If the guide books are anything to go by then most hikers who are intending to walk the full route often do so in 11 days. Due to the availability of our schedule, we only had 10 days. Therefore we decided to combine the last two days together to make it a rather difficult ending to an already challenging walk.
Tré-la-Champ - Refuge La Flégère
To begin our mammoth day we left Tré-la-Champ at the crack of dawn before anybody in the refuge had woken up. This is a great time for walking. The early morning mist whispers through the trees, everything is dewy and the forest is silent. As we made our first ascent climbing over huge boulders we realized that this section's terrain was unlike any other section of the walk so far. Half way through the forest we startled an ibex which jumped out in front of us, breaking the silence. The route is varied but generally fairly steep and as you emerge from the tree line you see the gigantic rock climbing wall of Aiguillette d'Argentière with it's sheer monolithic walls.
This final day is also unique in the fact that it involved climbing up and over metal ladders that have been bolted into the rock face. As you near the top of the ascent to Tête aux Vents a series of ladders emerge which for the unsteady walker may seem a terrifying obstacle. Despite the engulfing drop into the abyss on your immediate left, the ladders are secure and not particularly tough unless you have vertigo!
Reaching the top you are faced with a variety of paths to take with a signpost that clearly states the way to take (and also which some numpty has decided to write his name on with a marker pen). Why is it that people feel the need to write their names with marker pens on signs and toilet doors etc? I can almost understand it in the city but what sort of hiker gets up in the morning and thinks 'waterproofs, check, lunch, check, mountain safety kit, check...marker pen, check?' It seems even the mountains are not free of brainless gits!
A diversion at Tête aux Vents to Lac Blanc on a sunny day is a great wander off of the main route. Lac Blanc is a high elevation lake that is crystal clear and surrounded by snowy peaks. Some friends of ours from Alaska showed us a picture they had taken a few days previously and it looked incredible. However, cloud surrounded us and we continued on to Refuge La Flégère and ski country.
Refuge La Flégère - Les Houches
We had every intention of completing the full route to Les Houches on our final day but then we didn't intend on getting lost half way along the route. On approaching the general area of the refuge the landscape changes dramatically. This is ski country. Bulldozers were digging up land, trucks were transporting materials and to make matters more confusing it was very cloudy. With the ski lifts closed and the punters gone it can only be described as a work zone and trucks are constantly changing the landscape (and knocking down signs).
After a few fruitless attempts to find the right route we descended on a path down to Chamonix before heading to Les Houches feeling only marginally defeated at not being able to complete the last few miles on the right track. Down in Les Houches, we met other hikers from the walk (who comfortingly for us) told us they had also gotten lost at the top so we didn't feel so bad.
Setting our tent up in the same field we began in Les Houches you get the 'full circle' feeling and lots of nostalgia for the endurance of the past ten days. Sitting at a table of a local bar with a pint of beautiful bubbling beer, my wife and I talked about the trail with other hikers who had been with us at various points during the trek. The trail changes you although I'm not entirely sure how.
Perhaps it's just the feeling of completing a 170km journey that has over 29.000ft of ascent but you get a huge sense of accomplishment and beer has never tasted so good.