The Mont Blanc Massif is the tallest mountain range in western Europe. Mont Blanc itself towers over Europe at 4808m. The Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB) is traditionally done as an anti-clockwise circuit starting in Les Houches in the French Alps. The classic guide to the walk published by Cicerone breaks the walk up into 11 stages, but since some of the stages are short I made a plan to do the walk in 9 stages. I ended up doing it in 7…
Day 1 – Les Houches to Camping Pontet
My TMB started with an overnight train from Paris (Austerlitz) to St Germain Les Bains and then a local train to Les Houches, which is a tiny town when compared to Chamonix. After getting some food and trail snacks at the local Carrefour I made a reservation at Gite Michel Fagot for my return 9 days from now and stored my bag there. At the tourist office I made a reservation for tonight at Camping Pontet, which is about a 40 min walk past Les Contamines. So far so good…until I got to where the signpost opposite the Hotel Slalom was. The sign was pointing down towards the river instead of up into the mountains. This totally confused me and it wasn’t until a lovely elderly woman helped me out that I found my way. From here the path ambled upwards, providing a fine view of the town and valley below.
The highlight of the day was coming across two young businessmen running a snack bar from their front yard. They got really excited and rang a bell each time someone walked by. After stopping for an expensive coffee next to the rack rail station I carried on to the Hotel Bellevue to admire the views. It was at this point that I made the decision to take the variante via Refuge Miages. In hindsight, this was not a good idea. While the views were great, the extra 2-3 hours of walking on my first day took a toll on my body, particularly my feet. A nasty blister formed on the back of my left heel and one was starting to form on the back of my right heel. Refuge Miages would have been a great place to spend the night but I made do with having a simple but very tasty slice of blueberry pie before carrying on to Les Contamines, where I picked up some groceries, and onward to Camping Pontet. If I had known that the campsite had dinner for sale I wouldn’t have bothered to cook my own since there was a EUR 2 fee for using the kitchen. Although I found a EUR 10 note on the road near the campsite 🙂 The foam beds in the dortoir were for some reason too short for the bedframe but my body was so racked it didn’t matter.
Day 2 – Camping Pontet to Refuge des Mottets
Breakfast was available for EUR 6 but I had food already so I just got a coffee for EUR 1.4. At around 08:10 I started walking, but this time with a simple bandage on the left heel blister. The track started out fairly flat then started getting steep before opening up onto a small plateau of farmland. Before reaching the farmland the pain from the blister was becoming unbearable so I stopped to have a look. Blood had soaked through the bandage. This time I applied a gauze pad and medical tape to hold it in place but less than an hour later the pain was still present if not worse.
Before starting the ascent to Col du Bonhomme I tried wearing 2 pairs of socks on each foot. The first few steps were actually more painful than before but the extra cushioning took hold and made each step slightly less painful. For the rest of the day I was moving about as fast as a senior citizen with a bad knee, an oxygen tank, and a cane. I’m pretty sure it looked like I was limping. There was a small shelter atop the Col where I tried to have lunch but it was so cold up there I only had half my sandwich and sprinted out. I also tried drinking a bit of wine up there but that didn’t warm me up either. On the bright side, it was so cold that I couldn’t feel the pain from the blisters anymore.
It got even colder and ominous as I made my way to Col des Fours (2665m). The path wasn’t that steep but it felt longer than it really was because of the blisters. On the other side of the col the sun was out and shining and the path winded its way down through alpine country, abandoned farms, and finally down a 4×4 road to the Les Ville des Glaciers and then a gentle ascent to Refuge des Mottets. It was here that I found out about some special blister prevention stuff called Compeed and where I met John who was nice enough to give me 2 pieces of it. It’s like a second skin which goes over areas where blisters would form. des Mottets provided a beautiful and atmospheric view over the valley and was a great place to stay the night.