TMB Day 1: Les Houches to Les Contamines

This is it! July 3, the first day of the official TMB! 

We began by taking the bus to Les Hoches, cutting out a bit of the actual trail that we'd hoped to do as a dayhike but skipped due to me feeling ill. We then did what we always did when possible: took a cable car up to start the hike at Bellevue.

Happy hikers, ready to begin! I'm on the right.
 
The walk was a fairly easy and pleasant descending traverse until we dropped steeply to cross a glacial river. That marked the beginning of the climb to Col de Tricot.

Only after the crossing did we see the sign about one hiker at a time on the bridge.

We were having mixed sun and clouds, but still got good views of the glaciers coming off the south end of the Mt. Blanc massif.

The climb to the pass proved to be easy, and we topped out shortly after 11, despite a relatively late start, unprepared for what lay on the other side.

The TMB, like most of the trails around the Alps, was very well marked with signs indicating times to different destinations. We tended to come in at or slightly faster than marked times, so they were a good gauge.

The descent to the refuge at Miage was extremely steep and not much fun, so we rewarded ourselves at the Refuge de Miage with cold drinks to go with our sack lunches. From there we had to climb the next ridge before we could descend to Les Contamines.

Tom near the start of the descent. You can see Miage way below.

Climbing out the other side of the valley, looking back at Miage.

Sadly, there was no cable car to whisk us down to Les Contamines--we had to hike it. It was a long first day, and we were plenty tired by the time we reached town, and even moreso on reaching our hotel a half mile up the river. We were dismayed on reaching the hotel to find that our luggage hadn't arrived, but our tour company (we were doing an unguided tour set up by Wilderness Travel) and the hotel manager between them sorted it out and we got the bags before bedtime. Stats: 8 miles, 2050' up, 4150' down.
Les Contamines church

Day 2: Les Contamines to Les Chapieux

This was a long hike, and no shortcuts. Our early departure was constrained by the hours for breakfast at the hotel, which in most places started at 7 or 7:30--very late by our standards! Still, we were always first to the table and were able to hit the trail shortly after 8 a.m., facing a very long climb and unstable weather.

The warm-up was a half mile or so walking up the valley the church of Notre Dame de la Gorge, just before the climb begins. Built in 1699, the church is a mix of Renaissance and Baroque architecture and was worth the brief delay to take a look.
The church is relatively plain on the outside.

Inside is a bit more ornate.

As its name implies, the church guards the entrance to a steep gorge, and the beginning of the climb. The route follows an ancient Roman road (built atop an even older Celtic trade route) and at times we were walking on the centuries-old paving stones. Partway up, we crossed the river where it has dug itself a slot canyon, on a Roman bridge.

Pretty old infrastructure, but it seemed solid.

The slot canyon.

The bridge marked pretty much the end of the gorge, but we continued to climb past a couple of farms and a mountain hotel; local auto traffic seemed to be allowed. After a long time we topped out into a flat area--with a view to tell us just how much farther we had to go! You can also see the weather building a bit.

The pass is the low point on the left. This photo was taken during our elevenses break. We adopted a hobbit-like attitude to meals on the trail, with second breakfast, elevenses, and first and second lunches ensuring that our energy levels stayed high.


Weather was coming and going. As we climbed, noting how much this looked like the Sierra Nevada mountains (other places reminded us of the Cascades or the Rockies--there's a lot of diversity in the Alps!), the sun came back out to bake us a little.
Not the same rocks as the Sierra, though.

On the final approach to the pass, and crossing one of only 2 snowfields on the whole trip. Note the clouds are back.

Just a couple hundred yards below the pass the thunder, lightning, and rain began. Not a great place to be in a storm, but we pulled out rain gear and kept going for want of a better option.
Tom and Carol are below in their colorful ponchos. I appreciate my waterproof phone in these conditions--the camera gets stowed in a hurry to protect it from the rain, but I can keep shooting.

A few minutes later we were at the pass, with the sun drying us out while we watched the storm move on across the valley.
Stinklet stayed warm and dry in my pack, but came out to look around at the summit.

The summit wasn't the top. This was a two-pass day, and having reached the Col de Bonhomme we had to keep climbing!
It was just a couple hundred feet more to reach the Col de la Croix.

By the time we reached the Refuge de Bonhomme, with the climbing behind us but a lot of descent to go, we were pretty beat. Like many others, we chose to refresh ourselves with assorted sugary beverages.
I don't like colas, so I went for the hot chocolate, which has more food value and as many calories.

By this time, nearly 4 p.m., it was discouraging to look how far we had to go down. That drop went on forever.

The most beautiful sight in the world can be a simple hotel! Given the remoteness, and the lack of any actual town at Les Chapieux, the Hotel Les Chambres du Soleil was pretty nice. They had no single rooms, so we all 3 shared one room, but we had a bathroom en suite, so no gripes. Dinner and breakfast were excellent and we enjoyed meeting a couple of women from England, with whom we met up again in Courmayeur and again at the end of the trip in Chamonix!
Our room was at the left end of the long balcony. No wifi, but hot showers and food.

Stats: 11.5 miles, 4320' up, 3020' down.

Next week: on to Italy!

©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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