Tour du Mont Blanc 1997
'Tour Du Mont Blanc' - September 6th to 22nd 1997 - Ramblers Holidays.
Roy Rae (party leader), Aileen Somerset, Barbara, Mary, Margaret, Roger Eastwood, Roy Walker, John Marshall, Eddy and Murial Gee.
Saturday 6th Sept - Drive to Manchester Airport, check in at about 9.30 am. Watch the funeral of Lady Diana in airport lounge. Have a 2 minute silence on the plane. Catch a train from Geneve airport direct to Martigny. Good views of Lake Geneva. Get a taxi up from Martigny up to Col de la Forclaz. I have a terrible headache and take a couple of Nurofen with my first beer. Good meal of chicken and chips with lots of seconds.
Sunday 7th - Col du La Forclaz to Campex
I sleep extremely well and a few people complain about my snoring. Wake to a beautiful view from the window down to Martigny. Breakfast at 7.30pm and set off at 8.30 p.m. Walk along simple county paths to start with. We get a little drizzle during the first hour. Roger and Mary shoot off into the lead. Arrive at about 2.30 p.m. and go straight to the bar for some large beers. Meet some Brits in the bar who are doing the tour. After a few drinks go for a walk round the lake with Roy Walker, Barbara and Roger. Stay at the Hotel du Plen Air in the attic.
Monday 8th - Campex to La Fouly
Stop in the village of Issert for an Orangina. Arrive at about 3.30 p.m. Drink in the bar with Roger and Aileen. Plan to go up the chair lift but it is shut. Instead some of us go for a paddle in the glacier stream. Barbara saves me a bed next to her and says 'This one is free'. Great views of the glacier from the hotel.
Tuesday 9th - La Fouly to Rifugio Elena
Great selection for breakfast, I have chocolate corn flakes. Cross into Italy over the Col du Ferret. It gets very windy at the Col and continues for the rest of the day. Leave the bags on the Col and we all walk up the Tete du la Ferret (2714 m), almost the highest point on the tour, it seems disappointing that it is down hill from here. Still no sight of Mont Blanc. Great views along the valley to Rifugio Elisabetta. Walk down steeply to the hut. Straight into the bar with Roger. After the meal everyone is given a glass of Grappa. A German shouts 'Shut Up' after we come to bed at 10.30pm.
Wednesday 10th - Rifugio Elena to Rifugio Bertone
Very windy start to the day. Walk down the valley to start. Roy consults the map for a long time, after which some of us point out a sign post describing the route. A very steep climb up from the valley floor. I feel fit and race Roger to the top. We then have a nice valley walk before heading up again. We stop to have lunch in exactly the same place as the previous two groups. Very hot in the afternoon, stop by a glacial stream for refills of water. Stay for about one hour on the top of Tete de la Tronche (2584m) with Aileen and Roy Rae. Discuss world affairs and chill generally. Talk with a group of Irish walkers also doing the tour. At about 6pm we wander down the obvious ridge to the Bertone hut. When we arrive there is no electricity so cold showers all round. First taste of Italian food on the tour. Soup starter, followed by pasta with beef and sausage. The red wine is the best that we have anywhere. Talk with Aileen about her work mostly. Sneak into the dorm late.
Thursday 11th - Rifugio Bertone to Rifugio Elisabetta
Very tired and a bit hung over in the morning. The breakfast is appalling, just inedible dry bread. Lie down and have a sleep at various times during the day. Walk down a long slope into Courmayeur. Have a look round at the expensive shops. A long slog up the road out of Courmayeur. Stop for a welcome lemonade at Notre Dame de la Guerison. Walk past a lot of ski lifts and over a few pistes. Stop at a refuge for lunch at Col Chercroi. Look down at a huge glacier which is totally covered in stones. See a lake that occasionally has icebergs in it. Seems a very long day. Walk over the marsh road towards the climb up to the hut. Feel very tired when we arrive. Get rather annoyed when I cannot get the showers to work. Get even more annoyed when I cannot get though to Helen on the phone. Feel no desire to drink in the evening, go to bed and read the guidebook.
Friday 12th - Rifugio Elisabetta to Refuge Croix du Bonhomme
Short climb from the refuge through the mist to the Col du Seine and pass into France. As soon as we pass over the Col the weather improves. Great descent to a refuge, for an Orangina and then a cheese factory. We all leave Roy there, to buy the cheese and set off up the hill though a large herd of very clean cows. After lunch by a stream we start a huge ascent. Race Roger all the way to the top. There are three false summits. The last one reveals an extra 1000 feet of climbing. Get to the top of the Col du Four after 1 hour and 3000 feet of climbing. Snow at the top. Roger arrives 2nd shortly followed by Barbara. Decide to climb up to the top of the Tete du Four Sud (2716 m), this becomes the highest walked point on the tour. Get a great view, it feels like we are level with a lot of other mountains. Good view of Mount Pourri. Wait an hour for everyone else to arrive at the top. Short walk down to the hut. We are almost the only people staying there. Rice and Beef Bourguignon for tea plus the usual Van Rouge. Enjoy the solar heated showers.
Saturday 13th - Rest day at Refuge Croix du Bonhomme
Heavy rain and mist all day. Try to read a few French climbing magazines. A lot of 'Only 9 hours to go till lunch' statements and staring out of the windows. Barbara decides to go and walk along the ridge. Me, Roger and Aileen go with her. Roll stones down the hill and wake up a few marmots. Eventually the meal arrives. Discuss what cars everyone has and Roy shows us his dynamo torch.
Sunday 14th - Refuge Croix du Bonhomme to Refuge du Miage
Back to good weather in the morning, however lots of ice about. Walk down a long valley, meet lots of Sunday morning walkers going the other way. Have some very good views down into the very steep La Gorge valley. Roy rushes on ahead to buy some food. Meet him at the road junction by the ski ticket office. We have lost a lot of altitude. Arrive at Les Contamines. We meet everyone else in a small restaurant. Roy offers to buy us all lunch. He suggests that we must all have the same meal, but we talk him out of it. Walk on in a bit of a daydream. Take pictures outside the attractive church. Lots of skiing chalets. Up from Les Contamines for a very steep ascent. Walk up with Roger all the way, see various people shooting on the way. Stop on the Refuge du Truc but discover that we are at the wrong place, it does not even serve beer. Roy Walker comes in third after taking some steroids. Walk over the hill and down into the next valley to Refuge du Miage. It is in a steep sided, cold valley with no hot water and it goes dark very early. We all sleep in the same dortoir except Roy Walker. Have a huge omelette which goes round us all.
Monday 15th - Refuge du Miage to Les Houches
A steep ascent to start, up to the Col du Tricot. Walk down a small valley over the Glacier du Bionnassay. It is very slippery on the surface, we also see a large deep hole into the ice. Watch the Victorian tram going up the opposite side of the valley, decide that we would like to go on it. Walk up the opposite side, pass a party of girls from New Zealand who are doing the tour. Have a long lunch and sunbathe at the Bellevue Hotel. Fantastic views down at Les Houches and Chamonix. We can see the cable cars going up to the Aiguille du Midi. The hotel was built at the same time as the tramway. Roy Walker gets talking to an old boy that just sits outside and watches the view. He is 85 years old and he has lived at the hotel for 60 years. The hotel has wooden floors up stairs and the most amazing toilet. Catch the tram up to the top of the tramway. Walk up along side the glacier and it gets very steep. Listen to the glacier moving. When we go down the tram is full of climbers with lots of gear that have been to the high huts. Roy Rae is waiting to meet us off the tram. He has managed to lose everyone else since they came down early. We walk along without him to get to the Hotel du Natural in Les Houches. The early group have a room and the late arrivals Me, Roger, John, Aileen, Mary and Barbara have another. Good facilities but I do not enjoy being in a hotel. The hotel is full of some very fat people from the Alsace region of French. For some reason they all help with the washing etc. Retire to the bar to drink lots of red wine at only FF19 per bottle.
Tuesday 16th - Les Houches to La Flegere
Confusion about how to get out of Les Houches. Walk past the statue of Christ above Chamonix. A long steady climb past the wildlife zoo. We have to stop for Roy Rae each time because there are so many junctions. See a few para-glider launch places off the foot path. Arrive at the Refuge du Bellachat which unfortunately is shut. Sit outside and look down at Chamonix. Watch a few para-gliders go past at the same level as us. Deceptively long walk up to Le Brevent. Arrive at the top of Le Brevent cable car, covered in sweat and very hot. Cool down with a beer at the top. Views of the top of Flaine cable car, a very good table d'observation at the top. Everyone sets of at their own time, me and Aileen walk together, we talk about where we are travelling to next and about the friends that she meet on her trip round the world. They now live in Istanbul. Have a very pleasant walk contouring round to the La Flegere hut. It takes about 2 hours to get there. Arrive at about 7pm after a very long day. This hut is much more to my liking, large log fire, wooden floors, etc. We are the only people staying at the refuge. Very good food again but the wine is expensive - £6 a bottle.
Wednesday 17th - La Flegere to Le Tour
Stale corn flakes and off milk in a plastic cup for breakfast. Still fantastic weather all the time. Leave the refuge and head up to Lac Blanc. Hang around there for a long time. There is not very far to go today. I have a bit of a paddle in the lake and try to dry my tea-shirts. Walk along the last part of the Grand Balcon. We have a very long lunch stop. Aileen and I make plans to go up the Fenetre d'Arpette on Friday. Roy Rae seems a little annoyed but agrees that we can go. After lunch we have a very long steep descent to the road. Arrive at Le Tour, we have a long road ascent to the hut. It is basically a large hotel with nobody staying there. They will shut after we leave. The place is run by a very nice lady called Michelle. Arrive at about 3pm and go straight into the bar, very hot sunshine. Stay there until teatime. John gets his bottle of Talisker out again and we finish it off.
Thursday 18th - Rest day at Le Tour
Wake up with a slight headache and take a couple of Nurofen. Borrow some travel wash and wash all my tea-shirts. Catch the bus from Le Tour into Chamonix. Pay FF330 to do the Circuit du Mont Blanc. Me, Roger, Roy Walker, John, Barbara, Mary and Aileen do the full circuit. Some of the others just go up to the Aiguille du Midi. A very steep cable car with one stop takes us to the Aiguille du Midi. Stunning views from the top. A lift takes us to the very top (3842m). Watch a few people par-gliding from the very top. Have a bite to eat in the 3842 restaurant. We take the 5km panoramic gondola ride over to Helbronner Point. The most fantastic trip across. Look down at lots of people climbing over crevasses and walking up to the Top of Mont Blanc. They are all roped together and wearing what looks like full Arctic gear. Arrive at the Italian side. They have very good observation points but everything else is very Italian. We look at some people climbing on the Dent du Geant. The air is very clear and the people look so far away. We look down at the Tete du la Tronche, Courmayeur, Refuge Bertone, etc. Stay there for a long time. The cable car down is delayed because the man is having a sleep. Have a meal and a beer halfway down, it seems strange to be back in Italy. Go down into Courmayeur and wait in a bar in the shade. Catch the bus through the Mont Blanc tunnel 9 km. Get back into Chamonix and have a wander round the shops. Me and Mary find the apparently famous Bar Nash (National) but there is nobody in. Back to the Hotel and have a much more sober evening.
Friday 19th - Le Tour to Col du la Forclaz
Walk up to the Col du Balme by myself. It is a very steady climb and I enjoy it. Cross back into Switzerland at the top. Contour round heading towards the Glacier du Trient. The footpath has been very well made and contours round some very large hills. Pass a closed refuge with an outdoor shower. Push on to the Refuge at the bottom of the glacier. Get a long way in front of the others, but Roy is not too annoyed. Have lunch there and decide who is going to the Fenetre, leave the rucksacks behind the hut. Me, Aileen, Barbara and Mary set off for the top. The walk starts off as a very nice valley walk. After an hour have a long rest and decide that we may be halfway there. A bit further along Barbara and Mary decide to turn back. Aileen says that she will make it to the top if we have plenty of rests. It gets very steep and rocky at the top. Get to the top of the Fenetre d'Arpette after about two and a half hours, 1000 m above the glacier refuge. Spend almost an hour on the top talking about going round the world and just relaxing. We plan to be late for the 7pm dinner so wait at the glacier Refuge for a while. Go back along a brilliant level path towards the Col de la Forclaz. When we are nearly there when Roger meets us and tells us that our plans have been foiled by dinner being at 7.30pm. Roy shakes us by the hand when we cross the finishing line. Everyone claps when we enter the dinning room, I am still very thirsty, drink lots of beer.
Saturday 20th Sept 1997 -
Early start from the hotel. Taxi down to Martigny. Get the train in Lausanne. Wander round for 2 hours with Roger, John and Aileen. Go down by the lake and for a coffee. Say good byes at Geneve to the Heathrow crowd, they have two hours to wait for their flight. Bye to the others at Manchester.