Day 6 – Relais D’Arpette to Le Tour
After an outstanding breakfast at Relais D’Arpette, we headed for Fenetre Arpette (2665m). The track started off at a relatively gentle slope but soon started ascending sharply. Stepping carefully across snow traverses, skipping across boulder fields, and treading up the switchbacks of the track, I finally reached the top of the mountain pass. Exhausted and happy to be done with it, I stopped to have the takeaway sandwich purchased from the refuge, take some snaps with John, then proceeded down the steep path to the bottom of the valley. On this particular day, we passed or crossed paths with several large trekking groups. All of them were informed of the etiquette of letting faster walkers pass but unfortunately a few solo walkers we came across were not as well versed and pushed on without even looking up, in one case almost leading to a collision.
After a long and seemingly never-ending descent we reached the popular Chalet du Glacier Buvette. We stopped for another meal there before carrying on up to Refuge Les Grandes. The path from the valley floor to the refuge ascended 600m. The weather was sunny and warm so the way to the top was a very sweaty one. As usual, John beat me to the refuge, this time by 15 minutes. He’s a machine! We refilled our water bottles, took a few snaps, then carried on to Col de Balme. According to some other trekkers we met, the refuge there is said to be haunted by a witch. I guess we’d find out soon enough…
After walking down a bit to retrieve my water bottles I walked back up onto the main path to rejoin John and we reached Col de Balme. Strangely enough, there wasn’t a single trekker at the refuge. It was a bit dark and unwelcoming but after what just happened I just wanted to stop for the day. But for some strange reason they didn’t allow camping so we carried on to Le Tour. The explanation was that since we were still in Switzerland it wasn’t allowed.The walk to de Balme was fairly short but consisted of an undulating path which included one tricky snow traverse.
As we approached one guy was attempting to cross it and nearly made it but slipped and slid down the face of it (about 20 metres). He slid down slowly and came to a complete stop once he reached the gravelly bottom. John made it across slowly and with the help of his trekking pole. I misheard him when he yelled over from the other side “don’t do it!” and made an attempt at the crossing. About 5 steps in I realized that it was far too dangerous and tried to step back but it was too late. I was on the especially steep part of the mountain face and slid down at very high speed. When I hit the bottom it wasn’t a gentle stop; I tumbled over one or two times before landing on my bum. After catching my breath, a quick check revealed that I luckily hadn’t broken any bones and merely had a few cuts and scrapes. I was very lucky.
It was a quick 45 minute descent to Le Tour and we settled into the CAF refuge there. It was clean, well-run, and full of trekkers and climbers. Would highly recommend it. Dinner, breakfast and camping cost about EUR 22. Demi-pensione in the dortoir cost about EUR 39. All in all, it was a good deal. We had a great dinner, some wine, and good company.
Day 7 – Le Tour to Les Houches
From Le Tour to Le Brevent we took a series of variantes that saved us from having to descend to the valley floor. Our first stop was at L’Index where we stopped to have lunch. There was a picnic table and bench that suited us perfectly and I thoroughly enjoyed my takeaway lunch from the refuge in Le Tour. The only downside to this spot, however, was that there was no toilet nor a place to get water.
After a hearty breakfast, we set off for Lac Blanc. After about a 30 minute descent we reached Tre-le-Champ and from here it was all uphill to Lac Blanc. We reached some very steep areas where we had to climb metal ladders or traverse narrow rock faces with the help of metal railings to hold on to. It wasn’t exactly nerve-racking but I’m sure some people felt uneasy about it. After a couple of hours we reached our destination and stopped for a cup of tea. The view of Mont Blanc from here is truly amazing and was well worth the detour.
After lunch we accidentally took a double variante and ended up on a narrow high path that involved some serious rock scrambling that honestly made me feel a bit uncomfortable mainly due to the sheer drop if I made a mistake. I took my sweet time and made it through that section and we linked back up to the main track. It wasn’t anything ridiculously dangerous but since I didn’t have any ropes or equipment just didn’t feel at ease. Back on the main track we went up and down past a few cols before finally reached Le Brevent. Along the way we came across a baby and mother Ibex. That was pretty cool.
At Le Brevent, they were just closing up the restaurant and cable car. Unfortunately for us they didn’t have any potable water so we had to pay EUR 3 for a 500ml bottle of water. We were running very low and still had about an hour to go so we had no choice but to cough up the money. We took a couple of pics at the top to commemorate John’s completion of the TMB and then descended down to Refuge Bellachat. I was 100% ready to settle in after a long day but unfortunately the refuge was full!! They had no space for me at all so I had to carry on to Les Houches, another 2.5 hours down. On the bright side, there was a toilet at the refuge (I really had to go) but much to my chagrin it was a squat toilet. Using a squat toilet to poop after 8 hours of hiking was probably the hardest part of the TMB.
I was told I had to hurry down cause the manager of Gite Michel Fagot in Les Houches was waiting for me to arrive before he left for the day. I dashed out of Bellachat without looking at the signs and about 45 min later I realized I had gone the wrong way. The path I took was leading me straight down towards Chamonix but I didn’t have the time nor energy to go back up and get on the right path. I tried to go west as much as I could and ended up in Les Bossons and conveniently found an easy path along the river Arve to Les Houches. After an extremely long day, I finally reached Les Houches around 21:00, checked in, showered, inhaled a pizza, and passed out. TMB fini!