Monday 5th September
Distance: 12km Time: 4.75 hours
It’s a new day and we are all feeling much refreshed. Jen, Jo and Fish, having booked breakfast with their acommodation, head to the dining room for a much needed feast. First order of the day is to do some food shopping, but to our disappointment, the shop on site is poor, meaning that we will need to head back into Les Contamines for a proper food shop. Alan offers to jog into town and do the necessary shopping for everyone, and since it’s a relatively short distance to walk today, we agree to wait for him. It’s late when we finally set off for a day which is almost entirely uphill.
The first section is very easy going and thankfully flat allowing us to get warmed up. Not far up the path we pass the pilgrimage chapel of Notre-Dame de la Gorge. From here the trail follows an old slabbed roman road steeply uphill. So steep and rugged is the hill that we are shocked when we see a 4-wheel drive braving the road and overtaking us. We stop to check out a natural bridge which is signposted to the side of the track, and further on find a deep gorge where the water churns and pours in from different rock faces and trickles through lush foliage. Continuing on we soon reach the Refuge Nant Borrant and decide to make use of the facilities as we seem to be chased by mist and clouds. They serve some very tasty ice cream and hot chocolate.
Continuing on we are greatful for the odd clearances in the weather which reveal giant spikey edifices in splashes of colour. On the long uphill, we become accustomed to our walking poles which provide great help on the uphills, though we only have 3 sets shared between 4 people. As the day wears on we start to notice that the air is thinner and we become out of breath more easily. Passing the Refuge de la Balme, we find a suitable place to eat lunch, make use of the toilet facilities and fill up on water.
The uphill continues after lunch and we disappear into the clouds as we continue. Regular chocolate stops spur us on with a bit of umph! Momentarily losing Jen in the fog, we realise the importance of sticking together. Turns out she had a little cramp in her calf muscle, so Fish a Alan hillariously set themselves on her muscles giving her legs a good massage. Further on the path flattens out a bit, becoming quite marshy in the process, then passes a cairn marking the spot where an English women died in a storm – a reminder of the need to be careful in the mountains. We start climbing again and soon emerge out of the clouds. The Col du Bonhomme is now in sight!
With not too far to go now, and all the serious uphill behind us, we stop for a second lunch in the hut on the Col du Bonhomme. You start to feel the cold quickly up here, so we are greatful for the shelter the hut provides, but are horrified at the amount of litter in here.
Continuing on we traverse across the mountain to the Col de la Croix de Bonhomme, a rather rocky scramble. On route we are forced to give way to a herd of sheep which a farmer is moving. The sheep refuse to move while we are on the path, so we scramble up the mountain a little and wait for them to pass. Jen spotting some stray sheep which have escaped down the hill tries to point them out to the farmer, but her concerns fall on deaf ears. Either he doesn’t understand or he just doesn’t care. On reaching the Col, its and easy downhill santer to the Refuge du Bonhomme, which suddenly emerges at close range from the mist to a backdrop of alpine mountains.
The Refuge du Bonhomme is huge with over 100 beds – it has been created large so that it will never run out of beds as it would be dangerous to turn down acommodation to a hiker in such a remote place. All the refuges gear and food is helicoptered in, making it a little more expensive than gites in a town, but the location is stunning. The 4 of us share a mini 4-bed dorm.
Fish, Alan and Jen cook “gourmet” food on the stove outside, while Jo joins the Refuge dinner and partakes in delicious beef stew, while talking enthusiastically with other hikers – though they keep getting her name wrong due to a misinterpretation. After dinner we sit round a table by candlelight and discuss whether to keep to the route proper tomorrow, or try the more adventurous Col des Fours variante. Needless to say we agree on the more adventurous route as long as the weather is half decent tomorrow.