“It’s raining, what shall we do?” I messaged Heather on whatsapp. It was 6am on Tuesday 23rd June and I’d woken up to pouring rain in Chamonix. We had made a very loose plan the day before to go on an adventure around Mont Blanc. “It looks set to clear mid-morning, I’ll be at yours just after 7. Excited!” Heather wrote back. I jumped out of bed and began running round the house collecting various pieces of kit.
We had selected the route of the Tour du Mont Blanc, a 167km high alpine trek covering over 10,000m ascent around Mont Blanc. The route starts in Les Houches, the town Charley and I live in just outside Chamonix, and travels beautiful alpine trails passing through France, Italy, Switzerland and back to France.
Kit and Food
We dressed and packed light with trail running kit and shoes. In my pack I had a pair of lightweight overtrousers and waterproof jacket, beanie, down jacket and spare top. We also took trekking poles, map with the route marked out, 1.5L bladder, food, suntan lotion, wetwipes, cameras, hipflask (with whiskey) and a headtorch.
The heaviest part of the kit was definitely the food and water so as the day went by our packs became lighter. In terms of food, we packed chorizo, cheese, an avocado, nuts, chocolate and bananas. We knew the route would pass many mountain refuges where we could restock on supplies so we didn’t really need much food.
Adventuring into the unknown
By 8am the rain had eased off and we headed out the door, neither of us knowing where we would end up or what we might experience. Heather's philosophy is 'Live Life. Love Life' and mine 'One Life. Live It' so we make a good team!
We headed straight up the steep ski slope in Les Houches to the Col de Voza, our plan was to walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills. We wanted to cover as much distance as we could be nightfall.
The first day was so varied it was hard to take it all in. Starting in the ski slopes of Les Houches, we dropped into St Gervais and passed gorgeous chalets basking in the sunshine with perfectly manicured flower pots.
Next we ran along the valley bottom through forests alongside fast flowing alpine rivers. We stopped to have lunch of feta cheese, avocado and chocolate.
We saw the signs for our next big climb of the day, top of the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. The signs said four hours away, powered by a shared can of coke and a snickers at the bottom, we made it in two hours.
At the top, we started to feel weary and noticed the weather closing in.
We took a wrong turning and headed down towards the valley before Heather turned us around. We walked back uphill and then traversed. We saw beautiful views all around us, filling our hearts and minds with the wonder and magnitude of nature.
We hit the snow line and climbed up ridges in late snow. We crossed paths that had become rivers and around 5pm we arrived at a refuge. A brief high five and knowing that we didn’t have long to stop, we got straight to business. “Two hot chocolates and one piece of chocolate cake please”.
We devoured them, stretched and put layers on. We were tired and it was getting cold. The next section involved an incredibly beautiful descent.
We ran solidly for an hour and passed no-one for the next three hours apart from a shepherd looking after his sheep. The sheep were amazing! Or rather, the sheep moment as we called it… just as we ran past, he whistled to his sheepdog and the whole herd moved away in a single movement, very special!
It started hailing. I picked up the little balls of ice and held them in my hand until they melted.
I felt the world holding me, the rawness, solitude and magnitude of where we were and what we were doing.
It was early evening now and once the hail abated the evening light was magnificent.
We began our final ascent towards Refuge des Mottets that we would spend the night in.
At 8:30pm we arrived, opened the door and were flooded with the most wonderful smells of food, sounds of live music and warmth of the fire and people.
We feasted on bowls of soup, stew and rice.
For desert we had a caramel custard dish and a few remaining squares of chocolate from our stash. We stretched and massaged our legs.
By 10pm we were in bed with alarms set for 5am.
At 6:30am we left our refuge behind and began the ascent up The Col de la Seigne.
At the top we crossed the border between France and Italy and felt the first rays of sunlight hit us.
From there we descended into Italy before making a final ascent to the ski slopes of Courmayeur and then a steep descent through the forest to the town where we ended our adventure.
It was a day I’ll never forget. I lost count of the times Heather stopped in her tracks, and looking at the views said “it’s just bonkers”. We were blown away.
When we arrived at the Elizabetta Refuge we made the decision that we would head to Courmayeur and stop there.
We both had obligations in Chamonix on Thursday and I had the Vertical KM on Friday so thought a rest day would be a good idea.
That's the sensible reasoning behind our decision making process...
Alternatively, could it have been that the lure of ice cream and prosecco in the sunshine in Italy was too much to resist... You decide!
Either way, by Courmayeur we had walked from France to Italy some 70 kms covering 3500m ascent in 1.5 days. I can't tell you how much I recommend doing something like this either where you live or come and try this route. The TDMB route is stunning!
Sometimes adventures need a lot of planning and thought. Sometimes the spontaneous ones are just what we need. Go explore! And don't forget to stop and smell the roses.
Heather is a badass climber and all round mountain athlete. She recently quit her job to start womens-mountain-collective.com she creates content to promote and support women in mountain sports. Check her out!