Gites in mountain areas are geared for an early start. Breakfast is usually served starting about 6:30, ideal as you can do a lot of the day’s climb before it gets too hot. Today there were fresh croissants, a welcome surprise, French bread and cheese, jams and marmalade. Everywhere has blackcurrant jam, I guess it’s what is left after the tarte aux myrtlles served up during the ski season. Last nights meal was good too: tomato salad, vegetarian risotto with local cheese and caramelised apple tart.
I left the gite and walked up the road to Le Tour. I was reminded of the other danger of living in the alps. There was a memorial to 12 people killed in an avalanche in 1999, five were from the same family, presumably their house was in the path of the snow.
Le Tour is the road head for one of the ski area in the Chamonix valley. The ski terminal was a hive of activity as they are modernising it. The lift has been removed and there were large reels of cable. I would have liked to have watched them load it on to the support towers but I had a walk to do.
The path started under the towers and zigzagged up the hill. There was a field of cows to one side so I was accompanied by the sound of cowbells, one of the things I really like about alpine walking. I gained height quickly and was rewarded with a view back to Le Tour, Montroc and the Chamonix valley
As I approached the middle station of the lift at Charamillon I could see my target, the Col de Balme in the distance
It is steeper than it looks from the photograph, there is a 750metre difference between Le Tour and the col. as I dragged my way up the hill I was reminded of the flyers I have seen (and would continue to see) for the ultra TMB race next week. About 2500 runners will do the TMB (or part of it) next week finishing in 32-48 hours, the record is about 20 hours. Most walkers take 10-14 days to complete the 170km circuit. If 170km is not enough for you there is a 300km non-competitive run as well.
I arrived at the col at lunchtime in lovely sunshine. The col is at the border of France and Switzerland. Only a sign marks the border. Have the Scots thought about border control if they get independence? There are two signs marking the border, the French have measured the height of the col as 13 metres less than the Swiss. There is a Chalet-refuge on the col precisely on the international border.
It’s nationality has been debated over the years by the French and Swiss. I don’t know who owns it at present but the entrance door is in Switzerland but they prefer euros at the cash desk. I had lunch with me but the food there looked nice. I did buy a slice of chocolate cake though.
I settled down to eat and admire the view. The Aguilles Rouge were spectacular
The Drus could be clearly seen but Mont Blanc summit was covered by cloud
I set off down the mountain into Switzerland. Route finding is rarely a problem. All the footpaths are signposted with their destination and the approximate time it takes to walk there. Once you have been walking for a couple of days you know how to adjust the suggested time to your actual pace. National trails are marked with a red and white striped logo, usually painted on the rock but here it was a metal sign.
The haute route is not an actual long distance path but it uses parts of others, the TMB being one. The initial descent from the col was easy and gentle. I soon arrived at a collection of buildings called Les Herbageres.
Now the descent became steep. Despite my walking poles my knee began to hurt and, worryingly, it felt like joint pain rather than muscular. I just took it slowly and kept stopping.. I found this very depressing as there are steeper descents to come. On the way down I met a German who checked I was OK. He is also doing the Haute Route. We are walking similar stages so I hope I will see him later in the week.
Eventually I came into a clearing and I could see Trient in the valley below.
I re-entered the forest. To my surprise, at intervals, there were barbecue kettles adjacent to the path. I would have thought this would be too much of a fire risk with dry wood and pine needles around but the forest hasn’t burnt down and the Swiss are noted for their safety first approach.
As I got down to the valley floor I could see the valley that leads to the fenetre d’arpette. It is steep and narrow at the top and from here I could not see a feasible way up.
I arrived at the gite. As last night it was very busy. The TMB is recognised world wide as a good walk but I was surprised to see the number of Americans who are walking the Alps. I shared a table with a group from California and a couple from Hong Kong. The man from Hong Kong had studied architecture at Manchester University in the 80’s, it’s a small world.