Filed under: running
Friday 11th September 2009
7:30 is starting to seem like a late start, which is bizarre since you look forward to holidays, when you can lie in almost every working day. We set off back along the road towards La Peuty and it looked like the first couple of miles would backtrack along yesterday’s route. However, we got to the first little bridge over the river and there was a UTMB sign on the road pointing across it and up the hill on a track withot a waymark … so we decided to follow it, assuming it would just follow the same route but above the road.
Unfortunately it then started to go completely the wrong direction and then we came to our first exit route at a waymark which pointed down through cow pasture to the normal route. We checked our maps, and the path we were on definitely went to the Col de Balme, but across the other side of the ridge.
After a bit of a climb up to the tiny refuge at les Tzeppes the path contoured round the hill. We were just about to enter some woodland when an older guy stopped for a moment, asked if we were going to La Balme, started up the hill on an unmarked path and said it was the way to La Balme. Unfortunately it took us a few minutes to consult the map before we followed him, and he then disappeared from sight just at a critical point. It wasn’t much of a path and it petered out as it went higher onto the ridge, we found a couple of cairns but we weren’t confident where we should go. Folklore abounds with stories of wraiths that lead travellers into the middle of swamps or over cliffs and I reckon we had just met one. We backtracked down to the path we had been on ( much trickier than climbing up had been), which was obvious both on the map and the ground and waymarked.
After a bit of a saunter round the hill, there was a short, steep climb to a saddle that lay between a rocky ridge and a little hill, both with crosses on the top (the ridge was signposted as the Croix de Fer). We did a quick climb up to the little hill (l’Arolette) without our packs and then had a leisurely lunch. It was a really pretty walk, opening up views to the valley above Chamonix, a very pleasant variante on the main route.
It was only a few minutes walk from there to the col, which is the border between France and Switzerland. It took a bit of time to find the right path from there, and initially it was over ski pistes so wasn’t particularly scenic. However, as soon as we started climbing again, the hillside was covered with myrtle bushes, still covered with sweet fruit and with their leaves starting to turn red, and with a lovely smell of juniper.
The path climbed reasonably gently to the top and the views of the big white mountain were fantastic. There was some dark clouds beginning to build but we hoped to get down before there was any rain. I phoned the Auberge de Boerne at Tre-le-Champ and we were offerred two beds in a room too low to stand. (I asked for two beds in French, the guardienne replied in French and then translated it into English when it was obvious I hadn’t understood. Phoning in French is OK as long as the person on the other end conforms to the expected script) We were only planning on sleeping there, not dancing, so that was fine and it meant that we didn’t have to rush down to find somewhere to stay.
It was a long, long descent, with frequent glimpses of le Tour in the valley, but never seeming to get any closer. The path had been ‘improved’ with logs across some of the rockiest bits, but for me it was like downhill stepping stones – really difficult to start again if you stop in the middle and I did falter a couple of times, which forced to me to descend on my backside, quite inelegantly. I hated every time we reached one of these planked sections but eventually we reached the main road and Tre-le-Champ was only 10 minutes away.
Quaint would be one word to describe the Aubege de Boerne. It’s old and rustic, about 50 yards and 200 years away from the main road.We were allocated a ‘room’ – I use the term loosely because it was literally 6 feet square and about 12 feet high with 3 bunks, two above each other and the third above and perpendicular to them. The guardienne said we had it to ourselves for the moment, but we might be joined by a third person if the refuge was full. The only window is onto the room next door and the doors open against each other, so you have to co-ordinate opening them. Everything is wooden, and it smells like old wood (basically if you wanted to design a firertep this would be a good model), but dinner was cooking and smelt good. The shower is also bijou but has a decent pressure and does the job.
A big group of French randonneurs arrived soon after but we still had the room to ourselves. Dinner was good but I felt really lousy and went to be before 8:30. The room got very stuffy and I felt claustrophobic, all night, on the edge of panic only partly alleviated by keeping the green LED on my headtorch on all night. Interesting place but the worst sleep I’ve had so far.
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