Tour du Mont Blanc Day 2: Les Contamines to Refuge des Mottets – Day 2 - 7/12/16 - 17.4 Miles
“It could be that the purpose of [this hike] is only to serve as a warning to others.” ~Ashleigh Brilliant
Val Montjoie and the looming Aiguelle de la Pennaz
Thunderstorms rolled through the night as I lay in my bunk at Chalet de CAF. Hikers were subdued during a cold breakfast of cereal, juice and bread with (delicious) butter. Jim and I collected our bag lunches, laced up our boots, shouldered our packs and departed before 7:30 a.m. We were still indecisive about hiking the high route, looking to get the pulse of other hikers along the way.
Le Bon Nant was looking swollen to full bank and opaque gray with glacier silt, misty, and the sky was a dull gray too
Le Bon Nant
The first kilometer was easy, flat, no rain, stopping several times for the usual comfort adjustments, coat on/off, hood up/down, pants legs on/off.
Notre Dame de la Gorge
From here we were shocked into climbing mode, finding that our legs were not quite over yesterday’s exertion. The TMB rose steeply up through a wooded ravine, then popped us out into a beautiful, misty valley.
A steady drizzling rain set in and pack covers appeared. At the Refuge Nan Borrant more hikers joined the flow, literally, up the valley.
As the rain intensified, we huddled under the eaves to eat a Clif bar and pull on rain pants over our hiking shorts.
Reminiscent of the memorial to hiker Ido Keinan on Iceland’s Laugavegurrin trek.
The next significant waypoint was the Col du Bonhomme, which we couldn’t see in the clouds, and our only motivation was in our imaginations. I stowed my camera deep in my pack and relied on Jim’s smart phone camera to record our progress. The temperature dropped sharply and small snow fields appeared, followed by larger snow fields, now slushy and slippery. We crossed gushing big streams and newly formed rivulets flowing alongside and over the trail. I followed a little old French fellow who was slowly but carefully and methodically choosing a good path over the snow.
After just a few minutes of wind chill factor, Jim and I pushed on, thinking that the worst was behind us. It was not.
Hypothermia is possible in much better conditions than we were experiencing. At the next saddle, Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, was the decision point for taking the high route over Col des Fours. At the sign for the turn, other trekkers were stopping, looking, then continuing on the lower route. Jim and I didn’t even slow down: we were aiming for the Refuge five minutes ahead on the lower route.
Hot chocolate would have sold for any price at the snack bar. We ate our lunch that we had carried all that way, but I had little appetite. Over an hour’s time we slowly warmed up to almost normal, but every minute spent sitting delayed arrival at our final destination – which was now 2 hours farther away since we were bypassing the high route. Whose idea was it to hike all the way to Les Mottets? Oh, that would be me…
When we looked up from our feet the view, even in these conditions, was magnificent.
What is our next waypoint? Le Chapieux, where reasonable people spend their second night on the TMB. But not us. At the tiny visitor center (bathrooms!) we read signage about a shuttle bus to Refuge les Mottets and I asked the staff person about the timing versus the distance walking. I was fast convincing myself to take the bus, but Jim coached me to “go for it and hike the last 5 km." The sun was coming out!
Bridge crossing Torrent de Glaciers
The clearing skies around Mont Jondu
Sunshine, however, didn’t disguise the uphill we still faced (an additional 900-foot gain) and I struggled mightily, whining, muttering to myself and taking it out on Jim, even though I was the master planner. With my lower lip protruding, I sat down beside the trail to rest. Jim coaxed me with a Twix bar, and eating just that little something gave me a bit of energy to pull it together for the last kilometer.
Refuge les Mottets
Refuge les Mottets dormitory (we paid 56€ per person half-board in a four-person room, bathroom and showers down the hall)
We arrived at 6:45 p.m., just 15 minutes until dinner, no time to unpack or hang out clothes to dry, just remove boots and find assigned seats in the crowded common room.
Digging into the first course of bean and vegetable soup, then lamb stew, more veggies, bread and butter, we deconstructed the day (bad weather, still better than a day at work) and tomorrow’s forecast (better).
I didn’t linger over the crème brulee, instead went outside to spread some clothes out in the fading light. I had no desire to take a shower, just get a little bit organized (mentally and literally). Jim and I shared a four-person room with two men from Holland (not the same ones we met at dinner), congenial but also focused on their preparations for the next day.
Was the worst behind us? What awaits? I was as tired as I’d ever been and eight days more seemed impossible. Best to break it down into one day at a time. Meanwhile, another night of light sleep, another thunderstorm rolling through.
Miles: 17.4 Elevation Gain: 5,997 feet Elevation Loss: 3,652 feet
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.” ~Nelson Mandela