Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tour Du Mont Blanc, 4

And now, the exciting conclusion of "Tour Du Mont Blanc":
On the Bovine variant, the ugly city of Martigny, far, far below

Along the trail to Bovine; all through our trek, the alpine
wildflowers were everywhere, particularly the alpine azaleas
(alas, Vicki had the camera that day)

It gets to be a long story here; after Bovine, and en route 
to the Col de la Forclaz, it started raining; heavy rain; we
made it to the campground at the Col de la Forclaz, where a 
French couple from Lyons we had been leap-frogging
 (nyuk, nyuk, nuyk) helped us tent and shared their hot 
water (for our backapacka dinner); the next morning, with 
heavy rain predicted the next several days, they helped us 
find the train back to France, and then on to Les Houches, 
where we dried out in a nice little hotel; the next morning
we breakfasted on our bilberries and other goodies; we
would run into our Lyons friends another time, days later
and return the favors; "kindness of strangers" is truly one
of the best parts of travel

Back in the Valley of Chamonix; so from Les Houches we
trained back to the campground in Chamonix, established
a camp there and deposited our stuff, and rode back up
the valley to cover some of the ground we had missed; at
this point, we were beginning to ask ourselves "wait a
second, isn't this supposed to be a vacation?!"

The Great White Mountain

Chamonix from Plan Praz;  piecing together parts we had
missed, we rode up to La Flegere and walked to Plan Praz;
and then rode the cable-car up to Brevent; we left the great
descent from Brevent to Les Houches for another year...

From Brevent, parapentes sailing by

Spice girl: back in Chamonix, just in time for the Saturday marche

Poulet roti..the best; well, Costco's is pretty 
good, too

A Saturday afternoon repast at our favorite, Camping de
L'ile des Barrats    

Vicki waits for the bus while I do a bit more shooting and

Tenting area at Camping de L'ile des Barrats

Last minute shopping completed

And, after an hour's bus ride, we are back at the airport in 
Geneva, repacking, awaiting our flight back to Montana...

Tour Du Mont Blanc, 3

Our 2005 TMB continued:
The Grandes Jorasses as we climb up to Rifugio Bertone

Tenting near Rifugio Bertone

Looking back to Rifugio Bertone

Companions here and there; they're inquisitive and gentle and,
hey, they make fontina

The weather is always an issue; there are good days and bad;
if you're lucky, like us, you can go back and make up the bad
days later, maybe years later; if not, then you know that a bad
day in the mountains is worth two good ones anywhere else 

Trudging up toward the Rifugio Walter Bonatti; rain expected

My favorite, Rifugio Walter Bonatti; a double room, a great
meal, great wine, great views, interesting fellow trekkers,
hot showers, even a warming room to dry out boots and

Tenting near Rifugio Elena; lots of weekend climbers here;
you can drive right up to Elena and climb Dolent 

The beautiful Val Ferret

More crazy bicyclistes, before Monte Dolent

Us, before Monte Dolent, nearing the Grand Col du Ferret, and
the Swiss border

At Camping Philosophes, in Champex

We had the Swiss version of cheese fondue in Champex; 
rather bland and uninteresting, I thought; needed more
garlic and kirsch; but the scenery was genuinely Swiss

Next morning, picking a quart or more of
bilberries, the Euro-equivalent of

After a morning hiking uphill, picking
bilberries, and in anticipation of the variant
around Bovine, it's time for another glass of
wine; European trekking beats all others!

Tour Du Mont Blanc, 2

Our 2005 TMB continued:
On the third day or so, we took a variant, skipping Les Chapieux, across the Col 
des Fours, and up these slabs to the highest point on the Tour from which you can 
see Mont Blanc

Thus; it's the white one, more distant

And you also can see Monte Cervino, the Matterhorn, 50 miles away; the higher 
white one, left of center

In the refectory at Les Mottets, somehow, one of the refuges people always 

Mainly because of the dormitory, a converted cow barn; coed

Vicki at the Col de la Seigne, one foot in France, the other 
in Italy

In Italy's beautiful Val Veni, the Aiguille du Noire

And our next stop, the Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini, in the Val Veni

In the dining room of the Rifugio Elisabetta, many memories; an instructive 
representation of the little red fox that hangs around the Elisabetta; unfortunately, 
the staff did not tells us about the fox; again, we ate in, but camped out; about
midnight, in the middle of a horrific thunderstorm, the fox attacked, first the stern 
of the tent, and then the bow, ripping a 3 foot tear and starting to haul off our food 
bag before I smacked him away; next morning, the staff said, oh yes, that would  
have been the red fox; my other memory ends with this injunction: whenever 
dining family-style with Germans, take all the food you think you might want the 
first time it is passed; nothing will be coming back

Signage in the Val Veni; the quality of the signage throughout the TMB is fairly good, 
but best in the more populated areas; here we are only a few miles from Courmayeur; 
evidently many hikers pass right through Courmayeur and stay at the next refuge up the 
trail; not us; we had repairs to make, excess baggage to mail back to the campground 
in Chamonix, food and drink to sample, hot showers, and soft beds and other luxuries 
to enjoy

Besides, it was the Feast Day of Santa Pantaleone, patron saint of Courmayeur

View from our balcony at the Penzione Venezia (42 euros back then); underneath the 
terrace is the little hardware store where we bought "American" (duct) tape to repair 
our poor little tent

A Mont Blanc in butter; or Mont-Blanc dans le beurre; or better, 
Monte Bianco nel burro; it was on these days in Courmayeur 
that we acquired our taste for fontina; also polenta; also ham and 
veal smothered in fontina; salted meats...

Back on the trail after our respite in Courmayeur; more signage; and a 2000 foot 
climb ahead

Nearing the Rifugio Bertone, looking back to Courmayeur

To be continued...

Monday, December 26, 2011

Tour Du Mont Blanc, 1

Many of our posts in the last two years have mentioned the Tour du Mont Blanc, which we did in 2005. Indeed, in 2010 and 2011, I re-did several parts of the TMB and blogged accordingly. (See TMB in the label cloud at the bottom of the page). But the pix from our 2005 TMB circuit remained in an SD card stored in Missoula the last several years. I recovered the card last October, and am now pleased to present these "out-takes" from our 2005 experience.

The TMB is one of the world's great Alpine hikes, encircling the Mont Blanc massif, passing through parts of France, Italy, and Switzerland, anywhere between 105 and 120 miles, depending on variants, with some 33,000 to 36,000 feet ascended/descended in the course of its dozen or so passes. Typically, it is done in a counter-clockwise fashion, beginning at Les Houches in the Chamonix Valley, and goes on for 10-11 days, with over-nights in the many refuges or towns along the away, or in one's backpacking tent. In the annual TMB ultra-marathon, some runners do it all in less that 24 hours. Not us.

Vicki had read of the TMB sometime during our several previous visits to the region. Despite training on Black Mountain (our home was on Horseback Ridge) and Blue Montain near Missoula in the spring, we took the better part of three weeks to do the circuit back in 2005, including a false start, sometimes staying in the refuges, sometimes in our little tent, and three nights in a penzione in beautiful Courmayeur. We were in no rush. Our guide was Kev Reynold's The Tour of Mont Blanc; anything by Kev Reynolds or published by Cicerone is simply the best there is. We flew from Missoula initially to Ft. Lauderdale, to see my mother and sister and her family, and then on to Geneva. The bus took us to Chamonix, where we camped at Camping de L'ile des Barrats, got organized, and put excess baggage in storage. And then we were off to Les Houches and onto the TMB.

Despite the usual apprehension about travel and new experience, we had an easy and fine time. (Except for the red fox, which we'll get to later.) The refuges are all connected by phone and will make reservations for you at your next stop very easily. The food and drink are all regional and wonderful, and you are rarely more than a couple miles from good French, Italian, or Swiss fare. Everyone speaks English, or enough English to get by. The best part--the very best part--is all the people you meet on the trail, in the refuges and in the towns. Every European nationality and then a few. It is as good as an international experience can be. We even ran into some Americans on an REI tour on the Italian/Swiss border. And then there is the scenery....

We were three weeks on the trail and in Chamonix and Courmayeur, and, even then, before my current photo-excess, took hundreds of pix. I've culled them down to a mere 60 or so, to be divided into 4 posts. Below, first, is a map of the TMB, from mappery.com.

Click to enlarge; from mappery.com; best I could
find online

Lewis and Clark; wait, no...

Main drag Chamonix, July, 2005; many French-type

The Aiguille du Midi, from Chamonix; a cable-car goes to the
top of the Aiguille

From Chamonix, looking up toward the summit of Mont Blanc
and the Glacier des Boissons

Me, on our first day, on the route above Les Houches; boldly
setting forth...expecting rain
View of Mont Blanc from near Bionassy
Small French-type personnes learning to climb, near

Beyond Contamines, our second day out (after
the false start), on the slabs (placed there by
Hannibal or some Romans or someone else)

We spent our first night in a refuge near Bionassy, and had a
wonderful French dinner; but we camped out our second night,
beyond Contamines, dining on freeze-dried backapacka fare;
in the French national park system camping is allowed only
some distance from structures and settlements, and tents may
be raised only from 7PM to 7AM (in Italy, only above 2000
meters, as I recall; in Switzerland, nowhere, no-how)

Me, two days on the trail now, still smiling...

Vicki napping, same site

Next day, en route to the Col du Bonhomme, some crazy
French bicyclistes; these people, French and Italian, will
bicycle on anything

Vicki at the cairn at Croix de la Col du Bonhomme

The refuge at the Col du Bonhomme; we ate in but camped
out; here, I believe, I had my first-ever vin chaud; probably
also my second-ever vin chaud; it was cold outside

Next day, trail down