The morning of our 7th day on the Tour du Mont Blanc, we woke up in our luxurious hotel in Switzerland. We were staying in the small town of Chapex Lac and had just completed the two most challenging days of the tour. Suffice to say, we were shattered. We properly took our time this morning enjoying the luxury of our hotel room. We also had a full load of laundry still drying on the balcony so we happily used the excuse of our drying socks as a reason to stay wrapped up in bed a bit longer. We lazed around looking at pictures, writing and letting our bodies gradually wake up. We eventually ventured out of bed and head downstairs to the dining room for breakfast.
Breakfast at the hotel was incredible and deeply nourishing to our recovering bodies. A spread of various types of croissants and breads, four different flavours of homemade jam and a chocolate-hazelnut spread lined the buffet table. As if that wasn’t enough there was yogurt with muesli, various types of cheeses and meats galore. The tables were beautifully set and we settled into a small table in the corner and then headed to the buffet to pour ourselves a coffee. The coffee hit my lips and slipped down my throat and I immediately felt better. Almost as if they could read our mind, a large sign on the side of the table read ‘Do Not Pack Away Food’. I snuck a croissant in my pocket when I was sure no one was looking but that was about all I could manage. I guess the more expensive the hotel the more strict they are on their food policies.
Once full from breakfast and back in our room, we both took our time bandaging up our feet, using the last of the hotel wifi (you never know how long it’s going to be until you get it again). Finally at nearly 10am we actually headed out - the latest we had ever set out.
Again, there were two options for the days route, the regular route would take us to Col de la Forclaz (where the stage would technically end) and then on to the small village of Trient, where we would be staying that evening just 30 minutes further. The alternative option sounded spectacular but the guide book had a warning attached to this route labelling it as the ‘toughest of the whole tour’. It was a good 2 1/2 hours longer and would include steep slopes of grit. For the first, and only time of the whole trip we chose the easier option. We had struggled through two long days and our bodies were begging us to take it a bit easier. We thought if God needed to rest on day 7 surely, we should take it easy as well. We wanted to walk through the day with ease, taking our time and arriving at our next auberge not too late. Today would be our Sabbath. Skip ahead 10 hours, we ran into our Belgium friends we had spent dinner with our second night (what seemed like years ago). They had taken the hard route and had broken weary bodies to show for it. After our two days of hard and intense walking we were happy with our decision.
With our bags packed and our spirits flying high, we waved farewell to our delightfully expensive hotel. It was a beautiful sunny morning and as we walked up into the town of Champex we saw what we had missed the night before. A beautiful large lake was the centrepiece of the town. The towns name Champex-Lac made much more sense now. People were hanging around the lake, paddleboarding or dipping in for a swim. A few restaurants and cafés lined the waterfront which, if we had ventured out the night before, we would have likely tried. The town was calm and serene and I noted the next time we were back we’d make sure to explore Champex Lac a bit more thoroughly. For now though, we were back into walking mode.
There was a small store in town. Since we were fresh out of food for the day, and almost out of sunscreen we quickly popped in to buy the most expensive sun screen I’ve ever seen (helloooo Switzerland!) and some lunch for the trail. We walked through the town, past campsites and under the ski lifts until we came to the trail head where the TMB continued en route to Trient. The first section of the trail alternated between quiet roads lined with chalets and gîtes, meadows and tree-lined wooded paths. It was nice to have a bit of a slower day, enjoying the trails and not having to focus as much on getting to the next landmark. Our walking was more relaxed and laughter echoed across the trail. The trail turns into a footpath which lead us through beautiful woodland trails where we found ourselves walking alone.
After about an hour and a half of gentle walking with barely any incline we came to a farmhouse on a hill and decided to stop for a coffee. The views were spectacular as we sat drinking our coffee with a view overlooking the spectacular Rhône Valley. As it was already almost noon, many people were eating full refuge meals but we sipped our drinks, finding it hard to believe we were already on Day 7 of our 10 day adventure. Waking up and walking became the norm and it was hard to imagine life any other way. What would we even do when our trip came to a close?
Once we had finished our drinks we found the refuge's loo (which was guarded by angry dogs) and before we knew it were back on the trail, starting the long ascent we would spend most of the day making our way up. We rose steadily on an unsurfaced 4x4 track for about a mile before turning onto a footpath and entering wooded trail. As we climbed in height, so did the sun with the heat rising with each step we took. We moved in and out of shaded trees and were grateful for the streams we crossed. We passed hikers taking rests in the streams and we followed by dipping our hats and buffs into the cold stream water and then allowing the cold water to drip down our faces. The trail wasn’t overly technical and we moved at an easy pace we knew we could sustain.
About halfway up the ascent we decided to break for some lunch. We found two nice flat rocks that would do well as seats so we dropped our bags and lay out what we had for the day. Two peaches, a bag of crisps, one croissant (stolen from the hotel) and a cliff bar. Healthy right? Somehow it managed to fill us up, but goodness how we missed our vegetables!. As we sat on the side of the trail eating our lunch, families passed us on day hikes. Each time a child passed the following conversation would occur on repeat:
Child: “Bon Appetite”
Next child about 10 seconds later:
Child: “Bon Appetite”
Us: “Merci” … etc etc etc.
I’m surprised we even got a bite in with the incredible politeness of the Swiss children. After a while the novelty wore off and we truly just wanted some peace and quiet to eat our lunch, but we continued to people watch and respond accordingly to the hikers out for the afternoon. Once our food had gone down and we had sufficiently let our tired legs rest we hoisted our bags back up and continued up the mountain. Those first few steps were a slog as our bodies readjusted to moving.
As usual the sun was out strong and the incline was relentless but by day 7 we were used to it. We stumbled upon a French girl who looked like she was in her early 20s walking alone. We said hello and then realized we recognized her. We had seen her and her 3 friends (who we found out were her cousins) the day before as we were nearing the end of our day into Champex. As we were walking through one of the small hamlets we saw them huddled around a water fountain continuously pouring water over her leg. We went over to fill up our own bottles and learned that she had burnt herself badly on a parked motorcycle which was still hot from use. It looked pretty badly burned but when there wasn’t much else we could do we continued walking.
Reunited on the trail today, we asked her how her burn was and where her friends were. She told us she was doing the tour with her 3 cousins but they were faster walkers than her so she spent most of the day walking alone and they would wait for her at the top of the passes. We spent some time with her trying to have a conversation combining our broken french and her broken english but when she needed to stop and rest for the second time in 10 minutes we carried on and wished her well. We ran into her cousins a few minutes up the slope and confirmed she was on her way, albeit taking a bit of time. We continued up the path passing through more streams, each time dipping our hats and buffs into the icy cold water.
We continued this way for another hour or so before the smell of cows and manure let us know we had made it to Alp Bovine, a working dairy farm that overlooks the Rhône Valley. Bells rang and flies buzzed around us as we made our way up to the dairy farm. I couldn’t believe how many flies there were buzzing into the cows eyes and ears.
We plopped down our bags and each headed into the building to use the toilets. The views were spectacular but the flies were so intense we couldn’t linger long. We only had 53m to climb before hitting the height of the day, then it was all downhill into Trient. We had travelled approximately 11km and had 6km more to go - and it was all downhill. We stopped briefly at height to take one last view back at the Grand Combin. A tour group was at the top and we briefly paused to listen to the guide’s description of the view but seeing the single track ahead knew we it was best to get ahead the of the group rather than be trapped behind so we swiftly made our exit.
It was an uneventful hike down to Col de la Forclaz, the down hill path first feeling like a nice respite from the incline we had spent most of the day doing but eventually dragging on a little too long. Luke was a few meters ahead and I remember for one of the first times on the whole hike starting to think “seriously… more of this?”. But even with the physical and mental fatigue I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. We made it to Col de la Forclaz which consisted of one restaurant bar and one accommodation. We had about 30 minutes more to travel but it consisted of over 300 meters of descent. We braced ourselves for a brutal and steep decline and the trail met our expectations. Down, down and down we went. Our feet ached, our blisters stung and our minds rebelled but without another option we knew we had to go through to get out. When we arrived at the base we saw the beautiful pink church welcoming us into the hamlet of Trient.
Auberge du Mont Blanc was in a large building at the edge of the town. The hamlet of Trient was so small we found it almost immediately. We checked in and were shown to our room, a small private room the size of two single beds with a window that looked out over the town. There was one washroom and shower per floor and the best part of all, a sauna in the basement! Luxury! We did a quick wash of the clothes we had worn that day and then headed to the basement to check out this infamous sauna.
As we lay down on the wooden benches and the heat overcame us I could immediately feel my muscles exhale. The heat was intense, that wonderful dry kind that engulfs you. Our breath slowed down and I could feel relaxation overcome me on a deep and powerful level. When the heat became too intense we stepped out into a cold shower washing off all the sweat and grit from the day. We then headed back in for a round two allowing the sauna heat to penetrate deeper and more powerfully.
When we had finally had enough, we wandered back up to our room, showered and dressed for the evening. Dinner wasn’t for another half hour so we took our books and a pack of cards and headed out to the back terrace. One of my favourite times of the day was that pre dinner drink we treated ourselves to almost every day of the hike. Tired, clean, and relaxed from our sauna we plopped ourselves down on the outside terrace with a cold beer in hand. We alternated between writing and chatting to two women from Bristol who were doing a portion of the TMB trail all the while staring up at the incredible hills surrounding us.
Once we were called in for dinner, we found our seats at a table with a group of German men. Dinner was lighthearted and social as we talked about our different travels and experiences in life. Upon meeting a Canadian most Europeans first question is "So … have you seen a bear?” People are obsessed with bears! Yes I’ve seen a bear. No they do not just wander around southern Ontario. Yes, we have mountains but they are far from where I live. etc. etc.
Dinner was as usual, heavy on the dairy consisting of bread and cheese as a starter, followed by a small vegetable soup and side salad. The main course was then served which was a large bowl of white potatoes and a huge steaming pot of melted cheese to pour on top. Delicious or disaster… I would soon find out, but with my attitude of ‘c’est la vie’ I popped in a digestive enzyme and enjoyed the melted deliciousness. If there wasn’t enough dairy in the meal a dessert of ice cream cake sure topped it off. Once we had finished eating we rolled ourselves out of our seats and decided to take an evening walk to explore the town and walk off some of the meal.
Exploring the town didn’t take long at all, which was a good thing as the sun was quickly starting to set in the sky. Saying that Trient was a dead town would be an understatement as not even a grocery store existed in the town. I thought it was quaint but Luke was less impressed. He mentioned multiple times that he would look forward to leaving this dreary town full of dilapidated buildings . We walked along the stream, up to the church and back, slowly allowing our muscles and joints to ease out from the day's effort.
We headed back to the auberge and settled into our room for the night. A full week on the trail had officially come to a close. I was enjoying our time on the trails so immensely I didn't want to think about it coming to an end. Tomorrow would be another day, with more km's to cover, more mountains to climb and views to experience. We kept the window slightly ajar and fell asleep to the sound of the wind and the feeling of the light breeze on our skin. We quickly feel asleep like the quiet and sleepy town of Trient.
Start: Champex (1470m)
End: Trient (1297m)
Distance: 17.11 km
Heigh gain: 859 m
Height loss: 1081m
Time hiking: 4:57:01
Total elapsed time: 6:56:59
To see the full data on the day's hike, you can find me on Strava