Tour du Mont Blanc :: Courmayer Rest Day

Our first rest day. Had a lie-in until all hours, getting up at 07:30. For once, though, we didn’t have to roll up the sleeping bags and mats, pack the bags and take down the tents, which was a great treat. Once we’d had breakfast, we split up into smaller groups to head off for the day. Most opted to catch the bus into Entrèves and catch the cable car up to Pointe Helbronner and some people even continued on across the glacier to the Aiguille du Midi.

For some reason, though, I got the notion into my head that I’d like to take the marked trail under the path of the cable car up to Refuge Torino at 3320m. Given that Entrèves is at around 1300m, that would mean a 2000m ascent. I guess the attraction was that I wouldn’t get much other opportunities to do a straight 2000m ascent and I wanted to get some idea what it would be like to walk at that altitude.

So, off I went at around 09:00 and walked down the road to la Palud, just above Entrèves, to where the path started. The sign gave two and half hours to reach the first cable car station at Mont Fréty, but I managed to do it in half that even though I wasn’t going very fast. The path was very steep, though, zig-zagging up through the forest and out into the sunshine a few hundred metres below the station. I really enjoyed the walk and it was cool to text Catherine and find out she was still at the bottom in the queue for the cable car.

I wandered around there for a bit and came across a sign that seemed to be suggesting that the path to Refuge Torino was closed but that there were a couple of other paths that branched off on the way up. The sign was in Italian, though, so I just ignored it … what do I know what “Chiuso!!!” means? I headed past the little alpine gardens and headed up the path a bit and passed by more bit warning signs, again in Italian so I just shrugged and continued on.

At this point, I was out in the open on a rocky path with the sun beating down, so I stopped at a little statue of Notre Dame to put on sunscreen. A middle-aged Italian lady, with what looked to be her father, struggled up the path behind me and accosted me with a very severe “Bon Jorno!”. That was a fun part of the whole trip actually … you always greeted people on the trail in the language of the country you were in, regardless of their nationality, so as you crossed from France to Italy to France the standard greeting changed from “Bonjour!” to “Bon Jorno!” and back.

Anyway, I continued up the rocky path and it got more and more dodgy as I went along. In places it trailed off where small rock slides had damaged the path and in other places it turned into a light scramble. The higher I got, the more I got slightly nervous since I was completely alone (I didn’t see another soul once I’d left the Italian lady and her father behind) and felt like I was up really high. On some of the steep bits, it really felt like I could trip and tumble the 2000m or so to the entrance to the Tunnel du Mt Blanc. Stunning views, but given the warning signs I’d passed over and the killer bee I had to fight off, I started thinking about turning back.



After a short while, I got to a place marked on some maps as les Portes at around 2600m where the path turned into what was described as a “passage délicat”. What was directly ahead, some would describe as a “heavy scramble”, but what I could see looked like an actual climb. With some company, preferably someone with some experience, I might have fancied it, but instead I sat down and had my lunch and started to head back down. As I set off I texted Catherine to tell her what I was doing, and she text back saying she was hugely relieved after seeing what was ahead of me from the cable car.

Back at Mont Fréty, I settled myself down in the grass amongst the hoardes of italians – some of which were in little bikinis which was a nice diversion – and fell fast asleep until Catherine, Janina and Felicity arrived back down. We then got into the queue for the next cable car and jealously watched the little groups of people with ice axes and crampons about to head up to Helbronner for some glacier walking and climbing. After a fairly long wait, we caught the cable car back down (only €9 for me, whereas it was €36 return from the bottom to Helbronner and back) and then caught the bus back from Entréves to the campsite.

After dozing about in the sun for a bit more, we had our showers and wandered down to the bar-ristorante in Planpincieux where the whole group met up and shared stories of the day. The group that went across the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi caught a nice break in the weather and raved on about the views they got of Mont Blanc, the Glacier du Géant and the Vallée Blanche. It was at that point that Janina, Vanessa, Catherine and I started talking about doing a glacier walk on our last rest day in Chamonix.

Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc and Chamonix

Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc and Chamonix

Dinner that night was pasta, steak and tart and cream in a very Italian (well, it was in Italy!) family restaurant. It was quite funny having to compete with the volume of an Italian game show on the telly while talking. Back at the campsite we had a few short games of cards before turning in.


Tour du Mont Blanc :: la Fouly to Planpincieux

Up before 07:00 again, packed up and tore down the damp tents. Just as we were eating breakfast in the communal shelter the rain started coming down heavily and it looked like it would be our first chance to walk in the rain. Out came all the jackets, waterproof trousers, gaiters and rucksack covers. For some reason – perhaps the pink laces on my gaiters – everyone decided to pull the mickey out of me and it got even funnier when the rain stopped just as were about to head off and all the gear had to come off again.



Learning how to figure out what to wear was one of the most important lessons from the entire trek. Starting off in the morning in the cold and damp, you’d be tempted to wear full length trousers, fleece, jacket and woolly hat but within five minutes you’d be boiling hot and it would all have to come off again. Most mornings we started off chilly enough in shorts and a fleece and took the fleece off as we warmed up. Whenever we stopped for a break, we had to quickly put on a fleece and maybe a jacket, depending on the wind, because you tended to get cold very quickly. If it started to rain, you’d delay putting on even a jacket since if it was only a drizzle your body heat would stop you getting too wet. It was all about not getting too hot, cold or wet, and not wasting too much time changing.

From la Fouly, we set off towards our highest point of the trek, the Grand Col Ferret at 2537m, a 1000m climb. At one point we stopped at an abandonded hut for a quick break, and since the weather was coming in Charlie wanted us all behind him. Since Teresa was generally the one at the back (even though she walked at a very steady pace which left us in no doubt she’d easily finish the walk), Charlie asked her to walk directly behind him to group together. It was this point that Gary made what I think was the funniest quip of the whole trip – “We’ll get a great view of the Grand Crevasse du St. Teresa!”. Poor Teresa, but fair play to her for just laughing along.

Gary, a business trainer living in Jersey, and Teresa, a deputy head of a school somewhere I can’t remember, struck up one of the closer friendships on the trip which was really nice to see. They often seemed to be at the back of the group deep in conversation or joking with each other as part of the larger group. It was probably this that made Teresa enjoy the trip more and more and open up a lot as time went on, to the point where she had us in stitches laughing some nights.

Along the way, we stopped at a nice refuge at la Péule where we went inside a low-ceilinged barn-like room with a log fire and had out first lunch with a hot chocolate. Very cosy in there with everyone huddled together and the rain starting to come down again outside. Before heading off, we all got geared up again in our jackets and waterproof trousers and continued climbing towards the Grand Col where we had spectacular views of Val Ferret both on the Italian and French side whenever the weather cleared for a bit.

Out front, as Omar and I approached the Grand Col a French leader with an American group came bounding towards us shouting at his group “Look at these guys with big smiles! Why can’t you lot not smile like that?! I’m going with these guys!” which was a bit of fun. Up on the col, I met Kevin from Cork again chatting with a French guy, Jean-François, who told us how he’d walked around these mountains many times. When I asked him did he live in the area, he replied “No, I live in Paris. Nobody is perfect!” and when I asked him had he considered doing the ultra-marathon TMB (more on that later) he held up the cigarette he was smoking and joked “No, I enjoy life too much!”. You’ve got to love French humour sometimes …

Big Eejit on the Grand Col Ferret

Big Eejit on the Grand Col Ferret

Me Messin

Me Messin

At the Grand Col, I got a little hyper and got Catherine to take some silly photos of me running around the place. We crossed over into Italy and descended to Refuge Elena where we had our second butties outside before going inside to have coffees and hot chocolates, the latter of which was the thickest we’d seen … you could nearly stand a spoon in the chocolate! From there, we only had a fairly short descent to the valley floor where we caught a public bus to our campsite at Planpincieux.

Back up on the Grand Col, Brian asked me for one of my walking poles, saying he was suffering from what sounded like shin splints. By the time we reached the bus, you could see the amount of pain he was in and I really had to sympathise since I had experienced shin splints running quite a bit. Luckily, the following day was to be a rest day so he knew he had some hope of recovering.

The campsite at Planpincieux was probably the busiest we stayed at, with lots of families. It was quite strange seeing that everything was noticably different now that we were in Italy. For one thing, the bathroom had only a single normal toilet with the rest of them being squatters, which we all tried to avoid. Also, the showers required tokens for hot water so we all shared strategies on how get the most out of one’s token.

That night we had soup for starter, which we were delighted with because we felt a bit chilly. For main, we had heaps of pasta with pesto and bacon and, for dessert, we had pastries with cream. After washing up, we really lashed into the wine and played shithead late into the wee small hours (okay, 23:00) until both Felicity and Brian had lost a game each. Brian was particularly upset since Catherine, Janina and I were blatantly cheating against him, flashing cards at each other and the like. Funny thing was, though, that we had so much wine at that stage we actually had no clue what we were doing. Still, he lost in the end and that’s all that mattered at the time.

Tour du Mont Blanc :: Bovine Trail to Champex

Rain again during the night, so everything was nice and damp and cold at 07:00 when we poked our noses out of the tent. At this stage everybody was so efficient at packing and loading everything we were starting to make Charlie and Liz grumpy by wanting our breakfast before 08:00 and standing around waiting to leave before 09:00.

Eventually we set off back up the road out of Trient, up into the woods and back onto the TMB. Once again, the path zig-zagged steeply up through the forest until we reached the Col de la Forclaz about 45 minutes later and stopped to buy chocolate and, bizarrely, cigars.

Along the way, I noticed that a walker passing us by was wearing a Guinness t-shirt so I asked him was he Irish. Turns out he was Kevin from Cork, and doing this half of the TMB self-guided on his own using UTracks. We met up again several times over the next few days and had interesting chats comparing notes on the walk.

From the Col de Forclaz we climbed steadily along the well known Bovine Trail until we came out of the trees to wonderful views north, brilliant sunshine and a pretty little refuge below us where we stopped for lunch and a beer, hot chocolate or coffee.

Cathy and Her Cow

Cathy and Her Cow

Contouring along from the refuge on a true alpine path we passed plenty more milka cows making an awful racket with their bells, and then descended through the woods, crossing a few streams, past the refuge at Champex d’en Haut down into the valley near Champex. At this point, everyone was feeling fairly tired after a long days walking and we still had a bit to go, so Gary, Janina, Catherine and I put the heads down and doggedly ploughed on back up the valley as fast as we could towards Champex, out onto as busy road and eventually came to the campsite.

Most people just collapsed when they reached the campsite, but somehow I still had a fair bit of energy for putting up the tent, unpacking, making some tea, having a shower (one of the nicest and hugely welcome after the previous rough camp), playing some frisbee with Brian and wandering down to Champex where I bought a TMB t-shirt. Dinner that night started with some bread, olive oil and spicey nuts (which worked suprisingly well), then a very cheesy carbonara with crab sticks (made a pig of myself with seconds) and a tasty mixture of yoghurt, fruit and chocolatey bits for dessert.

After dinner, and after a very frantic, noisy, but efficient washing-up session, we went back down to Champex and sat out on a terrace by the lake for a few beers. Catherine and I, Brian, Neil and Valerie sat outside in the peace and quiet chatting, but most of the others stayed inside where they met the hotel group and danced to music played by some guy with an accordian.

On the way home, Brian, Neil and Valerie had the two of us almost convinced that a bright red, five-pointed light in the sky was a star or planet until we could just about make out the silhouette of moutains around the Aiguille de Tour somewhere. Must have been some kind of mast or something, but it’s very strange when you’re not used to the landscape around you being so high.

We pretended to take offence at their duplicity and stormed on ahead back to the campsite and went straight to bed. Up in the middle of the night, as usual, to go to the loo but bizarrely Omar emerged, at the same time, from his tent on one side of us and Janina from the tent on the other side of us. We all just looked confused at each other, grunted and continued on.

Tour du Mont Blanc :: Champex to la Fouly

Up a bit later today around 07:30 as there was no real rush on us. It was to be a relatively short walking day and Omar had to go down to Champex to buy some new boots since the sole of his boot fell off the previous day.

Omar! Smile!

Omar! Smile!

Just as we were about to leave site, two girls appeared who friends of Charlie and Liz and who were doing the TMB anti-clockwise in three days. Apparently, they had come from La Fouly that morning and were going to continue back along the route we had just come, finishing that day in Chamonix. Crazy biscuits.

We strolled on down into Champex and around the other side of the lake with Brian, enjoying the early morning sunshine, the peace and quiet of the lake and the fishermen out catching tiddlers.

We set off from Champex, descending gently through the woods until we reach Issert where we met up with Liz and stopped for a bit at a café by the road there. The girls were very impressed with the immaculate toilets with Villeroy and Boch fittings.

Just before we set off, we all gathered around and sang Charlie happy birthday, mortifying him in the process. Some of the others – Gary and Janina, I think – had organised and card and present of a caribiner and temporary tattoos.

Charlie turned 23 that morning, which is funny when you think that he was leading a group of 14 adults for two weeks, all of which were older than him, and some much older. I don’t think any of us ever felt that his age was a problem though, as he confidently lead us around the route. All the way around, we really enjoyed his stories about rock climbing, getting his summer mountain leader qualifications and mountaineering in general. I certainly never expected to be so steeped in mountaineering culture on this walk, but Charlie’s clear passion for it and the many points of conversation always looming high on the sky line meant that we came away wanting to learn more and more. Charlie was an excellent leader for the fortnight for lots of reasons … patience, confidence, passion, knowledge and the ability to take constant teasing from the more gobby members of the group.



From Issert, we walked through the valley of Val Ferret passing by lots of typical Swiss houses, through the village of Praz de Fort and up into the woods where we stopped for lunch. Once again, we bumped into the hotel lot here and they told us they had left a “Happy Birthday Charlie” sign in a card of gnomes along the way but we had completely missed it. Sure enough, though, looking back through our photos later we had actually taken a photo of the gnomes and the sign amongst them.

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Happy Birthday Charlie!

From there we descended a little and came out of the trees into the blazing afternoon heat and continued along towards La Fouly. When we stopped and re-grouped at a huge climbing slab just outside La Fouly, we were all pretty wrecked by the heat. This was probably the only day that the heat got to people since we were walking down low in the valley.

From there it was a short walk to the campsite at La Fouly, where we were camped right under the Glacier de l’A Neuve right beside a torrent of a river coming down from the glacier. We also had the use of a lovely communal log cabin where we could eat dinner and hang about in, which made a big difference.

After the usual tea, biscuits and crisps we put up the tent and flopped down in the sun for a snooze. Felicity, the youngest in the group at 25, even went and showed us all up in her bikini. Felicity was definitely one of the interesting characters in the group – blonde and petite, but fit and almost tomboyish … a dairy allergy but a huge appetitie … chatty and giggly but a casting engineer at Rolls Royce …

After showers, and margarita’s made by Gary, we had dinner of parma ham and melon to start, chicken satay for main and ice-cream and birthday cake for dessert. Even though the chicken satay was very nice, we were all jealous of Vanessa’s spicy vegetarian nachos which I polished off when she couldn’t finish them.

That night we got a deck of cards out, quaffed a fair bit of wine and played reduction and shithead with Brian, Zen and Janina until fairly late. Good fun!

Tour du Mont Blanc :: Aiguillete des Posettes, Col de Balme and Trient

Up before 07:00 again. Everything a bit damp. Much more efficient at packing everything up and getting ready.

Set off at 09:00 on a steep, plodding, 600m climb, all of us following right behind Charlie. Back on the TMB again, it starts off zig-zagging up through the forest, emerging on a ridge above le Tour, eventually leading to the Aiguillette des Posettes where we had amazing views back down the valley towards Chamonix and the Aiguille d’Argentière.

Mont Blanc Massif

Mont Blanc Massif

On the way up through the trees, we encountered the hotel lot and their guide, Frank, for the first time. Lots of gossiping about the fact that one lady from that group was pretty much left behind and swallowed up by our group.

From the Aigullete des Posettes we descended to the Col des Posettes with Catherine and I storming on ahead a little and admiring some lovely dogs trotting alongside their owners.

From there we ascended again to the Col de Balme. This was one of the segments where I just took off uphill, pushing as hard as I could, enjoying the feeling of having a tough aerobic workout, up in the mountains with the sun beating down and the sound of the cows’ bells down in the valley below.. These sections were the bits where I probably enjoyed the walking most. It was great to feel the joint and muscle aches fading and to feel so fit and strong.

Up at the Col de Balme, we had hot chocolates, coffees and our lunch butties at the refuge there. These refuges are mountain huts that are mostly only accessible by helicopter or on foot. They sell snacks and drinks, and most also provide a bed for the night to walkers. They vary from the quite modern, very well equipped type to the ramshackle, run-down, antiquated type (or “rustic”, if you prefer).

The Refuge de Col de Balme is very much the latter type. You get your lunch roll brought out to you in a fist and plonked on the table. There’s a coat rail made of goat’s feet. You have to ask for the key for the toilet out back which doesn’t have a tap for washing hands. But best of all was the hardy old lady running the place who I christened “the wicked witch” after her taking an age to serve me my coffee. All good fun really, but I’d love to experience staying the night there.



At Col de Balme, we crossed over into Switzerland and descended steeply through the woods, crossing a makeshift bridge an into the picturesque little villages of le Peuty and Trient with “milka cows” with their big bells around their necks, incredibly perfect vegetable patches, log cabins etc. etc. You really would have to see the pefectness of the place to believe it.

Outside of Trient, along the road a bit, we came to our camp for the night by a river coming down from the Glacier du Trient. Exodus call it a rough camp because it doesn’t have showers or hot water, but it was far from rough, really. There was a lovely big shelter made out of logs with tables and benches, a cooking area, bins, toilets, big troughs for washing in and the next days forecast posted.

After pitching our tents and a cup of tea, we fell unconscious on our sleeping mats in the sun. It’s funny the way you don’t feel tired, but as soon as you stop, your body just shuts down. To wake up, though, we got to wash ourselves for dinner in the glacial cold water in the washing troughs. The guys got a chance to do the macho thing of taking the shirt off and sticking your head in the freezing water, while the girls got the chance to squeal like babies.

Dinner that evening started with a big platter of cold meats, cheese, hummus, bread, etc. followed by curry for main course and pots of caramel yoghurt for dessert. After dinner, some of us played pétanque (boules) and, at first, I played like an absolute legend, but the wine soon took over and I ended up playing atrociously. While we were doing that, Vanessa and some others had lit a campfire and then we all sat around on benches, toasting marshmallows, looking at the stars, drinking and joking. Even still, we were in bed by 22:30 or so.

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.

Tour du Mont Blanc :: Meeting The Group

Up at a reasonable hour and had a good breakfast with bread, yoghurt, fruit, boiled eggs etc. Set off back to the airport to meet the rest of the group who were arriving at around 11:00. After a bit of trial and error with different Exodus reps, we found our group and started the introductions.

Once everyone had arrived we piled onto a bus with the “hotel lot” – another group doing the same route, but staying in hotels rather than camping – and set off for Chamonix. We came into Chamonix from the south, dropped the hotel group off and continued on to our camp site at Le Praz where we met Charlie and Liz, our mammy and daddy for the fortnight.

Our camp site at Le Praz was Camping Mer de Glace, a 30 min walk from Chamonix beside a decent sized glacial river. Interestingly it was also beside one of the region’s mountain rescue centre, so helicopters were buzzing in and out the whole time. Clean, hot showers, somewhere to charge phones and cameras, free internet kiosks and wifi. One of the best, in retrospect.

At the camp site we were introduced to what would become a familiar sight – a big green van, a big white mess tent, a little cooking tent and ten two-person “3 second” Quechua dome tents. Our home for two weeks, which would have to be packed up every morning and re-assembled every afternoon.

We were quickly assigned our tents, shown how to take them down, given a quick overview of what gear we need and some other formalities before doing the usual group introduction thing. For once in my life, I concentrated on names and actually remembered everyone’s name straight away – Janina, Felicity, Neil, Valerie, Vanessa, Omar, Brian, Dean, Zen, David, Gary and Teresa.

The Group

The Group

All that out of the way, we were allowed wander off down the river to Chamonix for the afternoon. Everyone naturally split up into smaller groups, had some lunch and wandered around the shops.

We bought ourselves 1.5l water bottle (forgot our own one) and bought Catherine a second fleece and a nice, reasonable McKinley 35l rucksack, abandoning our plan of me carrying a day pack for both of us and her carrying a small CamelBak with the water. Definitely turned out for the best, since we often got a little split up and wanted sun cream or a jacket or whatever.

Back at the camp site we had Liz’s dinner of salad, bread, tomatoey lentil stew (suprisingly tasty) followed by fruit salad and cream. Drink for the fortnight worked by taking a can of beer or a bottle of wine from a cool box and paying either €3 or €5 into the kitty, which turned out to be a nice and relaxed system.

After dinner, Charlie showed us Exodus’s “system” of washing up which seemed to mortify the poor guy. Made sense with lots of people, though. Wash most of the stuff off in one sink, pass it to the next person to wash properly, pass it on to rinse in the next sink and then dry and pack it all up in crates. That way, we found 6 or 7 people would fly through it.

Charlie briefed us on the next day’s walk and everyone sat around chatting, mainly about their previous travels. It was quite strange sitting there listening to people rave on about the likes of Jordan and South America. We consider ourselves fairly well traveled, but some of the older people in the group had been to heaps of places we’d never even considered. Neil and Valerie, the only other couple in the group, seemed to have done a lot of trekking trips all around the world.

Neil and Valerie ... and The Pink Egg

Neil and Valerie … and The Pink Egg

Early to bed at around 10pm, as would become the norm and discovered the flip side to keeping yourself well hydrated while camping … getting up and dressed and heading to the loo in the middle of the night is a bit of a chore …

Tour du Mont Blanc :: Getting There

We set off to Dublin airport at a fairly decent hour for a change. Sigh of relief when we saw that the weight of our bags wasn’t too bad … Exodus set a limit of 15kg for the bag that goes in the van, and we had heaps of stuff. Sleeping bags, sleeping mats, clothes, spare boots, walking poles, wet gear etc. all mount up.

We were quickly through security, we settled down in the très civilised Aer Lingus Gold Circle lounge with a cup of tea and the papers. Waiting in the quiet of the lounge, with its impressive view of the concourse, makes things so much more pleasant.

Queuing up to board the flight was interesting. Lots of people heading for Geneva seemed to be all geared up for various outdoor activities. A sign of things to come. On board the flight we were sat beside a daddy and his cute, well behaved, three year old son … take off was made less scary by pretending to fly the plane.

Once at Geneva airport, we caught a hotel shuttle bus to the cheap and cheerful Hotel Ibis. Since we had to meet the rest of the group at the airport the following day, and we weren’t going to spend long at the hotel, it was perfect. Very reasonable price, clean rooms, funny little capsule shower room in the corner, pleasant enough staff, a little bar/cafe/restaurant and a huge continental breakfast. No complaints.

We caught a free bus into the city – buses are free to all hotel guests in Geneva – and wandered aimlessly around. We were suprised by Geneva, expecting it to be more like Brussels given its diplomatic reputation, but its still a fairly pleasant city.

Eventually we came across Geneva’s biggest book shop (Payot on Avenue Mont Blanc) and bought the Rando Editions IGN A1 Pays du Mont Blanc map which covers the entire Tour du Mont Blanc circuit at 1:50000. There are 1:25000 scale maps too, but unless you’re self-guiding, the 1:50000 is fine.

Later we had a nice dinner with pork and lamb for our main courses, had a couple of beers, some wine and took in the atmosphere in a fairly trendy, relaxed bar. Suprisingly, there seemed to be lots of Americans around, living and working in the city.

Back at the hotel we had some hot chocolate and tart (again, a sign of things to come) and studied the map and trip notes making out the route as best we could. Bed early … daunted, but excited by the prospect of the walk.