We are getting ready to continue our north to south trek through the French Alps. We finished last year at Les Houches near Chamonix, and we will travel there on Monday 30th July to start walking on Tuesday. This year we will walk as far as Modane, which is a walk of a little more than 100 miles. I don’t think that sounds too much for a 2 week holiday. But we couldn’t help noticing last year that those pesky Alps are very hilly and those miles will include 9500m (31,100 feet or so) of ascent and descent, which is rather more than climbing Everest from sea level. We’ll take it nice and slowly though and hope for good weather. It is meant to be a holiday after all. The snow which lead us to use spare socks as emergency mittens last year was early enough in the trip that it has now dropped discretely below the ‘older posts’ button. So all sunshine and blue skies.
This year Edward is doing other things, but we will have our daughter, Catherine with us. As in 2017, I’ll post progress here when mobile phone reception allows.
Everything nicely organised!
Ready to Start again 30th July 2018
Catherine had been working at the Kendal Calling Festival so we had arranged to pick her up and her little tent at 5.30am in order to get to Manchester airport in time for our flight to Geneva. It turns out at that for festival goers 5.30 in the morning is late at night rather than early in the morning and we collected her straight from the staff party. As a result she has been falling asleep at every conceivable opportunity and seems to have trouble grasping what the word ‘today’ means.
In fact we needn’t have been so early as the plane was 2 hours late leaving Manchester. We got a Chamexpress bus, which, with an ironic nod to the convenience of motorised transport, dropped us at our hotel door. The Chamonix valley is as dramatic as we left it, and the hotel is more or less exactly where Judith and I finished last year. So we can start again where we left off, but now with our narcoleptic daughter.
Les Houches to Les Contamines 31st July 2018
Despite a rather hot night, we all got some sleep, which meant that Catherine was awake for the walk, which helped.
A steep plod up an easy track took us to the Col de Voza, with great views of Mont Blanc. From here we had a choice of routes and Catherine threatened to undermine the whole concept of the expedition by beginning to hint that maybe we should take the harder option. Needless to say we didn’t.
So back down the other side it was, and then up the valley to Les Contamines. It was extremely hot and Les Contamines seemed a bit further away than was strictly necessary. The route took us on some steep wooded paths and minor roads, and, although very attractive, seemed at times to be taking the line of most resistance. 12 miles or so today with a Scottish Munro of ascent (and nearly descent). Very easy paths, the only real problem being the heat.
We have used Airbnb to get a tiny apartment, which is really set up for walkers. There are loads of them here as the Tour du Mont Blanc goes through here. In fact our route has coincided with that extremely popular trek all day. The supermarket is just 2 minutes walk away, which should be manageable.
Les Contamines to the refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme 1st August 2018
I appear to have lost my penknife- it must have fallen from the top pocket of the rucksack when taking something else out of it. This meant that opening a bottle of wine last night required invention, fortitude and courage. But everything else has gone well.
The deal with the Les Contamines apartment was that it wasn’t cleaned between visitors and you leave it as you found it. We found it immaculate and so that is how we had to leave it.
Easy walking along the valley lead to Notre Dame de la Gorge, a pilgrim church. From there it was uphill for more or less the rest of the day. To get that big a sustained uphill in Britain you would have to dig a big hole next to Ben Nevis and start from the bottom of it.
This was a very beautiful day’s walking, especially once we got above the trees (we went through various different eco systems). It was also very varied, apart from being relentlessly uphill. And it was very busy, as we were still with the Tour de Mont Blanc.
The refuge is very busy and really quite noisy but we are looking forward to an evening meal and a pretty easy day planned for tomorrow.
The weather has been glorious again. I’ll try and add photos but they may have to wait because mobile phone reception is not that good.
There was some old snow to cross
Croix du Bonhomme to Plan Mya 2nd August 2018
We had a little room in the refuge with 4 beds (2 bunk beds). The place was very crowded and we were told there were to be 5 people in this room. We’re not sure what happened, but thankfully it was just the 3 of us. Given that it was so crowded the evening meal was fine, although even the most sentimental of Alpine traveller is never going to say ‘Goody, polenta for tea’.
The Tour du Mont Blanc procession went off down the hill towards a valley, but we went a different way, finding our way on to a fine ridge, the Crete des Gittes.
We have had a very short day today. The ridge was spectacular, but not difficult (the guidebook has a far longer and less interesting alternative in case of high wind or ice). We were able to choose between following a path or sticking more closely to the airy crest.
Then there was a descent through alpine flowers and butterflies and extremely vocal crickets, ending up on the minor road pass over the col de Roselend. We have been here before (by car) and it is a very lovely place. Having started walking at 8am we were here by late morning and have been relaxing and reading in the sunshine since then.
We are about to go and find our refuge for the evening. Apparently they have their own snail farm, so supper tonight might be interesting.
Very little mobile reception so even if I can post this, I can’t post any pictures yet.
ps I couldn’t get enough phone signal to post this yesterday, so I’ll keep an eye out for signal as we walk today.
Catherine was often a little way ahead.
Plan Mya didn’t look like much from outside, but was a lovely place to stay.
Plan Mya to the Refuge de la Balme (Tarantaise) 3rd August 2018
Plan Mya didn’t look very promising from the outside but it was a lovely place to stay, with good food. Again we had a bedroom to ourselves, with, slightly surprisingly, our own shower in the corner. Unfortunately to go to the loo we had to go out through a store room, through another dormitory/dining area, then outside before coming in again- all delightfully higgledy piggledy.
There was a French group there-2 men and a woman with numerous children and a donkey to carry their stuff. The adults weren’t very convincing about the advantages of a donkey- at one stage yesterday it had got frightened by cows and run off. It must be pretty sure footed though because they’ve followed the same route as us today, which has been steep and rough in places (mind you, they are not here yet).
The day started with a long traverse of hillside above Lac de Roselend. The path preferred to go up and down rather than along the flat. But, being so dry, it was easier than it might have been because the guidebook warned of mud and we know from the 2nd day’s walking last year how tiresome steep alpine mud can be.
The big ascent of the day was steeply up to the Col du Bresson. The skyline comprised crazy Dolomitic spires of rock, and the path made an improbable route to the hidden col through boulders the size of houses. The gothic rock architecture continued as we descended, steeply at first, to the Refuge de la Balme. Having been another hot day, even at altitude we are glad to have an unlimited supply of water.
I’ll try to post this this evening but I doubt it will work so may have to wait until tomorrow again. I’ll be able to add pictures for the last 3 days tomorrow. All this must be pretty boring without pictures.
The party with the donkey have turned up. One of the men seems very irritated with the donkey.
The picture above is in the morning- we’ve already gone quite a way from our start at Mont Blanc in the background.The prominent pillar of rock on the skyline in the picture above is La Pierre Menta. Col du Bresson is to the left of it.
Pierre Menta from the refuge de la Balme
Refuge de la Balme to Landry 4th August 2018
Now that we have reached civilisation I have had a chance to add photos to the entries for the previous 4 days.
We had soup followed by beef stew (although thankfully without the polenta) followed by cheese for the 3rd night running. When at home we don’t normally add much extra salt to food, but all 3 of us discovered in ourselves a craving for salt and added it to the soup.
There were 7 of us in a small dormitory, which resulted in an interesting unspoken argument about whether or not the window should be open. The unspoken compromise was that it was left open a crack, which arguably wasn’t enough to counter the effect of all those socks.
Today we left the Beaufortaine region and entered the Tarantaise. The Beaufortaine is beautiful and fairly remote, and not scarred by skiing development. It also produces very fine cheese, which I imagine is very expensive in Britain, but is a staple of the mountain diet.
Today we went down and down and down, leaving a high mountain world, though forest, pasture (with dozens of grasshoppers springing away with every step) and then though orchards and little mountain villages.
As time went on and we got lower, so the temperature rose. Now we are at a campsite in a place called Landry. We have stayed here twice before, but this time we are not in a tent but in one of the chalets. In the past my impression of people in the chalets was that they came out wearing bright white dressing gowns and fluffy pink slippers. I’m not sure we are going to achieve that but we’ll do our best.
Partly because we’ve been walking for 5 days and partly because it was a condition of booking, we are going to be here for 3 nights so plenty of time to recover.
Early in the morning, an easy path leads away from the more rugged paths and pointy mountains of the Beaufortaine.