|Aiguillettes d'Argentière: there's|
a trail there somewhere!
|The first ladder|
Then we came to the narrow spire known as the Aiguillette d’Argentière (often tackled by rock climbers). Just past this solitary pillar, the delicate passage begins with a single metal ladder up the rock face. From here, the trail turns and we had to dance delicately along a narrow point of rock while holding metal hand railings. It was perhaps the only section where I felt exposed: most of the rest of the time, we were facing into the rock as we climbed the ladders and, particularly with backpacks on, it was difficult to look around and get a sense of the exposure. (To capture the feeling, I hung my camera off my backpack and got some excellent video of what it would look like facing outward!) The only other sections that I found a bit delicate were the wooden steps. Although these were used on less steep sections with less exposure, the angle was such that there was nothing to hold onto (and we’d collapsed our hiking poles and clipped them to our packs – they would have been in the way otherwise – so couldn’t rely on them), requiring a bit of a balancing act. Although this section only climbed a little over 200 meters in elevation, it was tiring, particularly as much of it was straight up and therefore particularly hard on the quads.
Once we’d cleared the many obstacles (and could actually turn around and enjoy the view), we were treated to a stupendous view of the entire Mont Blanc range as we hiked the last bit of trail to a junction at a spot known as the Tête aux Vents. We could see virtually every glacier, aiguillette and peak on the north flank of the massif. At the junction, another trail joined from the east (our right). This is an alternative trail through Col des Montets that we could have taken to avoid the delicate passage and I’d highly recommend this for anyone who’s uncomfortable with ladders and handholds.
To follow the regular route to La Flégère, we would have turned left. However, the guidebook (as well as people we’d met on the trail who’d done the TMB previously) recommended visiting Lac Blanc and its beautifully sited refuge, which involved heading straight from Tête aux Vents and, unfortunately, another 200 meters of elevation gain (not significant but we were tired after the ladders, not to mention 10 days of hiking, many without sufficient calories for me). It was worth the effort, however: the view was spectacular and we ate our lunch on the deck at the refuge, ordering local beer and potato chips to go with our bread and cheese.
|The technical end of Stage 10:|