Tour du Mont Blanc : les Houches to les Praz

Up bright and breezy for our last days walking. After breakfast, where Brian managed to eat some of last night’s dessert, we headed off out of the campsite, across a river and climbed through the forest to the animal park at Merlet. After a quick break we started up the steep path towards the summit of the Brévent.

Catherine, Felicity and I stuck together once we’d managed to convince the hotel group to allow us pass them and really enjoyed the climb, going in and out of a couple of gullies and picking our way along very narrow little cliff paths. Along the way, I met a guy called Greg from Manchester who was in the area supporting his wife, Kathleen, who was doing the ultra-marathon the following day. We had a great chat as we walked, talking about running, the TMB, other walks and the like. What really cracked me up was his description of the TMB, in a deep northern english accent, as a “luvely footpath” … not a walk, or a trail, or a trek, but a footpath.


A Luvely Footpath

A Luvely Footpath

I let Greg head off and the three of us finally made it up to the Refuge de Bel Lachat where we were absolutely blown away by the views of the Massif. It was a glorious day, with very few clouds and you could admire all the peaks and glaciers from what seemed like a very close distance. I heard various people describe this as one of the best panoramas in Europe, if not the world, and I can well believe it. We plonked ourselves down in some deck chairs, ordered some “vin chaud” and took it all in. From the terrace, Greg pointed out to me what he reckoned was one of the best walks of the area … up the Montagne de la Cote, through the woods to nearly 2600m where you’re in the midst of two glaciers. If we ever go back to Chamonix, I definitely want to give it a shot.

As self-satisfied as we all were at that point, we still had a bit of walking to do. From the refuge, we continued up along the ridge towards the very obvious peak of the Brévent where the cable car station looked like Alcatraz or something. Along the way, I passed a guy wearing a GUADEC 2007 t-shirt which was a bit bizarre, but I didn’t have time to stop and find out who he was. When we did finally reach the Brévent, we all congratulated ourselves and took lots of photos, since this marked the finish of our TMB.


The Brévent

The Brévent

We still had to get back down to Chamonix and les Praz, though. The options were a) take the cable car down all the way, b) walk down to Planpraz and get the cable car from there or c) walk the whole way down. After much humming and hawing, most people decided to take the cable car the whole way down while I was the only one really up for walking down. I was glad when David also piped up and said he wanted to walk down, because I was starting to feel a bit guilty about subjecting Charlie to the long descent, knowing that his knees were playing up.

On the way down to Planpraz, we had a great chat about climbing and Charlie stopped and pointed out some climbing routes he fancied trying. At Planpraz, we discovered that the most direct path to Chamonix was closed and instead we contoured across to Chartanon and descended straight into les Praz from there. It was quite funny at the start, because Charlie was clearly game for a quick descent since he usually had to go at the pace of the slowest in the group but it didn’t take long for him to pull back and decide that he didn’t quite want to go at my pace … “I’m not going to run down the mountain Mark!”. The rest of the way down was good fun, the three of us chatting about lots of different stuff. Nice to get a chance to talk to Charlie for long, and to David who I hadn’t really talked to much over the whole trip.

Once back at the campsite, we didn’t have long to put up the tents, have showers and wash some socks before we sat down for dinner. Our last “night in”, we had a really nice meal – vol-au-vents for starter, chicken tarragon with cous-cous for main and a custardy chocolatey biscuity mix for dessert.

After dinner, I took advantage of the free wifi for a bit and then showed Janina and Vanessa our wedding photos (why do girls like wedding photos so much?). When we wandered back to the mess tent, the air was thick with cigar smoke because Brian had gotten out the cigars he bought back at Trient and was sharing them around. It would have been rude not to have one. Even though it was the end of our last days walking, everyone was pretty shattered and the conversation was broken by unusually long periods of contemplative silence. Nice for a change. When Felicity came in asking for Janina, I piped up with “You see how quiet is in here? Of course she’s not here!”. I’m really not very nice sometimes, but it got a good laugh out of everyone. We all hit the sack not long after.

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