Much Better Adventurer Tim Wells and a few mates, recently booked a private trip to trek the Tour du Mont Blanc, the weekend version. Tim chats amazing views, kit envy and fuzzy heads. This is Tim and the gang's adventure...
The excitement and trepidation of our group mounted as we neared our start point. The mountains were getting higher and we could see snow-capped peaks, precarious looking glaciers, huge waterfalls and gushing rivers. But we were going around Mont Blanc, not up it, so it shouldn't be too arduous, surely?
We arrived at our start point above Courmayeur and had a final kit check. Excess gear was shed rapidly and lunch packs grabbed enthusiastically. Who has the heaviest rucksack? What do we really need? Looking around there was definitely ‘kit envy’ going on, followed by a sudden rush for the extra pairs of walking poles available - not previously booked. We soon found out who had forgotten what.
Okay, so the poles were a good idea after all. We had a short walk along the pretty valley and tumbling river, followed by our first bite into the hills surrounding us - a steep sharp climb which got us all blowing hard. Okay, so maybe I over packed. There were amazing views across to the Grandes Jorasses as we forged small streams, crossed sturdy bridges and clambered up to the popular Rifugio Walter Bonatti, our overnight stop, perched impressively on the mountainside. There were others drinking beer outside, result. We thought this may well be a dry trip! Things were really looking up.
Up and out early, the low cloud had swallowed up the mountains. A long steady climb up shrouded by the murky mist and picking the small low bush blueberries until our fingers turned purple. After many false summits and dodging gnarly goat-like mountain bikers we eventually reached the Grand Col Ferret, the highest point of the whole trip. We could see absolutely nothing, sadly. "Down there is Switzerland," says Grant, our guide. "Over there is Mont Dolent, which on a clear day is spectacular..." Hmmmm.
Which way is down? The distinctive clanging of cow bells soon told us we must have crossed into Switzerland.
There were a few groggy heads and the usual cheery banter was a little muted this morning. The mountain liqueur ‘Genepi’ was blamed, but more than likely, it was the plentiful Swiss red wine. The heavy overnight rain had cleared leaving a chilly feel but beautiful clear skies. We headed downhill to start with, that’s novel. However the steep ascent we were warned about awaited through forest. The conversations soon dried up, the steep ascent was remorseless and group was splintering.
The farm at the top of the climb apparently makes the best homemade cakes in the area. That’s where we decided to re-group. We eventually emerged out of the trees into colourful meadows and the impressive Rhone Valley opened up below us, providing a wonderful panorama. The effort of the climb was soon forgotten as we drank in the incredible views. Our tasty rice and salad pots, trail mix and fruit bars all got devoured as the ‘cake café’ was sadly closed.
The long knee-jolting woodland descent of rocks, steps and sheer drops proved to be more challenging on the joints and thighs than going up. We ended up in the delightful sunny village of Trient for beers, with the spectacular blue ice glacier above. Sadly no masseurs for weary limbs available.
We formed up a little apprehensively, with our next 1,200m climb now waiting in the future. Dinner and drinks made for a fun evening in the Teepee at Refuge Le Peuty in Trient. Our rustic overnight accommodation up in the old barn led to many accusations of who were the snoring culprits. It wasn't the ones who were yawning most in the morning...
We took another long challenging ascent up a switchback forest path in the shade, above the village of Trient. We could see the summit but it doesn't get any closer as we walk. We leapfrogged to and fro with other friendly hikers from across the world and shared little stories along the way. There were all age groups and some far from home: Colorado, South America and Holland. Chubby alpine marmots scamper about below us, whistling out warnings of hungry hikers about.
We soon made it up to the Col De Balme at 2,190m high up on the Swiss/French border, above. Two steps sideways into France and the phone immediately chirped with an incoming message ‘Welcome to France’, wow, just like Swiss precision. It was a fantastic and mesmeric spot to relax and enjoy the views, as we waited for the rest to catch up, looking down the ski slopes to Chamonix and Le Tour way below. Double espresso and a chocolate brownie. Time to enjoy the moment.
A picture speaks a thousand words. But words and pictures do not do the views justice. The high imposing peaks of Mont Blanc and Aiguille du Midi, wide open space, beautiful warm skies and fragrant meadows. Silence and spellbound, a little bit of paradise.
Sadly, we reached our final section of a wonderful four days up in the hills. A gentle traverse across to the Aiguillette des Posettes opened up more of the incredible views across to the retreating Glacier du Tour and the glacial polished granite rocks below. Then we headed down the narrow trail through the pine forests to our final destination - and a few celebratory beers in the warm sunshine.
Without a doubt, the colourful and dramatic summertime Alps are hard to beat. After this great experience, we will be back to do the rest of the Tour de Mont Blanc, and soon.