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Patan Backstreets


Morning in Patan

In Kathmandu again

I’m back in Nepal, staying at Swotha Traditional Homes at the back of Patan Durbar Square. Two days here and then I fly out to the Eastern Region to trek to Makalu Base Camp. The weather is spectacular at the moment.

GR5 Les Contamines to Refuge Plan de la Lai and on to Valezan and Refuge Entre le Lac

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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GR5 Samöens to Refuge Moëde Anterne

So, three days to write about. Where does the time go? It now seems like an age since I left Samoëns, my run beginning with the long hill back into town from my hotel. I ran this with a light step as I had checked my bank balance. I’d had one of those nights when I wake up thinking "Oh my God, I wonder if I have any money left?", the stash I brought with me from Saudi now being rather depleted. I’d checked my bank balance after breakfast and found it healthy, hence the spring in my step as I ran into Samöens. I stopped at the cash point, aware that the refuges I would be staying in over the course of the next week probably wouldn’t take credit cards. The machine decided not to give me any English (not a problem) nor any cash (a technical problem). I hate it when they do this; couldn’t they be more specific and say something like "Sorry, you requested a receipt and we are out of paper." Or "your bank thinks your card it being used by someone other than you, for although you have made several transactions abroad in the last few days, this one, where you have used your PIN number, looks suspicious, so they have decided to suspend your card. But don’t worry, if it is really you using your card it will only take ten working days to reactivate it. Until then, have a nice day."

With a rising feeling of panick I went to look for another machine, at the same time thinking how I would get hold of cash for the next few days. The ATM was much more accommodating, giving me both a choice of languages and cash. As the receipt popped out of the slot, I remembered that I had left my running poles by the last ATM at the other side of town; what chance of those still being there?

I should have more faith in human character, for although the town was already busy, someone had placed my expensive Leki poles in a prominent position at the side of the bank where I might find them on my return. Content once more I ran out of town. It was pleasant running along an easy dirt track through the woods and along a small river into the Gorges des Tines, out of which I had to climb by a series of steel ladders. It must be a spectacular place in a storm. But hyphen again, you would probably get washed away.

Leaving the valley behind I climbed steeply to the Cascade de Rouget, a rather splendid waterfall and a nice little restaurant, just as I was getting hungry. There were tourists everywhere, brought out by the spectacular weather. As I ran past I had to laugh at a father berating his son for wanting to stay in the car playing on his iPad, rather than get out and explore the countryside.

Climbing though steep woodland to the Collete d’Anterne I was surpassed by how many families were out walking. The weather was nice but the path was steep and rugged, and it was as humid as a sauna. I had to stand to one side whilst five guys on single wheeled chairs were conducted down the mountain by beefy helpers. Uncharitably I wonder if this was really worth the effort. There are plenty of nice places to see that don’t require this amount of effort, and judging from the expressions of the riders, there didn’t appear to be a lot going on in terms of appreciating the scenery or the adventure. Perhaps I was missing the point, and all the effort was really about making the volunteers feel good about themselves.

As I rounded the hill and reached Collete d’Anterne I was amazed. Towering above a green pasture was a spectacular line of huge cliffs (Pointe de Salles), blue in the mountain haze. They are so massive that I was unable to capture a photograph until I was several miles further on and whilst I watched a helicopter evacuate an injured scout.

A little further on the views just got better, with the stunning and almost unbelievable colours of Lac d’Anterne appearing ahead. With perfect mountain weather and a walk that is not too demanding if you take the full day over it, I could now understand why the paths were so busy. Remarkable scenery.

Another short climb took me to the Col d’Antern and another amazing view, this time over e Refuge Moëde Anterne and the mountains of the Brévent, Aguilles Rouge and Mont Blanc.

As I unpacked my bag at the Refuge dormitory I thought about all the pharmacists I had passed in the last few days and not bought earplugs. As I write this three days later, and having passed several more pharmacists and having suffered a sleepless snoring night, I still haven’t bough any. Pah.

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GR5 Refuge de Moëde Anterne to Les Houches

The refuge was pretty full last night, and my website booking hadn’t regisered, so I was glad that I arrived early. I had dinner with a Swiss gentleman I had passed earlier in the day. He was escaping for a few days whilst his family were cruising on the Mediterranean. Like me, he had been very impressed with the day’s walk – better than anything he had done in Switzerland, he said.

Leaving the refuge in the morning I was expecting a huge day, as the guide book suggested that the walk over the Brévent was particularly challenging. I didn’t find it so and this was one of my best day’s running so far, beginning with a thousand metre descent before the climb of the Brévent even began.

The first time I climbed the Brévent on the Tour de Mont Blanc, it was in vile weather and the views opened up for only a few minutes. Today though the wether was spectacular and the views over Mont Blanc fantastic. I spent longer at the summit than I had planned as there were two men preparing to BASE jump off the cliff, zipping themselves into colourful winged suits. Quite an adrenaline rush.

The descent from the Brévent to Les Houches is absolutely huge and for a few minutes I contemplated taking the cable car down to Chamonix before heading off on my run. The impressed gasps of the walkers as I plunged down the hillside more than compensated for the decision. At least I choose to consider them gasps of admiration, although I am not so sure about the noises made by the group of Germans I sent a cascade of stones down upon.

At Les Houches I was irritated to find that I had booked an Auberge in the middle of no bars land between Les Houches and Chamonix and up a bloody steep hill. Really, I must be more carefull.

I took a shower and decided to take the bus into Chamonix. I like Chamonix, it has a bustle about it; just the right mixture of shops, interest, mountains and the promise of adventure. Oh yes, and good beer. Mont Blanc Blanche is particularly good.

I was back at the Auberge early as the last bus was at 19:30 and I was feeling too tight to pay for a taxi. Still, a pleasant evening reading and relaxing in a very pleasant alpine chalet.

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