The iPad photo was taken in front of the refuge on one of the rare occasions that the sun shone today.
As I walked into Les Contamines-Montjoie yesterday afternoon I was cursing myself for having booked myself into La Chemanaz, the same hotel I stayed in when I did the Tour de Mont Blanc. (La Chemenaz Hôtels-Chalets de Tradition, 12 Allée du Nant Rouge, Les Contamines-Montjoie.) Actually, there is nothing wrong with the hotel, it is just that it is about a mile away from the old part of town in a modern ski resort, which I imagine is quite spendid in winter, but a bit grotty out of season. After a beer and half an hour relaxing on the soft white duvet watching an old British film about Thomas Becket, I was rather pleased with my decision. It had started raining outside and I had booked a table in the restaurant for dinner; it was nice not to have to go out again.
The restaurant quickly got busy, with two large groups creating a buzz of conversation. I read the menu for ages, to the frustration of the waitress who visited me three times, before I eventually decided to take the menu du jour after all. It was delicious. As I tucked into the duck I thought once more that I should start looking at menu prices before I ordered, but I was pleasantly surprised when I came to check out – tremendous value.
When I first climbed the Col du Bonhomme on the Tour de Mont Blanc three years ago, I was impressed with the speed the runners went up the mountain, not running as such but walking much faster than everybody else. This time it was me passing everyone. I wa s fit three years ago but am a lot fitter now. It continued to rain steadily all the way to the Col, but as I reached the top the wind incensed and finally the mountains showed themselves, revealing great views down the valley.
I walked past the attractive refuge du Bonhomme, for the third time. Once year I must stay there; it looks nice and has a fabulous location. The path from the he refuge to the arête of Crête de Gittes was too appealing though, and I headed off again running. This route isn’t recommended in high winds as you could easily get blown off. From the end of the arête it was just an hours run to the refuge de la Lai. I arrived just in time. I’d no sooner sunk my first beer than the heavens opened. From then on it got steadily worse all afternoon.
There was a bike race going on and from time lome riders, looking cold and wet would pass the refuge. About four o’clock there was suddenly a terrible draught in the dining room. We all looked around accusingly, looking for the foll that had left the door open, but the door was tight closed. The refuge owner shot upstairs saying something about the bathroom window. In the minute he was gone, the powerful gusts of wind seemed likely to lift the roof off the building. Then the thunderstorm struck. Minutes later a half drowned cyclist burst through the door shivering uncontrollably and with so much water running out of his clothes you could have been forgiven for thinking that he had fallen into a lake.
The next morning the weather was definitely better but it was still raining and the clouds were very low. There were only six of us staying at the refuge, surprising given the amount of snoring that I had heard I the night. We had breakfast together and discussed our plams for the day. The three French ladies were doing the Tour du Beaufontainne and the two American girls the GR5. It was their second day, having started in Les Houches. One of the girls had two large blisters, proving that you still need to break in new boots, or at least toughen your feet up. With another wet day ahead of them I imagine that she would be pretty miserable.
The route from Refuge de la Lai to Valezan allowed for some great running. I soon caught up with the two American girls who had left an hour before be, chatted briefly and then continued squeshimg through the mud. It was a relief when the path got steeper – the mud gave way solid limestone and gravel paths. I was quickly at the sumit and then had a splendid run down the mountain to Valezan. About a mile from the village I cam across a soldier in camouflage, carrying a huge pack and an automatic rifle. I ran round him and into a column of similarly equipped soldiers on exercise. I passed more of them, all looking very serious and looking out for snipers as I ran down the hill. It was rather bizar, especially when they started firing. Not at me, obviously.
I arrived at the Auberge in Valezan in time for a shower and lunch, which was excellent. As it was still raining I spent the rest of the afternoon reading and sleeping, before retiring to the dining room at 8pm for my second three course meal of the day.
The only real view I got all day was shortly before dark when the clouds finally broke and I could look out over Valezan to Landry and the ski resorts on the mountain opposite.
The following morning Valezan was in the he clouds, and that was pretty much where I stayed all day, only getting brief views of a set of rather nice waterfalls as I ran and walked to Refuge Entre Le Lac. It was my slowest day yet, partly because of the steepness and slippyness off he trail, and maybe because I was tired, although I did become somewhat supercharged after I ate half a pork sauscisson.
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