When I planned my Tour du Mt Blanc hike I was concerned that I had made this second day too short at only around five hours. So I added a couple of harder variants. I was determined stay high wherever possible on this walk and enjoy the side trips available.
So I set off promptly and, as on Day 1 from Les Houches, walked in absolute peace for the first couple of hours (the benefits of walking in a clockwise direction). A marmot gave me a fright by scampering across the path and later I saw some young chamois lazing in the sun on a rock.
Whatever you do on the Tour du Mt Blanc, don’t miss the side trip to Lac Blanc because it is simply amazing. The dazzling turquoise of the water, with the rusty Aiguilles Rouges to one side and the white caps of the Mt Blanc range on the other.
It is a steep climb to get up there but it only takes a couple of hours and I was starting to realise that every day on the TMB involves a steep climb, or two, or three.
I waited a while for some cloud to burn off to get the best photos and enjoy the environment. By the time I left just before midday Lac Blanc was heaving with day walkers. The café was doing a roaring trade and it was a zoo. Time to leave the crowds behind again!
My second variant was to stay high and walk via the Col de Motets rather than descending down the ladders to Argentiere.
The Grand Balcon Sud that skirts along below the Aiguilles Rouges is wonderful. There are a number of pretty tarns and clear views of glacier after glacier across the way.
It was gorgeous but there was a sting in the tail. The long downhill to Col de Motets had my knees absolutely screaming by the time I staggered onto the valley path. I followed the advice of Ranger Ross on the Milford Track in New Zealand to “take lots of spells”.
The use of this phrase may sound mysterious to you but any New Zealander will know that he meant take regular rest stops. I had to, my knees felt like they were about to buckle under the strain of the endless zigzags. But they didn’t (thanks to my yoga preparation) and finally I got to…
The Auberge la Boerne, down on the valley floor – in the pretty hamlet of Tre le Champ with plenty of window boxes gushing with flowers , and grassy meadows. It is near the valley road but the sound of the nearby stream was louder than any traffic. There is a very pleasant terrace to enjoy a drink and a piece of cake, even if you are not staying at the Auberge. The scent of freshly-cut grass was in the air and I loved the houses with their wooden shingle roofs and firewood stacked high under the eaves.
By now I was getting the hang of how things work in the refuges. You change into flip flops on arrival and leave your boots at the door. Your name (and subsequently your bill) is taped to the table where you are to sit for dinner and breakfast. Payment is preferred after dinner – once they know what you have had to drink. Oh yes, there is always a selection of beer and wine as well as soft drinks. We are in Europe after all!
For me there was always a few hours to relax between arriving and going in to dinner at seven. Time to get hungrier and hungrier as the smell of dinner cooking wafted through from the kitchen. So I had to indulge in some blueberry tart and a cold orangina to keep me going. You’ll need plenty of euros in cash as most places don’t take bank cards.
This is also time to watch as the hikers trickle in, displaying varying degrees of weariness and relief at seeing the auberge. There were always smiles at the sight of the bright umbrellas and pretty flowers.
If you are worried about your knees and the Col de Motets descent there is a quicker option down some fixed iron ladders from directly below Lac Blanc. Apparently it’s not the best for people with vertigo but otherwise fine.
Again there was a laundry sink, an outside washing line and even a drying room here. I got into the habit of washing my shirt and bra – it’s nice to start the day with a top that if not exactly clean at least doesn’t smell bad.
The meal at la Boerne was divine, home cooked, herby slow-roasted chicken with rice and a luscious fresh salad. Of course there was a plate of delicious local cheeses, and then quark with blueberry jam for dessert. Demi pension was only 40 euros.
This was the cosiest accommodation I stayed at on the TMB – full of character and very friendly but the 30 dortoir beds were crammed in and there are only a couple of toilets and showers. I heard some young Americans complaining about the limited outlets for charging their devices… some people just don’t know what being in the mountains is all about.
It was strange to be in the valley after two days up high. After a good sleep, I was raring to hike onwards in the morning…
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you walked the Tour du Mt Blanc in a clockwise direction?