Day 2 on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Refuge de Bellachat to Flégère
Day 2 of our walk along the Tour de Mont Blanc path above Chamonix started with breakfast on the sunny terrace of Refuge de Bellachat with the sun peeping over the top of the Mont Blanc range opposite and the Chamonix valley below in shadow. You can read about Day 1 from Les Houches to Refuge de Bellachat here.
Our breakfast consisted of brown country bread (the sort the French eat when they can’t get their fresh-baked baguette from the local boulangerie), packets of jam and butter and large bowls of coffee. As we’d decided to break the standard TMB stage in two, we took our time, waiting for everyone else to leave and then climbed up behind the Refuge towards the high peak of Brévent. I was surprised to notice that the low stone walls I’d observed close to the Refuge now enclosed a scattering of two-man tents of guests who’d opted to camp rather than stay inside the Refuge – rather them than me!
I’d already made a little walk the previous evening to scout out the Lac du Brévent and a couple of other small pools in between the craggy rocks and now we found that the TMB route passed them again. The way was rocky and spare and we passed only a few sheep with bells around their necks, until we were closer to Brévent and bumped into an English couple who stopped to chat about the weather (what else!) agreeing that August had been terrible and that September was definitely the best time to come.
As we approached the Brévent peak where the cable car ascends from the Plan Praz halfway station below, we noticed that the type of people we passed were noticeably different from those we’d met so far. The hard-core TMB walkers were normally dressed in high performace mountain clothing with full 35L or 50L rucksacks. Now the walkers were anything from motorbikers in their leathers and heavy boots, to English teenagers with patterned bermudas and oversized skate trainers, with the I-pods plugged into their ears. The Chamonix valley is a popular holiday area in summer and many come up in the cable car to admire the view of Mont Blanc before returning the same way, or in the case of the keener walkers, to walk back down to the valley or the next cable car station. We had a coffee in the café that jutted over the precipice, with only a glass screen between us and the panoramic view.
Then we walked back down to where two paths had diverged 20 mins below the summit just by a small pool. It was only when we consulted the guidebook more closely that we realised we should have taken another path immediately below the summit. After debating for a while we agreed here was nothing for it but to take another steep climb back up to the peak again – what a low point! Halfway up I passed some American teenagers bounding down towards us from the cable car. ‘Perhaps we should get some of those mountain stick things’ said one to her friend, then glancing at me she added ’ but even the people who’ve got them look exhausted!’
I was extremely pleased when we finally reached the right turning below the summit and could start going downhill again rather than up. We had two choices from here – either to follow the recommended TMB route or to follow a wide stony ski-piste track down to the Plan Praz lift station. As the guidebook had mentioned narrow, precipitous stretches with metal steps and rails on the TMB route, we decided to take the easier option after our exhausting double ascent. We passed rock climbers hanging from the cliffs and walked the open, winding trail under the whirr of the cable car going up and down. At the bottom station of Plan Praz we found an open grassy area where brightly coloured paragliders were taking off and sat for a while with our boots off on the café terrace to soak up the sunshine.
After a tiny but expensive ice cream (nothing is cheap in the Chamonix valley) we finally set of for a further 2 hours walking to Flégère, through the forest, skirting the side of the mountain and through open meadows for that Heidi moment. Soon after we passed through a rocky couloir with warning signs not to linger for danger of rockfalls and then over the top for a tantalising glimpse of the Refuge la Flégère on the ridge beyond. 30 minutes more on the narrow wooded path and we reached Refuge al Flégère set just below another Cable Car station. This Refuge was much larger than Bellachat and had separate 6-people dorms with proper bunk-beds and (oh bliss!) hot showers. After the even more basic accommodation at Refuge du Bellachat it seemed like 5 star luxury!
The Refuge looked as if it had originally been more of a lodge for walkers and ski-ers, but we were told that you could only stay there in summer, as it was leased in the winter to Club Med, who used it as a base for lunchtime meals for their guests. Over our supper of tartiflette and chocolate mousse, we debated what to do the next day – whether to go back down to the valley and ascend to the Aiguille du Midi on the other side or to keep the high ground and venture further and higher to Lac Blanc. The reports of the glacial lake of Lac Blanc as a ‘must see’ stop for walkers decided it for us – I’ll be telling you about our walk there the next day very soon…
Resources for those walking the Tour de Mont Blanc
We used the Cicerone Tour of Mont Blanc guide by Kev Reynolds – we found it to be an excellent guide for both the clockwise and anti-clockwise route with detailed route guide, maps, accommodation information and points of interest along the route.
The cost of staying at Refuge la Flégère was €47 per person for dinner, bed and breakfast (and hot showers) and bookings can be made by e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 04 50 55 85 88 . It has 66 dortoir places and is also open in the day for refreshments of drinks and light meals. To avoid disppointment and a long walk, you should book your place in all refuges but can normally do so a day or two before, or from the previous refuge.
In the Chamonix valley we stayed at the modern, stylish, budget boutique Hotel Slalom that is perfectly placed in Les Houches for summer walking opposite the start of the anti-clockwise TMB route and close to the ski lifts for winter ski-ing. Double rooms in the summer season €86-99 plus €10 breakfast. Check for the best hotel prices in Chamonix and book here.
We booked our transfer from Geneva airport to Les Houches through Chamexpress and found them to run an extremely efficient airport to hotel service – cost was €25 + tax per person each way.
The walkingthetmb website has useful information to help you plan and prepare for your Tour de Mont Blanc walk, with a packing list and some links to other people’s photographs and on-line diaries to inspire you.
Other articles from our mini Tour de Mont Blanc