Around Mont Blanc

There is only one good reason for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc – the experience of the walk itself.  We did what we thought we could manage – anti-clockwise from Courmayeur in Italy, through Switzerland, to Chamonix in France over six days (with the help of the wonderful ‘Enlightened Traveller‘ who organised all the hotels and provided excellent walking notes). There may be some who do the whole tour – and especially those who do the ‘haute route’ – for whom it is another challenge to tick off, but we are no longer at the stage of life when we boast about challenges and adventures. We simply want to enjoy each day and the experiences it brings. 

Photos give some idea of the magnificent views we enjoyed,

View from above Courmayeur
View from above Courmayeur

but neither pictures nor words can convey the sound of the trees rustling or the music of the cowbells, the scent of pines and alpine flowers, the feel of a cooling breeze on hot skin, or the exhilaration when you reach the col and look back at where you’ve come from.

There is the anticipation, and trepidation, as you look forward to where you are going –

Hotel Splendide at Champex is halfway up mountain ahead.
Hotel Splendide at Champex is halfway up mountain ahead.

(Our third day of walking was easy, through interesting alpine villages along this valley, but we could make out the hotel we were to stay at half way up the mountain ahead and knew we had a climb to accomplish.)

 

 

– and there is the satisfaction of looking back to where you have come from, at what you have accomplished.

Looking back to la Forclaz in the pass and Trient in the valley
Looking back to la Forclaz in the pass and Trient in the valley

As we climbed up towards the Col de Balme we looked back to the Col de la  Forclaz, where a winding road (beloved by motorcyclists!) crosses the mountain ridge. We descended sharply into the pretty village of Trient, only to climb steeply again.

 

 

But the climb was worth it! At the Col de Balme we crossed over to see into the next valley, of the river l’Arveyron. Mont Blanc, hidden from us for a few days, came into view again.

Mont Blanc comes into view as we cross the Col de Balme
Mont Blanc comes into view as we cross the Col de Balme

The high point of the walk – literally – came on the second day when we crossed from Italy into Switzerland at the Grand Col Ferret – a height of 2537 metres

Cate at Grand Col Ferret
Cate at Grand Col Ferret

 

 

 

 

And this is the view I was enjoying:

Walking into Switzerland over the Grand Col de Ferret
Walking into Switzerland over the Grand Col de Ferret

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the greatest sense of satisfaction came when, on the last day of walking, we completed the ‘delicate passage’:

Tim and Cate after we'd climbed the ladders of the 'delicate passage'.
Tim and Cate after we’d climbed the ladders of the ‘delicate passage’.

 

The ‘delicate passage’ is the euphemistic title given to the series of ladders to tackle a cliff on the climb up from the valley of Argentiere.

 

 

This is what the climb looked like before

Looking at the ladders in the cleft of the rock ahead of us
Looking at the ladders in the cleft of the rock ahead of us

 

and after

The top of the ladders
The top of the ladders

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-you can just make out a climber on top of the rock stack, and the path we’d followed at its base.

While we were climbing we tried not to look down into the valley below, where Argentiere, where we’d spent the previous night, lay.

Looking down from above the ladders to the Argentiere valley
Looking down from above the ladders to the Argentiere valley

But it wasn’t all about tremendous views. Tiny flowers created delicate rock gardens, like this one I photographed on the way down from the Col de Balme into the valley of Argentiere:

Delicate-seeming flowers create a natural rock garden.
Delicate-seeming flowers create a natural rock garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

– and there were meadows of flowers

Meadow near Ferret
Meadow near Ferret

 

 

 

 

 

 

We saw gentians on mountainsides

taking photo of blue gentian was an excuse for a rest on the steep climb from Refuge Elena up towards the Grand Col Ferret
taking photo of blue gentian was an excuse for a rest on the steep climb from Refuge Elena up towards the Grand Col Ferret

and orchids in valleys.

The rare and the common: an orchid growing among clover and dandelions
The rare and the common: an orchid growing among clover and dandelions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we stayed in Champex, at the suitably-named ‘Hotel Splendide’ we took a walk after dinner into the pleasant little town that lies alongside a peaceful lake. We sat at the eastern end of the lake and watched the sun light the sky in glorious colours while the land deepened into darkness. The mountain peaks behind which the sun was setting were reflected perfectly in the still mirror of the lake. It was a view that one could only sit and gaze at – to photograph it would have shattered the magic. But when we returned to the hotel we saw from our balcony the moon appear at the other side of the sky:

The moon appears over the mountains beyond La Fouly as we looked back the way we had come.
The moon appears over the mountains beyond La Fouly as we looked back the way we had come.

This wasn’t the only hotel balcony with a wonderful view – this, while the sun was still shining brightly! – from our room at the Hotel Edelweiss in la Fouly

Looking west from hotel Eidelweis in la Fouly
Looking west from hotel Eidelweis in la Fouly

and we had great views from the refuges that we passed, such as Bovine

The Refuge Bovine looking over towards le Catogne.
The Refuge Bovine looking over towards le Catogne

where we had a pre-lunch drink on our way between Champex and Col du Forclaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But this is the ‘ultimate’ picture – it’s the last one I took before we descended (via the ski lift) into Chamonix – and the ultimate image of Mont Blanc:

Ultimate view of Mont Blanc
Ultimate view of Mont Blanc
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