July 6, 2016
Yet another moving day today, so after breakfast we climbed the three flights of stairs for the last time, packed our bags, and then walked back down. We had thought the bus for Chamonix left at 10 am but we were wrong, so we had an hour and a half to wait for the 11 am bus. One of the other passengers for some reason didn’t have border-crossing ID, so we were held up at the bus station for quite a while. Finally things seemed to be sorted out, and off we went, only to be stopped at the tunnel entrance for another ID check. After much discussion and searching of her shopping bags, the police finally let her back on the bus.
When we finally arrived at Chamonix we caught the local bus to La Praz and then took the cable car up to Refuge de la Flégère, where we would be staying for the next two nights. The refuge is just below the cable car station so access was easy, even with an extra bag. They showed us where to leave our boots and then took us up to the top floor bunk room to choose our beds. Of course we were the first to arrive so we chose two lower bunks on the side with small windows.
It was lunch time now so we went out and sat at the picnic tables to eat our salami and crackers. From here there was a great view over the valley, with Chamonix filling the bottom, and across to Mont Blanc and the smaller peaks surrounding it. The weather was beautifully clear as well.
After lunch we decided to walk along the Grand Balcon Sud, the route of the TMB. For the most part the trail was fairly level so it was easy going for Rosemary’s knee. There was only one spot which had us going steeply down some steps through a rock crevice, but it turned out to be not too bad. We chatted with a woman who was waiting for other people in her party to catch up, but nowhere on our return trip did we see anyone who might have been in her party. Who knows where they were?
Back at the refuge we sat out in the sunshine, reading our books and enjoying the view. Dinner wasn’t until 7 pm and a lot of walkers arrived after 6 pm. We were put at a place with a Spanish couple and a German family. We were kind of oddballs because everybody else seemed to be walking the TMB. Dinner was quite good; we had a cold macaroni and tuna salad followed by tartiflette with cold meats and a choice of desserts. All very filling.
Later as we were writing our journals Rosemary looked out of the window at the sunset on Mont Blanc and she noticed an animal coming out of the forest. It was a chamois! We went outside to watch it, and before long we saw several of them crossing the road below the refuge. But it was getting dark so it was difficult to take good photographs.
July 7, 2016
It was a bright sunny morning again today, and on the flank of Mont Blanc the sun was glinting off a metal object. Later we found out from another hiker that it was one of the mountaineering huts. We had asked for breakfast at 7:30 am, so we got up at 7:15 am and went downstairs. We were expecting a good spread, but instead it was a pretty scanty affair even by French standards. Not a great breakfast for hikers!
For today we had planned a walk to Lac Blanc. It would be 500 metres of elevation gain but as far as we knew it was a good trail. So we hoped Rosemary’s knee could deal with it. We got our lunch stuff organized and emptied Paul’s pack so we could use that as our day pack. The route first took us up to the cable car station and then downhill for a bit before starting the climb.
Already the day was hot and sunny, but there were gorgeous views of all the mountains. Lac Blanc is a very popular destination and today there were crowds of people going up there, but there were reasonable spaces between the groups. We climbed for quite a while and then came to a lovely tarn with beautiful reflections of Mont Blanc. We rested there because Rosemary was very tired—but that was because of the breakfast, she ate an apple from our lunch and soon felt much better.
We carried on, gaining more and more elevation, and suddenly we almost walked into an ibex who was lounging in the middle of the trail. Rosemary took numerous photos before we continued on. Finally we arrived at Lac Blanc; there were still a few late patches of snow around, but the lake itself was completely surrounded by snow and it was mostly frozen over. There was a nice-looking refuge there, and on one of the snowfields was a small herd of ibex.
There was a nice-looking refuge there; it’s on one of the high-level variants of the TMB and to us it looked like it might be a nicer place to stay than La Flégère. Only problem is, the trail to get there includes a ladder with some exposure. When we come back and do the TMB we’ll have to look at that.
We climbed up a hill behind the refuge and found a rock to sit on and eat our lunch. We spotted a marmot not too far away and watched it for a while, and then went back down to the refuge to have some tea and sit on their deck to look again at the spectacular views of the Mont Blanc massif.
The return trip went quite quickly since Rosemary’s knee was surprisingly pain-free, which was very pleasant. Back at the refuge we bought drinks and sat outside in the lounge chairs for a while. But that only lasted for about half an hour before we found the sun far too hot, so we had to go and sit inside.
Tonight’s dinner menu was the same as last night’s, although since we were there last night they gave us a concoction of baked vegetables and bacon over bread. Both of us agreed that we would have preferred the tartiflette. We chatted with our table-mates (American women from Olympia) for a while before going outside to see if the chamois would come out again. No such luck, so we went up to our beds.
July 8, 2016
There was a lot of stomping back and forth around 6 am, and outside it was slightly overcast, with Mont Blanc having a bit of cloud on top. We had the usual for breakfast at 7:30 am, said goodbye to our table-mates, and went upstairs to pack up. Outside we could see people striding away on their last day of the Tour du Mont Blanc.
The La Flégère cable car had started operating by now, so we headed up the hill and got on the 9 am departure. There were a lot of people coming up, but we had a private ride down. The ride was quick and luck was on our side, the bus to Chamonix was waiting at the stop to take us to the bus station at Chamonix Sud. When we had left the bus station two days ago Paul had left his hat there. That led to sunburn problems, and putting sunscreen on your scalp is a messy business. But fortunately it was in their lost-and-found box and they gave it back.
Next stop was the train station, to buy tickets for tomorrow’s trip to Annecy, where we had booked the very last room in the Best Western (ugh) only a few days ago. We had hoped that the station would have lockers where we could store our packs, but instead we were told that the tobacco shop down the road would keep them for us. Sure enough, for a rather pricey €5 each we stashed them there. Expensive, but still much better than carrying them around town all day.
We had the day to spend in Chamonix, so we went shopping. The “sleeping sheets” which we had been using at the huts here were actually lightweight sleeping bags suitable for tropical countries. They are light, but more bulky than necessary. So we were looking for rectangular lightweight sleeping bag liners. Fortunately there were a lot of sporting goods shops in Chamonix, and we looked in all of them. The lightest material is silk but it’s also the most expensive material, so we ended up with a silk/other blend which wasn’t much heavier. So next year on the TMB we’ll have compact liners weighing only 144 grams.
Now we could head onwards to Les Houches—we had booked tonight’s stay at Gîte Michel Fagot immediately after our disastrous first day on the TMB. The bus dropped us in Les Houches at about 3 pm, and dinner wouldn’t be until 7:30 pm so we went next door to the bakery for a snack of tea and houchards. The “houchard” is a thin cake with chocolate chips and a glaze filling and a thin glaze on top, very tasty, and we figured it must be a local specialty.
At dinner the main course was bruschetta with ham, tomato, and cheese, and the main course was turkey with a coconut and curry sauce accompanied by rice, red peppers, and carrots. Dessert was chocolate mousse with a shortbread cookie. All very tasty. We sat with an Australian couple and an Israeli couple who had just finished the TMB, so we at least supported them in their celebration.