a massive breakfast at my Airbnb, I head down into the town for last-minute supplies. I stopped to take a photo of where I’d climbed down from yesterday.

img_6899-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

From Courmayeur, the trail follows a steadily climbing road for about 3km before cutting into the forest. Thankfully, my Airbnb at 1250m elevation was halfway along this road, cutting a bit of climbing off my day. At the end of the day, I pushed into the forest and up a fairly steep set of zig-zagging paths. With little to see but trees, I found my zone and got on with the climbing. I eventually came out of the trees at 1850m to great views across Courmayeur.

img_6907-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

A further 100m climb and I stopped briefly at Refugio Giorgio Bertone for a cold drink then climbed the hill above where I stopped for lunch. After eating, I had the difficult decision of whether to take the official route or the higher, harder, variant. After being told by my host’s son last night that the walk into Switzerland would be a hard one, I decided to follow everyone else along the easier route. The trail skirted around the side of the valley at about 2000m and stayed that way for about 5km. Always in its stunning beauty, across the valley, the wall of the massif.

dscf9946-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The trail pushed into the forest and rounded into a gully where Torrente d’Arminaz, a wide and fast-flowing stream ran down the mountainside with a bridge crossing it. As it had been another hot day in the mountains, I found a great spot, got my feet out of my boots and into the icy water. No doubt the sound of my pleasure reverberated along the valley. With no hurry to push on the last couple of kilometres to my rifugio, I hung out at the spot for some time. As I did, other walkers came by, and they too took the opportunity to cool off in the water. Of course, it wouldn’t be right without one of my Dutch companions, this time the Dutch guy, who also got his feet into the water. After a while, we dried off, booted up and headed out.

dscf9947-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The last couple of kilometres were an easy walk, and we came past another Dutch trio, a couple and their son, who I chatted to as we came to final 50m climb up to the Rifugio. It was still early afternoon, and the Rifugio didn’t open until 4pm, so as a group we hung out around the tables chatting in the heat. Because of Coronavirus, the rifugio was only accepting prebookings, so the Dutch guy continued on to find a wild camping spot. After a shower, I hung out with the Dutch family. We drank beer and ate Italian sausage while talking about the trek and admiring the view.

dscf9948-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The father, about my age, had walked this route a couple of times. He had also climbed many of the peaks along the massif. I hung with them during dinner, which was full vegetarian, and then a couple more beers before retiring to bed early in preparation for the coming day.

Day 6 – Rifugio Bonatti to La Fouly – Italy to Switzerland – 17km

tmbstage6-2020-08-12-20-21.jpg

As yesterday was not as hard a day as I’d read, today is supposed to make up for it, with an intense descent, a hard ascent and another long descent. After breakfast, I bid farewell to the Dutch family, another group I wouldn’t see again and headed out around the back of the Refugio. Over the next 3km, there would be some minor climbs and descents, but the massive wall of the massif across the valley stopped me from caring, the beauty and immensity of it.

img_6911-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I arrived at a farmhouse and saw that the trail cut down the mountain on switchbacks, although nothing too steep or difficult.

dscf9950-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I followed the trail, descending 250m to Chalet Val Ferret, where I stopped for a cold drink. The weather again was warm, but storms were on the forecast later in the day. I followed the river for a short time until I came to the beginning of the first climb, which was crowded with cows. Looking for an alternative route, I followed the road around for a bit before climbing the steep grassy slope, a 350m climb before it flattened out. A short sharp climb took me to Rifugio Elena, which is closed this season. I stopped for a break and a bite to eat before the big climb to come. The view opposite…

img_6913-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

The first signs of dark clouds could be seen as I climbed the at times steep path zigzagging its way up the mountain for another 475m of elevation.

img_6917-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Since I’ve been climbing for five days, while the sweat is still pouring off me, my legs have grown used to the effort, and again I don’t seem to notice the hardship as much. As I topped Col Val Ferret and the border of Switzerland, I stopped for lunch and to enjoy the view, putting on a jacket in the cooler breeze.

img_6915-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After eating, and at the first signs of rain, I headed down the other side into Switzerland. The trail flowed gently down into the valley, and I stopped as a Marmot ran across the trail.

img_6918-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

Not long after, the rain came briefly before the heat again rose. I followed the trail down before it zig-zagged a couple of times and came out at a farm, Alpage de la Puele, where I stopped for a cold beer. I continued on down on a green hill that felt reminiscent of everything I’ve ever seen of Switzerland, heading steadily down to a river. I crossed and following a road around into a forest.

img_6920-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

After passing a quaint Swiss village, I cut down to the river again, where I found many piles of stones. I followed the river for some time, then after a short steep climb, I was deposited in La Fouly, a classic looking Swiss village. After pitching my tent at the campground, I headed into town for a beer and dinner.

img_6924-2020-08-12-20-21.jpeg

I sat alone enjoying a drink on a table next a young British couple and a younger Dutch couple. I was reading my guide book when who should appear but the Dutch girl, who’d already met the two couples. We joined them and began talking about food when an American couple appeared, shortly followed by my friend, the Dutch guy. A good evening was had with the larger group, ending with 4 of us in another bar playing cards. Unfortunately, just as we were leaving, the sky opened in full storm, leaving two of us ran back to the campground.

Next, two more days in Switzerland. Tour du Mont Blanc – Switzerland – Days 7 & 8.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Tour du Mont Blanc – France – Days 1 & 2

Mont Blanc, nestled on the borders of France, Italy and Switzerland, is the tallest mountain in Western Europe. The Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) is a 10-day hike circumnavigating the Mont Blanc Massif on a trail 168km long.

tmbeurope-2020-07-19-17-10.jpgre

On a slightly rainy day, I flew into Geneva and caught a bus for over an hour to Chamonix, the site of the first Winter Olympics. It would be from this township on the eastern border of France that I would start and finish the hike.

For the next 10 days, I plan to camp in established locations wherever I can, but with a lack of legal camping spots in Italy, I’ve opted for two Refugios and an Airbnb. My pack weight, including 2 litres of water, is around 20kg, while heavy, I’ve been known to carry more. And, as always, I’m hiking solo, however, from what I’d read, I’d likely meet other walkers along the way. It’s high season, but in the time of Coronavirus with many people unable to enter Europe, there should be a lot fewer people. My intended route…

tmbfull-2020-07-19-17-10.jpg

Day 1 – Les Houches to Les Contamines – France – 14km

TMB Stage 1

After last night’s rain, today began sunny. After a good breakfast, I made my way across Chamonix to the south bus station where I’d been dropped off the day before. The ski town of Chamonix is lively this morning with tourists and locals out and about.

img_6857-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

While there are other walkers on the bus, when it stopped at the arch, the official start point, only two of us got off, a Dutch girl and me. We walked the few minutes through the small village of Les Houches towards the cablecar where everyone else had gotten off. While I headed off with a group of French-speaking guys into the forest for the first climb, the Dutch girl took the cablecar. Over the next handful of kilometres, the steep climb zigzagged up the mountain before opening out with a great view back down the valley. It was a tough climb for the first day, made more difficult by the heat, the rain now a thing of the past.

dscf9851-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

The trail continued climbing steeply towards the peak, Col De Voza, 600m above my starting point, passing the cablecar stops for another view.

dscf9853-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

From Col de Voza, the trail descended on a wide trail through the forest, then out across rolling green meadows, weaving through several small hamlets on its way towards Le Champel. After midday, and with the heat rising steadily, I found a grassy meadow with a shade tree partway along the valley and took off my boots.

dscf9867-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

A little sore from my first day’s rigorous climb, I continued down to Le Champel only to find a steep climb up the hill. I spied a sign to Les Contamines and followed the trail for several kilometres until it came out at the main road, which I followed around to the adventure village of Les Contamines. With my campsite a further 30 minutes along the road, I stopped at a cafe/bar for a couple of cold beers served by a lovely French girl. After my break and in the heat, I followed the path beside a river, through a large activity park for campers, to a massive campground full of holidaying families. I paid and located the TMB camping area which soon filled up. That evening, I walked back to Les Contamines for dinner and another beer.

Day 2 – Les Contamines to La Chapieux – France – 17km

The next morning I headed back to the village for breakfast and some last supplies before heading out from the campground. Little did I know, today would be one of the hardest days of the entire circuit.

TMB Stage 2

From the campground, I walked along the road to a full car park and plenty of day walkers. I passed a church – Notre dame de la Gorge – before following an old Roman road as it climbed into the forest. After yesterday’s hard climb, my legs weren’t happy with me, so I pulled out my walking poles and used them for the rest of the tour. After a moderate climb, I crossed a Roman bridge, peered down into a thin gorge before continuing. After another climb, the forest opened up, giving a brief respite with great views.

img_6873-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

But the respite was indeed short and after Chalet La Balme, began a long, arduous climb. As the days are long, and the weather warm, I took regular opportunities to rest my aching legs. There are plenty of walkers on the trail, and the usual greeting is a warm bonjour, with French being the most common language. But today, through all the French voices, I occasionally heard English spoken. Halfway up the steep valley, the day walkers split off, following a trail to Lacs Jovet, a mountain lake. I climbed on steadily to Col du Bonhomme at the height of 2300m and was hit by a blustery cold wind. I took a break tucked behind a hut with a view of the peak above, one of the Col des Fours.

dscf9884-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

Les Contamines is at 1170m, meaning I’d climbed 1100m in elevation so far today, but it wasn’t over. While direct sunlight can drain you, I found the icy wind energising and easily continued the climb around a rocky ridge. I took a moment to peer back at the hut I’d huddled behind.

dscf9890-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

I continued around the rocky path, only to see a Marmot scuttle across a rock. It was one of three I saw here.

dscf98891-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

Then, after a climb up the side of a small waterfall, I reached Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, the highpoint of the day at 2479m, a total of 1300m climb today. As expected, the views were immense, this one down to the Refuge du Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. I climbed down to the refuge for a well-deserved rest and ended up chatting with a group – a British guy, a Canadian couple and a German girl.

img_6876-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

But the worst was yet to come. Climbing can be hard work, but our legs are more designed for climbing than descending. The five of us began the long steady climb down the mountain towards Les Chapieux, a descent of around 1550m over 5km. Even with hiking poles, it was knee jarring, but the conversation helped take away some of the pain.

dscf9899-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

The endless down was causing us all issues, especially when trail runners came galloping past like it was flat terrain. Trail runners often do the full trail over 3 days, and there are plenty of them. We stopped for a break to enjoy the afternoon and rest our knees.

dscf9902-2020-07-19-17-10.jpeg

We finally reached Les Chapieux, and while I was camping, I stopped off at the group’s refuge for a beer but stayed for a four-course meal with them.

In France, it’s common for cows, sheep and goats to have bells that ring at the mere thought of movement. Throughout the night in my tent, my sleep was accompanied by an orchestra of farm animals in the hills.

Next, I head into Italy, Tour du Mont Blanc – France/Italy – Days 3 & 4.

The Lone Trail Wanderer