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Chamonix, rest and reflection…and dinner!

We’ll, we’ve finished our circumnavigation of the Mont Blanc massif, the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) and what a wonderful time we have all had, scrambling up hill then back down dale, all the while following that gliding, cat like navigator, Ismael.

As a group we were very well prepared, having trained hard on the massive mountain ranges around the Mornington Peninsula(!), but it was still a tough challenge, abate with a stunning backdrop to gaze at while regaining breath and equilibrium.

Here are a few reflections on the walk, and what may be required to do it in comfort, and fewer blisters!

# You can’t train too much. No one ever failed from training hard, and you won’t have to worry about recovery each day. Also, train as much for going down hill as up. Down hills can be a killer on the knees, quads and hips.

# Wear good comfortable boots. We saw folks wearing sneakers, and when it rains (and it will) sneakers get wet…and when they are wet guess what happens? Blisters. No fun!

# Prépare for all weather conditions. We only had one day of rain, but when it came so did the wind and it got cold. Good wet weather gear, and warm layers will make for much more pleasant dinner conversation.

# Speaking of clothes, I can’t speak highly enough of super-fine merino t-shirts and tops. They don’t smell, ever! And buff’s are great, as a neck warmer, head band or wrist band.

# Poles! Almost everyone carried them, most used them, and those that did agreed they help…and Ismael uses them all the time, so they must be good!!

# Voltarin was the drug of choice! Plus magnesium and/or Endura mixed with water.

# WiFi isn’t great in all places, so just talk to people and forget the phone.

# The track is well signposted, and incredibly clean. Everyone seems to respect the environment and it shows.

# Don’t expect to lose weight on this walk…the food, beer and wine are much too good to ignore.

# Chamonix isn’t the cheapest place in France, so maybe save yourself some grief and buy your gear before you get there. There’s plenty of choice, with a lot of dollars signs attached!

# Bring a camera, it WILL get used A LOT!

# Enjoy, take your time, soak in the beauty, talk to your friends, laugh, eat, drink…have a fabulous time in an incredible environment.

# Thank you No Roads for organising this wonderful walk, from Peter and Irene to all the staff in the office, a very well run machine! Thanks to Ismael for gliding us (I mean…guiding us!) effortlessly, he has a great passion and respect for the alps and it shows. And, of course, thanks to all our walking team. It was an experience of a life time which we loved, and loved doing with you all. You are all great friends and we love you all.

SO…what now for the rest of the day? How about a bit of paragliding?

Tony, Leeanne, Lucy, Gemma, Rachael and I slid off the side of a hill to soar around the side of the alps for 30 minutes or so. Exhilarating!

Lunch, shop, then maybe a drink or two on adjoining balconies.

Then a special treat for Liz, Rachael and I as we had a reunion with one of our trek buddies, Mike, from our last No Roads trip to Nepal last year. It was great to catch up with a ripping fella, and meet his wife Deidre, who then braved dinner with a bunch of Aussies at a fabulous restaurant in Town, Munchies.

If you visit Chamonix, go to Munchies. The best meal of our trip.

Now, on to Paris to continue our fabulous adventure.

Day 10 – Argentiere to Chamonix

(6 hours)

Our last day, and a solid one to complete the TMB, with a climb of about 1100 metres up to Lac Blanc, then down to the chairlift and back to Chamonix.

It was extremely humid, with thunderstorms predicted, making the climb all the more difficult with plenty of breaks to mop the brow!

Once again the views prevailed the pain.

On top of the world, sort of!

The first lake was an oasis of calm, with wonderful reflections.

And a photo opportunity or two…

Then some iron ladders and wooden steps up to the refuge and Lac Blanc.

No more climbing, it’s all downhill from here.

Maddy, the inspiration for this trip, and an inspiration herself, looks very happy to be here.

Tony got a new phone before this trip and has almost blown it up taking photos.

Down we go towards the gondola ride to the valley.

We were lucky, the predicted thunderstorms didn’t eventuate.

After the gondola, a lovely, lazy 20 minute stroll along the river back to Chamonix.

…then, a beer!

And our farewell dinner at The Cap Horn restaurant.

Before a few night caps at The Bar, in the main drag…

With shenanigans from our Tigers supporting crew…

Then time to wrap it up…

Day Nine – Triente – Argentiere

( 6 hours – 18kms)

Once again our group promptly hit breakfast at 7.30 sharp, followed by the 8.30 bus to our starting point of Triente, snuggled down in the valley with ominous mountain ranges surrounding us on three sides.

The weather in the valley was cool but we are expecting hot and humid conditions all day with the threat of thunderstorms and foul weather forecast for tomorrow.

With this in mind there is a real chance that we may have to abandon our walk a day early, so all were very keen and excited to be hitting the track.

Said track went straight up, switchback after switchback, cool breeze turning into a humid swamp, turning a rough enough climb into a sweat box challenge.

Regular short breaks to mop down, before finally reaching the Col de Balme at 2191 metres, and the border between Switzerland and France.

More Aussie border excitement, lots of photos, spectacular views and a lovely cooling breeze.

Maybe a selfie?

A leap of faith…

Finally, a leisurely walk to our outdoor dining room, baguette and brilliant valley/mountain views, with the Mont Blanc Massif on our left.

Probably the second most spectacular lunch spot.

Chamonix is the village at the end of the valley, Argentiere is below us.

The afternoon walk followed through the pine forest, before a short ridge walk to our destination of Angentiere, in the valley above Chamonix.

One glance at the pharmacie in town gave reason for the sweat feast!

No time to waste, there’s a bar directly across the road from our hotel!!

We had a lovely meal at our hotel, with Ismael informing us that the weather forecast for tomorrow wasn’t too bad, and we would be able to complete our epic journey.

Day Eight – Champex-Lac to Col De La Forclaz

(6 hours – 18kms)

Well, Hotel Spendide was just that, comfy beds, lovely meals and stupendous balcony views; we could have stayed for ever…but the trail waits for no man, or woman!

The weather was fine and quite warm as we stroll around the lake, trout safely resting from vigilant fisher persons

Through the forest lanes till encountering the obligatory hill to our beautiful lunch spot looking down on the Rhône Valley.

We haven’t got tired of the luncheon views, that’s for sure.

Another corner, another outrageous vista!

Fuel for winter

Morning tea!

45 minutes digesting baguettes and views, then downhill to our finish point today at Col De La Forclaz, which would normally be our pit stop for the night at the roadside refuge, but our number is too large, so we are being bussed down to the large town of Martigny, which nestles in the heart of the Swiss Rhône Valley.

Martigny if famous for its local wines, the vines of which cling precariously to the side of the steep hills, winding roads breaking up the terraced rows of grape laden vines.

Vintage has just started and the effort to pick must be backbreaking.

Our hotel is right next to the old town where we had a great meal at a Swiss restaurant run by a local who spent time living in the Blue Mountains back home.

Some of us had a quiet night cap at a bar down the road before turning in, tomorrow involves some serious hills!

Day Seven – La Fouly – Champex-Lac

(4 hours – 14kms)

Today is the shortest walk of the tour, only 4 hours, mainly following the valley, with a short sharp 450 metre climb to our hotel next to Champex Lac.

Breakfast in the boarding house dining room, a team photo on the hotel steps and off at precisely 8.19!

We are nothing if not prompt! Ismael has never seen such attention to detail.

All jokes aside, the Hotel was really good, serving up a different experience to what we have experienced to date, and very comfortable and accommodating.

Shrugging off the ghosts of boarding houses passed, we strolled down the valley, setting a leisurely pace as we have become accustomed to the gentle cadence of the days walk, following our gliding guide, Ismael.

Through Swiss villages featuring brillant wooden doors, and wonderful shutters framed with flower boxes flowing with red geraniums.

Probably the highlight was the gnome garden, which from all accounts has being growing year by year.

More pine forest wandering, then up the hill to Champex-Lac, and our wonderful accommodation, Hotel Spendide, with the most brilliant terrace overlooking the stunning valley below us.

Said terrace hosted our lunch, in a location hard to beat, with plenty of beer and rose to toast the venue.

Oh, Gemma really liked the salad!

Our rooms held the same incredible view from balconies perfectly positioned to seduce the senses.

The afternoon was spent wandering the small village which hugged the lake, window shopping the outrageously overpriced goods.

We chatted to a fisherman who was having no luck in his pursuits, which was quite remarkable, as we could see schools of trout just lounging around his line, sunning themselves, and thumbing their fins at his ineptitude!

His rival next door didn’t seem to have any issues, with Specks claiming bragging rights!

More suffering in this abysmal hovel, before being summoned to the dining room for a lovely fresh meal of salad, chicken tagliatelle and crème caramel.

Enough suffering, time to retire to our lovely rooms with ridiculous valley and Mountain View’s.

Day Six – Val Ferret – La Fouly

(6 hours – 20kms)

We finally leave the Hotel Crampon this morning after three lovely nights with tremendous hosts.

The highlight of breakfast was Leeanne’s statement that she was contemplating an AFD (Alcohol Free Day) today!

Once the giggles stopped we settled back to our breakfast of fruit, muesli & croissants.

After yesterdays shambles with the bus, Ismael organised a mini bus transfer back to the same starting point.

Tick!

Our route today takes us slowly up the valley and onto the ridge which climbs gradually, and consistently, up towards the saddle which marks, invisibly, the border between Italy and Switzerland.

Once again, excited Australians straddling the two countries for a photo opportunity.

Ismael then took us into Switzerland and up the top of a nearby hill which offered great views down the valley to our nights destination, la Fouly.

After another photo opportunity, Ismael noticed the crowd of walkers strolling down towards our lunch stop at a small farm, and declared a state of emergency. We needed to hoof it down the hill, passing as many walkers as possible, to ensure we snared a table or two for lunch.

With the charge of the light brigade engaged, slow tired legs regenerated instantly, and we tore down the hill passing all and sundry only to get to the farm and find it full!

Sigh!

Tables eventuated and we settled in to our packed lunch and, for those who wished, maybe a beer to quench the thirst.

Well, low and behold…guess who ordered a beer, a whole 4 hours after declaring AFD status!

Evidently the beer was nice, as Paul & Specks had two.

Good luck walking after that, boys?

They walked pretty well, apparently, as the afternoon walk was mainly down hill, all the way to our nights digs in La Fouly, a new place for No Roads, and a pretty cool place it is, all boarding house style, with bunk rooms and shared shower blocks and dunnies.

Our dinner was a local speciality, Raclette, a dish of potato with cheese melted under a heating plate, served with condiments of cured meats, pickled gherkins and onions, served with local wines.

To top off the meal an alpine liqueur, Génépi, was poured in shot glasses to mixed reactions, and from all accounts a few strange dreams later on!

Day Five – Val Ferret back to Courmayeur

(7 hours…20kms)

Today has a slightly different format as we are catching the bus up the valley to the Val Ferret, and walking back to Courmayeur.

The bus ride itself was crazy, Italian style, with demand outstripping supply by a factor of about three! It’s a narrow windy road up to the Val Ferret stop so the bus isn’t big, but that didn’t deter about 80 people cramming into it, the driver pushing everyone further down the back. Talk about stacks on! Plus it was a stopping all stations, as the driver willed more passengers on, sardine style. We were pretty happy to get to the pit stop and rediscover limbs seemingly crushed by the weight of humanity!!

And what a day it turns out to be!

The views before us are breathtaking!

Ismael stated that this was his most favourite day of the walk because of the stupendous views which astound at every turn.

About an hour of meandering uphill, surprisingly not too taxing, especially after the shenanigans of the previous night!

The rest of the morning followed the valley about half way up the hill, with our first look at Mont Blanc itself presenting in all its glory.

It’s not hard to realise why Ishmael loves this particular walk so much, as at times you have to pinch yourselves at the majesty presented before you.

We had a rest at a refuge to soak in the views some more, before continuing on to our lunch spot on the side of the path, packed lunch at the ready.

If Tony was impressed with his lunch spot on day two, I reckon he will need to re-evaluate after today.

As Rach said, you could almost reach out and touch the soaring mountain scene in front of you.

It was right there, just willing you to grab hold of it.

Incredible!

Stunning!

Sadly, we needed to keep moving, which was along the ridge, dodging and weaving around oncoming traffic, all the while marvelling at natures creation thrown up in front of us.

Eventually we came upon the view of Courmayeur way down below us, realising the only way home was down, down, down.

Finally, at about 5.30, we waddled into town and our hotel for a quick freshen up before dinner at a pizza joint in town.

Slightly more subdued than the previous night, but still most enjoyable with food aplenty and good wine flowing.

One last wander down the Main Street, then another nightcap back at our wonderful hotel.