Tuesday 17 December 2019

The Tour du Mont Blanc 8: The Bovine Route

[Champex-Lac viewed from the La Breya chairlift]  
When walkers have a day off, you’d think that walking would be low on their to-do list. Not on this trip. While Julie took a proper day off – guiding for more than 7 days-in-a-row being against guide rules – we chose to walk back down to Champex-Lac for a proper look at the many and various attractions in and around the town. That included a coffee in town, a chairlift ride up to La Breya ski-field, a walk to the fascinating Flore-Alpe Botanical Garden, lots of walking in between, and finally the inevitable steep walk back up to our hotel. In short, we had a busman’s holiday.

[Edelweiss in the Flore-Alpe Gardens, Champex-Lac] 
Nevertheless we were well rested and ready to go by the time Julie returned the next morning. We had our familiar red bags waiting to be loaded, this time not onto the mule, but into the van that would transport them to our next stop. And then Julie told us about today’s walk. We wouldn’t be taking the steep and hazardous Fenêtre d’Arpette route, which would have led us from Relais d’Arpette up to the sharp peaks and “savage black cliffs” (as Jim Manthorpe’s guidebook puts it) at the head of Val d’Arpette. Some of the group had been keen to try this apparently spectacular haute route variante, especially in what looked to be fine, settled weather. But with just one guide, and some walkers carrying slight injuries, we had to stick together. The “softer” route via Bovine won out.

[Forest walking after Relais d'Arpette] 
So instead of ascending through rock and scree to 2600m, we sidled gently through forest before dropping down to about 1300m. However that’s where the gentle walking ended. We then began a long, steep ascent alongside the Durnand de la Jure stream, craning our necks to see which high point ahead we would have to attain. We had a short respite when the track sidled across the slope, but after crossing the stream, we began climbing again, this time north-west and towards the tree line.

[Ian and Ken on the steep climb near Durnand de la Jure]
Our lunchtime destination was the area known as Bovine, and we supposed we were close when we began seeing and hearing cows and their bells. The fortunate bovines had, for today at least, the most beautiful of meadows to feed in: lush, flower-dotted pasture, with plentiful water. I’m not sure whether cows appreciate views, but we certainly did. Of more interest to them, I suppose, was their drinking vessel: a repurposed enamel bath, fully topped up with clear mountain water. It was a little shocking to our Australian sensibilities to see water gushing into, and then out of, the old bath, and running away down the slope.

[Our group approaches Bovine] 
Shortly after this we turned a corner on the flank of the grassy slopes and began to approach a small stone barn that had been turned into a kitchen/cafe, complete with outdoor tables and umbrellas. Today they were selling biscuits, cakes, rolls, and hot and cold drinks. What this place would be like on a wild and wet day, we wouldn’t find out. But today it was superb: blue skies, verdant meadows, tiny puffs of white cloud, and views past happy cows, across a deep valley, to yet another range of high mountains.

[The refuge/cafe at Alpage de Bovine] 

[Happy cows and great scenery near Bovine] 
Despite the alpine meadow feel, and the plethora of mountains, we were now seeing more signs of population. In the valleys below us were roads, and a more densely settled network of towns and villages. After lunch we topped out at just over 2000m and then began a long descent through a forest of ancient larch towards the town of Trient. 

[One of the ancient larches on our descent]
As the afternoon wore on, we may have been tempted to feel a little weary, or perhaps slightly heroic, after all our walking. But on the way down we gained a little perspective when we passed a young mum with two little girls. The 4 or 5 year olds were walking happily and chattily, without the slightest complaint, up the steep track some kilometres from the start of the track.

As we wound our way down those few kilometres we began to hear traffic, and eventually we came to the road that joins Martigny, Trient and Vallorcine to the Chamonix valley beyond. We’d reached the Col de la Forclaz, and for once there was no final uphill push to our accommodation. Right beside the road was the Hotel Restaurant Col de la Forclaz, our more-than-comfortable home for the night.

[Relaxing at Col de la Forclaz] 

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