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My Tour de Mont Blanc diary Day 2 – Col de Balme to Champex

We awoke to bright sunshine and blue skies at Refuge Col de Balme and the dramas of the day before, our exhausting walk and the encounter with a herd of sharp-horned mountain cattle, were all but forgotten. Rather than take the route to Trient as advised by our TMB guidebook, both the Monsieur from the Refuge and the other walkers there strongly advised us to take a slightly different route to Col de la Forclaz which they assured us would be shorter and easier. We skirted around the edge of the mountian keeping the height, with views onto the rooftops of Trient in the valley below.

Refuge Col de Balme on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Refuge Col de Balme on the Tour de Mont Blanc

After a couple of hours we came around the bend and caught sight of the Glacier du Trient in front of us, hanging above the valley. From here the path ran downhill, past another small refuge where the Swiss flag was flying to confirm that we had crossed the border into Switzerland.

It was tempting to lie in the sun or buy a drink on the terrace but we decided that instead we would stop when we reached the valley, conscious that we had a long walk ahead to reach Champex. We zig-zagged downhill through the forest beneath a cliff of rock where there were chains attached to the rock to help us get down safely. We could hear the rushing water from the river at the valley bottom and as we descended we could also see the cafe beside the river that we assumed would be the hotel at Col de la Forclaz. We had already been walking for 3 hours but I was slightly suspicious that I could not see the road that was marked on the map. On reaching the river we crossed the bridge and consulting the map again I realised that we were at Chalet du Glacier, with a sign indicating a further 50 mins walk to Col de la Forclaz.

Glacier du Trient on the Tour de Mont Blanc

Glacier du Trient on the Tour de Mont Blanc

My friend Julia had been finding the going tough as she was suffering from the altitude, and so we collapsed in the shade by the cafe with a cool drink to assess our options. As it was nearly 2pm we realised that a further 5 hours walk to Champex would be impossible and that our best option was to get to Champex by public transport. After a picnic lunch we set off in the direction of Col de la Forclaz along the flat path, with Sunday afternoon walkers passing us, heading for the picnic spot beside the river that we had just left.

On reaching the bar beside the busy main road at Col de la Forclaz, we consulted the bus timetable and established that the next bus to the rail station at Martigny would not pass by until 6pm, which would be too late to make our connections to Champex. We enquired at the hotel but were told that a taxi to Martigny would cost us 75 Swiss Francs, and so we decided that there was nothing for it but to hitch a lift to Martigny.

Walking down to Chalet du Glacier near Trient

Walking down to Chalet du Glacier near Trient

This was a completely alien concept to me, never having hitch hiked, but my friend Julia was an old hand from her student days. We stood at the edge the car park, while Julia confidently stuck out her thumb at any likely cars, while I tried to fade into the background from embarrassment. Within a few minutes a car pulled over, a Frenchman with his two teenage daughters in the car. As Julia asked him if he might give us a lift to Martigny, he looked rather taken aback, and I wondered afterwards whether he had just pulled over to take a photo of the view. Nevertheless he agreed to give us a lift and on the way we chatted amiably to him and his daughters about their visits to their family in the area and how he had spent some time in Norwich as a student to improve his English.

Chalet du Glacier near Trient

Chalet du Glacier near Trient

River below Glacier du Trient

River below Glacier du Trient

After being dropped at Martigny station we joined the very efficient Swiss transport system and two changes later, by train and then bus, we reached Champex Lac at 7pm in the evening – probably not much earlier than if we had walked it, but a lot more relaxed. It was a relief to arrive at Chalet Bon Abri, where our first sight was of a tipi in the flower-filled garden where a couple of campers were playing table tennis on the outdoor table. As soon as we entered, we realised that this was a very different proposition to the basic facilities at Refuge Col de Balme from the night before.

Waiting for the train at Martigny

Waiting for the train at Martigny

 

We found ourselves in a traditionally built Swiss chalet that felt modern and stylish with a dining room and bar at the front and a reception around the back where we could take off our rucksacks and boots. We put on the plastic clogs provided and left our boots in the basement, then Madame showed us to our dorm room with cheerful red checked duvets. As dinner was about to be served we went down straight away for homemade soup and chicken in a wine sauce, while we examined the map and planned next year’s leg to continue on the Tour de Mont Blanc to Courmayeur.

Chalet Bon Abri Champex en Haut

Chalet Bon Abri Champex en Haut

The next morning we took a short walk around the lake at Champex and chilled out in a cafe until it was time to take the bus and train back to Chamonix where we had started 3 days before. This small resort town was altogether more tame than the high mountain paths we had been on, and most of the visitors appears to be retirees taking the mountain air without an strenuous exertion.

Champex Lac

Champex Lac

The lesson we had learned was that next year each day’s walk would need to be shorter, with plenty of time for resting our legs and admiring the mountain scenery. However efficient the public transport system, we would much rather be high in the mountains with views of glaciers and toy-town villages in the valley and kidding ourselves that we were real Tour de Mont Blanc walkers.

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More Tour de Mont Blanc Tales

A Tale of Two Refuges – on the Tour de Mont Blanc (2011)
My Tour de Mont Blanc Diary Day 1 – Flegere to Refuge Col de Balme (2011)
Video diary – walking the Tour de Mont Blanc above Chamonix (2010)

Resources for those walking the Tour de Mont Blanc

On the first night of our walk we stayed at Refuge Col de Balme (Tel 04 50 54 02 33) and the cost was around €40 per person with dinner and breakfast in a 6 bed dorm room. On our second night we stayed at Gite Bon Abri at Champex-de’en-Haut, which we highly recommend, with private rooms and dorm rooms. The cost was around CHFR 76 per person with dinner and breakfast in a 6 bed dorm room and the Gite may be booked in advance by e-mail.

For women’s mountain clothing I used Ellis Brigham who have a wide range of waterproof jackets, trousers and other walking gear you might need for a trek on the mountains.

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.

At the start and end of our walk, 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. Double rooms in the summer season €86-99 plus €10 breakfast. Check for the best hotel prices in Switzerland 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 €28 + tax per person each way.

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Debbie @ European Travelista
    September 13, 2011 at 4:20 am

    I would love to spend some time hiking around this area too. I like your suggestion to walk less allowing for more time soaking in the environs.
    Debbie @ European Travelista´s last blog post ..European Soccer Fans in Budapest

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      September 13, 2011 at 8:37 am

      Yes, we misjudged the distances on this last trip and next time plan to allow more time for each day’s walk so we’re not under pressure

  • Reply
    Video diary - Tour de Mont Blanc | Heather on her travels
    October 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm

    […] Read my account of Day 2 – Col de Balme to Champex Champex Lac […]

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    What to wear for a trek in the mountains - on the Tour de Mont Blanc | Heather on her travels
    October 30, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    […] What I packed for my mini Tour de Mont Blanc 2010 – video My second year on the Tour de Mont Blanc – video diary 2011 Tour de Mont Blanc 2011 Day 2 – Col de Balme to Champex […]

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    Podcast about the Tour de Mont Blanc | Heather on her travels
    March 11, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    […] At Col de la Forclaz, we investigated public transport options and found there was a train from Martigny but unfortunately the bus to take us there would not come for another 2 hours. We looked into taxis but were told they would cost ¢70, so in the end we decided to hitch hike which I had never done in my life. We stuck out our thumbs and within 5 minutes a Frenchman stopped with his teenage daughters at the back and dropped us to the station at Martigny where we could get 2 trains and a bus to reach Champex by evening. We realised that the times given in guidebook were underestimated and so we will make sure we plan for shorter legs for next year. Read my diary of Day 2 on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Col de Balme to Champex. […]

  • Reply
    The Tour de Mont Blanc Diaries - Champex Lac to Ferret and a walk in the woods | Heather on her travels
    October 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    […] Tour de Mont Blanc adventures from last yearWalking on the Tour de Mont Blanc – Podcast My Tour de Mont Blanc diary Day 2 – Col de Balme to Champex My second year on the Tour de Mont Blanc – video diary 2011 Resources for the Tour de Mont […]

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    A tale of two refuges on the Tour de Mont Blanc | Heather on her travels
    December 13, 2012 at 3:01 am

    […] My guest post at Roaming tales about last year’s walk – Hiking the Tour de Mont Blanc My second year on the Tour de Mont Blanc – video diary 2011 My Tour de Mont Blanc diary Day 2 – Col de Balme to Champex […]

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