I used to love the French accent but my fellow shuttle bus passenger of 75 minutes from Geneva to Chamonix changed all of that. He paused every 15 mins in order to ask the fellow passengers a question but alas if they weren’t quick enough he was off again. The Herd, at a harrowing volume, was all that would drown it out – I noticed 10 mins into the journey that the driver had also resorted to his earphones. I know what you’re thinking -“she can talk” but this guy didn’t engage in conversation it was purely one-sided!
Ok enough of my whinging! Here I am in the beautiful French town of Chamonix. I had arrived at nightfall but the high shadows made it very clear I was in mountain territory.
I arrived to find Karyn asleep trying to push through her jet lag. I was excited to see her when she awoke with us both exclaiming how lucky we were to have arrived in the middle of the ultra trail marathon event, which was seeing people everywhere in the streets. If only I’d known I would have registered – the 162km trail sounded right up my alley!!!!
After breaky we headed to the boulangerie for some lunch snacks to enjoy while we visited the lookouts for Mont Blanc. The town was certainly alive with many spectators geeing on the runners of the many events as they made their final journey through town.
We caught the various cable cars of the Aiguille du Midi right to the end where you could see the mountains of Italy in the distance. The views of Mont Blanc and other parts of the massif were magnificent. There were plenty of mountaineering adventurers out in the snow – most roped together in the event of a fall into one of the crevasses.
We stepped out to get one of the cable cars and I heard a familiar voice – the talker and what was he doing??? That orange jacket and beret would become a beacon for me.
The hikers were like ants from our vantage points. Apparently when the skiers jump off in winter they are again roped at the early sections with narrow trails so that if necessary one person can throw themselves to the other side of the ridge to prevent the other plummeting down the mountain. We saw a few guys mastering their rope skills off the side of the viewing terrace.
The views down to Chamonix and the opposite mountain were fabulous. It was also lovely watching the para gliders float between the mountain tops and village.
As we walked back through the village the 55km trail event was well underway with 160 of the competitors already having finished.
Karyn had been hit with a terrible bug (food poisoning the most likely culprit) and so spent the afternoon and evening in. I just wandered around the village soaking up the atmosphere. While it had been gloves and beanies up at the lookout the village was delightful with a lovely Brisbane autumn/spring feel.
With Karyn wanting to recover sufficiently for the start of the hike I ventured off again on my own the next day. Karyn had suggested a visit to Montenvers on the train to see Mer de Glace.
On arrival to Montenvers I could hear a grumbling and crackling sound. I kept looking up at the adjacent mountain but couldn’t see any action and then all of a sudden a land slide started – it lasted about 10 minutes. It was a little disconcerting as our hike guidebook had warned about small segments of our hike that should be done with haste as they’re in known landslide areas – now I appreciated what we would be trying to avoid.
One of the interest points at Montenvers was the ice grotto. Each year a new ice cave is cut and sculptors come in and set up some ice sculptures – they have to maintain them daily because of the movements of the glacier.
I took the trail down to the start of the 400 plus steps. Was an interesting walk with markers for the change in the level of the glacier over the years. The glacier has receded 2.5km since 1852. I would defy anyone to see the markers for the glacier and say that global warming is a fallacy.
Down to the second platform and who should I be following (and what was he doing?) – the talker! Okay, I must admit I was starting to wonder if this was some weird life lesson I was experiencing!
This ice cave was set up a little differently to the ‘all you can drink in 30 minutes’ Glacierbar I went to in Argentina last year – the French are a little classier!
I had some time to kill and still had the Mont Blanc Express in my head as something I wanted to do so I decided to use the afternoon to travel to Martigny.
Before heading off Karyn and I did a quick comparison of what we’d be taking on the hike – I was suddenly getting worried that my ever increasing pile was not going to fit in my pack! Oh well, that was for tomorrow – I had to remind myself we were heading for civilised places that would no doubt have well equipped shops!!!
The train trip was as picturesque as the guide books had indicated it would be. There were lovely little villages perched up on the hills of the mountains, which left you wondering how they travelled to those spots. Waterfalls spilled down the mountains into the rivers below in the ravines.
I had thought it might be nice to have dinner in Martigny but I had forgotten to bring some Swiss francs and my travel card so instead quite happily settled with heading back in the daylight to appreciate the views from the other side of the train.
I loved the way it was announced that they’d be stopping only if you requested it – treated like a bus rather than a train. This applied even to the border stop of La Chatelarde! It was funny how the organisation of the train changed between the French and Swiss sides – the Swiss running their usual tight ship.
The ride back clearly indicated rain was shifting in (rain predicted for the next two days) – this was really going to test my protestations that it doesn’t rain when I hike!
Given Karyn was still feeling a little fragile from the recent illness we planned to take the valley route as our first stage, which was four hours hiking rather than the seven required if going up around the mountain. I was quite comfortable with the decision as I had no desire to hike the mountain on my own (Karyn had the good map reading skills) and I knew there was every chance I might have to call in an easier route at some point over the next 14 days.
The leg we had chosen was reputed to be the one that lets you know if you’ve done enough to prepare for the walk, i.e., should be feeling good after only a four hour hike. This would also be a good tester as to whether we were likely to hike at the paces estimated in our guide book and notes.
Off we go….