Day 4 – Courmayeur – Rifugio Bonatti
After a restful night the curtains are pulled back the view just couldn’t be better, the sky is a brilliant blue, the snow-capped peaks shining in White sandwiched between buildings in the foreground to left & right, can it get any better. Well yes it can actually, the two framed peaks are the la Tour Ronde & the Aguille d’Entreves which were my warm up climbs in 2015, ‘Dorina, come & look at this, I’ve…’. Having pre-booked the Bonatti hut for the night ahead today would be a shorter day but we planned to do a TMB variant route taking the higher paths which were part of the original TMB until a decade ago. I can only presume the soft ridge line that our route took may be a bit exposed in Thunder Storms hence the change but on a day like today you just wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. We had it all, wonderful forest climb with hut & coffee at the top, gentle ridge climb with 360 degree views, snow & icy river with a lunch time rock next to it, Marmots, Ibex & the isolation of being off the main route. We strolled into the friendly Bonatti hut ordered a beer & sat reading & gazing in the late afternoon sun. You’ve guessed Cheaters 1 arrived soon after us after a lift & the low route. Dorina’s highlights, simply the views.
Stats – 16K, 26,400 steps, 1,597m of ascent, 698m of descent, 6 Hours & 16 Minutes.
Day 5 – Rifugio Bonatti – la Fouly – Champex
Dawn as yesterday but having got up earlier we also were in time to see the violet skies & pink to orange tints transform nighttime into day, we set off early at 7:15 after a typical hut breakfast (contrast as ever with an excellent evening meal), our plan is to stop at la Fouly. Early on we pass a group of French guys before frustratingly descending almost 300 metres into the Val Ferry. Soon the path headed up again for an 800 metre climb passing the closed Refuge Elena to reach the Grand Col Ferret (at 2,537 metres). The initial descent looked tricky on a North facing slope through lying snow yet to be touched by the suns rays but difficulties were soon behind us & we were soon resting at la Peule with coffee & crisps. It was soon after on the continuing descent that Porter Paul became aware of a problem in the name of left shoulder pain. A leftover from a former life which included far too many miles in a manual car, my age hit & would do so mostly in the afternoons from here-on. There were times when Dorina offered to swap bags but of course being a chivalrous (aka bloody minded) man I soldiered on despite my feet going the same way some time soon after. At last la Fouly appeared, a lunchtime rest, an expensive Swiss lunch, but I have to say it was so good & it was worth it. Discussion ‘it’s still early, I know we planned to stay here, but…..’ We moved on both at a bit of a trudge (by now Dorina’s ankle was hurting her) but we had walked away from the groups we were moving on & the sun shone. 4 hours later after a forest climb lit up by carved animals along the way we entered Champex to the surprise that we were at the top of the St. Barnard pass. That might explain the cost of the hotel, food & wine, bloody Switzerland how can they justify it? Dorina’s highlight, those animal carvings helping to distract her on the last 400 metre climb.
Stats – 35K, 49,700 steps (should have got lost for 300 more), 1,375m of ascent, 1,975m of descent, 10 Hours & 20 Minutes, it had been a long day.
Day 6 – Champex – Col de la Forclaz – Tre-le-Champ
Warmer but a hazier day with broken high cloud meant the gods were still largely on our side saw us set off at 7:37 with Col de la Forclaz as our aim, a short day after the exploits of yesterday. On the forest climb up to Refuge Bovine a shot rang out, 5 minutes later 6 Off road vehicles nearly blocked the wide forest track, as we passed looked right, two hunters with an Ibex carcass at their feet. We were a bit wary after this but no more shots though it did seem odd that hunting is permitted so close to the TMB whatever you animal politics might be. Views followed over Martigny & the Swiss Alps before a descent (shoulder & feet returned) to Col de la Forclaz for an early lunch at an extortionate price! Discussion ‘I know we said we might carry on for 30 minutes & stay at Trient in the valley but it’s early, do you fancy Tre-le-Champ, it’s only 18K….’, ‘It’ll avoid another expensive night in Switzerland & give us two shorter days to follow’, I added enthusiastically (aka miserly)’. Again an annoying descent before a big climb of almost 900 metres began. Early on the climb a straggling group of Chinese passed us, with one of the back markers asking ‘have I got far to go’ I avoided a terse response ‘We’re the ones going up mate!’ & encouraged him with ’10 minutes’ instead. In fact our climb went well & led to a short descent before a very pleasant rocky climb to the Aguilles des Posettes & it’s glorious views. ‘See that Dorina, that’s the Petit Verte, I’ve climbed that (it looked like a pin prick under the shadow of the Aguille Verte but she did her best to look impressed & massage my ego) & over there that’s where the accident happened on the Argentier’ I enthusiastically added. The descent to Tre-le-Champ was steep and long but we were rewarded with a pleasant hut (Auberge la Boerne) where we got lucky with the last two bunks, shower & 5 minutes late for the meal which was spent in the company of an Israeli couple (we’d passed them on Day 4 but they were too pleasant to be referred to as cheaters) & a Dutch camper who’s bag was heavier than mine! With 6 runners who had reserved their bunks in advance arriving at 8:30 & then going on the lash in Argentiere until 2:30 am it was not a pleasant night but my Angel slept through it, I bit my tongue & then accidentally made my own racket when we got up at 6:30, the Entante Cordialle is still alive & KICKING! Dorina’s highlight, the forest climb to Col du Balme, more pleasant & went better than looked posible over lunch.
Stats – 29K, 44,600 steps, 1,801m of ascent, 1,860m of descent, 9 Hours & 39 Minutes.
Day 7 – Tre-le-Champ – Les Houches – Bossons Camp Site
We had planned to rise early having decided over the evening meal to complete it in one day partly because the Lac Blanc hut was apparently full & also because the weather was due to turn, the fact that I could get out of the noisy bunk early was a bit of early icing on the cake. We climbed steadily with hardly a cloud in the sky (surely the forecasted rain was a hoax) & caught up with the Israeli couple by the famous ladder sections with Ibex above & below. Carrying on we reached Lac Blanc (we had decided on this additional variant simply because I wanted to show Dorina the famous views of the Mont Blanc Massif with the lake in the foreground). Our decision was rewarded with not a soul in sight, not many visitors can say that, camera & phone clicked away in splendid isolation. Soon we were joined by Isaac & Einav ( the Israeli’s) & took each others photo’s before parting for a final time, they to Chamonix, us to further afield. The final sections saw a hard climb as clouds built above the Brevent (at 2,525) before the long descent towards Les Houches. As feared the Bella Chat hut was closed so we fuelled from our bags, stiffened our upper lips & headed on down. This was a wearisome end to a classic route that un-fortunately I knew about all too well. Dorina disliked it as much as I, in fit running mode it’s a great descent but with Dorina’s ankle & my shoulder & feet it went on & on & was always going to be followed by an extra 5K trudge from Les Houches back to our Bossons camp site. A scar on our memory, in truth at the time yes but not now just part of the mix that is the wonderful TMB. Dorina’s highlights, the Ladder Section & those private views from Lac Blanc.
Stats – 29K, 46,700 steps (our strides were shortening), 1,845m of ascent, 2,100m of descent (that hurt) & 9 Hours & 40 Minutes.
I won’t say too much about knowledge gained because the guidebook covers most aspects of the do’s & don’ts but I think we got our timing about right (17th to 23rd September) it was so much quieter than when I’ve skipped over little bits of it in July. The temperature was pleasant despite the snow & allowed me to do it all in shorts with more often than not just a T shirt & there were just enough huts still open (the Northen section was surprisingly where hut closures could have affected anyone on a different schedule). We did it in 7 days rather than the 9 or possibly 8 I’d planned, this didn’t feel rushed & avoided lengthy afternoons lolling around in huts but I wouldn’t recommend that our approach was for everyone. As for Dorina, she loved it & did really well, as usual she put me through my paces on the descents, I think for once I only retaliated on one ascent, in truth that was more to get passed ‘Cheaters 2’ the first time we came across them as dozen or so of them wouldn’t move out of my way, it’s a ME thing!
We rested for a day afterwards before saying goodbye to Tim & meandering back over 3 days through France where I found a lovely little lake to run around 3 times either side of a good nights sleep & a glass or two of wine.
Thanks are due so here goes, to Gaby & those we left behind at the Cafe, to Tim for weather advise & booking our first hut, to our camp site in Bossons who didn’t charge us for keeping our tent up & car parked for 7 nights free of charge. Indeed the total charge for a tent & car (12 nights) & 2 people (5 nights) was half the cost of 2 people (1 night) in Switzerbloodyland)!!
Finally thanks to Dorina for her smiling & loving company & putting up with a grumpy old shoulder whilst having her own very swollen ankle which we only properly saw after she completed the Tour & took her sock off.
O.K. Kean I admit it was still quite a bit about me but I did try, didn’t I?