Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tour Mont Blanc Stage 9: Trient, Switzerland to Tré le Champ, France


Previous stage
Col de la Forclaz

This stage marked our return to high mountain views after two lower altitude days in Swiss valleys, which were pretty and pastoral but lacked stunning scenery. We started in much the same way as the previous couple of days: walking through a quiet valley from Trient through the equally quiet (and even smaller) Swiss village of La Peuty before leaving the road on a gravel path through a meadow that crossed a rocky stream and then entered the woods, where we ascended steeply via a series of well-graded switchbacks.

Emergency shelter and cross
We quickly rose to fabulous views through the trees of Col de la Forclaz, where we’d passed the day before. And after a good climb, we cleared the trees, entered an open hillside where we could see Swiss valleys below us and the height of land of Col de Balme above us (marking our return to France). It was another lovely day, albeit (as it had been the day before) somewhat hazy and borderline muggy.

First view of Chamonix Valley
During this climb, we had one of those funny experiences that often happen during international travel, at least amongst those of us who try to speak the local language. I had spoken French with a group of three women who were hiking near us. They had spoken French back. But it wasn’t until we’d spoken three or four times that I overheard them talking amongst themselves and realized they were Australian!

Aiguillettes des Posettes
About 700 meters into the climb, we came to a series of old hut buildings, very strongly built of fieldstone and featuring the cross that’s a standard feature on many Valais hillsides and valleys. While the buildings seemed abandoned, two of the low stone huts were open for use (presumably) as emergency shelters. As you can see from the pictures, it was pretty dark and dank, although it’d be better than getting lost or freezing to death in a snowstorm.
Glacier du Tour

Then we reached Col de Blame and its namesake refuge at 2191 meters – and the whole Chamonix Valley lay spread out before us with Mont Blanc dominating the skyline on the south side of the valley. There was a perfect spot out of the wind by the (closed) refuge and we took our time for a relaxed lunch. Like several sections of the TMB, the hillside below was criss-crossed with signs of downhill skiing: lifts, rope tows, pistes, etc. As you can see from the photos, however, this really didn’t detract from the views! We had a particularly good perspective on Glacier du Tour, one of the largest on the massif.

From the Col, we dropped slightly and then climbed to the highlight for the day (and one of the highlights of the trip overall), Aiguillettes des Posettes (the stony rounded hump in the middle of the photo above, which, appearances to the contrary, is slightly higher than Col de Balme). This stone outcrop offers a 360° view of Switzerland and France with Mont Blanc, obviously, dominating but plenty of other spectacular scenery.

From here, it was a fun (if knee-punishing) descent on switchbacks right off the end of the aiguillette, coming out on the road just above the small villege of Tré-le-Champ, our destination for the night. We found accommodation in the unbelievably quaint Auberge La Boerne. Each room was very cozy and dark, which made me feel like I was sleeping in the hold of a ship! After organizing my gear, we ended up sitting in the lovely garden, enjoying beers with a sweet German couple, before sitting down to a great French country dinner.

Stage 10 - Tré-le-Champ to La Flégère, France

2 comments:

  1. Wow. The stories of your major hikes leave me reeling at the beauty... and how brave you are! I would never attempt anything so ambitious...

    And now I have a practical question relating to me (in comparison, tres, tres modest) hikes in Monte. A lot of the paths are old Austro-Hungarian paths. They are essentially laid from blocks of stone - like cobbles if you will but much more irregular. I'm looking for help on the perfect footwear for walking these paths. I've been wearing my Brasher Supalites which give good ankle support but have really hard soles with deep grip and there is of course nothing to grip onto on the shiny cobbles so sometimes I even slip a little in these babies. Trainers are OK if the stones are super dry or else it's a nightmare.
    I find descending these quite steep stone paths really tough on the knees. I'm thinking a hiking stick would help (and looking to make one out of something because you know me, I'd much prefer to reuse/ recycle than buy new...). Any other tips, oh walking guru???

    X

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  2. I've hiked on the type of trail you describe in the Grand Canyon in Arizona, in Greece, and briefly in other spots. Given the possibility of slipping and/or twisting an ankle, I definitely prefer full ankle support for this type of hiking. Hiking shoes or trainers just don't offer that support. I gave up on full lug-soled hiking boots several years ago. The extra weight and the more difficult gait for the rigidity of the sole is simply not worth it. I now use, almost exclusively, a mid weight hiking boot with a very grippy sole, full-length ankle support and good waterproofness (usually Gore-tex). The boot I've used for several years is the Asolo Fugitive GTX. I'm on my third pair!

    Hiking poles are a must have for me. I've used them for 15 years and wouldn't think of going without them except for short local hikes.

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