Tour of Mont Blanc Courmayeur to Col de la Seigne

A good friend joined me in July 2016 for a series of walks, this one from Courmayeur required us driving through the Mont Blanc tunnel to start the walk. This adds to the days cost as a return trip through the tunnel was about 50 Euros.
The Cicerone guide suggests starting the walk in the centre of Courmayeur near the church at an altitude of 1226m, this would be a 18km walk out to Rifuigio Elisabetta (altitude 2195m) and same on return to the car. In order to make this more conducive of a day walk we made or way on the Via Val Veny, past the Hotel Val Veny and parked up just past the beautifully located Chalet Del Miage commencing the walk initially on road at an altitude of approximately 1400m. We decided to walk past Rifugio Elisabetta and to the La Casermetta (which once served as an Italian customs house) at an altitude of 2365m and up to Col de la Seigne (altitude 2516m), total return distance of about 24 km.

This was the first time exploring the Italian side of the TMB so I was looking forward to seeing Mont Blanc from the Italian side.

Val Veny alongside stream

Lake on TMB Val Veny

The path moves off road quite quickly to a track which runs parallel to a fast flowing stream and small lakes and TMB signs saying 55 mins to Rifuigo Elisabetta and 1 hour 50 mins to La Casermetta. Just past here the glaciers came into view, glacier du Miage namely.

TMB signs to Rifuigo Elisabetta and La Casermetta

View of Glacier du Miage

A while later the path climbs steeply past some interesting mountain chalets with curved roofs and fantastic views back down the valley.

Unusual mountain chalets TMB to Col de la Seigne

View down Val Veny near to Rifuigo Elisabetta

Rifugio Elisabetta which provides refreshments and accomodation, manned mid june until mid September and was a good place for a mid-morning break. Just past here was an evocative mountain chapel sitting forlorn amougst the splendour of the glaciers and Mont Blanc peaks.

Rifugio Elisabetta accommodation on TMB

Mountain chapel near Rifugio Elisabetta

After a break, we continued climbing until La Casermetta, where from the balcont was a splendid view of the valley. Inside was details of the local geology, history and some great descriptions of alpine flowers in the region. One being Gentiana Verna which I photograhed further along the track.

View from La Casermetta on TMB

Gentiana Verna alpine flowers on TMB

At Col de La Signe the usual TMB signs gave distances to Les Chapieux (alt 1554m) in France of 2 hours 30 mins, (stage 5 of TMB) and spectacular views across to the Italian side of Mont Blanc.

TMB sign at Col de la Seigne

View of Italian side of Mont Blanc

We descended back to the car and called in at Chalet del Miage for an ice cream & drinks, set in spectacular views of the glaciers it was a wonderful finish to a challenging hike in one of the most beautiful places in the Alps.

Mountain view from Chalet del Miage

Chalet del Miage

Tour of Mont Blanc Les Houches to Le Brevent (Stage 8 TMB)

A good friend joined me in July 2016 for a series of walks starting with Stage 8 (Cicerone guide) from Les Houches to Le Brevent and if possible La Flegere. The Cicerone guide suggests starting at the tourist office in Les Houches if parking is avaliable, we started at Le Pont des Gures (altitude 980m) where signs state that the Refuge de Bellachat is a 3 hours 40 min walk. For a day walk this seemed challenging but achiveable as we had to walk back to the car in Les Houches.

I was looking foward to the hike, and had done some 10 mile walks in the UK in preparation, and I knew from skiing in the area that the views of the mountains would be magnificent, plus we would pass by the massive Statue du Christ-Roi which I had seen on many occassions from the A40 drive into Chamonix.

The climb to the Statue du Christ-Roi (altitude 1196M, statue height of 25m) was steep and through woods so nicely shaded. It took close to 50 minutes to reach the statue which is on a rocky crag overlooking the panorma of Mont Blanc.

Walk through forest stage 8 TMB

Statue Christ-Roi stage 8 TMB

The path then climbs past Parc Merlet mountain Zoo (altude 1563m), which took about 60 minutes from the statue. The Parc holds 80 mountain animals in their natural environment, eg deer, marmot, chamois and Ibex. Near here the forest ends with abundant photo opportunities of the uninterrupted views of the magnificent Mont Blanc range. After a lunch break, we continued climbing until we were within sight of Refuge De Bellachat but as we started the hike at 1000 am, and it was 1430 we decided to turn around and descend back to Les Houches.

Rog enjoying the Mont Blanc views

Mont Blanc range and Chamonix valley

 

It was a wonderful sunny alpine day with temperatures on the hike exceeding 20 C at altitude. I was appreciative of the forest shade on the return path. Despite the practice walks in the UK the climb (and return) to almost 1800m from 980m on a hot day was a challenging and fanatastic start to a week of alpine walking.

Hike to Lac Gers in Flaine Summer 2016

Summer Hike to Lac Gers in Flaine

During our holiday in Les Carroz d’Araches in the French Alps in July 2016, primarily for the Tour de France where stages 18, 19 and 20 were a short drive from Les Carroz d’Araches; I took the opportunity to do a walk in Flaine and further my stages of the Tour of Mont Blanc. I drove towards Flaine on the D106 Route de Flaine and parked at the bottom of Flaine at 1600 m altitude, catching the DMC telecabine to the peak at Flaine. It was a hot day with temperatures of 25C in Les Carroz d’Araches and 21 C in Flaine; the views of Mont Blanc from the summit were as spectacular as ever. I was surprised by the amount of snow at the summit for July. I have walked here in previous years and this is the most I had ever seen. There was a very good snow base winter 15-16 so I guess the depth of snow ensured it lasted through to summer.

Mont Blanc Summer 2016

Mont Blanc Summer 2016

Summer snow at Flaine summit

Summer snow at Flaine summit

Walking down from the summit to the whale-back ridge. A short walk along this narrow ridge gave some spectacular views of the Grand Massif and down the valley to Sixt Fer a Cheval, although the path to the peaks looked to precarious to go any further so returned to the serpentine piste and walked towards the Combe de Gers bowl.

View from Whale Back in Flaine

View from Whale Back in Flaine

Narrow path on Whaleback summit

Narrow path on Whaleback summit

The walk down to Lac Gers passes close to the Gers drag lift, a very steep drag, not for beginners. The view of the lake and valley down to Sixt Fer a Cheval opens up to wonderful views. The winding trail down was relatively straightforward, but the return on the other side of the valley virtually climbs straight, with no switchbacks, so it is very tiring and slow if you are not accustomed to alpine walking.

Combe de Gers bowl in summer

Combe de Gers bowl in summer

Signage at climb up from Lac Gers

Signage at climb up from Lac Gers

The signage throughout the hike was clear, as shown on the climb out from Lac Gers it suggests the distance to Flaine is 2 hr 30 min and 50 min back to Lac Gers. In practice I find that adding about 20% to the times gives a more realistic estimate allowing for rest breaks. We walked back to the Flaine bowl at 1600 m and car park. Total time on the hike was approximately 7 hours.

Tour of Mont Blanc Les Contamines to Col du Bonhomme on stage 2

This is a blog in the sequence of walks as day hikes on the stages of the tour of Mont Blanc. The Cicerone book recommends starting the hike in the main village and walking alongside the road and paths past the campground of Le Pontet until Notre Dame de la Gorge where the ascent really starts. Owing to limited parking in the village I opted for parking at a large car park at Notre Dame de la Gorge (1210m), which has a public toilet and supply of drinking water and a small bridge nearby to cross the torrent.

The walk passes nearby to the church, and signs clearly mark out the TMB route to Col du Bonhomme. The  TMB rises steeply on an old Roman path, past a scenic rock arch and over a Roman bridge to the first cafe restaurant on the walk called Alpinus Lodge about 45 minutes from Notre Dame de la Gorge. This is a pleasant place to stop with recliners and tables with parasols and a varied selection of food and drinks.

A few hundred meters further up the trail is the Refuge Nant Borrant which provides accommodation and alternative refreshments and food. The trail then flattens out into a wide valley with magnificent views of the Aiguille de la Pennaz.

As the trail starts to climb again and just before the Refuge de la Balme is a toilet block and a drinking water supply. From the Refuge de la Balme (1706m)  to Col du Bonhomme (2329m) there is no let up on the ascent. In July large patches of snow could still be seen to the left of the trail which zig-zags up the mountain.

This is the highest peak climbed so far on the walks, and maybe it was because it was cooler than my stage 1 walk (24 C on the return to Les Contamines in late afternoon) but I found it easier than the climb to the Col de Tricot.

At the Col du Bonhomme is a warming hut and a map showing the Massif du Mont Blanc peaks of which Mont Blanc was just visible popping out of the clouds and good views of the Dome de Miage.

The descent back to Nore Dame de la Gorge was tricky down to the Refuge de la Balme so walking poles are essential to assist in stability.

I enjoyed a refreshing cold beer, resting in one of the recliners at the Alpinus lodge on the return. Such a treat.

I returned to Les Contamines 7.5 hours after the start, so ideal for a day hike, the maps show a total distance of 15.2 km. To complete stage 2 of the TMB requires a hike from Les Chapieux to Col Du Bonhomme. One for another day.

TMB signs at Notre Dame de la Gorge

TMB signs at Notre Dame de la Gorge

Roman bridge near to Alpinus lodge

Roman bridge near to Alpinus lodge

Valley view of Aiguille de la Pennaz

View of Aiguille de la Pennaz

View back to Refuge de la Balme

View back to Refuge de la Balme

Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

View of Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

Warming hut on Col du Bonhomme

Warming hut on Col du Bonhomme

Massif Du Mont Blanc

Massif Du Mont Blanc

Beer at Alpinus Lodge on return

Beer at Alpinus Lodge on return

Tour of Mont Blanc Les Contamines to Les Houches

This is a follow of my my previous post which described a day walk doing half of stage 1 from Les Houches to Col de Tricot and return to Les Houches. The route here is also the alternative TMB stage 1 route from Les Contamines to Col de Tricot which effectively completes the Tour of Mnt Blanc stage 1.

The route is approximately 15 km and suited for a day walk. I started the route at the Espace Animation in Les Contamines (1167m altitude)  as there is readily accessible parking and made my way onto the  Chemin du P’tou which leads to the small hamlet of La Frasse at 1263m altitude. In La Frasse there is a public car park and a useful source of drinking water, which I used on the return leg of the journey.

Nearby is a large sign giving details of the Reserve Naturelle Contamines-Montjoie with routes and glaciers described. The green TMB signs are well placed at key locations on the climb out of La Frasse, on a 8 foot wide trail before turning right into woods; TMB signs indicate Chalets du Truc and Chalets de Miage.  From La Frasse the signs said 1.5 hours to Chalets Du Truc which seemed about right.

The Auburge du Truc provides accommodation and refreshments, with magnificent views of the Domes de Miage and associated glaciers. The torrents running off the glaciers were in full flow on a hot day in July 2015. The route descends to the Chalets de Miage through a wooded area on a narrow path. The refuge du Miage provides accommodation and useful refreshments/food and is in a beautiful location in the valley with views towards the glaciers. The power of the run-off from the glaciers can be seen when crossing the small bridges. There is also eau potable available near the public toilets.

The formidable climb to the Col de Tricot (1.5 hours from Chalets de Miage) ascends to 2120 m, so a 560 m ascent on a narrow path that zig-zags up the mountain. There is no shade on this route so appropriate clothing and sunscreen is needed on a sunny day. The climb although difficult, steep and slow was not as challenging as the hike to the Chalet Du Bovet at Sixt Fer Cheval.

There is a useful landmark of a cross at the Col de Tricot and provides a very useful focus on the climb. The path is quite stony and thereby difficult if carrying heavy loads, and in a few locations small steams had wet the path making caution advisable. The glacier shed rocks and moraine become more prominent as the top is in reach.

Reaching the top feels like a well worth it challenge that has been overcome, the views are far reaching but the glacier views are better at the Chalets de Miage or on the ascnet from the valley.

The return to Chalets de Miage is equally tricky as the ascent and I was glad to have some good quality hiking poles which provided balance and stability on some of the steep parts of the path.

A cold beer and relaxation at the Chalets de Miage provide welcome relief on a very hot day (which again reached 36 C in Les Contamines) before the return leg of the hike.

I returned to Les Contamines 7.5 hours after the start, so ideal for a day hike.

Start of hike at Les Contamines

Start of hike at Les Contamines

TMB signs at La Frasse

TMB signs at La Frasse

 

Reserve Naturelle Contamines-Montjoie signage

Reserve Naturelle Contamines-Montjoie signage

Domes de Miage view from Chalets du Truc

Domes de Miage view from Chalets du Truc

 

Auberge du Truc (alt 1720m) for refreshments and accommodation

Auberge du Truc (alt 1720m)

Chalets de Miage TMB signs for Col de Tricot

Chalets de Miage TMB signs for Col de Tricot

 

View of climb to Col de Tricot

View of climb to Col de Tricot

TMB signs at Col de Tricot

TMB signs at Col de Tricot

Tour of Mont Blanc Les Houches to Les Contamines – July 2015

As a later life challenge I decided to do the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB)  in stages, generally splitting each stage of the hike into two separate walks, so I can return to the car without having to find public transport or stay overnight in mountain accommodation.

For stage 1 from Les Houches (altitude 1007 m) to Les Contamines I planned to walk from the Les Houches tourist office, located in the centre of Les Houches with plenty of parking space available. As a guide I used the popular Cicerone book by Kev Reynolds. The signposts are excellent with the green TMB logo and GR5 detailed throughout the walk as photographed at various stages throughout the walk. The planned walk was the variant to Col de Tricot at 2120 (via Col de Voza) and back to Les Houches. (NB: the usual stage 1 walk to Les Contamines is via Bionnassay and La Champel with Col de Tricot route classed as a variant)

The climb starts near Le Grand Balcon where you have to ascend a series of wooden steps for a few hundred metres prior to the track commencing. The route to Col de Voza is well signposted and would be difficult to go wrong. At Col de Voza (1653m) is one of the stops on the Tramway du Mont Blanc cog railway that runs from La Fayet to Nid d’Aigle at 2380m. The village de vacances APAS hotel at Col de Voza was having a large extension built on the side making more rooms available. From the Tourist office to Col de Voza was about 2 hours with some great views of Aiguille du midi and the Les Houches ski pistes on the way. The climb was steep in places, but thankfully shady in many parts.

There is a cafe/restaurant on the way to Col de Voza and a pretty restaurant at Col de Voza serving the needs of those who get off the Tramway du Mont Blanc railway to enjoy the scenery and views. More importantly there is a tap saying eau potable (drinking water) which was essential for re-filling water supplies.

The trail from Col de Voza to Col de Tricot passes the Bellevue hotel and runs alongside the railway track for a while until it moves off into a narrow trail through woods.

On walking to the meadows near the Bionnassay glacier I decided to make my way back rather than climb to the Col de Tricot as it was getting late in the day and I had a couple of hours in unusually hot 25 C temperature weather to do the decent back to Les Houches. (temperature in Les Houches reached 31C on this day).

A collage of photos of signposts on the route and some of the spectacular scenery is shown below.

 

Wooden steps on start of walk out of Les Houches

Wooden steps on start of walk out of Les Houches

TMB sign at LE Tremble

TMB sign at LE Tremble

TMB sign at Le Pont de Belleface

TMB sign at Le Pont de Belleface

View towards Aiguille du Midi

View towards Aiguille du Midi

Sign at Cold de Voza station

Sign at Cold de Voza station

Trains at Col de Voza station

Trains at Col de Voza station

TMB sign at Bellevue

TMB sign at Bellevue

View at Bionnassay glacier

View at Bionnassay glacier

Hiking from Sixt fer a Cheval via Buvette de Prazon to Chalet du Boret

This was probably one of my most challenging hikes to date. I started at the cirque at Sixt fer a Cheval and walked to the chalet at the Buvette de Prazon, signposted below

Buvette de Prazon signpost

Buvette de Prazon signpost

and then climbed the Pas du Boret to the chalet du Boret. This is termed a “difficile” path; which is correct as one has to traverse across slippery rocks in the path of waterfalls, and on occasions climb via ferrata (iron steps). The path routes close to the cliff edge so one needs a good head for heights as the drop is vertical from the path edge. The signpost suggested 70 minutes to the Chalet du Boret, I took about 90 minutes with a few rest stops. There is an approximate 400 m elevation gain from 1020m at Buvette de Prazon to chalet du boret at 1390m, and about 500-600m from the car park at Sixt fer a Cheval to the chalet. There was a sign on route warning about dogs being used to guard livestock against Wolves and Lynx; the latter worried me more than the dogs.

The view from the chalet is quite spectacular, I’ve inserted a video showing a 360 degree view of the scenery.

 

The route back via le fond de la combe was about 7 km and signposting suggested 2.5 hours. The return route passed through woodland and adjacent to a waterfall, giving a spectacular view of the valley and source of the River Giffre as shown below.

Giffre Valley view

Giffre Valley view

Total time for the hike was about 4 hours, an altitude change of about 550m and a length of 10 km. Recommended for those who enjoy a challenge and do not suffer with vertigo. 🙂

Mountain Biking (MTB) Argy to Les Carroz d’Araches September 2014

Agy is situated a few kilometres from Les Carroz and is popular in the winter for ski de fond at the Centre Nordique d’Agy. The centre is accessed via the Route d’Araches (D6) near Saint Sigismond.  The Nordique skiing is across undulating countryside at altitudes up to about 1350 m.
I started at the car park at Agy, where it is a slight incline on good track to Le Haut des Flatieres at 1330m altitude. The signposting, shown below, were excellent with GPS coordinates on many signs.

Les Charmettes near Agy

Les Charmettes near Agy

Le Haut de Flatieres near Agy

Le Haut de Flatieres near Agy

Mountain Bike and signpost

Mountain Bike and signpost

On the route there are some open spectacular views across to Samoens and the mountains at Sixt fer a Cheval. Continuing along the track it rises to the ski terrain at Morillon, entering the Marvel run. Cycling past the Igloo restaurant, which we often stop for drinks and/or lunch in the ski season. Photos of views are shown below.

Mountain view near Morillon

Mountain view near Morillon

Mountain view near Morillon

Mountain view near Morillon

The route back to Les Carroz d’Araches was relatively straightforward, after reaching the summit of the Sairon chair lift in Morillon, at 1711m I cycled down the Biollaire piste,under the Gron lift and down the Combe psite. There was good track on the edge of these pistes so not too difficult.

The track near Gron chair lift is shown below.

MTB in Les Carroz near Biollaire piste

MTB in Les Carroz near Biollaire piste

Total time from Agy back to Les Carroz was 2.5 hours, some time spent pushing the MTB up hill, but rode much more than the Flaine MTB experience. Mountain Biking in the alps is a great way of seeing the mountain flora, fauna and geology without spending a full day out hiking.

Hiking in Flaine and Montagne d’Aujon September 2014

During our holiday in Les Carroz d’Araches in the French Alps in September 2014 I had wanted to walk some of the areas that I ski in Flaine during the winter so I drove towards Flaine on the D106 Route de Flaine and parked at the bottom of Flaine at 1600 m altitude. I walked up the Celestine red piste through the forests of d’aujon heading towards the drag lift called Aujon. In the winter these are nice winding pistes through the forest with a moderate incline. When hiking this seems a challenging incline; interesting and different perspective from winter to summer, skiing and walking. Below is a couple of photos of looking back towards Flaine.

View back to Flaine Forum

View back to Flaine Forum

Mountain view

Mountain view

 

Walking and pushing my mountain bike towards the Aujon area of skiing the views become quite spectacular. Below are a couple of photos showing the Aujon chalets and my mountain bike at about 1750 m altitude.

Aujon Colony in mountain at Flaine

Aujon Colony in mountain at Flaine

Mountain bike at 1750m

Mountain bike at 1750m

The return part of the journey was considerably quicker on the mountain bike, although in many parts it was too steep to safely ride the bike. I headed towards the Serpentine piste under the Grand Platieres lift with good views of the Grand Vans lift and ski slopes above Flaine.

Total time spent on the mountain was approx 2.5 hours with majority pushing the bike from the centre of Flaine to about 1800 m before the cycle back to 1600 m. 

View of Grand Vans lift in summer

View of Grand Vans lift in summer

Les Carroz village towards Timolets piste

Skiing in Les Carroz d’Araches and Morillon March 2014

We decided to have a longer holiday in the Grand Massif and had planned a few weeks for late March and early April.
We arrived to Bluebird conditions, with temperatures of 5-10 C in the village of Les Carroz d’Araches and 0-5 degrees on the mountain, depending on altitude. Paragliders were taking the opportunity to descend from the peaks into the village and the local restaurants and bars, like Le Marlow and La Pointe Noire had people outside enjoying drinks in the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere.

This was all to change on the weekend of March 22-24. The snow was well predicted with an estimate of 30-40 cm depending on altitude. The freezing level dropped to 300 m, meaning that snow would be widespread across the interlinked villages of Les Carroz, Morillon, Samoens, Flaine and Sixt fer Cheval. I ventured out on 23rd March to ski Les Carroz and Morillon to find some excellent skiing. In places there must have been 60 cm of snow, the trees were fully laden and visibility was bad but the powder on and off piste was fantastic.

I’ve attached photos of the Les Molliets lift. the red piste called Stade in Morillon and a view over the village of Les carroz towards the Timolets piste.

Les Molliets chair lift and snow laden pines

Les Molliets chair lift and snow laden pines

Stade piste in Morillon in deep snow

Stade piste in Morillon in deep snow

Les Carroz village towards Timolets piste

Les Carroz village towards Timolets piste

On the next few days, the weather also remained colder permitting longer day spring skiing especially in Flaine and on northern slopes in Les Carroz. The pistes were in absolutely brilliant condition with large depths of snow. We enjoyed the snow covered pistes skiing through trees in Morillon and Les Carroz and motorway crusing on long red runs in Flaine.

Attached a video of a blue piste that runs from the Biollaires chair lift.

Skiing in Grand Massif at Morillon March 2014