The breathtaking mountain landscapes of the Alps have drawn travellers, walkers and climbers since Monsieur Saussaure arrived in Chamonix in 1760 to make a botanical study of the area and offered a reward for the first man to scale Mont Blanc. I’ve been lucky enough to experience these mountain peaks and even get close to the top of them during my walks on the Tour de Mont Blanc, so I’m taking advantage of the Nature Photographer of the Year competition, being run by Sanctuary Retreats to share some of my photos with you from these trips.
Below is the photo of Lac Blanc I chose to enter into the competition – if you’re feeling kind you might like to go and vote for my entry here . But because one photo is never enough to tell the story of my walk through the Alps, I’ve included a few more for your enjoyment, together with the story behind each photo.
Lac Blanc is a milky blue glacial lake that sits high above the Chamonix Valley and while we reached it on our Tour de Mont Blanc Walk, it also makes an ideal day walk up from the valley. Most walkers miss out the hard work on the lower slopes and take the cable car up to Flegere, from where a couple of hours walking will bring you up to Lac Blanc, passing small pools on the way to reach this large, milky blue glacial lake that’s backed by mountains. Surprisingly for a place so remote, there’s a very nice mountain refuge there where you can stay the night, although we just had a coffee on the terrace with a slice of Tarte aux Mytilles that still remains in my memory. Read more about our walk to Lac Blanc.
The very first day on the first year that we walked part of the Tour de Mont Blanc we ended up at Refuge Bellechat sitting on the crest above the Chamonix Valley. Looking back, the walk up from Les Houches seems pretty tame but at the time it seemed like the longest uphill walk in the world. Waking up the next morning, we took our cafe au lait out onto the terrace and took in the glorious views of Mont Blanc – we were hooked!
Chamonix is a town that we got to know pretty well, as it was often the start or end of our walk. On our first year we took the small mountain railway ‘Chemin de fer du Montenvers’ up to the Mer de Glace which was my first experience of getting close up to a glacier. Part of me was slightly disappointed that the glacier looked so grubby and grey with all the morraine that it carries along with it as it grinds through the valley. Every year they carve an ice cave into the glacier which you can walk into and admire the coloured lights and ice sculptures – pretty cool.
Champex Lac was where we ended one year and started again the next and this high altitude lakeside village makes a great base if you’d like to do some day walks around the area. There’s a path that runs right around the lake which only takes about 30 minutes to walk and if you do, you’ll get this same view of the lake reflecting like a mirror the wooded slopes and peaks in the distance.
One of the nicest mountain refuges we stayed at on our Tour de Mont Blanc circuit was Rifugio Bonatti, on the Italian side, named for the famous Italian climber Walter Bonatti. After dinner we went outside on the terrace to watch as the setting sun bathed the peak of Mont Blanc in the distance, turning it white and gold, until the sun slipped behind the mountain and it was if someone had suddenly switched off the light.
In the Alps, when the sun’s shining and the sky is blue, it’s the mountain peaks that are the showstoppers in the landscape. However as you walk hour after hour (with more and more frequent stops if you’re me) your eye becomes tuned in to the more subtle beauty of the alpine flowers beside the path. In September there weren’t so many of them, so when I spotted a spot of colour I would take the time to capture it in a photo. Growing on the meagre soil of the Alps there is nothing showy about these plants, they take their chance and snatch their time in the sun ….
… I don’t know what these plants were called but they made a soft, fluffy cotton ball in the meadow. There must have been something that suited them in the soil as there were whole swathes of them across the hillside …
… and here are the pretty purple flowers that we saw growing everywhere in the autumn. In this case they frame the view back towards Courmayeur down in the valley from where we climbed up at the start of this year’s walk.
What is a beautiful landscape if you have no time to sit and enjoy it? This was one of the reasons that my friend Julia and I decided to take the Tour de Mont Blanc in stages, walking for 3 or 4 days each year, rather than trying to complete it in one exhausting circuit of 12 days. We also planned the distances carefully for each day so that we didn’t have to walk for more than about 6 hours, leaving us time to have a leisurely lunch, take lots of photos (in my case) or just stop to admire the view. The picture below is one of my favourite from the whole trip, taken at the top of the high pass of Grand Col Ferret that forms the border between Switzerland and Italy. While I was busy taking photos, Julia was just soaking up the sun and mountain scenery, storing it away as a memory to bring out on dull days back in Bristol.
The counterpart of Grand Col Ferret is the high pass of Col de la Seigne which at over 2500m takes you from Italy into France and gives another fantastic viewpoint down the valley. The rock cairn marks the perfect point to sit and admire the view back from the route that we’d just climbed up from Rifugio Elizabetta. I learned later that this area had been the scene of fighting between the Alpiniste troops on the Italian and French sides during the Second World War, while now we can walk from one country to the next with not even a border post.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my tour of the mountain landscapes on the Tour de Mont Blanc. If you have some wonderful landscape or wildlife photos to share, you may like to enter the Nature Photographer of the Year Facebook Competition and you could win a Go-Pro Hero3 White edition camera – you can enter here . If you’re keen on wildlife, do take a look at the Sanctuary Retreats Galapagos Page for inspiration – a destination that I’d love to visit.
Once again I thank you for your vote .
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