The first of many BIG days…
So, because we’re doing what should be an 11 day trek (which would have a minimum of 2 rest days in it) in 10 days (with no rest days), it was inevitable that things were going to be ‘a little tough’. And that’s fine… to a point. But today was an absolute killer. I can’t remember if I said yesterday was hard – to be honest my brain has gone a bit to mush I’m so tired – but if I did then today was much harder.
We were away late anyway as the hotel we stayed in didn’t serve breakfast until 7.45am, which meant we weren’t away until 8.30am. It was a little chilly, but we soon warmed up by setting a brisk pace… that was until we hit the first ‘wall’ of rock that was to be the beginning of many many ‘vertical’ climbs. I took a photo of it as we started & it just looks sheer.
Within minutes my heart was in my mouth, I was drenched with sweat, my legs were burning, my breath was coming out in great big gusts… it was safe to say I was a mess. I prayed… & prayed… & prayed… & slowly I managed to get some sort of grip of myself & moderated myself a bit, but it really was hard.
We started off at 1167m & over the next 5.5 hours climbed to a height of 2483m at Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. I don’t know what that ratio is, but I tell ya, I’m amazed we got there. It was just up, & up, & up, followed by some more up!
At times we were walking precipice edges, climbing rock faces over glacier rivers, boulder hopping… it was great, but taxing with zero energy!
So we reached ‘the peak’ for the day, at the Col, & because we were on a bit of a tight deadline at our destination refuge we decided not to do the ‘alternative route’ which would have taken more time (& energy!) neither of which we had, so we decided to just head onward on the basic route. And it was here that a testing & difficult day got worse…
Now I know that many of you expressed concern that we’re going to self navigate this route around Mont Blanc. And I know I worked hard to assure that although the Cub Scouts, Sea Sounts & Territorial Army were many many years ago for me, I would be fine. I think I may even have used the words “what’s the worst that could happen..?”. Well, it happened. We took a wrong turn & went right instead of left.
And you know that illustration that is sometimes used where if you make a small mistake at the start of a path, if you stay on it you just get further & further away from where you began? Well, that.
Alarms bells should have rung when we found ourselves, yet again, gaining altitude. When we should have been heading down. But after a while we levelled out & found ourselves ridge walking along a really really high mountain, with quite a strong wind coming at us, with a sheer drop either side… but we still thought we were OK. Then – finally – we started to descend. This took a while as we were seriously high (not on drugs obvs, but I probably would have gone for some at that point!).
Eventually we landed on level ground. I walked over to the sign at the bottom & my heart just sank. I got out my guide book just to be sure but nope, nothing on the signpost was in my book. I waited until Mike caught me up, then we got the map out & looked at that… & the places on the signpost were off our map. To say that our rear ends were like rabbits noses would be an understatement, but there was NO WAY we were going back up that mountain to find the correct path. So we took a leaf out of Churchill’s book & just buggered on.
I had (not much but) more energy in my legs than Mike at this point, so I volunteered to go on ahead to see what I could find. Mike followed & said he would try & get help if he saw someone.
Mike did in fact see someone, walking behind him shortly after I’d gone. A she. Ordinarily, the thing to do would be to approach said person & ask for assistance. Mike, however, decided to perform a series of gymnastic manoeuvres before her, consisting of a cartwheel, a forward roll & some sort of star jump. She seemed unimpressed & after asking him if he was alright proceeded to walk on. After brushing himself down Mike duly followed.
It was shortly after this that I came across her myself as we she arrived at an empty lodge a little further on, which I had spotted, to try & get help. Upon seeing her I took the approach of asking for her help. Turns out this was far more effective than Mike’s gymnastics & a plan started to form. While we were talking Mike arrived & I introduced us. Her name was Lucy & she said she & Mike had already met. Mike reddened…
So, with the help of Lucy’s map, we navigated our way nearer & nearer to actual living people instead of the cows of the fields that had been our only friends for the last 2 hours.
We arrived at – I can’t even remember it’s name I was so exhausted – where Lucy’s friends had arranged to meet her to drive her back home after her walk. Funnily enough, she had been at exactly the same place where we had gone wrong in the first place, visiting friends. Our paths just crossed at the perfect junction of time. She literally was a God send I’m sure of it. Without her, who knows where we would have ended up. Night was not far as the sun was fast going down.
Her friend very kindly offered to drive us to our refuge, which after some head scratching they worked out was about 25 minutes drive away. After an essential pint of beer, we headed off.
Although an hour & fifteen minutes late for dinner at the lodge, they had kept us some aside for us & we were able to eat. Turns out our adventure was not the first they’ve seen through this tour company, so we did feel a little vindicated… but it was very tenuous! A lesson well learnt & not one we look to repeat.
The dinner, by the way, was lovely. The soup had all sorts of vegetables & beans & things in it. So we had a very tuneful night as it turned out…
The refuge was a great place. The first refuge we’ve stayed in. A bit like a cattle market & quite a long way out my comfort zone with shared dorms resembling those places where chickens sit in rows on shelves laying eggs (coop?), but we managed to bag a room, so we’ve managed to put that experience off until tomorrow!
Breakfast in the morning was 6.30am, which bearing in mind we’re a hour ahead of the U.K. means we actually breakfasted at 5.30am… my body just can’t work out what’s happening!
So, in the absence of wifi this is being posted a day late, but hope to have tomorrow’s up shortly too.
I did a panoramic pic yesterday on FaceBook (it’s so cool how that works) so I’ve included one for you below, plus the Mont Blanc route if you want to follow us.
We cross over in to Italy tomorrow & get some great views of Mont Blanc itself… can’t wait!