Diary Extracts


Day 1
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

Day 2
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

Day 3
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

Day 4
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. top

Day 5
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. top

Day 6
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 hour. top

Day 7
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 des Glaciers.

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 hour.

Another 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! top

Day 8
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. top

Day 9
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

Day 10
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

Day 11
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

Day 12
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

Day 13
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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