So, off up to Dublin again on the last train on Sunday 16th, followed by a luxurious overnight stay in the airport before my departure on Monday morning for Geneva.
Monday June 17th;
For some reason Swiss Air are always 15 to 20 minutes late leaving at either end and this morning was no exception. Still it was not a major problem as we still landed on schedule and the progress through Geneva airport was quick and easy . I caught the train for Lausanne I had hoped to and I managed to buy my gas at the Yosemite store and be back in the train station in time to get my connecting train to St Maurice with a couple of minutes to spare. It was then that the shocking and unbelievable happened....the 13.50 train was 10 minutes late 😨. This made getting the connecting train to St Gingolph very tight indeed. The inevitable happened and we passed the departing St Gingolph train as we entered the St Maurice station. Efficiency gone mad I say. It wasn't the end of the world but it meant another hour wait for the next train which meant it was 16.15 by the time I finally started on my hike. It was a bit later than I had hoped but it was wonderful to be finally underway.
|Already so wild and wonderful|
It was a bright warm pleasant afternoon and the weather prospects were good for the next couple of days which meant I would be nicely established on the route before I got any bad weather.
The route begins once you cross the torrent that forms the border between the two countries. After rising up through the sleepy village it isn't long before you enter the woods. The going is pretty straightforward and there isn't anywhere too steep. You pass a forest adventure park and the trail continues up. Before too long you reach a quiet road that rises to the village of Novel. This quaint little village is typically alpine and at nearly 1000 metres it offered good views back towards Lake Geneva. It also meant that I had already climbed 600 metres 👍. Ahead things opened up as the trail rose up through alpine pastures. The limestone peaks, soaring to over 2000 metres, lay ahead and on either side were a delight and of course the higher I got the better the view back also became. The trail rises to a point right beside the torrent where, several years ago I had crossed into Switzerland while on a short tour of the Chablais Alps. That time I had come from Thonon and climbed Dent d'Oche before continuing all the way to Villeneuve.
|Getting above the tree line|
|Nearing Chalets de Neuteu|
Day 1 approx 10 kilometres and 1400 metres ascent...3.5 hours
|Nice spot for the first night|
Tuesday June 18th;
I had needed a good sleep and it was past 7 am before I emerged from my tent to a glorious weather morning.Blue skies and no wind made for a very pleasurable breakfast. Even though I was at 1800 metres there wasn't a scintilla of dew on grass or tent so everything packed up very nicely. I was on the move at 8 am.
|A patch of flat grass was all I left behind|
|At Col de Bise|
|Looking down towards Refuge de Bise|
|Mont de Grange with Mont Blanc beyond|
|Heading for Pas de la Bosse|
|First views of the Dents du Midi|
|In La Chapelle d'\Abondance|
A kilometre or so on the road before a right turn saw me heading once again into the woods. It was certainly cooler in here but I was climbing once again so things got hot. The long pull to the next pass entailed nearly 900 metres of ascent but there then followed a delightful section where you traversed under the eastern flanks of Mont Grange before dropping to Lenlevay and following a dirt road, gently downhill, for a couple of kilometres before a final 100 metre climb to Col de Bassachaux at 1777 metres. I had already covered a nice bit of ground today and I started to turn my mind to finding somewhere to call home for the night. The Gr traverses easily under the crest of the broad ridge until it reaches a farm and beyond passes under a ski lift. Not long after this I found a delightful spot and called it a day. It was just past 4pm so I was able to while away a lovely long afternoon and evening just chilling and basking in the warm sun as well as my surroundings.
|Approaching the shoulder of Mont de Grange|
|Slightly menacing clouds..no rain tho|
|Point de Chesery|
Day 2...8.15 hours...27 kilometres...2150 metres climbing and 2100 metres descent.
Wednesday June 19th;
I hadn't slept as well as the night before but I felt well rested nonetheless when I got up just after 5am. I was wide awake so there didn't seem to be much point in staying abed any longer. And why would you want to as it was such a beautiful weather morning. Mind you the forecast was for things to deteriorate in the afternoon so an early start seemed like a good idea anyway. I was fed and packed and on the move again for 6am. Today I had something of a quandary as I was entering Switzerland for a while before coming out at Col de Coux. I then hoped to get as far as the town of Samoens but my problem was I didn't have a map for the Swiss section or the section from the col to Samoens so my timings and calculations were entirely based on guesswork. I had camped at over 1800 metres so it was a very gentle start to the day to reach my first goal Col de Chessery 1995 mtrs, which I reached by 7am. Plenty of snow lay about and Lac Vert beyond the delightfully quaint Refuge de Chessary was almost entirely covered in snow. A dirt road led around the lake and up to the next pass Portes de l'Hiver which lay at 2096 mtrs. It was probably the easiest 300 metres I gained in the whole trip. Here the stunningly beautiful massif of the Dents de Midi was in full display across the deep wide valley. It is simply gorgeous and definitely one of my favourite massifs in the Alps. When I could tear my eyes back to the trail it was a delight. An easy descent to 1850 metres to a collection of chalets and I suspect small "fromageries"followed and then the trail went on a long traverse on a quiet lane that took you all the way to the valleys end below Col de Coux. After passing a small dairy where the dozen or so cows were just being returned to pasture after milking, the trail drops down to the final alpage at 1645 metres which leaves just 274 metres of climbing to reach the col. It was still only 10.30am when I arrived at this wonderful viewpoint.
|A mostly frozen Lac Verte|
|What a view..the Dents du Midi..Le Tour Saliere and Mont Ruan|
|Col de Coux a long way ahead|
|Rucksack in no mans land..Switzerland on the left and France on the right.|
Okay, so that was the Swiss section over with, now all I had to do was get to Samoens. The weather was showing no signs of deteriorating and it was again quite warm in the sun. From the col you drop down to 1400 metres before the next climb takes you to Col de la Golése at just over 1600 metres. There is a refuge nearby but it was still early (just 11am) and as I had just seen a sign that said Samoens was just three hours away I was confident I could reach it even if the weather turned bad. The Dents du Midi had been left behind but the new star of the show was the impressive rock walls of Les Dents Blanches. The going was super easy as the trail followed a dirt road for several kilometres. The dirt road eventually morphed into a tarred one and the heat increased as I went down. Now normally I get a bit pissed off if I have to spend too much time on tarmac but the joy of the flower filled meadows which teemed with life and birdsong, the chirping of crickets and profusions of butterfly's was simply intoxicating. Shortly before I entered the town of Samoens the trail cut between two lush high meadows and ran alongside a dry stone wall. Suddenly there was this commotion to my left and I was startled by two animals heading rapidly for me. My alarm (I initially thought they were dogs) turned to delight as I saw they were two roe deer. At about 5 metres from me they spotted me and the small stag veered and sailed over the wall and stopped about 30 metres away to wait for his Doe. She had instead retreated back whence she came and after several seconds pause he continued up the meadow. It had been a wonderful tableau.
|Looking towards Col de la Golese|
|Entering the lovely Les Allamandes|
|A parapunter dwarfed by the landscape...what could be more alpine|
Soon I entered the town and then I had to walk about another kilometre to reach the campsite. It was just 13.30 and the office was closed until 14.00 but it was no hardship to relax in the comfy chairs and wait in the shade for a while. I had my tent up and was brewing some tea by 14.30. After a suitable rest I went and explored the very pretty town and got myself some food supplies for the next few days. The sun baked down right into the evening and of the poor weather there was no sign. It had been a very good day.
Day 3...26 kilometres...930 metres climbing...2080 descent in 7.5 hours.
|Wonderful views in Samoens|
|Nicely filled 😁|
Thursday June 20th;
The sun was hidden behind a veil of cloud this morning. I got up at 7am and it was dry but it didn't stay that way for long and things were a little damp by the time I left at 07.45. It was certainly not cold so I just put my lightweight rain gear on over the shorts and T shirt. It was only light rain and the trail initially ran alongside the powerful river all the way to the next village Sixt some 5 kilometres away. It was a nice atmospheric start to the day and it got more interesting when after crossing the river as it thundered through a super narrow cleft of rock. Suddenly the trail climbed and entered an old dry river gorge. This was an enchanting place and a lovely bonus on the day. After exiting the gorge the trail climbed steeply for a short while before descending back to the river near Sixt. Now the nature of the outing change again. The river was left behind and the trail followed a forest road and rose gently up into the woods. My solitary outing was also left behind and a surprisingly large number of people on the trail. One group were fascinated by some paw prints in the mud that looked possibly like Lynx tracks. Height was only very slowly being gained until finally the trail cut a more direct line up through the woods. It crossed many times the road that chicaned up the mountainside until it reached a large spectacular thunderous waterfall(Cascade du Rouget), the spray from which was the wettest part of the day.
|A big river in a small place|
|Gorges des Tines|
|Still magical as I approached Sixt|
|The thunderous Cascade du rouget|
After this a more normal trail followed and reached another lovely waterfall (Cascade de Sauffaz). By now blue skies were appearing and the waterproofs were able to be packed away for the rest of the day. There is always something lovely about a day that starts off gloomy and then clears to reveal the might of the mountains that surround you. My spirits matched the temperature and soared. By the time I reached Collet d'Anterne at 1790 metres it was another glorious weather day. Easy walking followed as the trail continued to the quaint Refuge d'Anterne. The wall of rock that stretched from Point d'Anterne (2733mtrs) to Point de Sales (2495mtrs) and formed the right hand abutment of the valley was huge, beautiful and more than a little awe inspiring. I stopped for a short rest here and soaked up the sun and the view before setting off on the next section. First up was getting across the swollen stream that the path crossed not far beyond the refuge. The bridge was missing so a little care was needed to cross. After this the track rises steeply up the hillside for 300 metres until you crest out and head for Lac d'Anterne which was nestled in a snow filled basin. The snow covered lake and snow covered ground that rose to Col d'Anterne (2257mtrs) coupled with the impressive rock wall that filled the sky to the right made it a very impressive alpine sight indeed.
|Point de Sales and Col d'Anterne beyond|
|Clearing up nicely...looking down on Chalets d'Anterne|
|Reaching the snowline|
|Lac d'Anterne with the col beyond. I went on the right hand side|
Here in the snow covered ground the way ahead wasn't clear and I didn't know the correct side of the lake to take to reach the col. I opted for the right hand side (which wasn't the correct side) and this added maybe fifty metres extra climbing as I negotiated the knolls that lay on the right hand side. It also added a little distance as the lake stretched further to the right than I initially thought and I was quite relieved to find that the lake outlet was easily crossed by a "pont naturalle". I guess having a decent map would have been a good idea. All went well and I soon reached the col and I could see the Refuge de Moede Anterne wasn't too far away and just a couple of hundred metres lower down. I resolved to stay there for the night. I soon reached the old fashioned but nice refuge and I was quickly sorted out with a bed. A shower and a change of clothes restored me and a very nice relaxing evening followed. I met a few other guys that were doing the Gr5 and a nice atmosphere built up as the refuge gathered perhaps another twenty souls who stayed the night. I went out to take some pictures before dinner and suddenly the clouds beyond the Aiguilles Rouges parted and I got glimpses of the Aiguille de Midi and Tacul looking huge and wonderful. It came as something of a shock. One doesn't expect to see other mountains soaring skyward when you are already in a valley with big mountains all around. It really showed the scale of these ice clad giants. Anyway the rain returned after dinner and some rumbles of thunder growled and I was glad I had opted to stay in the refuge instead of bivouacking nearby as some others did. As an aside, those guys couldn't have picked a more slopey spot to pitch their tents..It must have been impossible to avoid sliding down to the tent walls in the night.
Day 4...21 kilometres...1900 metres ascent...670 metres descent...7 hours 45 mins.
|Aiguille du Midi appears briefly|
|Some wall of rock|
|Getting near Refuge de Moede Anterne|
Friday June 21st;
The rain had cleared up this morning but it was certainly not a blue sky day. I left the rain gear in the top of the rucksack and set off on the next leg of the journey.
I had intended to get what maps I needed for the next sections of the hike in Les Houches but one of the guys I met the previous evening showed me an app which he was using which contained the IGN maps of France. It was called iPhiGéNie. I had downloaded it last night and I must say I was mightily impressed. Not only did it show a detailed map and have the trails marked but it also showed your exact location so you could see at a glance if you were actually on the correct trail. I used it for the remainder of the trip and it proved to be invaluable.
|Nearing Pont d'Arleve. The taril can be seen rising up the far hillside|
The day starts nice and easy. The trail descends past the Chalets de Moede into the back of the deep valley until you reach the bridge that crosses the river at the 1600 metre contour. Next comes the long pull that heads for Col de Brevent which was some 650 metres higher up. The trail contours up and across the slope so the going is actually quite easy. I was moving well and enjoying the day and the threat of rain seemed to be receding. At around the 2000metre contour the snow fields make an appearance once again and by the time the col came into view things were looking very alpine once again. The way ahead was now entirely on snow and I passed some people who were putting on crampons. To be fair even if I was carrying them I wouldn't have put them on as the snow was taking a good step and there was nowhere that the slopes were steeper than 40 degrees. The track cut left and right up the main slope but I just went straight up and it was quick and easy. What I thought was the col proved to be a gap some two hundred metres before and fifty metres below the actual col. Once I reached the col the track traversed to the right and headed for the Brevent peak itself. Once I reached the final slopes to the summit the trail heads further to the right and begins its descent towards Les Houches. I began to climb the final 40 metres to the summit but when I saw that it was also the top of the lift and held a large crowded viewing platform I decided it wasn't for me and turned instead and began the long descent.
|Heading for the col|
|Back down the snow slope|
|Heading for Brevent|
|Finally a view to the "big boys"|
From predominantly on snow the going was now mainly snow free once the southerly aspect was reached. The trail was much busier now, filled with the people that had used the lift from the Chamonix valley to Brevent and of course I was now also on the Tour the Mont Blanc. I hadn't gone down too far when I passed a small group. A vague feeling of recognition made me look back and lo and behold there was Gary Hodgson leading a small group on his first rotation on the "Tour" for the season. It is a small world indeed. It was great to meet him again and we had a fine old chat before I continued on my way. I stopped for a bite to eat once I reached a water source and enjoyed the view down to the valley floor far far below. The trail dropped steeply down the steep mountainside and entered the woods. The giants across the valley kept their heads in the clouds but it was spectacular nonetheless. Once in the trees the trail zig zagged relentlessly downward but still it took a long time for the town to appear any nearer. I guess when you are dropping from nearly 2500 metres to just 1000 metres then it is going to take some time. I was delighted with how my body was coping though and I revelled in the fact that my knee was totally trouble free. Eventually I reached the road before the train station and I set off in search of somewhere to stay. Now I had usually stayed up near Argentiere when I camped in the past but the good old Google maps told me there was a campsite on the far side of the town near Bellevue so I headed for that. I passed a gite in the middle of the town and was briefly tempted but I pushed on. To say that I was disappointed to find that no such campsite existed when I got there would be an understatement. Left with no choice I returned to the centre and checked into the Gite Michel Fagot. This was very pleasant and very full with the hoards doing the Tour de Mont Blanc. Not long after I settled in the rain returned with some vigour and continued on and off into the night.
Day 5...20 kilometres...1300 metres ascent...2250 metres descent in 6 hours 45 minutes (not including the search for the campsite)
Saturday June 22nd;
After breakfast in the hostel I was out and on my way by 07.10am. It was dry but the air was pregnant still with moisture and wispy clouds shrouded some of the lower slopes. Rain and storms were forecast for the afternoon so I was anxious to get a good effort done before that arrived. On the plus side the weather was to settle down completely for the next week and warnings of a heatwave flashed red on the websites. It was quite humid and still this morning and promised to be warm as the sun got higher. I soon exited the town and the trail rose up through the the woods initially and then on quiet roadways until finally at La Friaz it followed a steep piste road that led all the way to Col de Voza (1657 mtrs). I was feeling good and moving well and I reached the col at 08.35. Now I had a choice to make. I could go up to Bellevue lift station and from there descend before climbing to Col de Tricot and then dropping to the Chalets du Miage or I could descend to the village of Bionassay and make a traverse around the western spur of the gorgeous Bionassay mountain and reach the Chalets that way. As I had never been down the latter way I opted for that.
|Leaving the Chamonix Valley|
|Approaching Col de Vosa and what a sight that is|
|Nearing the village of Bionassay|
|The views in the other direction weren't bad either|
If I had thought there was little or no climbing on this route then I was somewhat mistaken. After dropping down through the tiny village the trail climbs steeply for 100 metres after passing over the river before an easy gradual descent to reach the delightful Le Champery that is situated in lovely meadows and enjoys sumptuous views to the busy valley and of course the mountains beyond. From here begins a long enjoyable rising traverse all the way to the Chalets. Bionassay loomed majestic above and the Domes de Miages loomed straight ahead as I headed deeper into the valley. I cast my mind back to over 10 years before when we had done a traverse of the domestic and enjoyed a torrid scary descent down the steep icy slopes from the Durier Refuge before enjoying a well deserved beer at the Chalets. Today there was no adrenaline rush to get over and I was really enjoying myself as I reached the refuge. I stopped for a bite to eat just beyond the busy spot and then climbed the
200 mtrs or so to reach Chalets du Truc. Clouds had thickened again up around the summits and I feared that the storms could arrive quite early so I pressed on to the villageof Les Contamines-Montjoie. I briefly toyed with the idea of staying in the nearby campsite but it was still early so I continued on. A long almost flat section followed until I reached the pretty church Notre Dame de la Gorge. Now the trail climbs steeply up a stony rocky (old Roman) road that is used by the people up in the valley beyond. I met a quite elderly lady driving down towards me in a small battered 4x4. I'm sure my nerves would be singing if I was trying to drive down there. At one point there was a bridge over a raging torrent as it crashed through a narrow cleft in the rock. A viewing platform was situated right over the middle of this and was exciting and a little disconcerting. The refuge Nant Borrat came next an then after another climb I emerged into open ground with the beautiful valley stretched before me and the beautiful Aiguilles de la Pennaz filling the sky beyond. I was feeling good and it was still early and I had intended getting as far as the bivouac spot by the Refuge de Balme (at least) which was not too far ahead but I could also see that the cloud build up was continuing and rain had started in the mountains. Fearing that the storms were imminent I decided to turn towards the nearby bivouac site and pitch my tent there. I just climbed into it as the rain arrived. I don't know if I was relieved or annoyed when the expected bad weather never materialised and by evening it was mostly clear skies. My little campsite became crowded by the evening by groups doing "the tour" but to be fair when darkness arrived they were quiet as mice. I slept well.
|Nearing Chalets de Miages|
|Bionassay looking mighty|
|Don't fall in|
|Storms a comin|
Day 6...21 kilometres...1550 metres ascent...1050 down...
Sunday June 23rd;
Hot weather was forecast to arrive today and stay for the duration of my trip so I was hoping to make up for cutting things short yesterday by having a longer day today . I was awake early so I got up just after 5am and was on the move at 6am. It took just half an hour to reach Refuge de Balme and I saw that the campsite there was much less crowded than below but that was history and today was brand new. After a climb you reach the Plan November where plenty more bivuoac sites could be found. Next comes the long pull up to Col du Bonhomme which at 2329 metres was predictably under snow. The climb up to it didn't present any problems with the snow being neither too hard or soft. It was lovely to relax a while and enjoy my surroundings and of course the views into all directions were wonderful. Next up came the rising traverse towards Col de la Croix du Bonhomme where the high point reached 2479 metres. This was still in the shade of the mountain and it came as no surprise to find that here the snow was quite icy. The track was at times narrow and the drops to the right quite steep and long and a couple of times I would have liked the security of crampons but with a little care it wasn't too bad and I soon was on the short slope down to the large refuge at the Col.
|Col de Bonhomme|
A brief stop here for some water and then I set off towards the Refuge du Plan de la Lai. First up was the crossing of the Crete des Gittes. This narrow crest rose to a peak at 2538 metres and the steep steel open on the northern flanks were covered in snow. Thankfully it was possible to avoid these steep slopes by sticking to the narrow crest of the ridge. This made for exhilarating but safe passage as far as Col de la Sauce. The views back to Mont Blanc from this crest were wonderful. After the crest the going was easy after the col and the trail left the snow behind and descended into pastures once again as it headed for a busy mountain road and the busy parking area near the refuge. When I reached it I wasted no time before heading onwards and leaving the noise and bustle behind. Lots of people were out and about enjoying the glorious sunshine with scenery to match. I stopped for lunch once I reached a relatively quiet spot and then rejoined the many who were heading up to one or other of various viewpointso ahead. It was a brief re-entry to normality but it was a relief to once again find solitude after I passed Le Grand Berg.
|The Crete des Gittes|
|Mont Blanc reigns supreme|
Easy going on a dirt road made reaching the farm in the valley and easy task. Any thoughts I might have had of camping there were vanquished when the large numbers of cattle became evident. I knew by now that reaching Landry at the bottom of the Isere valley would perhaps be a stretch too far so I decided that Valezan would be the target for today. After the farmstead the trail contoured through the woods along an old aqueduct so the going was easy. I kept an eye out once out of the woods for somewhere to camp but in the end I decided to go all the way to the village. Before I got there I did a search online for somewhere to stay. I booked into an Auberge so I was all set. The meadows, hundreds of hectares of them, that flanked the trail were perhaps the most beautiful I have seen. Despite my growing fatigue it was joyous to walk through them. It isn't just the flowers but it is all that goes with them. The insects, butterfly's and birds that surrounded me lifted the spirit and yet I mourned the loss of these habitats at home.
|To Refuge Plan de la Lai..The way ahead is up and around the shoulder beyond|
|Tiz a bit hot ladies|
|A subterranean river with fissures...Wouldn't it make for an interesting walk when snow covered??|
|Who says the French don't have a great sense of humour?|
|Heading for Col du Bresson|
|Wonderful and wild near the col|
|Down by refuge de Balme|
I quickly found the Auberge after entering the village and it was bang on 5pm when I arrived. The woman had very little English to match my very little French but I managed to convey that I had a reservation. She also informed me that there was a Gite so I opted for that. There was a restaurant there as well so I decided to take demi pension. I had the dormitory to myself and the shower was excellent. While waiting for dinner another hiker arrived into the room looking overheated and tired. Himself and his wife returned for dinner shortly afterwards. They hailed from Denmark and he was doing the full distance of the Gr5 all the way to Nice. They made for excellent company over the excellent dinner and a couple of beers. We were all tired so it was early to bed.
|View from the Gite..hard to believe the valley floor is over 400 metres lower.|
Day 7...36 kilometres...2400 metres ascent...2750 down...11 hours.
Monday June 24th;
Crusty fresh bread, croissants, good coffee and preserves were served for breakfast which was enjoyed outside on the terrace. All was wonderful until I was presented with the bill which ignored the fact that I had stayed in the Gite and I was charged the much higher price of the auberge. I know I had a reservation but that was without any credit card details so it could be easily ignored but she was firm. I was a bit miffed but it didn't really matter and once I was once again underway I was in great form. I would return in a heartbeat and stay in the excellent accommodation.
It had been a good decision to stop at Valezan as it took me an hour and a half to reach Landry. As I hadn't started until 8.10 it was already quite hot by the time I reached the valley floor at just over 700 metres. A walk on the road up through the village follows before you are once again swallowed by the woods and climb upwards. A few hundred metres is gained fairly quickly before a level traverse into the village of Le Villaret. Next up comes the village of Le Moulin where you cross the torrent and climb steadily until you reach open ground in the hamlet of Les Lanches. The trail goes a little left here and runs easily through sweeping meadows to reach a parking and picnic area at Refuge de Rousel. Up here you are at 1555 metres so, though the going had been gradual and easy, you have still climbed over 800 metres above Landry. The mountains ahead and on the left rise to over 3500 metres and judging by the apparent popularity of the area it is a hotspot for climbing in both summer and winter.
|Some wonderful winter climbing??|
|Towards Refuge Entré de la Lac|
|What you doin on my patch?|
I wasn't there too long before I spotted a marmot just a few feet beyond the tent. Normally these cuddly creatures are retiring and shy but this fella was very curious indeed. After a few seconds he came right up to me as if to say what are you doing in my patch?. He then decided that he was going to investigate the inside of my tent, at which point I had to intervene. A herbivore he might be but those incisors woud make short work in an instant of anything that took his fancy. Mind you he took a bit of persuading to go away from the tent and was completely fearless. Eventually after much waving of walking poles, stamping and generally threatening behavior he ran to his burrow which was only twenty metres away. He stayed inside for all of 20 seconds before he re-emerged and headed straight back for the tent. More rushing and stamping etc made him retreat but once again he returned. When I chased him away the next time I covered over the burrow with a stone. Needless to say he popped up from another one which I duly covered and I had to cover another just a few minutes after. That seemed to do the trick and I didn't see him for the rest of the evening..needless to say I removed the stones in the morning.
Day 8...23 kilometres...2150 metres ascent...1000 metres down...7 hours
Tuesday June 25th;
It was a quiet night and I had slept very well. I emerged into another blue sky morning and after breakfast I was on the move at a leisurely 8am. I wasn't in any great hurry today as I just planned to go as far as Val d'Isere so it promised not to be too taxing. The landscape in the crisp morning light looked amazing and initially the going was easy so it was a pleasure to gaze all about. It was already warm and promised to be hotter as the day went on when I returned to lower altitudes. Before that happened I had to cross Col du Palet which at 2652 metres would be the highest pass of the trip so far. I soon reached the snow line and a short while later I reached the pretty basin where the frozen lake nestled under the Refuge du Col du Palet . I stopped there for a quick nosey before climbing to the nearby col. What a beautiful spot it was on this warm sunny morning. It was still quite early so I relaxed a while before heading down towards the ski resorts of Tignes le Lac and Val Claret. I might as well get the rant over with early. The ski industry is of course hugely important to these areas but for me it is a blight on the landscape. Lifts criss crossed the slopes and access roads stretched upwards to the highest reaches. During the season when all is covered with a pristine blanket of snow then perhaps things look wonderful but now they are just plain ugly. I know I'm being selfish and that the Alps are far from a wilderness but that is how I feel about it.
|Not bad to wake up to|
|Lac du Grattaleu|
Day 9...17 kilometres...600 metres ascent...1100 metres down...6 hours
|There she is again...head and shoulders above the rest|
Wednesday June 26th;
Another stunning blue sky morning greeted me. A fella could get used to this. Packing up a crispy dry tent I rejoined the nearby GR. Today would take me over the highest pass of the GR 5, the Col de l'Iseran at 2762 metres.
Where does the time go. Day 10 already and now so close to the end of the journey. I was delighted that I was coping so well with the demands of the trail. I think I am finally getting the balance between comfort, supplies and the weight I carry right. I know I had an easy day yesterday but I feel that I could have stretched several of the days out by an hour or two but I was still pleased with the progress I'd made. The objective today was to reach the village of Bessans where there was another campsite.
|For some reason I was fascinated by the ridge on the right|
|Easy going to the col|
The trail started to climb pretty much straight away and soon decent height gain was achieved. The views back towards the town were nice but I wasn't sorry to be seeing the back of it. I hoped that the next section would prove nicer. Up up the trail went and soon I was back in open alpine scenery where to my disappointment much more ski infrastructure was to the fore. Add to this the fact that a road was also heading for the pass meant that wilderness feeling was decidedly absent. After the initial steep climb where you gain 500mtrs things became more gradual when you cross the road and the undulating slopes head for the distant col. This was for me the least enjoyable section of the whole trip because I guess I hadn't expected that the highest pass would be the most developed. When I arrived at the busy col it was still a delight to see vistas new and the scenery was amazing. After a short rest I once again followed the trail as it descended through snow and meadow towards a narrow gap where a bridge over the river. The descent was fine except for one place where I had to cross a snow field that dropped steeply towards the road below. It came as something of a surprise to find that it was very firm and several firm kicks were required to make a step. I was relieved to reach better ground beyond.
|New vistas open|
|I was able to drop to the trail just around the corner|
As I neared the bridge the trail dissappeard under snow so I decided to walk on the road. When I reached the aptly named Pont de la Neige I could see the track approach the river some 50 metres beyond the bridge but a big snow bridge covered the river which hid any footbridge and I didn't fancy trusting my life to the snow over the swollen raging torrent . I stuck to the road and hoped that I would find somewhere that I could drop down to the trail that was visible further down. It wasn't looking good for a while as the drop was precipitous but after a kilometre or so an opportunity presented itself and soon I was back on track...litterally 😀. This section was lovely as it descended by the cascading river and this made the intrusion of the road less obvious. After reaching le Cueigne at 2142mtrs the trail turned right and followed a farm track gently up and around the shoulder of the hillside. The views to the peaks of the Alberon group across the valley were wonderful. When I reached the shoulder I went across to a nearby knoll where I sat for a while and enjoyed a bite to eat. My navigational app proved invaluable after this as the correct track was fairly hard to find but the positioning arrow on the map soon had me right.
|A thunderous river|
|Anyone got a flathead screwdriver??|
|One of several deep valleys|
|A bit different|
If I thought all I had left to do was just a simple descent to the valley below then I was mistaken. The delightful trail traversed the mountain, going up and down and contouring in to several deep Glen's that cut the hillside. In each of these swollen streams raced down. At the last of these the footbridge had been swept away and judging by the deep groove cut into the ground it was probably done by an avalanche during the spring. Unfortunately it was also the biggest of the streams and it gave me some pause before I attempted to cross. I found a spot a little way below the trail and I was very glad to have my sticks to help balance as I stepped from submerged stone to stone. I breathed a sigh of relief once across then climbed the loose almost vertical from around bank. It had been "entertaining". Not far beyond this the trail finally started its winding descent until I finally reached the valley floor at the sleepy hamlet at le Villaron. Wow it was warm even though I was still above 1700 metres. How hot it must have been down in the lowlands. I walked alongside the river until a footbridge finally gave access to the village of Bessans. It too slumbered in the heat. I found the tourist office and the girl asked her if there was a Gite or similar nearby. In the heat I didn't fancy walking the extra couple of kilometres to the campsite. She said that the Gite was closed but the Vanois hotel wasreasonably priced so I decided to stay there. The room was basic but good and blessedly cool. It even had a bath which I wasted no time in putting to good use. Once I was restored I ventured up town to top up my supplies and then returned to my nice cool room which I didn't leave until the following morning.
Day 10...22 kilometres...1500 metres ascent...1650 down...8 hours
Thursday June 27th;
After an excellent breakfast in the company of a large group of Dutch pensioners I was once again underway by 07.30am. It had been 31 degrees in the village yesterday and today promised to be just as warm. Initially though the going is easy and the first few kilometres roll along near the river until, after a short few steps on the road it climbs to Col de Madelaine. From here the climbing begins and a swift 400 metres are gained. Now begins a long undulating traverse where the going is never too hard. I stopped for a drink at the Refuge du Vallonbrun where the friendly, super helpful guardian showed me where another footbridge was missing and where I could cross down below the trail. A similar pattern to yesterday ensued as the trail contoured along the mountainside. Crossing ridges and entering ravines, it was entertaining and as I said not too taxing. Or perhaps it was because I had 10 mountain days behind me and I had gained fitness and strength. Whatever the reason all I knew was that I was enjoying myself immensely. Eventually I reached the unmanned Refuge du Cuchet and shortly afterwards that awkward crossing I had been warned about. I found the way across and after that the trail dropped gently and re-entered the woods.
|The unmanned Refuge du Cuchet|
A steep climb up out of the woods and onto the crest of the spur at La Turra de Termignon saw the trail turn north and enter a new valley. I was now heading for the as yet unseen Refuge du Plan du Lac where I hoped to stay the night. The next few kilometres were easy as the trail contoured around the huge valley until finally after passing a few alpages it reached the road that cut through the narrow gap into the next valley. Now another little climb followed before easy walking past a small lake saw me arrive at the beautifully situated refuge. I settled in having just booked bed and breakfast as I carried enough for dinner. New mountain scenery lay revealed in true alpine splendour and later, as the sun was setting I sat alone outside on the terrace,enjoyed the view and listened to competing skylarks. I felt fortunate indeed.
|Refuge Plan de la Lac|
Day 11...26 kilometres...1700 metres ascent...1100 down...8 hours 30 minutes
Friday June 28th;
The penultimate day already, where does the time go?.
I was out from the refuge and on the move again at just after 7am. It was another stunning crystal clear morning.
Looking at the map of the route for yesterday and today looked like it was just a matter of going in one side of a valley and coming back the other side. I had done one side so to be truthful I wasn't expecting a great deal from today. I couldn't have been more wrong.
First up after leaving the refuge you continue north and drop some 300 metres into the deep heart of the mountains to the junction of three valleys. Here the highest mountain of the Vanoise, the Grande Casse (3855 metres) looked huge and despite there being a small road here the area had a remote wild feel. At the lowest point you cross the river and climb up through pastures until after you reach 2300 metres you reach a large plateau that has a real high alpine feel to it. Here moraines sweep down from the glacier clad peaks above. Snow covered small lakes and large snowfields only added to the high alpine feel to the trail. On the right was the rocky face of Monte Pelve 3312mtrs and ahead the icy domes of Dome de Chasseforet 3586mtrs, Dome des Nants 3562 metres and Dome de l'Arpont 3599 mtrs made a super alpine backdrop. Beyond this the rocky peak of La Dent Parrachee 3695 mtrs formed the final peak of this side of the valley and around this todays route ultimately went. It was another world and one of the best sections of trail of the whole trip. After reaching a height over 2500 metres the most difficult section of the trail is left behind and easier ground follows for a while.
|What a morning..the Grande Casse|
|Entering a new alpine landscape|
Then the wide plateau is left behind and you are suddenly contouring steep ground where the drops to the left at long and ensure some concentration, especially when the trail held snow. Next came the rather palatial Refuge de l'Arpont which more resembled a spa than a mountain refuge,with its large roof deck where people were basking in the warm sun. I had been on the move for over four hours by now so I had a bite to eat and a good drink of water before setting off on the next leg. You gradually lose height from the refuge until after rounding a shoulder you head back into a rocky coum where another climb is needed to get above some cliffs. After this more height is gradually gained until you are back over 2300 metres again. Ultimately you almost reach the 2500 metre mark as you continue to traverse the slopes of this large and complex mountain. Each time you round a shoulder you are treated to new facets of the peak. Eventually after you round the shoulder of Pointe de Bellecote 3140 metres the nature of the trail changes somewhat. Here the ground is rockier and it is a crumbly yellowish type. Above the Roc De Corneilles an eagle soared and I paused a while to enjoy the sight. You lose around 100 metres as you round the shoulder of the roc and a crumbly path cuts into the riven rockscape before you emerge onto pastures again that head towards the chairlift near Hotel/Refuge de Montana. I thought about staying there but opted instead to continue around yet another shoulder and head towards Refuge de Plan Sec which wasn't too far away. En-route I kept an eye out for a good campsite but it was all overlooked by one building or other so I decided to stay at the refuge. The refuge is situated at just over 2300metres and has lovely views down to the lakes below and across the valley the mountains rose to over 3000 metres as well. I arrived at 15.50 so I had lots of time to relax and enjoy the excellent facilities of this slightly quirky refuge. I just booked a bed for the night as I was determined to use up the last of the food I carried. The bag would be at its lightest tomorrow 😀.
Day 12...29 kilometres...1750 metres ascent...1820 metres down..8 hours 50 minutes
|A truly enormous scree field|
|Refuge de Plan Sec|
Saturday June 29th;
Another beautiful weather day greeted me as I set off on the final leg of this trip at 07.15. I knew that today wasn't going to be too long but I was still keen to allow plenty of time so as to avoid any unnecessary stress. I was heading to the town of Modane where I could catch a train to Geneva before my departure first thing on Sunday morning. As luck would have it the app that I had been using had stopped working as apparently me free 7 day trial was up. It didn't matter though as I had bought a map of the Vanoise national park while I was in Bessans to I sorted for today. I set off into the valley and after a short while I reached a junction in the path. I followed the one that led to Refuge de la Dent Parrachee which was a couple of hundred metres higher up. When I reached the refuge I realized that I was after going off track so I dropped down to the valley floor and after returning along the trail there I soon rejoined the main route. I guess the app would have been handy today after all 😏.
|Another stunning morning|
The descent was pretty swift and easy and an hour later I was entering Modane. It was really warm now that I was down at just over 1000 metres. Modane itself is one of the most charmless French towns I have ever seen and I saw nothing there to attract me back. After a pit stop in the local supermarket I continued on for the 1.5 kilometres to the train station where I caught a train as far as Chambery. At Chambery I had a three hour wait until my connection to Geneva so when I alighted I went for a bite to eat in the town. My goodness the wave of heat that hit me as I left the station was shocking. I learned something that day...I do not like 40 degree heat. It is draining. Thankfully the train when it arrived was cool and before long I was alighting in the clean streets of Geneva. Normally when I have a early flight I stay in the airport but in the heat I decided to stay in a hotel.
|First view of Modane with the Ecrins beyond|
Day 13...19 kilometres...800 metres climbing...1850 metres descent...6 hours
Even though I was up at 04.30 I felt rested and the flight home went smoothly. I even met a few guys who had climbed Mont Blanc. One was Denis O'Brien...a blast from the past 😏. I found that I was completely satisfied with what I had been doing and really wasn't interested in listening to climbing stories. It seems I perhaps am finally getting out of the climbing bug. I'm not saying I won't be climbing in the future but the thought of heading to Chamonix and climbing Mont Blanc I find of little interest. I find I am as happy in the mountains as on them.
I had been super lucky with the weather and it was wonderful not to suffer from as much as a blister while doing the hike. If pushed I could have made a few days a bit longer but overall I felt I covered a good stretch in the time I had available. If I was going to return there I would perhaps omit the couple of days through Val d'Isere but then again those days had their delights as well.
I finally seem to have gotten a handle on overfilling the rucksack. At its heaviest I was carrying about 15 kilos but that included 5 days food. In the heat it was easy to rinse out my clothes and sometimes even nice to put them back on wet. Two American guys that were doing some of the Via Alpina were new to hiking and the wash-bag that one guy brought out of his huge rucksack probably weighed as much as my spare clothes (including the rain gear). I even saw one girl bring several large tins of sausages and beans out and I shuddered at the thought of lugging those about. I ate some noodles with a cuppa soup or dehydrated meals from Decathlon for dinner and these sufficed. Granola with powdered milk for breakfast and either snack bars or bread and cheese for lunch. I was never hungry yet the weight was low.
On my feet I had Mammut Kento High GTX mountain boots. I bought them last October as a replacement for the super quick wearing La Sportiva Trango Cubes and I must say I am delighted with them. They are lightweight and comfortable and very breathable. I didn't get as much as a hotspot on my feet and despite the heat my feet were never sweaty. I have rock climbed, hiked across wet bog and rock and used them extensively since I got them without a problem. Another plus is that they are lasting far better than the La Sportiva boots so when the time comes to buy again I intend to choose Mammut again.
Finally the Vango Force 10 Helium 2 tent and the Force10 55 litre rucksack are fast becoming dear friends. Stable and spacious for 1 the tent is very easy to live with. As for the rucksack...well the fact that I can carry 15 kilo loads for 30 plus kilometres and not be a physical wreck speaks for itself. It too is also lasting very well despite weighing just 1200grams.
So, after 13 days (or 12.5 since day one was so short) I had covered approx 320 kilometres and climbed over 20000 metres. It had been a wonderful experience and confirmed my deep love for long distance hiking. Perhaps one day I will return and continue to Nice or if I have time, start again and do the whole lot in one go. Whatever happens, I hope to continue these hiking odysseys for a long while yet.