Justin Thacker

Tour du Mont Blanc in 7 days

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Tour du Mont Blanc
Day 0 (28th June 2014)

Luton to Les Houches

Left Luton, flew to Geneva. The boys were very excited at the prospect of spending the next 8 days walking seriously long distances, climbing very steep hills, sleeping in huge dorms with loud snorers, and putting up with Rumble’s jokes.

Speaking of which, before we even left the UK, the nick names for most of us were sorted. Old man Martyn was to be called grandad glossy (first on left); next to him was Matt also known as slap-head Hartley then in the middle – the young one – hereafter Suchy-boy; then next to me, Paul, aka the fit-one and last but not least George Clooney (ie. me – last on right).

Airport security had one of their consistent days – passing through without comment the trekking poles that Suchy-boy and I had, but then for some inexplicable reason they decided to pat me down rather vigorously despite the fact I was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and jogging bottoms ie. couldn’t have been hiding an illicit good even if i’d been trying to.

Flight was straightforward. There were rumours that George Clooney fell asleep and dribbled on the woman next to him but I deny this vigorously.

Despite the fact that Alpy-bus gets consistently awful reviews, they were actually incredibly good, left on time, very prompt, comfortable and even dropped us off at a different location to the one we had booked. The only downside was that the bus was completely full so I’ve no idea where they would have put Harper if he had managed to come on the trip – but maybe they somehow knew he wouldn’t make it; or maybe he would have been shoved in the boot with the rucksacks and we’d have discovered the reason for their bad reviews!

Driving to our stop – Auberge Le Cret in Les Houches – provided us with our first sighting of the Mont Blanc range. It was absolutely spectacular – far more impressive than I imagined and as I sit typing this we’re enjoying a pleasant evening surrounded by mountains, drinking white wine and looking forward to tomorrow – our first day’s walking.

Dinner was great – vegetable soup, salmon with pasta, cheese then apple sauce desert – with as much bread as we could eat. The dorm has 10 of us sleeping in it – us boys all strung along a top row of bunk beds with literally no space between us. Initially, I was right at the end, but then I panicked I was going to fall off so I put slap-head there instead. He doesn’t seem to mind – we’ll see if he says the same in the morning.

So, that’s it for today. Apparently, ill be too exhausted tomorrow to write, but we’ll wait and see.

 

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Day 1

Les Houches to Les Contamines

to les contamines

Book (Tour of Mont Blanc by Kev Reynolds) says it will be 12.5 miles, 1500 m. Turned out to be very accurate though we climbed nearer 1700 m
We went the high route via the col de tricot at 2000m,  taking about 6.5 hours in total. Book says 8 hours.

But before I tell you about today’s walk, I have to comment on last night. Not a very good night. There were 10 of us in a small, densely packed dorm. We were all on top bunks and it was stifling hot and very smelly. The worst of it was slap heads snoring. Even ear plugs couldn’t drown out the cacophony that came from him. It was like having a jack hammer right next to your head. No one in the whole room slept. Slap head did not improve Anglo-Dutch relationships last night! (A Dutch family were sleeping below us)

Onto more positive things though. We did have a great days walking today. Admittedly it rained all day and I fell down a mountain getting totally covered in mud, but apart from that it was brilliant. Perhaps the highlight was a wonderful relatively flat walk around the side of a mountain that culminated in crossing a fast flowing river on a single person suspension bridge (photo to follow in due course.) All of this was just beautiful.

The boys have insisted that I point out that there was one slight detour today ie I got us lost or at least misdirected at one point. However, this was an insignificant detour that just gave us the opportunity for some extra views.

Tonight’s meal at Camping le Pontet has been very good again. One thing I don’t understand though is that all the boys complained about me during the meal. My feet were sore, so all I’d done was take off my socks, put them on the table, and while I was doing that, I then picked off a bit of blistered skin and ate it. I really don’t see what the issue was!?

They’re all still at the bar drinking but I’ve come back to post this. Looking forward to tomorrow. The views in this part of the world are astonishing and I feel privileged to be able to enjoy them. Thankyou God.

 

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Day 2:

Les Contamines to Refuge Des Mottets

Book says – 11.25 miles, 1579 m

App says  we actually did 13 miles, 1700 m (App I used is AlpineQuest by the way and it was excellent)

to ref mottetes

Hard day today. Very misty most of the morning before turning to glorious sunshine in the afternoon. Round about lunchtime, we had a decision as to whether we crossed col des fours at around two thousand seven hundred metres, or whether we went the lower much longer route round. What made this difficult is that the col was absolutely covered in snow and we’d already met some US walkers earlier in the day who’d told us that the conditions on the col were very treacherous. Nevertheless, we did decide to cross, partly because the weather was improving and partly because no one seemed to be coming back from that route saying it was too difficult.

It was a definite slog up the snow covered hill, made worse by lots of slipping and sliding, but we made it to the top and over the top down the other side. The conditions in the end weren’t that bad at all. On the way down the other side we also encountered lots of snow fields and so to make things a bit easier for me, I tried sliding down one of these on my backside. It kind of worked and was certainly a lot of fun.

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From the col, it was a very long walk down the mountain to our pretty remote refuge, no other buildings to be seen at all, no mobile phone signal, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The sleeping in this refuge is not exactly high class, about  twenty of us to a very large dorm, all packed in like sardines. But on the other hand, we’ve just had a fantastic four course meal, with tons of food, topped off by one of the staff playing a music box. All very entertaining.

Half way through the day, fit boy said to me, ‘thanks for bringing me here, this is amazing’. and I think that captures the mood of most of us. Yes, we’re sore, tired and stiff but the views really are breathtaking and worth all the effort.

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Day three

Refuge Les Mottets to Gite Randonneur

Books says 13 miles and 1179 metres.

App says we actually did 12.5 miles and 1300 metres.

to randonneur

Last night turned out to be very cold in the end. I slept almost fully clothed with about five blankets on me. We’d finally sorted out how to stop slap head’s snoring, so that was good, but we did have mice in the gite. Breakfast this morning a bit basic so we all felt a bit tired and weary as we began the day.

First thing was a  700 metre straight climb up. Took a while, but when we got to the top {see the panaroma shot} it was worth it. Once again, simply breathtaking scenery that makes all the pain, or most of it, insignificant.

On the way down, I tried a bit of sledging on my back side again. Great fun. After the big hill, up and a bit down, we then had a very long flat walk through a valley with Mont Blanc clearly visible on our left hand side almost the whole time. This was a wonderful walk. It was flat, it was easy, the sun was shining, we were warm and we had beautiful views the whole time. Fit boy just loved it. He’s the only one to actually express himself in this way. I’m sure the others feel the same, but being more introverted just keep it inside. That’s what I’m going to tell myself anyway, and its better than thinking they’re hating every minute.

We finished the day with another longish hill climb and then a long walk to tonight’s refuge. At some point we crossed from France to Italy, but there was nothing to tell us when that was so I’ve really no idea.

Tonight’s accommodation is looking the best so far. Good beds, actually separated from each other, warm showers, clean toilets and stunning, stunning views over the valley down to Courmayeur. We also got here quite early, about  three ish so every one is a bit more rested and relaxed. Admittedly Suchy boy is sunburnt and has a broken toe and numerous blisters {well a sore toe and a minor blister}, but apart from that we’re all doing great. And so far, no one has fallen out. No tears. Hardly any moaning. Just wonder at the beautiful creation around us mixed in with a few blisters, tired legs and sore feet. Just what life is meant to be like: the joys and the challenges all thrown in together.

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Tomorrow’s a very long, very hard day, the toughest yet, so if we’re still all alive and speaking, I’ll try and post something then.

 

Day 4 Gite Randonneur to Gite Alpage de la Peule

Book says 18 miles, 1700 metres

App says we did 20 miles and 2100 metres

to le peule

Incredibly long day today. Began early with a huge descent to Courmayeur. While there, I promised everyone a McDonald’s breakfast but sadly there was no McDs to be had. Instead, a very nice Italian lady went out of her way to show us where the supermarket was. Not sure that would happen in the UK.

We then began a very long walk. It was punctuated in the middle with the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had at Refuge Bonati. It was like melted chocolate and was just delicious. Most of the morning it was raining, but in the afternoon we had some wonderful views up and down the valley. Every day brings something new and never ceases to amaze.

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Towards the end of the day, we had another steep climb up another hill and this one really exhausted every one of us. I crossed the col at the top practically on my knees and was seriously relieved to reach Alpage de la Peule where we were staying the night.
That refuge was interesting: really great food. Main course at dinner was gout de fromage, though we’re not really sure that is its name. It was ham, cheese, bread and tomatoes and was simply superb. The refuge actually made its own cheese, which we assume we were eating but weren’t totally sure.

Fit boy met a bunch of trail runners there testing out Berghaus equipment and I was seriously impressed to learn one of them ‘ran’ the tour du mont blanc in just over  twenty hours. Makes our seven days look a bit pathetic.

That night was not so good as we had a very large snoring bloke very near to us, who also decided to greet me in the morning with his bare bum. Not the greatest start to a day.

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Day 5

Alpage de la Peule to Au Club Alpin at Champex

Book says 13. 5 miles and 420 metres

App says we did 12.5 miles and 600 metres

to champex

 

Thought it would be good to provide an update on our injuries now that the bulk of the tour is over.

Matt S, who incidentally is now known as one pole matt, as he only has one trekking pole left, the other having snapped in half: he’s suffering with broken toe, sunburn, blisters x 3, monster bite on ankle and chafing on hip

Matt H – now known as two pole matt as he hasn’t lost any trekking poles: cracked heel and shin pain

Grandad – right knee pain only when going down hills

Fit boy – sore toes, knees and shins but only down hill

George Clooney, although for some reason they often call me GST: grumpy slacker Thacker: broken elbow, blister on toe, sore knee, sore shoulders

So as you can see one pole is struggling the most but he’s putting a brave face on it and carrying on.

Today was our ‘rest’ day in that it was shorter and lower than any other. I got stung by  a wasp half way through the day and got absolutely no sympathy whatsoever even though I told the boys I might die as I’m allergic to them. (PS I didn’t die in the end – so that was good)

Weather was perfect today, all sunshine and therefore amazing views. And where we are tonight is simply stunning. Great refuge next to champex lac surrounded by snowy mountains. Unbelievably beautiful. We liked it so much we even went for a walk round the lake and despite threatening to skinny dip, fit boy thankfully restrained himself. I think it was the freezing cold water that put him off.

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I’m writing this with a bit of an audience and they’re insisting I say what happens on the hills. So, to be fair, going up, fit boy is at the front followed by one pole then two pole and grandad about the same followed by me at the back. Going down hill its one pole in the lead, then two pole, then the three older boys breaking their knees at the back.

Tomorrow’s another long day but we’re all looking forward to it. It’s still a privilege to be here.

Day 6
Champex to Le Tour (chalet alpin du tour)

Book said 16 miles, 1600 metres

App said we did 16 miles, 1800 metres

to chalet club alpin

Great day today. Began with fit boy almost getting arrested. He took some bread from breakfast, which to be fair he had done every day in every refuge so far. but on this occasion, the refuge manager stopped him and asked for some money. Fit boy just walked out and so far the police haven’t caught up with him! While we’re on the topic of morals, I think its time for the parable of the apples

The parable of the apples

There was once a tour du mont blanc walker who desperately wanted an apple for his lunch. Unfortunately, none of the places he was staying served apples and therefore he decided to go and buy one at the local supermarket. Being the generous cove that he is, he offered to buy some for his fellow walkers. Three of them asked him to get him one and so he set out to the local supermarket and bought four apples for him and his friends. On his return, all four of his friends claimed that they’d asked for an apple and being the kind of self sacrificial person that he is, he gave away all four of his apples to his friends meaning that he didn’t have one left. Now, before you think, ‘what is so special about an apple’? You have to understand that they are walking through very isolated places where apples cannot be purchased for love nor money. Moreover, when you have been in places where very little fruit and veg is served, the prospect of a juicy, tasty, nutritious apple is just what is needed. Given this, you might think that the apple purchaser, who of course will remain anonymous, was very disappointed. But he wasn’t. Why? Because the very next morning, for the first time since they had been walking, he was provided not only with one apple but a whole bowl full of apples at breakfast. Hence, the parable of the apples is that those who are generous will in turn receive even more generosity

To prove this even more, later on the same day, the same apple seeker was now in search of chocolate. Wandering into an isolated Swiss village in search of chocolate he could only find an elderly Swiss man clearing his yard. On asking where he could buy chocolate and being told that there was nowhere open, the Swiss man went into his house, brought out half a large bar of Swiss chocolate and promptly gave it to him, refusing to receive any payment whatsoever. Sometimes, the continental Europeans really do put us to shame. I can’t imagine that happening in a random UK village, but maybe I’m wrong.

The final story from the day concerns the refuge at the top of a very long hill. On trying to purchase some drinks and more chocolate, there was a significant degree of confusion as to how much we owed. For some time, the conversation reverberated between seven euros and nine euros. Eventually, the United Nations had to step in to bring about peace. It strikes me that the refuge lady should probably hang out with the guy from the village. Then again, maybe it was just me, tired and grumpy, cos I was at the top of a very very long hill.

Anyway, we arrived in a lovely refuge, had great food, and Suchy boy suddenly discovered his ability to speak french. Why this hadn’t occurred to him earlier in the week I have no idea.

Tomorrow is our last day. We all  have mixed emotions about that. But should be a good one.

Day 7
Le Tour, chalet alpin du tour to Les Houches, gite michael fagot
Book says 16 miles, 1500 metres.

App says 16 miles and either 1100 metres or 2000 metres

to les houches

The reason for the difference in height climb is that on this, our final day, we finally split as a group. In the morning, everyone together climbed up to the Aiguilette d’argentiere, a huge rock eighteen hundred metres up above the chamonix valley. At the base of this rock, we started a series of really fun ladder climbs. These weren’t remotely as scary as they possibly look, just a lot of fun.

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From the top, we got some great views of Mont Blanc itself as well as the whole valley, and it was actually a fairly spiritual moment as we all sat their in silence just observing the view and thinking about our whole week together. Fit boy, quoting Faithless, said it was ‘his church’. I commented on what I’ve said before that this walk has been an echo of life. The best things are sometimes also the toughest. The challenges necessarily go along with the joys.

 

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After a short walk and lunch together, we then split up. Fit boy and grandad wanted to do the official tour du mont blanc route and climb another six hundred metres to le brevent. The rest of us took a long slow descent to les houches. We arrived at the gite just before five, absolutely exhausted but very grateful for everything we’ve been through.
As i write this, fit boy and grandad are still up there on the mountain somewhere, presumably safe and on their way down. At least I hope so.

This week has been simply fantastic. I’ll probably say some more tomorrow before we fly home, but for now this has been one of the most difficult and one of the best experiences of my life.

 

Day 8

Home: Alpy-bus Les Houches to Geneva, then fly to LHR

You’ll be pleased to hear that grandad and fit-boy didn’t die on the mountain, but did eventually return to the refuge at about 7.15pm. It had been an extremely long day for them, the toughest yet. The book says that the walk down from Le Brevent is very hard and long and so it turned out to be. They did get some more spectacular views and photos from the top of the ridge, but I think the rest of us made a sensible decision in taking the easier route home.

Bus and flight home were relatively uneventful. Being the pedant that he is, grandad insisted that unless we walked the 1.3 miles to our first refuge in Les Houches then we hadn’t properly completed the tour. So, we all dutifully spent the morning doing this entirely needless activity.

Rest of the day was spent in me losing consistently at ‘blobs’ – a card game introduced to us by grandad. When we finally got back to our start location we had  a weigh in to see how much we had lost during our walk.

And the news is that despite walking a grand total of 103 miles and climbing 10,300 metres, I somehow managed to lose no weight at all!! Go figure that out! Perhaps the six mars bars a day were to blame

It’s been a joy

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29/06/2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , ,

16 Comments

  1. love the commentary. Enjoy and have fun.

    Comment by penny | 29/06/2014

  2. Sounds wonderful. Hope you all sleep better tonight and don’t have too many ‘scenic detours’ tomorrow!

    Comment by Anonymous | 29/06/2014

  3. Sounds wonderful. Hope you all sleep better tonight and don’t have too many ‘scenic detours’ tomorrow!

    Comment by Angela | 29/06/2014

  4. I am so keeping those names for you all 🙂

    Comment by Anonymous | 30/06/2014

  5. Loving having a running commentary! The Rumbles at home 🙂

    Comment by Ally | 30/06/2014

  6. We are loving the commentary 🙂 The Rumbles at home xx

    Comment by Ally | 30/06/2014

  7. May you all become silent & sound sleepers and surefooted along this adventure. Enjoy. Xx

    Comment by Anonymous | 30/06/2014

  8. Sounds like it’s going really well. Keep it up, enjoy the views and keep on posting.

    Comment by Anonymous | 01/07/2014

  9. Amazing pictures – looks like quite a good time!

    Comment by Jason | 01/07/2014

  10. Nearly half way….keep going, stay safe and enjoy!

    Comment by Angela | 01/07/2014

  11. You seem to be having THE most amazing time 🙂 Enjoy and stay safe ! Keep on trucking boys.

    Comment by Ally | 01/07/2014

  12. Makes me smile to read of your antics. Glad to hear you are mainly all still intact. Enjoy the last few miles. Ali P

    Comment by Anonymous | 03/07/2014

  13. Hey gents, well done on getting this far. Fantastic job. Not too sure about the gout du fromage……. we all know gout can be very painful 😉 Try and enjoy the last part of your stroll in the hills. I’m sure you’ll look back with a real sense of achievement.

    Comment by cybarev ;) | 03/07/2014

  14. The aches, pains and blisters will only last a short while but the memories will last a lifetime. Keep going you are doing great.

    Comment by Angela | 03/07/2014

  15. A massive ‘well done’ to you all.

    Comment by Angela | 05/07/2014

  16. Congratulations on this achievement. Enjoy your return to the family nest. Ali p

    Comment by Anonymous | 07/07/2014


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