Tre le champ

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