The route from the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme to Les Contamines is the shortest day on the whole Tour du Mont Blanc so when I saw the sun was still breaking through the clouds when I woke up, I decided to stay in bed for an extra half an hour.
I wanted to let the clouds roll away and the sun soften the snow, which had surely frozen overnight. So I made a relatively late start from the refuge. This also had the advantage of allowing my dormitory mates – three Frenchmen – to get away early, leaving me with a private room to prepare for the day at my leisure.
After yesterday’s rain and hail storms it was fabulous to see the sunshine on the snowy peaks. But the snow was still very hard, especially in the shade and I wished I had walking crampons for my boots. The icy slopes dropped away with a long runout in many places and if I had fallen it would have been very difficult to stop myself sliding a long way down.
An hour (twice as long as it should have taken) of very careful going took me to the shelter at the Col du Bonhomme and I could see it was going to be much easier going from here downwards. After seeing that poor fellow with the broken leg yesterday I was super careful. I didn’t want to spoil someone’s day by needing to be rescued!
There were magnificent views all morning as I slowly made my way down into the Bon Nant glen (the upper reaches of the Val Montjoie). Reaching the snowline I hit the upper reaches of the alpine meadows, with the tinkling bells of sheep.
The whole valley was alive with rushing streams through flowery meadows and a backdrop of snow and rock – what could be more beautiful?
The Lacs Jovet, that’s what. As the day from Bonhomme to Les Contamines is only three-and-a-half hours it made sense to make the most of my day by doing a two-hour side trip to these small lakes, perched above the valley. An alpine lake is always worthwhile (like the Lacs Blanc on my route from La Flegere to Tre le Champs) and these were no exception.
It takes around 45 minutes to climb up and another 25 minutes to circumnavigate the lake shore, taking in all the different views on the way around. There were lovely reflections in the blue, clear water. I saw tiny fish and even a frog.
The guidebook claims the views from the north side are the best but I think all are equally lovely. However, the north side is definitely quieter and the place to get away from the daytrippers.
The book doesn’t mention it but there is an alternative path down (or up) from the Lacs Jovet. Affter walking anti-clockwise around the lake veer right just before crossing the outlet stream. I was on my last pair of dry socks after the stream crossings of previous days so I couldn’t afford to get my feet wet here. The path sidles around gently then makes a steep descent into the valley before joining a gentler path through the meadows and eventually joining the main trail.
Half an hour later I had to have a drink and a blueberry tart at the inviting Refuge de la Balme. A little further down there are several gourmand eateries (at Bon Nant and at a sunbathing terrace) and I was almost wishing I hadn’t got a picnic from the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.
Next, I stopped to have a look at the rather impressive chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge, and its equally impressive eponymous gorge. It’s a beautiful baroque church and the site of a famous pilgrimage in August.
From here the way gets busy and it is strange to spend the last hour plodding through a French holiday park, including a man-made beach and loads of sports activities. Being surrounded by regular people vacationing is slightly surreal after being in the mountains for days.
At one point you even have to walk on an actual tar sealed road! Thankfully not for long – there is a path cutting slantwise left into the trees and a leafy trail follows the river in to the pretty holiday village of Les Contamines.
It felt so good to have a hot shower at the CAF Refuge (Club Alpine France) in Les Contamines after a few days where having a shower seemed like a route to pneumonia. The refuge is up the hill in the village – turn left once you get to the bridge and follow the signs.
The CAF Refuge is very good. Although next to the road, it has a pleasant garden and a lovely young couple run it very well. Dinner was a hydrating vegetable soup followed (unusually) by Coronation chicken with rice and a large and delicious lemony cheesecakey dessert. And divine cheese of course!
Just right to set me up for my final day hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. And yes, I didn’t really want it to end.
By Natasha von Geldern
Here is my day by day account of hiking the TMB:
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