A Chamonix Hiking Adventure

by ashleyd on October 19, 2014

Yesterday was one spectacular day!

Group Chamonix picture

Quite the trooper, Theodora agreed to sleep as much as during her red-eye flight possible on the plane so that we could head straight off for an adventure. As long as the weather cooperated, we knew we wanted to spend Saturday in Chamonix with her, sharing the beautiful hiking trails and views with her that she’s seen on my blog for the past year.

Luckily, the weather could not have been better yesterday as the temperatures were in the high 60’s and there was not a single cloud or bit of fog in the sky. It was the clearest day Bo and I have experienced – perfect for a day of hiking.

The five of us – Bo, Theodora, me, my friend Amy and her visiting friend Meg – loaded into our car at 9am and were in Chamonix by 10.

IMG_2756Unfortunately, as we turned into the parking lot of the Flegere cable car, we saw that it was shut down. We called our friend Renaud, hoping that his Chamonix expertise could provide us with an alternative. Fifteen minutes later we found ourselves at the trailhead near Col des Montets. Renaud insisted that this was an even cooler trail than our regular Lac Blanc hike, so we knew it wouldn’t disappoint. We typically start our hike at 6,158 feet, where the Flegere cable car lets you out but instead, yesterday; we started in the valley at an elevation of 4,000 feet.

Bo and I had no clue what to expect but the five of us were in good spirits and we knew we had enough water and food to make it to the Lac Blanc Refuge, where we have enjoyed beer and lunch during previous hikes. 

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Our group was still in great spirits, even though the slight diversion meant a longer hike. We saw the 2 hours and 55 minutes on the trail marker but assumed that since each of us is fit and in shape, we figured that we would reach Lac Blanc far faster.

IMG_8476Theodora Ashley hiking 

Quickly we realized that this trail would be a new challenge for our entire group including Theodora, Amy and Megan, who have not done much hiking previous to yesterday’s adventure. There were very few flat portions of the trail and within a few minutes we were all sweating and realized just how challenging this hike would be. Each person was a trooper, motivating the group at different points to keep hiking forward as we knew delicious, cold beers and lunch awaited us at the top.

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At some point, we crossed trails and found ourselves on another trail, which meant we added time and mileage to the hike. It took us over two hours just to clear the tree line. Our reward was snow capped views of Mt Blanc and the surrounding mountains along with sunshine.

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We finally stopped for a break, enjoying a few snacks including KIND bars, dried cherries and cashews. IMG_2746IMG_8495IMG_2743     IMG_8485

For the next hour we continued along rocky paths which included steep climbs and even a few ladder climbs, as we progressed towards Lac Blanc. According to Google Maps, which was our savior during multiple points of the hike, we still had a solid mile of hiking left before reaching the refuge.

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By the time we hit 3.5 hours on the trail, just a half mile shy of the refuge, we found out from local hikers that the refuge is only open from mid June to mid September. In hindsight, as hosts, Bo and I should have researched both the refuge and the cable car more closely before the hike but honestly never expected either to be closed. We thought the refuge was used year round, for hikers in the Summer and skiers in the winter. 

At this point, things took a turn for the worst. Theodora was starting to feel the effects of both the altitude and her flight while the rest of the group was both thirsty and hungry. Disenchanted as the promised lunch and beers weren’t going to happen, this was when we all hit a low mentally and physically. Bo and I quickly became worried about the water supply as our water was gone by this point. While I caught my breath with Theodora, he and the other gals headed ahead to check out Lac Blanc, unfortunately finding out that due to the warm temperatures and lack of snow, the often picturesque lake was instead murky and lacking any palatable water.

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Luckily, just a few minutes later, Renaud, my trail savior, met us along the trail with water and fuel. IMG_8518He and his wife were enjoying an afternoon on the trails with their son Ugo and were happy to share two options for our trek down. Knowing that we wanted to get done sooner versus later, he suggested the shortest route. He warned that it would be steep but nothing we couldn’t manage. 

When he said steep, he wasn’t kidding! Our trek down included ten different ladders and some points hiking along the ledge with just a rope for security.  This section, while tough and scary, was so rewarding for both Bo and me as we were able to motivate and support Theodora and Amy as they navigated the ladders. Both of them realized yesterday that they have a slight fear of heights, and while Bo and I are not the most patient people, we really enjoyed helping them. IMG_8522IMG_8532 IMG_8529IMG_8533

We took one last break before continuing down the trail, thankful to see the quickly approaching tree line.

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The way down was far faster than the ascent due to the down hill grade and the fact that our entire group was ready to be enjoying a beer in the village. Once we hit the tree line, the trail became far smoother, and almost pleasant, as we descended through the cool, shaded forest.

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Seven hours and almost 13 miles after we started our adventure, the five of us emerged from the woods unscathed, smiling and feeling very accomplished.  This day could have ended up being a nightmare and hours of moaning and complaining but thankfully our group proved they were up for the challenge!

Cheers to great friends and well-deserved beers! IMG_8547

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