Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) – Posted 05/10/17 – Part 1

Having been back for almost a week & been a good boy trying to catch up with cafe business including Reach Out for Nepal (watch this space in the coming days for a full update) it is time to put pen to paper on Dorina’s & my trip to the Alps. I am going to try & focus it from Dorina’s point of view more than mine because although it was a shared experience I have been focusing too much on my summer’s exploits whilst Dorina has been holding the fort so this post season sojourn should deservedly put her in the spotlight.

As with Pik Lenin I’ll do this in two parts as indeed the Tour fell naturally into two parts for us.

Part 1

Dorina’s chauffeur drove her down to the Bossons camp site in the L’Arve valley over two days where in un-seasonably cold weather he erected (with Dorina’s laughter & help) the tent which would be their base for the next 3 nights. The pleasure of this cold & damp camping experience can be apportioned to Kean who had introduced me to it in a warm July back in 2014 prior to our Monte Rosa traverse.

Our first full day was spent doing a warm up walk climbing some 800 metres to enjoy lunch at a very quiet Chalet du Pyramide from where we could look down onto the lower reaches of the Bosson Glacier. The following day Dorina’s chauffeur gave her the day off (or was that her decision) whilst he went for a 15K run with the justification that he was recceing the beginning of the TMB. Re-united we then headed for Chamonix for lunch & to buy a small bag for Dorina to help her lessen her Porter’s load over the coming days. I had tried to justify a new Salomon bag would fit the bill (cunningly to be used back in the UK as my new winter running bag) only to lose out to Dorina’s more appropriate choice of an Osprey bag in female only Turquoise!

After a third cold night we woke up early & at just after 7:00 am our attempt at the TMB was underway.

Day 1 – Bossons – Les Houches – LesContamines-Montjoie

Having met Tim Blakemore the night before where he gave us the thumbs up on the weather ‘not great but why not, go for it’ we were anxious to make good progress under cool but bright skies before the forecast rain arrived. By starting at Bossons we added 5K to just get to the start of the TMB, the porter was feeling sorry for himself under his 17K load & hangover whilst contemplating the demands in the days ahead. Dorina was in better spirits but seemed to catch the mood as we started on an arduous & distinctly un-pleasant climb up to Col de Voza (never felt this bad on a ski lift in February a few years ago). Thankfully this was probably the low point for both of us, as the ground levelled out we began to hit a rythem which we were to keep almost constantly from here-on. Dorina’s highlights for the day were a bridge over the outflow of the Bionnasay Glacier & a fabulous lunch at Refuge de Miage (both well worth taking the more arduous variant path for). Shortly after the rain began we arrived at Les Contamines-Montjoie which resembled a ghost town (Sunday afternoon out of season), first hotel closed, a speeding Mercedes was noted as we trudged to the next option. When we got there we discovered the speedster had been the hotel owner whizzing back from Anneccy to open up this hotel for a group, luck just about on our side.

Stats – 23K, 38,000 steps (no I didn’t actually count them), 1,580m of ascent, 1,418m of descent, 8 Hours 13 Minutes.

Day 2 – Les Contamines-Montjoie – Les Chapieux (Tim had kindly pre-booked this more isolated hut)

An easier schedule allowed a proper rest & saw us setting off at 8:22 again with weather which was scheduled to deteriorate. By now we were beginning to see repeats in the human form. These were in the guise of two groups who became known as Cheaters 1 & 2, apparently you can do the TMB guided & some guides organise lifts on road sections or roads that bypass other sections. Looking back you can see that this opens up scenery to those who may otherwise not tackle any of the route but to us it simply had the effect of making us feel rather smug about our own efforts & the ease at which we were to catch & pass them despite not exactly racing around ourselves. As we climbed towards our high point so far (Col de la Croix Bonhommie, 2,433 metres) it was clear that we would breach the snowline well before. The porter considered downing tools to get the two sets of Yak Tracks out of his load but instead settled to un-strapping two walking poles for the slippery but safe descent. At the Les Chapieux hut we were greeted warmly by it’s guardian & treated to a double room with it’s own shower ‘Dorina, this won’t happen at every hut so make the most of it’. Dorina’s highlights for the day Overtaking the Cheaters groups 1 & 2 as well as several others on the climb & walking through deep snow making up for a lack of views.

Stats – 18K, 28,500 steps (no, my watch!), 1,316m of ascent, 929m of descent, 7 Hrs 3 Minutes.

Day 3 – Les Chapieux to Courmayeur

With the worst forecast yet we’d planned a short day with the aim of climbing over the Col de Seigne (at 2,516 metres) & stopping soon after at the Refugio Elisabetta. We left late hoping other groups would break the trail above the snowline, with both the ‘Cheater’ groups getting a lift to give them well over an hours head-start this was a perfect & ‘indestructible’ plan. Snow flurries soon merged to an almost blizzard, the porters thoughts turned to ‘this could get serious & I’m still wearing my shorts!’ whilst Dorina focused on the missing views. Then after some 3 hours ‘what’s that up ahead? It’s the bloody cheaters!’ as we passed they looked on in dis-belief, we looked forward & were breaking trail, I know how Hitler felt when his similarly indestructible plan fell apart at Stalingrad (also in the snow)! Reaching the cull the ground was frozen, visibility 30 yards but luck came beckoning from the North as 3 English guys came up the ‘path’ we needed to find for our descent. Soon below the cloud base & snowline with snow easing off we descended to reach the Refugio Elisabetta. A coffee, a discussion, ‘it’s too early to stop, let’s carry on to Courmayeur it’s only another 18K, lets do it’.

The afternoon was a long one after an already stiff morning climb but our moods took in the brightening skies, the Marmot cries & the thoughts of good Italian food (Porter Paul has some knowledge of Courmayeur’s gastronomic delights). To the Porter’s pleasant surprise the hotel he had in mind was actually bang on the TMB but to both his & Dorina’s shock 5 minutes after checking in Cheater group 1 did likewise, in all the hotels in Courmayeur just what are the chances of that (for clarity yes they had received a 2nd lift, we had slowed as the day wore on but not that much!). Dorina’s highlight as yesterday, overtaking, overtaking & the looks on their faces on that first climb of the day, I think she’s caught my competitive flu (in truth it took our minds off the lack of views). We dined very well with (un-like in France) some genuine Lemoncello to wash it down & went to bed hoping the new day would dawn to blue skies & views.

Stats – 33K, 43,600 steps (no), 1,514m of ascent, 1,868m of descent, 8 Hours & 26 Minutes.

So that’s it for Part 1, things were about to change & oh how they would change.

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