Camping

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Ten (Tré-la-Champ to Les Houches)

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

Day 10! 

Day 10! 

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.

Cloudy pinnacle.  

Cloudy pinnacle.  

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.

The wife storming up the ladders! 

The wife storming up the ladders! 

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).

The beer that never tasted so good

The beer that never tasted so good

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.

The final campground! 

The final campground! 

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Nine (Col de la Forclaz to Tré-le-Champ)

Col de la Forclaz - Refuge la Balme

 Trient!

 Trient!

Waking up to yet another wet tent we decided to set off a little later in order to give it time to dry out. This was going to be a fairly short day in terms of mileage after all, if a little steep. Taking the path opposite the Hotel du Forclaz we set out through the forest on a downhill slope towards La Peuty, the tiniest and quietest of Swiss villages. When you reach La Peuty the path is marked well and signals 2h30m to Col du Balme. The entire section of this trip is on an incline starting off with a gradual road climb which materializes into a steep, rocky, zigzag track through the forest. After lots of climbing, groaning and swearing you emerge above the tree line only to be foiled again and discover that the refuge sits on the top of a distant hill on the horizon. That being said, the path from here until close to the summit is at a steadier level and the open grassland allows you to look around at the great scenery. The two and a half hour trek, whilst a bit of a slog, does its duty and provides you with a fantastic view of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley below.

The Chamonix Valley

The Chamonix Valley

Refuge la Balme - Tré-le-Champ

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There are two routes to take here. The first is the route down to La Tour which is a pretty village and from which begins a long line of towns in the Chamonix valley. The second is a route up Anguille des Posettes which increases the view of Mont Blanc on a clear day. We opted for the route to La Tour which meanders through mountain bike tracks and ski lifts all the way down. The walk to Tré-le-Champ from here is another 30 minutes through Montroc (another tiny town). We had planned to camp at Les Frasserands but the campsite was closed for the season so instead we went to the auberge at Tré-le-Champ and stayed in what was the best campsite of the trip. It was good being back on French soil. The campsite costs €8 per person and there is no extra cost for the tent like you find in Switzerland, meaning that for two it only cost us €16. The campsite is next to the auberge by a stream and we had access to all the facilities we needed. You can also stay for an evening meal too which costs €17 each but we decided to walk down to Argentiére (25mins) where we could get pizzas for €11!

Campsite at Tré-le-Champ

Campsite at Tré-le-Champ

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Eight (Champex-Lac to Col de la Forclaz)

Champex - Bovine Alp

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Keen to reach our last day in Switzerland and the prospect of cheaper prices we set off early in the morning after getting a ludicrously expensive but well needed cup of tea in Champex. The road sets off pleasantly through two suburbs of Champex aptly named Champex D'en Haut and Champex D'en Bas; both pretty, sleepy villages.

Helicopters are the best method and least intensive way to transport goods and building materials up the mountains and as we were passing through Champex D'en Bas we had the fortunate experience of watching a helicopter hover just over our heads to pick up a load. Holding onto our hats we watched the pilot zoom from the valley floor to the top of the mountainside! It was cool.

The rest of the route to Alp Bovine is an uphill trail of mixed altitude gain. When the Bovine refuge is reached there is a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and a key to tell you what they all are named. The refuge is closed in September but there are still picnic tables to rest your legs under and inquisitive cows to keep you in check. All the cows we met on the route were generally very docile but be wary walking near cows with calves. One of the cows on Bovine had a calf and for a split second amongst all the mooing I had a feeling we were going to be charged at. Fortunately we escaped to continue on our route!

Haley near Bovine Alp

Haley near Bovine Alp

Bovine Alp - Col de la Forclaz

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Striding out from the picnic spot you are comforted by the fact that there is only another 62m of height gain for the rest of the day. A track it into the hillside leads you to a gate which marks the start of the descent down through a forest to the Hotel de la Forclaz. The hotel pretty much constitutes the only notable building in the area and with the exception of a small shop selling souvenirs, there is nowhere to buy food. Faced with the choice to either camp outside the hotel or keep walking to the next town we decided to rest our legs for the night and have dinner with our friend Vincent from Borneo.

The campsite cost 22CHF and is situated right outside the hotel with access to showers. We were the only people camping. Compared to other campsites in Switzerland 22CHF seemed cheap, nevertheless we were looking forward to returning to France where things are affordable. We ate in the hotel which cost us 38CHF for two basic meals with no drinks. Due to it being on the border the hotel allows you to pay with euros or Swiss francs here. Based on the price I was hoping to pay in Rupees.

The next day we found out that if you continue walking on to La Peuty that the camping is only €5 a night but there is not anywhere to eat unless you cook your own food. A few friends of ours from England took full advantage of this as they had a portable stove.

Hotel de la Forclaz from the campsite 

Hotel de la Forclaz from the campsite 

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Seven (La Fouly to Champex Lac)

If there is a day that people choose to skip on the tour then it is this one. The route from La Fouly to Champex is said to be the most unentertaining/easy section of the hike that can quite simply be bypassed by taking a bus from one town to the other. For us, skipping a section wasn't an option, we wanted to walk the whole way.

La Fouly - Issert

Heading out from La Fouly after a poor night's sleep in the pouring rain we were definitely tempted to pursue a bus but after warming our rain jackets in the dryer on site we felt ready to start another day. The route continues through the campsite onto a wooded, downhill track that gradually winds down to the valley floor. Good views are to be had here but continuing poor weather conditions meant that all we could see was cloud. Continuing along a well trodden path which eventually leads to a road is one of the more exciting sections of the walk. As you head towards the town of Issert, it's fun to stroll amongst the quiet houses admiring the piles of logs everybody has accumulated to heat their homes in the winter months.

Issert

Issert

Issert - Champex-Lac

Reach the rabbit and you're there. 

Reach the rabbit and you're there. 

Walking through Issert is one of the only sections of the trail then can be slightly misleading. Signs disappear momentarily and you are left second guessing whether to continue through the town or take one of a series of left tracks uphill as described in the guide books. Ensuring you stay on flat land through the town will lead you to a path on the left just beyond the last buildings of the town. After a long walk from La Fouly this is not an easy climb to Champex. It can only be described as a steep forest path that seems to be endless when you are carrying a large backpack. Notes of interest include wooden sculptures to keep the mind occupied that are situated every few hundred feet up the path (when you reach the large carved rabbit, you have made it to the top!) We met 6 elderly gentleman half way up the track who had a combined age of well over 550. Despite the fact that they were seasoned hikers, I was determined that there was no way that they were going to overtake us on this steep climb.

Champex-Lac

Champex is a popular ski resort with as the name suggests; a large lake. Entering the town you can tell it's Swiss, mainly because the menus on the street inviting you into the restaurants offer hamburgers for the meager price of 28CHF! If you are looking for camping then continue to walk along the edge of the clear, blue lake and on to the other side of the town. The campsite is the last of a group of buildings on the right hand side of the road and it cost a gigantic 30CHF a night for two people with one tent. The campsite itself is a three tiered, lush grass lawn and it is comfortable to sleep on. The amenities are ok and there is a drying room which is a savior in wet weather. Camping in Champex can save you a few pennies, especially if you are planning on eating in a restaurant where you will spend no less than CHF20 for a main course.

Champex-Lac

Champex-Lac

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Six (Refugio Bonatti to La Fouly)

Refugio Bonatti - Refugio Elena

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Striding out from Bonatti at 7:15am with a good breakfast behind us we knew it was going to be a long day. One of the more difficult sections of the TMB, the route to Col Ferret was always going to be a challenge, especially in adverse weather conditions. The initial track from the Refugio is steady going. It's a well worn path that cuts across the hillside towards a farm and then weaves downhill through the trees to Arnuva where there is a tearoom and outdoor seating. Whether you are able to stop in the tearoom or not (we couldn't, it was closed) it is the last flat ground you are going to see for some time. The path begins to wind uphill across open grass, increasing in altitude until you reach Refugio Elena. The refuge is well placed at a the end of the valley with the huge Glacier de Pré de Bar behind it which spills out onto the mountainside. Elena is only open until mid-September. Therefore it was closed and there were no facilities but it can still be used to shelter from the elements and as an opportune spot to look up at the hill you have yet to climb.

Looking back to Bonatti

Looking back to Bonatti

Refugio Elena to Grand Col Ferret

This is probably one of the harder sections of the standard TMB and for us the poor weather certainly made it seem so. Taking around 1h30m to reach the summit of Grand Col Ferret, the track is relentless. I have no comments regarding the view due to driving rain and sleet which along with the cloud made visibility very low. After an arduous climb, the path evens out to reach a triangulation point at the top. At 2534m you feel pretty high up and Switzerland beckons. Apparently the panorama is incredible...

Grand Col Ferret to La Fouly

A muddle of signs

A muddle of signs

Passing by Grand Col Ferret, the path then leads gradually downhill. After an hour of walking you will reach La Peula where you can find a variety of food and drinks. Despite welcoming this watering hole, the cost of the first rest in Switzerland doesn't come cheap. Even though this is a great spot to warm your hands by the fire, you can expect to pay at least 18CHF for two sandwiches and two cups of coffee. Prices nearly as steep as the climb!

Leaving La Peula it takes another hour to reach the tiny hamlet of Ferret and then a further 45 minutes to reach La Fouly, mainly walking alongside the river and in the process crossing a very wonky bridge. As with lots of places in Switzerland, La Fouly is a cute, little town with extra large price tags. The main campsite in the town is Camping du Glaciers which has fantastic amenities, including a heated room to sit, cook and enjoy the company of others. However, camping here will set you back 24CHF a night for two people and it is by far the cheapest option available. Switzerland is expensive and even going to the local supermarket to buy food involves taking out a small loan. You can still visit on a budget though. We bought soup and bread, cooked it at the campsite on a fellow camper's stove (thanks Kevin!) and then played cards with friends we had met along the trip. Great fun.

Wonky bridges near La Fouly

Wonky bridges near La Fouly

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Five (Courmayeur to Refugio Bonatti)

Courmayeur - Refugio Bertone

Refugio abertone in the cloud

Refugio abertone in the cloud

Sometimes the signs along the trail are hilarious. A sign at the bottom of a hill will boldly declare that you have 1h30m until you reach the top. Bracing yourself for an uphill climb you set off and walk for 15/20 minutes until you reach the next sign which still boldly declares that you have 1h30m until you reach the top! Therefore, don't take them literally! One spot along the trail where this is evident is on the route from Courmayeur. A steady incline along Villair road leading from the town takes you to the foot of a forest which then rises in steep zigzags all the way to Rifugio Bertone at the top. Half way along this path was the spot where the signs played tricks with us. A friend we met along the trail (a guy called Herakles from Seattle) even went so far as to suggest the signs always altered their figures for the person looking at them depending on how slow they thought you were walking!

Great views can be seen through the trees down to Courmayeur at various places along the forest path. You are rewarded for your efforts at Bertone where there is sheltered seating and a selection of hot drinks. The coffee here is wonderful!

Refugio Bertone - Refugio Bonatti (via Col Sapin)

Replenished and refreshed from Bertone it is a small uphill climb to reach Mont de la Saxe with the way being flat and pleasant all the way to Col Sapin. Cloudy days provide an eerie haze across the grassland and be on the lookout for Ibex who like to hang out in these areas.

Misty mountains at Bonatti

Misty mountains at Bonatti

    Every year there is a 330km race that ends in Courmayeur, if you are in the town to watch the runners come in you can cheer them on and watch the grimaces on their faces as they aim for the finish. Some of the runners complete the race in three days which works out at over 100km per day! Lots of runners passed us on this section of the route working out their final few kilometers down to the finish. If you are there when they are, give them room to run and a clap as they pass by.

The final route to Refugio Bonatti is a slippery slope of mud and if you are lucky enough to be walking in the rain, poles really help here. Despite this, the way is not difficult to navigate and with the exception of a final ascent to warmth and comfort, Bonatti is reached without too much effort. Refugio Bonatti is an excellently run private establishment. Everything about it is great: the location; the staff; the cleanliness; the bathrooms; the food and the general atmosphere. Hammering rain and uneven ground meant we welcomed the chance to stay in the refuge rather than camp and we were able to stay without booking ahead. We were there in September, where you rarely need to book ahead in order to stay but if you are hiking in July or August then booking is essential. The cost of a bed, breakfast and evening meal is €48 each and it is well worth it.

Having a half way pint after five days

Having a half way pint after five days

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Four (Refugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur)

Note that for this day we did not take the traditional route due to inclement weather. The official TMB route is said to be a glorious journey with incredible views. However, when we undertook this section the rain was pouring and the visibility low. Therefore we took the variant route through Val Veny.

 Refugio Elisabetta - Refugio Monte Bianco

Wait, is that blue sky!? 

Wait, is that blue sky!? 

Descending down from Elizabetta in the early morning mist makes you realize how close you are to nature. The rain was pouring, our packs were heavy and our boots were soggy but the river ran wild and the air was fresh. The path (which can be observed from the Refugio) runs straight down the middle of the valley and at the end of a very straight track there is a split. The right path leads uphill and is signposted Courmayeur, the left path leads straight on across the bridge and is labeled Monte Bianco. The latter is the one to take in bad weather. Although it's not an incredibly exciting journey, the views are still spectacular with huge cliff faces to look at the whole way down.

Cloud shrouded mountains on the way to Courmayeur

Cloud shrouded mountains on the way to Courmayeur

 Refugio Monte Bianco - Courmayeur

Day four in the rain! 

Day four in the rain! 

Again, this route should not be taken in preference to the standard route except in bad weather. There are no real notable viewpoints, it involves quite a lot of road walking and you have to be on the lookout for cars going way too fast. On reaching Courmayeur, it is more pleasurable. Whilst having the alpine feel of towns we had already passed, Courmayeur also feels very Italian. Narrow winding streets, cobbled stones, miniature balconies, pizzerias, coffee shops and wine bars all contribute to this feeling. With no campsites near Courmayeur and the possibility for wild camping off the cards we decided to book into 'the cheapest hotel in the town.' The place whose name escapes me now cost €57 per room, per night. Despite the fact that it was a shared bathroom and the decor hadn't been changed since the Romans were around, the balcony was cracking! Hungry for food, we strolled the streets in the hope of a cheap and cheerful meal. We were surprised to find plenty of options for main courses under €15. Courmayeur caters for a high society, especially during ski season and yet there are many hotels that are very reasonably priced. You can tell that the town is used to a rich crowd as intermingled with all the cute Italian stuff is Prada, Gucci and Fashion for Dogs. And real estate, lots and lots of real estate.

9 miles.

Winding streets of Courmayeur

Winding streets of Courmayeur

Tour Du Mont Blanc - Day Three (Les Chapieux to Refugio Elisabetta)

Les Chapieux - Refuge des Mottets

FREE campsite at Les Chapieux! 

FREE campsite at Les Chapieux! 

There is a shop in Les Chapieux that sells local cheese and fresh bread and it is open from 7:30am. I would highly suggest stocking up there. We bought a fresh crottin of goat cheese, a sizable baguette, two croissants and two apples in readiness for the day for only €8. The route to Refuge des Mottets used to meander along the road but it now cuts along the hillside on the other side of the river, past plenty of cows all donning bells around their necks and hence making the whole experience feel very alpine. The cows were in the process of being moved from one side of the bridge to another and gruff farmers in wooly jumpers were to be seen shouting angrily at some of the more uncooperative bovine beasts in the bunch.

Cows on the move in the sun! 

Cows on the move in the sun! 

Refuge des Mottets - Col de la Seigne

Refuge des Mottets is great. It comes into view at the end of the long valley from Les Chapieux. It's a perfect spot for a brew before making the ascent up to the Col. Although a cup of England's finest is rather on the expensive side at €2.50 a pop, the refuge is well worth seeing due to its museum like display of old cheesemaking equipment decorating the walls. As you sip on your caffeine and look up you can see a Swiss flag flying in the wind and beyond it the vast hill that awaits you.

Looking back down the valley from Les Chapieux

Looking back down the valley from Les Chapieux

The Cicerone guidebook describes this section of the hike up to the Col as 'not arduous' but I highly doubt Mr. Cicerone was carrying camping gear up the hairpin paths. I also doubt that he had a near gale force wind blowing in his direction as he made his ascent. Signs advise the hiker that it takes two hours to get to the Col, which isn't far off depending on the size of your bag (and your calves). Helpfully for the hiker, the path does get less steep the further you ascend but to counteract this the wind gets stronger. Or it did when we went up. Reaching the top you'll find a stone edifice showing distances to far off cities and a small, crumbling wall to shelter behind whilst you eat fresh goat cheese and bread. Standing on the top, the view is incredible. On the edge of two countries, you can look ahead towards the wild Alps of Italy whilst looking over your shoulder at the French valley you have just climbed. That's providing you're not shielding your face from the wind and murmuring expletives.

Goat cheese and bread on the top. €3! 

Goat cheese and bread on the top. €3! 

Col de la Seigne - Refugio Elisabetta

After the 'not arduous' climb up to the Col, there is relief in the form of an abundance of downward paths into the valley beyond. If Refugio Elisabetta is your destination, ensure that you take the paths leading downhill and not the one to the right that continues uphill, even though it may look the more obvious route. The web of paths eventually mold into one and it descends all the way to the Refugio, which can't be visibly seen until it's right under your nose. It's a pretty impressive sight, the only building in view it commands your attention. Whilst wild camping is not permitted in Italy below 2500ft (and the whole area is), you can pitch a tent as long as you are not in view of the Refugio. I know you can because I asked. Eating in the Refugio costs €25 for what is a really good three course meal. Alternatively you can stay half-board for €45 per night. Under normal circumstances we would have camped but the weather was terrible and Refugio looked excellent! This seems to be one of the more popular Refugio's and it's not hard to see why. The Italians are good hosts!

9.7 miles

The route onwards to Italy from Col de Seigne

The route onwards to Italy from Col de Seigne

Tour du Mont Blanc - Day Two (Les Contamines to Les Chapieux)

Les Contamines - Col du Bonhomme

The Cicerone guide book I have suggests that the gradient to begin this day is more difficult than Les Houches to Col de Voza but I am inclined to disagree. The route to Col du Bonhomme is long and fairly challenging (especially with a 15kg bag on your back) but the way is varied and feels more like a mountain path. Whilst still steep, there are steps up's, protruding rocks and Roman slabs to maneuver your feet around thus making the walk interesting and less demanding. The route from Les Houches on day one is simply a road on an incline. Not good for the feet.

The route to La Balme

The route to La Balme

La Balme

La Balme

As you rise up through the valley the eyes set view upon two refuges, the second of which is called Chalet la Balme which serves a nice cup of tea with a great view down from where you just walked. This is well worth a stop considering the next leg of the journey is considerably more challenging. Leaving Chalet la Balme behind and feeling refreshed from the tea, the track continues to rise more steeply to the top of Col du Bonhomme. The view from here is arguably the best of the day and a great stop for a picture. Our picture was taken by a lad we met at the top named Dustin who turned out to be just one of the friends we made during the ten day hike.

Col du Bonhomme - Col de la Croix

The route up Col du Bonhomme

The route up Col du Bonhomme

Admiring the view from every angle there are two paths to take from Col du Bonhomme, one to the right and one to the left. The left path is the one to take and it continues immediately uphill to the next Col - Col de la Croix. By the time the second Col is reached, you've gained 2500m of elevation and conquered the highest point in this section. The refuge just past the Col appears all of a sudden almost out of thin air, perched on the hillside of the valley you are about to descend providing you are taking the standard TMB route and not the variant route. We didn't make a stop but refreshments are available should you need them and apparently they are pretty good!

Col du Bonhomme! 

Col du Bonhomme! 

Col de la Croix - Les Chapieux

Col du la Croix

Col du la Croix

It's all downhill from here. Literally. Taking the path left of the refuge begins the long winding route to Les Chapieux. Les Chapieux cannot be seen from the top (and can only just about be seen from the bottom!) and there are no signs until you get much further down the mountain. Just as you think there can't be any civilization in the valley, the small hamlet can be seen from the stone bridge that crosses the river. The best thing about Les Chapieux is that the camping is FREE and it is situated in a large field behind the tourist information office, you literally can't miss it. If you do miss it you must be a halfwit. The Auberge de la Nova is large and many people stay and eat there. We met up with our Italian friend from the previous night's camping and made a new friend from Chicago. The best thing about hiking is that you meet so many different people.

Les Chapieux just peeping out! 

Les Chapieux just peeping out! 

Even though we were taking the opportunity to camp for free we still needed to eat. We had the set menu of a three course meal involving soup, beef cheeks, cheese and pannacotta all for €22 per person. We went to bed with full bellies. Can't say fairer than that.

11 miles.

Tour Du Mont Blanc - Day One (Les Houches to Les Contamines)

 Les Houches - Col de Voza

Setting off early is the key to any successful hike so we packed up the tent, threw on our packs and gallantly walked to the start of the trail. With only a small divergence into the bakery to buy €1 croissants and a tuna sandwich we set of for Col de Voza, our first milestone for the day and the highest point at 1653m. I consider myself to be a relatively fit thirty year old hiking enthusiast, a middle of the road kind of guy. With that in mind, the first section of the walk is not easy. It is an uphill climb, on a road, for two hours. It's pretty steep at the start, it's pretty steep in the middle and then steep at the end. Nevertheless, it certainly elevates quickly and there are grand views down to the valley where Les Houches is situated. A wonderfully positioned picnic table near the top of the Col is a perfect spot from where you can ravage a recently acquired tuna sandwich.

Tuna sandwich eating spot

Tuna sandwich eating spot

Col de Voza - Bionassay

As an Englishman with a terrible hold on any other language except my own I have no idea how to say Bionassay, so I either plump for Beyoncé or Beyond the Sea. However it is pronounced, one can't deny that it is a huge glacier that fills the view for most of this section, slowly luring you in with it's icy, glistening majesty.

As well as being a hiking route, the TMB interlinks frequently with a bike trail therefore you can expect to be dodging cyclists at various points along the route. We stopped to talk to a traveling band of of bike enthusiasts who were attempting to ride up a hill far too steep for comfort. I exchanged stories about our routes so far with a German man who had leg muscles the size of Munich. I described how our bags felt like they were filled with rocks and he laughed. With him stretching in his Lycra and I averting my attention from a potential view of a budgie smuggling, he boasted that he was cycling about three million miles a day. After a few minutes of comparisons regarding effort, I had been reduced from feeling like I was conquering Everest to acting like I was complaining about taking a short stroll from the kitchen to the lounge! Not to mention that this guy was in his late fifties and physically fitter than me, our interaction came to an end with his sarcastic comment of 'perhaps one day you'll be a man and get a bike!' I bid the leg-flexing German goodbye and only fleetingly hoped he fell off his bike into a pile of cow dung.

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Bionassay - Gruvaz (via Le Champel)

This section evens out under foot and passes through two tiny hamlets of Le Champel and La Villette of which the former has a Gîte that is open all year round if you so desire to retire for the night. Passing uniquely built houses with flowers on every corner you would have to do really well not to enjoy this stage of the walk. Nearly all villages along the TMB route and especially the ones in France are accompanied by a spring that continually splashes out fresh, cold water that can be taken advantage of by the thirsty hiker. We stopped here to replenish our bottles.

Gruvaz - Les Contamines

Home of the man who found Neptune! 

Home of the man who found Neptune! 

The last slog of day one is generally flat and pleasant with only the occasional hill to keep you in check. After passing through a dense wooded area with copious amount of red ants, the trail brings you to the small hamlet of Tresse which is where Alexis Bouvard was from. If you hadn't heard of him then don't worry neither had I but it turns out he was pretty famous around these parts from 1767-1843. He was the man who discovered Neptune which I found quite entertaining considering by this point the huge bag on my back was telling me that I'd in fact walked to the outer echelons of the solar system myself. Hauling our feet the last mile to Les Contamines which involves a mean uphill struggle right at the end, we were greeted by an aesthetically pleasing, quintessentially French, alpine town. Diving into the local supermarket for much needed sustenance we noticed yet again that this town has lots of amenities for the traveling walker. Whilst we munched on our food we looked up at some of the perfect, wooden hotels and contemplated our next move to find the campsite. The campsite (Camping Le Pontet) turned out to be a 40 minute walk from Les Contamines therefore taking our total to 12.5 miles for the day. At €14 for the night plus the option of a three course meal at the campsite for €15 each we decided that this was the place for us. Having dinner at this campsite I would highly recommend. You are sat round a table with people you don't know and eating enough to keep you full for a week. We sat with an American couple, 3 French blokes and a guy from Italy. Despite the language barrier from our side of the talking block we met some great people who all enjoyed walking, traveling and laughing at my terrible attempt at speaking French.

 

12.5 miles.

Les Contamines

Les Contamines