Seventh and last day on the TMB trail notes.
Gite le Moulin France to Chamonix, France.
Gite le Moulin sits just north of Argentiere, France which is just north of Chamonix which is where we began this adventure.
There is a lovely river trail that runs the entire length of the Chamonix valley following the Arve river. It is relatively flat and very well shaded. We began this part of the day’s trek with a nice walk after having a bigger breakfast. About 30 minutes in we began to run and felt quite good despite our aches and pains.
In under 2 hours we reached our original starting point and stopped our watches for the last time on this journey.
No those are not real people and yes that is an incredible painting on the side of a building in Cham. I am sure there are many famous people in the painting, but the one I thought I recognized was top right window on the left side of the balcony who I believe is Thomas Jefferson.
After 110 miles and 30,000 feet of vertical gain for the week M and I both felt we had achieved one of our greatest achievements yet. It was an amazing journey that seemed to end much faster than we expected. Thank you all for your support and for reading along during our trip.
A fairly early start to this day had us leaving Switzerland and headed back to France. We were mentally prepared for some climbing, but we really had no clue about what was in store. It was another hot day so we were going through fluids early and often as the first climb of the Col de Forclaz kept going up with very few switchbacks and no gradients less than 20%. We then descended to the Col de Forclaz road where the Tour de France would be coming through the next day.
There were already many camper vans and other RV’s waiting at the road for the race to come through. Many amateur cyclists were making their own efforts at the climb as well. I was able to buy a hat to replace the one I lost somewhere along the way and we continued on towards the village of Trient.
Once the descent into Trient is made, the climbing continues up to the Col de Balme. The sign in Trient suggests that the climb to Col de Balme is 4 hours. I believe that’s because no matter how fast you go it seems like 4 hours. This was literally the longest and biggest climb we have ever done. We were very hot and there is only about 20 minutes of shade on the climb while the rest is done in the sun. Near the top is some fairly hairy scrambling because of snow crossing and the technical nature of the route. We were hoping it would be freezing cold at the top but there was barely even a breeze. We also ran out of water right when we got to the top, but we could see, “the hut that time forgot,” about a mile away.
Looking into France from the Col de Balme.
Yea, the “hut that time forgot,” in the distance.
Making our way to the top before the Col de Forclaz.
We reached the hut that time forgot which is so called because of the little old man and woman who run the place. The man doesn’t seem to speak and the old woman only speaks mean. She has the reputation of being a witch and it’s easy to see why. She is at least as old as dirt and has a nasty attitude. Everyone who does the TMB knows this little lady and marvels at the fact that she is STILL there and STILL mean. She reluctantly sells you a 1 liter bottle of water for 6 euros and then gruffly gives you an “au revoir,” which is translated as, “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.” We were very happy for the water though!
After refilling and getting lectured on American politics by a chatty British fellow, we ran down through the Le Tour ski area. Our next climb was our last climb for the day and though it was flattish compared to what we had already come over it was extremely technical. Most of the route was up a gnarly ridge line with slanted rocks and stones embedded in the trail. The footing was such that you could never really take a step without carefully determining where you were going to put your foot. If you did not determine your foot’s destination beforehand you were asking for a face plant at best and broken ankle at worst. It was also a very deceiving climb because we kept thinking we could see and were near the top which we were not. Once forever had passed, we reached the actual top of the ridge and began what our guide described as a tricky descent. There were wooden steps involved for fun to go along with the, by now, usual steepness.
Per usual we got a bit lost looking for Gite Moulin but did manage to find it at the end of our second 20 miler in a row. The Gite was in a little green meadow filled with vegetable gardens and flowers. Some of those veggies became our dinner of veggies and potatoes.
We were so exhausted and hurting by this point that we looked for and found the easiest route back to Cham (that’s local speak for Chamonix) for the next day and decided that route was the one for us.
Fifth day on the TMB trail notes.
Refugio Walter Bonatti, Val de Aoste, Italy to Gite Bon Abri, Champex-Lac, Switzerland.
We sat next to Walter Bonatti at breakfast. Walter is dead but there is a very elaborate shrine with his ashes just to one side of the dining room. We didn’t notice last night but there you have it.
After that interesting start to the day we made our way towards Switzerland. We knew this was going to be a long day but we were hopeful of making good time because there were several flat sections. We did make good time at first with a 4-5 mile rolling to down hill section of the trail. At Refugio Elena the climb to Col de la Grand Ferret begins. Our guide said the climb was long but not steep. The climb was long and only not as steep as the climbs the day before but we did wonder if we would see the top. We finally made it and were able to cross over into Switzerland. That’s Italy to the left and Switzerland to the right:
We continued to make good progress for about the next 10 miles or so since a lot of the terrain was flat through a lovely Swiss valley with postcard-like villages.
At about mile 14 or so we began a gradual climb. It was definitely the easiest climb we have done so far but by the time we came to that section we were both so exhausted and dealing with various ailments that we slowed considerably.
At mile 21 or thereabouts we made it into Champex-Lac. There is a beautiful Lac (lake) that was so inviting we could not resist sitting in it for a bit to cool off and cool down some weary body parts.
After walking another mile or two we made it to the Gite Bon Abri.
Gite Bon Abri is a smallish hut situated just off the trail and surrounded by forest. We had a very good dinner consisting of salad and a sort of spaghetti sauce over rice. There was plenty of both so we both took advantage and got in plenty of calories.
We met lots of Scottish people at this hut, none of whom knew each other or were together. We also met a Welsh man who was doing what is called the Haute Route, which runs from Chamonix to Zermatt. He was in his mid sixties and not exactly fit, but he did appear to be determined. He was also very tired as evidenced by the fact that he is the first person I have ever seen/heard snore while being face down on their bed. This continued into the night but by this point in the trip we were becoming accustomed to the noise and were able to sleep through most sounds.
After looking at the map and studying our route, M figured on another 16 miles the next day which we then converted to actual miles and figured on another 20 miler.
As noted in the last email, we expected a shorter easier day on this day. We were correct in one aspect as it turned out to be only 9.5 miles or so. We were wrong in thinking that would be a rather quick, easy trip. It was our hardest day so far.
Getting out of Courmayuer, one has two options. Steep or “maybe they should put a ladder on this trail.” We did a little over 5,000 feet in about 6 miles. There were some scary ridge crossings that caused M some alarm but she soldiered on bravely. I was very proud of her because she is not a fan of paths that are only 4 feet wide with massive drops on either side.
We had decided not to run too much this day because we wanted to eat some of the bigger breakfast on offer at Hotel Dolonne. It turned out that it didn’t matter what we decided because the terrain would have prevented most running anyway, especially laden with heavy packs as we were. We did manage to run some of the route, but in our opinion we moved as fast and efficiently as we could have hoped for on such a tough day. M noted that it was our longest 10 mile day ever since it took us just over 4 hours.
Refugio Bonatti finally appeared so we put on a burst of speed in our excitement to be done for the day. You can find pictures of the hut on the interweb, but I can tell you they do not come close to doing the views the justice they deserve.
As the crow flies, the mountains are about a mile across the valley. The mountains are so big though that it looks like they are much closer and are about to fall over on top of you. Hopefully some of the pictures will give some idea of the size and majesty of this place.
This night was our first encounter with other Americans and there were quite a few of them. The first person we met was a girl we had passed on the trail who is from NYC. Next came a girl from Texas who was staying in the same room as us. We found it odd that both girls were alone but they both seemed adventurous. Also in our room for the night were two other American girls who were traveling together, and a Scottish man and his wife. Our dinner consisted of a salad followed by mashed potatoes with turkey. Also included were some bell peppers and onions. It was very filling and I had three helpings of everything. For the first time in this trip M and I had a dessert that we could not identify in any way but it was tasty.
We have another long day on Monday so it’s off to bed now.
Third day on the trail notes. Auberge de la Nova, Les Chapieux, France to Hotel Dolonne, Dolonne, Italy.
This day was another huge day. We began with what was basically a six or seven mile climb to the top of the Col de la Seigne. It was very warm this day but we were thankful for the heat as we had been cold a lot since we began. It was so warm that I went through 100 ounces of fluids during the 6 or so hours we were on the move. We think we saw Mt. Blanc during today’s march, but it’s hard to know which huge mountain is which. For those of you that don’t know, Mt. Blanc is over 15,000 feet. This means that from the town of Chamonix there an elevation change of around 12,000 feet. Definitely different that at home in Colorado.
The valleys we passed through were strewn with glaciers on the mountain sides and cows and sheep in the valleys. As noted in earlier emails the scenery is wonderful so I’ll not go on about it again.
After passing over the first climb we descended into a lovely valley where we made good time on the flat part of the trail. The next pass was called the Col de Checrouit or something to that effect. It was shorter than the first climb but at least it was steeper. I got to practice my glissading skills on some of the snow fields on the way down from this pass. That means I got to slide on my rear down the snow field as that was a particularly good way to travel between sections of the trail that were somewhat hidden by the snow.
Eventually we began coming across signs of the Courmayeur ski area. Really it was the ski lifts that gave it away and not so much the signs, but we are sharp like that.
Finally we began to see TMB signs that pointed us towards our destination for the evening, Dolonne, Italy. Dolonne sits directly across a river from the actual village of Courmayeur. We did not anticipate the nearly straight drop that was to be our descent into Dolonne. We are no longer fond of switchbacks. 3,500 feet down in about 2.5 miles or so. After 17 or 18 miles, that is getting near enough to really steep. Finally in to Dolonne, we stopped our watches at 19 miles because we had to wander around a bit to find the Hotel Dolonne.
If one were to picture an Italian village with narrow streets made of cobble stones and closely spaced buildings with slate roofs, one would be picturing Dolonne.
After some searching and a little help from an old Italian man, we found what was for us a five star hotel. We had our own room with its own shower and bathroom. Hotel Dolonne was without doubt the nicest accommodation on the trail so far. The inside is like a castle in that it’s all made of stone with a staircase that winds around and around to get from one floor to the next. It also had fairly low archways for those of us not vertically challenged.
Being the wimps that we are and only able to carry 3 days worth of supplies, we had arranged for a bag to meet us at the hotel. We were very excited for things like clean clothes and Listerine.
We took our time cleaning up well and washing out our clothes. We had also put extra snacks in our transfer bag and after such a long day we needed them.
We were told that dinner was not until 7:30 , but if we were to show up at 7:15 that would be ok. Since it was about 3pm at the time, we were quite certain that we would starve before dinner. Thankfully we didn’t starve and made it to dinner because it was great. This being Italy, there was antipasto set up right as we walked in so we didn’t even have to wait to eat something. We both piled our plates with lettuce, tomato, corn, pinto beans and bell peppers. While we were demolishing the antipasto the waitress came over to see about our first course which was of course pasta. We informed them we needed to eat gluten free and they made us our very own pasta and sauce. This was the first simple carbohydrate we had really had other than potatoes and we were both feeling the need to cram as much in as we could. Next we had a slice of sautéed turkey with potatoes sautéed in sesame seeds. Both were very simply made but had good flavor. Lastly we were served a gelato that tasted like bananas with raspberry sauce on the top. It was all exactly what we needed and we felt fresher afterward. M even got sort of full! As usual I would have had another round of everything as it is hard to replace the 3,000 calories we had burned that day.
We had a good night’s sleep and thought we were ready for the next day’s “easy” ten miles! (Insert ominous music here.)
Here is the short version again followed by the long version.
On the second day we traveled from the Refuge de Nant Borrant to the Auberge de la Nova. It was a very short day of only 3 hours and so allowed us some needed rest and recovery. Only had to climb one mountain with 6 inches of fresh powder at the top.
Long version for if you have nothing else to do for a while.
Second day on the TMB trail. Friday.
Today was perhaps the easiest day of our trip. The way things were set up for us, we only had to climb 1 mountain and in total travel about 9 miles. We made the trip in just over 3 hours after crossing much snow at the top. M estimated that there was about 6 inches of fresh snow near and at the top. The pass was called the Col de la Croix de Bonhomme. For those who have seen Lord of The Rings, the scenery was very reminiscent of the scenery in that movie. Huge, high, incredibly gorgeous green mountains covered with fresh snow on the tops. The trail up and the trail down were both quite technical with many opportunities to slip and fall or turn an ankle. M and I felt quite adventurous while moving deftly over the terrain and passing all the other hikers. One thing is for certain and that is that Euros like to hike and they are not scared to hike in some fairly crazy terrain.
Our home for the night was called Auberge de la Nova. The whole operation sits on the floor of a spectacular valley surrounded by green mountain sides with extra green thrown in for good measure. A camp ground also sits in the field next to the Auberge.
We felt very Euro being able to actually stop and have a real lunch of ham and cheese omlets with side salad. Running food tends to get a bit boring so having a real lunch was a well deserved treat. Of course we were really already in the process of trying to ingest enough calories to help us recover and be ready for the next day.
While here we have managed to make acquaintances with some Swedish people and some Belgian people from last night’s hut. They were staying at the same place as us this night. We spent a lovely afternoon learning about Belgium (obviously from the Belgian people and not the Swedes) and sharing notes about Colorado as well.
Dinner this night was an extremely small portion of veal which was none the less delicious and required almost no chewing before melting in your mouth. We learned that the sauce covering the veal was a typical Provençal sauce. There were also herbed potatoes that I had three helpings of, to no effect on my hunger. Dessert was a small piece of cheese that was excellent and then some sort of panna cotta with blackberry sauce. Luckily M was getting full so I got half of hers also.
Unfortunately our little room which slept 10 was filled with a group of French people who tried their best to meet every French stereotype known. One of them constantly had to go outside so she could smoke and three others had an all night snoring contest. The others simply tried their best to be snotty and thereby meet French stereotype standards. Normally we have found the French to be quite friendly so we determined not to hold one group’s cluelessness against the entire nation of France. It was not the best night’s sleep.
First day on the trail. Summary for those that don’t care with more detail down below.
Summary. It was 20 miles, not 16, but we made it to the hut and had a great time eating with new friends and resting up from our long day.
More detailed version. Kinda long.
First day on the TMB trail notes:
We started off from Chamonix at about 8 on Thursday morning with what we estimated as a 16 mile trip to the Refuge de Nant Borrant. We began our trip in a light rain with the temp at about 40 degrees. About 2 miles into our journey, a huge group of runners came flying past us. We determined that they must have had much lighter packs than ours as we felt we weren’t moving that slowly. We ran most of the way to Les Houches and then the climbing began. As I noted during our last trip to Europe, the climbs here are ridiculously steep. Even without a heavy pack I don’t think there would have been a ton of running up the climbs although being lighter would have made a difference. M and I did the absolute best that we could have done as far as minimal packing, but with both of us having special food needs we were forced to bring 3 day’s worth of food for during our runs. The day before we began, we had a meeting with a guide and he advised us that we could get food and water along the way and so not to carry too much of either. If we didn’t have to have our own specific foods, that would have been very doable as there really is plenty of water along the way, mostly coming out of fountains that flow in to a trough. Food is also available along the trail at various restaurants situated on the trail and at all the little villages you go through.
We successfully made it to France! The trip over was fine with no delays or hiccups, although our flight attendant was rather difficult to communicate with even though she was American. All we wanted was a bowl for cereal, but after about 2 minutes of trying to get that message across, we gave up.
As some of you know and have experienced, the most difficult part of coming across the pond is staying awake once you get to where you are going so that you can get on a regular schedule. Being able to sleep on the plane does help some, but the adjustment is still, for current lack of a better term, tiresome. Failing at keeping my eyes open is the main reason this email is and will be short.
It is spectacularly beautiful here in Chamonix, and that is coming from someone who lives in an area with its own share of beauty. I’ll try and be more descriptive later when I am awake. For now, please enjoy a few pictures.