A great tour deserves a special write up, so here’s a truly personal take on this September 2018 Ramblers Walking Holidays adventure, each guest on the trip writing about a day or two.
Day 1 The Day of the Berries
The day began with early morning visits to the Argentière boulangerie to buy delicious baguettes for our picnics. Ahead of us were 13 km of walking, including 400 metres ascent and 900 metres descent, for our very first day trekking the TMB. To reach Chamonix, we caught the alpine train that connects all the villages on the French side of the Mont Blanc massif and crossed town in the drizzling rain to take the cable car up to Plan Praz. Alas, all was shrouded in mist as we set off down the Grand Balcon Sud. This gentle track undulates along the range opposite Mont Blanc, Aguille de Midi and Aguille Vert, among other spectacular peaks, but we saw none of these. They hid themselves behind cloud that persisted all day, although just near the end of our walk some cloud parted to reveal glimpses of glacier and sheer cliffs of granite. The beauty of the day belonged to the little views; the small worlds of plant and flower, fungi and moss.
We saw lingonberry, juniper berry, blueberry and raspberry all in fruit. Red, pale yellow, blue/purple and raspberry colours gleamed among the leaves of the respective plants. It was a feast of fruit for us as we walked along. Also, the Rowan trees put on a special show with their rich red berries hanging in clusters. And we passed larches, spruces, ferns and silver birches as we descended down paths trailing through firs laden with lichens and jewels of moisture. A gentle start to our big adventure. Sally
After our short bus ride we head straight up hill. We are walking in forest – mostly spruce, with some larch. We see roots beautifully twisted around rocks. The track climbs relentlessly.
When the trees start to thin we have spectacular views to les Aguilles Rouge – sawtooth peaks across the valley. Then we are in rocky heathland, still pressing upwards, with glaciers and peaks to the south, disappearing into mist. We reach our summit – Aguillette des Posettes, which at 2201 metres is only 28 metres shy of the highest peak in Australia. It’s our calf muscles that are feeling it, and stretching is required. We traverse to the hut at Col de Balme – climbing a little more to 2500 metres. There it’s lunch huddled inside, nowhere near a window. When we come out, we’re surprised to find it’s raining and there’s a biting wind. Rug up and head quickly down out of the wind on the long forested descent to Trient. Here we watch runners pass through, doing the whole circuit in less than a day. On up to Col de la Forclaz, and civilisation. Our taxi collects us for a night in Martigny. More stretches. Our calves have had their first big workout. Brian
Day 3 Forclaz to Champex. Leaving our hotel at Martigny, we take the taxi along a winding road back up to Col de la Fortclaz to start day 4. We ascend through woodland, taking a break in a meadow to admire the views. We then continue climbing through woodland, eventually arriving at the highest point where we look down on Alp Bovine where morning tea awaits us – a tasty selection of cakes including a delicious Apple pie. After feeling refreshed we continue our descent through larch and pine woodlands, to arrive at our lunch stop on a hillside overlooking some cows grazing around a large cross. We then continue on the valley road arriving at Champex Lac for a refreshing drink over looking the lake.
Then on through the town to the Hotel Splendide. Kathryn
Day 4 Swiss Villages. Leaving the splendid Hotel Splendide we descend through a forest along the way taking in the sights of champignons, squirrels and other animals carved in wood. Exiting the forest, our morning coffee stop is at Issert, the first of the Swiss Val Ferret valley villages.
Feeling refreshed, we amble through the villages of Les Arlaches and Praz de Fort, taking in the old world charm of the traditional Swiss houses and admiring the healthy vegetable gardens. We stop briefly to admire the village of gnomes.
We ascend through forest along an old moraine, stopping to lunch at a shady spot on a bench. We then continue along the balcony path to the lovely village of La Fouly, to rest our heads at Hotel Edelweiss with a beautiful view of craggy mountains. Kathryn
Day 5 Into Italy
Waking up to a blue bird sky was a great start of the day. This was a day with so many presents. It started with a uphill through a very green valley to the Grand Col Ferret(2537m) the view gave me to see mountains my father has climbed in the 50s 60s. To name the Monte Rosa and the Mont Blanc. It was the best lunch spot .
A thousand dollar view over the valley and on our west the Les Grandes Jorasses, with its pointy mountain tops and (still) hanging in there glaciers. Hiking down took a while because you want to take the surroundings all in . This day is engraved in my thoughts in memory of my dad who loved and lived for those mountains, pretty proud of him. At home, I can think about this day with a super smile on my face . 🏔Edith
Next we walked into a vast combe of rock, grass, alpine flowers and steep sides of moraine ringed by high peaks. Some cattle were grazing in this wide open space. The group came to a standstill when a marmot popped up between rock boulders. Then another. And a third. All going about their morning business unperturbed by our passage past their back doors. Later a large eagle cruised past on the high thermals. Certainly more of a threat to marmot families, and we did hear marmot warning cries during the day.
We followed the path down (sighting another eagle skimming across the mountain peaks) to reach Rifugio Bertone. It was a brief pause here to view Courmayeur in the distance. The final section of a glorious day’s walking led us down through forest trails and the back streets of Courmayeur past beautiful architecture. The villas have immaculate slate rooves and quirky chimney pots above which Mont Blanc rises majestically, draped in its gleaming white glacier. Whilst the drama of the views was a highlight, so too were the three different types of gentians shining in the sun, and a tiny patch of blue forget-me-nots. Sally
Then a rest day in Courmayeur with that breakfast again….
Day 8 Bonjour again la France. Today was wonderful, with different paths, ascents, then finally a long undulating descent to Chapieux.
We drank hot chocolate with many ooohs and aaahs from the group; the Elizabetta hut is famous for this drink, which was more like a dessert, delicious. Highlights: breath-taking views as we went over the Col de la Seigne -mountains, lush green valleys, deep ravines and meandering paths, beautiful jade coloured streams, all greeted our eyes. What more could we ask for? The weather was kind, lots of sunshine and just an occasional chilly breeze – but no rain. How lucky were we?! Fantastico! Val
Day 9 Ice cream and a gorgeous gorge. Remember the taxi up the snaking road back up to Les Chapieux to rejoin where we left the previous day. That steady climb to col de la Croix du Bon Homme. Thence rocky cascade passing chalet de la Balme before descending though two wide hanging valleys to our ice cream reward at Chalet du Nant Borant. This carried us down to our hotel Chemanez in Les Contamines. Ian
Day 10 Contamines to Les Houches. Record breaking day : up the Col du Tricot in 1hr and 15 minutes, 5 minutes faster than my last group. Slow and steady wins the race! I wondered if I would ever get the group down again though, as we lingered and gazed at the views of Mont Blanc and the Bionassay glacier, peering through the binoculars at people walking down to the spaceship that is the refuge to Gouter.
Deli sandwich 8.15! Walked through Les Contamines then up to Chalet du Truc and first refreshments. Soon a descent, with the next objective Col du Tricot clearly in view. Quite a hill, but a group speed record! On and up to cross Tramway du Mont Blanc and welcome break at Chalet de l Are. Satisfying but long walk down through Les Houches with little sting in the tail ascent to the hotel Les Campanules. Ian
Day 11 Closing the circle. The final day and what a finale! Uphill for 1700 metres, through forest dappled with rays of light, blouldered slopes and craggy peaks. Le Brevent at 2525m with its 360 degree panoramic views of Mt Blanc, Chamonix and the valleys beyond.
Contrasting sights of forested hills and barren, rocky mountains. Picnic lunch with shared food and surprise sip of wine. Para gliders overhead, casting shadows. Ibex and baby spotted on the skyline teasing us with glimpses as they frolicked on the rocks. Ladders and cable car on the downward journey. Finishing in Chamonix for a cold beer, nibbles and ice cream. Bliss. Sue
Final thoughts, from Geri: One of the most important aspects of a group trip is the ability of the participants not to take themselves too seriously. Laughter along the way is key to a positive experience. This group excelled in that way. Overall the weather was fantastic. Thank you Geri! I so much enjoyed the sharing of travel adventures and life’s experiences. The hiking was challenging, but not overwhelming. Doing this trek with Julia was especially wonderful since she intimately knows the region. Ramblers is fortunate to have her. In summary, a wonderful experience that I will highly recommend.