Friday 20 December 2019

The Tour du Mont Blanc 9: Paying Attention

Our start from Col de la Forclaz was a relaxed one. We’d chosen not to walk until the bus transporting Betty to our next stop had arrived. A ride was necessary because Betty had been limping badly, and today (again) involved a lot of climbing. But first we had to descend from the col towards the town of Trient, which we bypassed after crossing a pedestrian bridge over a main road.

[Le Peuty Valley]  
We paused at the small Refuge le Peuty, a few buildings and a yurt set in a verdant valley surrounded by small farms. We’d dropped almost 250m to Le Peuty, but promptly had to make that up times three. As we climbed out of the valley, through a mix of meadows and forest, our views gradually became more expansive. Behind us loomed the impressive Plateau du Trient, with its large icefield and glaciers, and dark peaks reaching to more than 3500m.

[Climbing, with Plateau du Trient behind] 
The climbing was slow and steep, but after 8+ days of this, our legs were surely growing accustomed to it. And the usual signs of progress – a thinning of trees, and a greater expanse of pasture – helped us along. 

[Looking back towards the Plateau du Trient] 
In one meadow we passed close to a massive black bovine, which we initially took to be a bull. A closer anatomical inspection showed it was a female. Whether it’s true that cows are less aggressive than bulls, I don’t know. But this one seemed outright friendly, coming right up to the fence when I stopped to photograph her. And after the photoshoot was done, she licked my offered hand with her strong, raspy tongue. She may have liked the salt on it, though I’m not so sure about the sunscreen.

[The Big Friendly Cow] 
And the sunscreen was needed up here today. A brilliant blue sky was broken only by a few contrails and some wispy, peak-hugging clouds. In a larch forest near Les Tseppes we paused for a drink and snack, then sidled through meadows beneath the steep slopes around Croix de Fer and the Col de Balme

[Ascending towards Les Tseppes] 

[A short break near Les Tseppes] 
Across the valley were yet more sharp peaks, including the snow-spattered Les Dents Blanche. Beneath that, at about the same altitude as we were walking, we could see the reservoir of Lac Émosson, part of a hydro-electric scheme whose power is shared by both Switzerland and France. Given the number of hydro schemes in the Alps, perhaps that water running out of the bath/cattle trough yesterday wouldn’t be wasted after all.

[Ian and me across from Lac Emosson] 
For lunch we stopped on an elevated knoll with vast views, across to Lac Émosson and the mountains beyond it, and right around to the Massif des Aiguille Rouges. If all went well, we’d be walking beneath that range tomorrow. 

[Lunch on our knoll with a view] 
But for that to happen, we had to finish today, and we weren’t sure how straightforward that would be.  Over lunch we’d watched a large flock of sheep being taken down the slope through a small pass. They’d climbed steeply up to the pinch-point before tumbling down the other side, flowing like sand through a crooked hourglass. It looked narrow and difficult, and if it was hard for sheep, how would it be for us?

[A flock of sheep on the move] 
For once the TMB was kind to us. Our track, while steep, avoided that sheep track, instead executing a series of elegant switchbacks through the sloping meadow. Just as I was thinking how good parts of the track would be on a mountain bike, voices from behind called a warning. And through came some mountain bikers, hooting as they jumped across some drainage ditches and slalomed down the track.

[Looping down towards Vallorcine] 
We eventually re-entered forest, and began a long trudge down towards the town of Vallorcine. That town felt quite far enough, but the TMB now returned to its hard-taskmaster mode. There was still another 2km to walk, uphill, past a pub heaving with drinkers (but no time for us to join them), before we would reach our lodgings at the Hôtel du Buet.

Of course we were used to it by now, and simply put our heads down and did what was required. But as the sun descended behind the mountains, and the shadows stretched across the valley floor, I remembered that after Le Buet we only had to do all this for one more day. 

[A scarce copper butterfly (?)] 
And so I decided to savour this extra bit of walking: to notice the smell of newly mown hay; to watch butterflies making the most of the soon-to-close wildflowers; to trace the swooping flight of welcome swallows on their late afternoon hunt; and to watch happy campers setting up for a final weekend before school returned. This afternoon, this beautiful alpine valley deserved as much attention as I could pay it.

[Our hotel at Le Buet] 

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