I set off on day three of my Tour du Mont Blanc hike from the hamlet of Tre le Champ on the valley floor and climbed steadily through the trees towards the Aiguillettes des Pousettes. My destination was the village of Trient.
Interestingly I got a great view of the zig zag path from yesterday – down to Col de Motets – and could confirm that it is a horrendous descent. Perhaps you can see it on this photo? No wonder my knees were crying!
My knees seemed to have survived somehow (although my psyche was still shell-shocked) and for the remainder of my Tour du Mont Blanc no descent was a problem because it was nothing like as difficult as that one on day 2! The value of experience and perspective in hiking can’t be emphasised enough. Likewise, no ascent on my TMB ever seemed quite as bad as my Day 1 climb to Le Brevent.
Anyway, I took three lovely long stops on my way up to the summit of Aiguillettes, glorying in being alone in the mountains in this perfect weather and with such views of Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles Rouges.
At the top I sat down for another snack, and to enjoy the entertainment – a small group of paragliders were setting up. They found the conditions challenging and were blown backwards on their bottoms several times before successfully running into the air. What a sight to see them fly against the backdrop of mountains.
Next up is a glorious valley, a green bowl scarred by ski runs and full of day walkers but also full of wildflowers and children skipping past me up the path to Col de Balme. Throughout the valley is a continual, melodious accompaniment of bells from the herd of cows grazing under the ski lifts. Russet-coloured birds of prey soared overhead.
The last kilometre-or-so to the col is a long traverse across the slope. This was the first section of level ground on the TMB so far and I fairly flew along, feeling like a superwoman.
I picnicked in the shade of the refuge at Col de Balme, which marks the border between France and Switzerland. Then it was down, down into the steep-sided Trient Valley, leaving the snows and the people behind. The richness of the flower meadows increased exponentially. It took me about one-and-a-half hours to walk down and I was tired but, as I said, it was nothing compared to the day before.
It was really hot out in the sun again and a relief to reach the forest for the last part of the walk. I chamois dashed across the path ahead of me. The heat was building up in the valley through the afternoon but the hamlet of Le Peuty had a breeze and a shady bench outside the gite d’etape from which to look up at yet another magnificent glacier.
Le Peuty is just ten minutes before the village of Trient and there is a public toilet and a picnic shelter here, where a few people were camping.
I was glad to have my excellent packed lunch from the Auberge la Boerne (a big ham sandwich with good cheese, a fresh tomato, hard boiled egg and two Mars bars), which was amazing value at 6 euros and kept me going all day as I had a bit every time I stopped for a break. The food quality and value for money was generally much higher in France than in Switzerland or Italy.
I had no mobile phone signal through this part of the mont blanc hike so I was glad I had booked my accommodation ahead, however this is the only accommodation on the TMB that I kind of wish I hadn’t used.
It’s not that I mind spending the night in a basic dormitory buzzing with flies or having to go outside and downstairs to get to the grubby showers and toilets. I’m not afraid of roughing it.
The biggest thing was that there were hardly any other hikers there. In fact, when I arrived I was the only person there. This gite d’etape is not staffed so for about an hour I thought I was going to be all alone. Eventually a Belgian woman arrived and then later a family of French people (who went to the village to eat and came back noisily late).
I had to laugh at myself as the previous evening I was finding the quarters quite cramped and crowded in the dormitories, yet tonight I was very relieved at the arrival of more people!
And obviously there was no lovely three-course hot meal; in fact there was nothing to do at all, just a few cows to watch shaking their giant bells at the flies. So I don’t recommend the Le Peuty gite d’etape, unless your budget is really tight and you are walking in a group.
I was woken by cow bells and the resident flies landing on my face. A last Mars bar for breakfast set me up for the day hiking the Alp Bovine…
By Natasha von Geldern
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