Tour du Mont Blanc :: Lac Blanc

First days walking. Up at 7am to a beautiful morning. All excited.

Quickly realised that it takes a fair bit of time to roll up the sleeping bags and mats, pack up the bags, take down the tent, wash ourselves, have breakfast, make up lunch, help load the van, wash up, take down the mess tent and get ready to set off.

Once we took down the tent, we saw why our tent was so damp. There was a pool of water on the tarp under the tent. Clearly the previous group had a pretty soggy experience. The tents themselves were pretty cool, though. They come in a disc shaped bag and just pop out full formed and only need to be pegged down. Folding them was a bit more difficult, but everyone got the hang of it.

Breakfast was fairly simple – muesli (or other cereals) with yoghurt (or UHT milk … yuk), bread and jam and a cup of tea or coffee. While having breakfast, you would also make up a lunch butty with the likes of ham, salami, cheese, tomato, peppers, pesto, mayo etc. and cut it in two for two different lunch breaks.

Eventually we set of and took the Teléphérique de la Flégère up to 1877m, getting there about 10am. Then we set off on a pretty steep climb to lac Blanc at 2352m along the TMB variant. We stopped for a quick break half way there and stopped again at lac Blanc, where we had a hot chocolate at the refuge with our first lunch butty.

Lac Blanc

Lac Blanc

Charlie had a nice system of gathering us all together, explaining the route ahead, telling us either to stop after a certain time or at a certain point and letting us loose. That way people could go at their own pace, on their own or in little groups, all the time with Charlie at the back.

All refreshed, we set off towards Col des Montets, loosing height only very gradually (apart from the 8m metal ladder down a rock face) as we contoured along, still following the TMB variant. Feeling great, I stormed on ahead, loving the whole atmosphere of the alpine path, the warm day, the views of the Mont Blanc Massif … Charlie told us to stop after an hour, so I stopped after 50 mins and found a lovely sunny spot to wait for the others. Dozing in the sun, I got a text message from Catherine wondering where I was, saying the group had just stopped. Knowing they weren’t far, I went back up the hill to them, had the second lunch butty and figured out that Gary, following behind me, had gotten worried that I was gone way too far and was never going to stop. That was probably the point that Charlie switched to giving us a particular point to stop at, rather than a particular time.

Next thing, Liz appeared. Apparently she’d just run up from the road below to meet us since she had everything organised below and was trying to get fit. None of us thought too much of that until we saw what she’d just come up. Liz is a pretty typical Kiwi; she grew up on the west coast of the south island, near Hokitika; daughter of a dry stock farmer,worked in adventure tourism for about a decade and only recently started working in Europe; very strong Kiwi accent, and probably a touch crazy underneath it all.

So, we set off down the steep, windy path to the information centre of the Reserve Naturelle des Aiguilles Rouges probably 700m below us. This was a pretty immediate introduction to the kind of paths we’d be walking. Zig-zagging back and forth, scrambling down the steeper bits, on and on, you quickly loose height, but there’s not much let up. We were pretty dubious about buying walking poles, but it was times like these we were very glad we did. Going up, and even on the flat, the poles are great to have, but going down these steep scrambley bits, they were a godsend in that they transfered a lot of the pressure from your quads and knees to your arms and upper body.

My! How You Zig-Zag

My! How You Zig-Zag

From the information point, we followed Charlie along the road and into the woods to our campsite at Les Frasserands. Once there, we quickly put up our tents and had some tea, crisps and biscuits. Since there was a kind of concrete shelter beside our tents, and since we were eating in a restaurant, we didn’t need to put up the mess tent. Everyone then lazed about in the sun, read their books and went for nice hot showers.

Brian, a good humoured Glaswegian project manager living in Swindon persuaded me to play a game of table tennis with him while having a few glasses of wine. After beating him four games in a row, and having great craic in the process, Brian’s competitive side became very clear. Over the course of the fortnight, we played table tennis, table football, pool, boules, frisbee, various different games of cards, backgammon and chess in the evenings and neither of us were ever very happy to lose.

Charlie and Liz arrived back in their van with a new tent for Liz and set about trying to figure out how to put it up. It seemed to take a long time, but the little congratulatory squeeze they shared at the end was the first hint we got of the romance between the two. They were so professional that it took another couple of days to figure out for sure that yes, they are a couple and yes, it seems to be pretty serious. It was great fun to watch two people who’d been randomly thrown together getting on so well and being obviously so well suited.

Dinner that night was in the restaurant at the campsite. First, Charlie did the briefing for the next day out on the terrace and then we went inside and had fish soup for starter, ribs, ratatouille and beans (which I spilled all over Charlie) for main course, cheese and créme caramel for dessert and plenty of wine to wash it all down. The ribs were a definite winner – tasty. After dinner, we had a couple more drinks, played some pool, had lots of laughs and went to bed. Janina, seeing Catherine and I going as high as we could on the swings in the playground accused us of having been drinking “looney wine” all night.

It rained during the night, but we still managed to sleep pretty well.


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