As the sun rose on the 8th morning, we awoke in our little bedroom in Auberge Mont Blanc, in the sleepy town of Trient. We were officially starting our second week of hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc. We had slept well in our cozy mountain bedroom, despite the various eccentricities of the refuges; creaky floors, loud guests, whistling wind. We were so accustomed to the mountain sounds we hardly noticed them anymore.
We were hoping to get a slightly earlier start today - at least earlier than our relaxing morning previously in Champex, so as comfy and warm as our beds were, we peeled ourselves out and headed down for breakfast at around 6:45am. What we considered an early start was clearly nothing to the hikers we passed already finished breakfast, lacing up their shoes to head out on to the trails.
Breakfast was a typical refuge spread and although it wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the hotel we had been spoiled with the day before, it did the job. A buffet of bread, various jams, Nutella, yogurt and muesli lined the table. We ate as much as we could fit in, and then grabbed an extra piece of bread for the trails. Back up in our room we brushed our teeth, packed our bags and bandaged up our feet; A morning ritual we lovingly referred to as ‘wrapping our wounds’. We bid farewell to Trient, which Luke was only too happy to do, and made our way down the road towards La Peuty.
Fifteen minutes down the road we arrived at what we assumed was La Peuty. I think we were expecting something more to mark our arrival, but a building which looked like it could have been a Refuge (had it been open) was about all there was to see. Not really needing a break at this early hour, we quickly used the toilets (you never know when another will come) and looked around but there wasn’t much else to La Peuty so we started the 6 km climb up to Col de Balme.
Fresh from our nights rest and full of energy, the morning climb was actually quite enjoyable. We left La Peuty at about 1320m, and were making our way up to about 2200m. We had about a kilometre of elevation gain but had 6 km's to cover it in so it was a manageable and enjoyable walk. We hiked back and forth along a trail that moved upwards, but never at too sharp of an incline. Every time we turned at a switchback, we had a clear view of where we had come from. Trient was way down in the distance and we could see ourselves progressively getting higher and higher, making our way up towards the clouds.
The terrain alternated between wooded shaded trails (which we would have appreciated even more, had we known what was coming for us later that day) and sunny open fields. We passed streams which we dipped our hats and buffs into, feeling the cool water drip down our necks. We could see in the distance where we were headed and although it felt like it was miles away we eventually chipped away at the distance until we arrived at Col de Balme.
Once we arrived at the top, the magnificent Mont Blanc greeted us with her beauty.
It had been days since we had been able to view the mountain our entire hike was built around. We had become so comforted by her constant presence, it had felt weird not being able to see her towering above us. Here we stood, at the border of Switzerland and France, ready to make our way back into the country we had started and would end our adventure in. Though we still had two more full days of hiking after today, arriving at Col de Balme felt like our final transition. A closing of our circular path. The beginning of the end. This was one of the moments a wave of emotion overcame me, as we stood at what felt like the top of the world, overlooking two distinctly different countries in front and behind of us. The terrain in Switzerland had been so different than that of France and Italy, and although we loved every minute of our hike, we were glad to be back into reasonably priced accommodations and food.
Col de Balme has two conflicting signs, one boasting an elevation of 2,191m, the other 2,204m. We learned that this fact was actually a bone of contention between the two countries. Signs had been torn down and rebuilt with conflicting elevation data. I looked down at my watch, asking Garmin for the final count. It showed we were at an elevation of 2,204m.
2204m it was!
Knowing how quickly it gets cold once you’ve stop moving at elevation, we quickly put on layers and then sat down on the grassy slope to have a rest. It was a good thing because the wind picked up. We enjoyed a piece of bread with Nutella and jam on it and admired the beautiful scenery. We bid farewell to Swtizerland. Still having some water in our bottles we made the big mistake of not filling up in the refuge, thinking we weren’t too far from our next water stop and would be fine. If there is one thing I would pass on as advice it would be always fill up on water when you can. Always.
But alas, stupidly we packed up our bags sans water, and looked for the trail that would lead us onwards. The trail followed the ridge line for a while, then headed down some grassy slopes only to start climbing again. Here is when it got HOT. The midday sun was beaming down on us, and we weren’t properly prepared for the heat. There were multiple braided paths and although we knew we were going in the right direction, we kept doubting whether our choice of trail was correct. We took out our map regularly, matching the written instructions with the visuals. It was tiring and frustrating and at times felt like we were moving backwards. Our water started to dwindle and each step became a challenge. The sun was beating down on us.
I was struggling.
The path was rocky, and navigating each step took effort. The views were magnificent, but I was finding it hard to focus and enjoy myself. I felt dehydrated, wiped out and really just cranky. Eventually we made it to the top of the peak. I was praying there would be some sort of shade but nothing was in sight so we just laid our bags down and took a break under the beating sun. I ripped open a Cliff bar, some jelly babies and finished up the last of my water. It was risky, but feeling as tired as I was, I knew I needed something to keep me moving. Once the water and food kicked in, I felt a million times better. I was finally able to appreciate the incredible panoramic views that we were witnessing. The giant Glacier du Tour opened up in front of us, which we overlooked Lac d’Emosson, it’s huge dam, and of course, our beautiful Mont Blanc. We were ready to tackle the descent.
The descent would take us into Tré-le-champ where at that time, we thought we were staying that evening.
As we made our way down in elevation the terrain shifted. Starting as rocky dusty trail, the trees began to emerge around us entering full on forest. We descended quickly, moving in a zigzagged pattern among alpenrose, bilberry and juniper.
Down, down and down we went until we finally hit the jeep track that would lead us into the hamlet of Tré-le-Champ.
The descent down had been kind to us and so we arrived in good spirits (which was a very good thing). A fountain of fresh water welcomed up and we immediately filled up and drank to our hearts content. The day was still young so we sat and drank and rested before taking out our notes that had our accommodations written on it. We took a look at where we were staying and realized we had made a horrible mistake. It all came flooding back into my mind. When booking accommodations for the night, the gîte Auberge la Boerne, the refuge in the tiny hamlet we currently sitting in, had been full. Instead we had been forced to book in the larger town Argentière, 25 minutes walk away. We were shockingly both okay with the mistake and almost without any care, lifted our bags onto our backs and continued down the trail leading towards Argentière. The refuge we thought we were staying at was sweet and although we were sad to not experience it, where we ended up was so much better!
The 25 minute walk down valley followed a stream and emerged into a town much larger than where we had come from. We arrived into the centre square where a festival was going on! Food and drink were being served and by now we were starving again, so we made our way up the the Church stall, and each purchased a freshly made waffle, topped with jam and Nutella (our nutrition that day was en pointe). Luke got a beer and we sat on the benches enjoying watching the children run through the streets playing with each other. Wifi was available in the town so we had no trouble finding directions to our accommodation which was about a 5-10 minute walk down the main road. Once finished our snack, we mustered up the energy to pick ourselves up and make our way down the road easily finding our home for the night.
We arrived a Yeti lodge only to find we had won the lottery! We were booked into a room which was part of a suite with a common area, kitchen and large balcony. It just so happened that we were the only people staying in the suite so we had the entire place to ourselves! The space and the luxury of it all was almost overwhelming. We immediately spread out. We each had a warm shower, washed our clothes and then relaxed on the couches in the common room. I did some writing, we stretched and worked out all the knots in our body from the day.
Argentière was by no means a large town, but there were copious restaurants for dinner, so eventually we dressed for the evening and made our way out to the main road. We walked up and down the road a few times, assessing our options finally settling on a pizza place. We ordered a bottle of red wine, a pizza each and enjoyed a delicious and relaxing evening out. We chatted about the juxtapositions of this trip. From our small little auberge in Trient the night before, Argentière felt like a bustling city. It was so interesting to go from feeling so deeply immersed in nature into a social town with people and culture abundant. We slowly sipped the last of our wine and finished our pizzas, lazily dragging out the evening. With our bellies and hearts full, we stumbled back to our chalet, walking hand in hand.
Our second last night on the tour had come to an end.