Sunday 4th September
Distance: 18km Time: 5.5-6 hours
Not far into the night, we unfortunately discover that our roommate is one of the worst snorers ever! Not a good start to the trip, but we wake up early full of energising anticipation. First order of the day is to adjust our walking poles – Fish at first doesn’t realise that his poles are adjustable and hikes with them too short for a while. While waiting on the others, Jo speaks to another group of hikers outside the gite, and discusses the route with them.
We set off and almost immediately go the wrong way. The route passes through Les Houches before turning left on a road uphill. This road however, is not signposted, and the map is too small a scale to pinpoint the exact position of the road (that and the thick pink line which marks the TMB obliterates all surrounding features). The guidebook saves us with the hint that we should have turned left opposite the Hotel Slalom. From here it is uphill a very long way on track and road.
One guy we pass recognises our accents as Scottish, and we have an in depth conversation on how to say Bonjour properly in French – that is with gusto and inflection. Seems that the French don’t acknowledge you unless you get it right! Further on we overtake a large group of walkers who seem to be on a guided hike – not sure I could cope being in such a large group! While on a bit of track, we meet a group of people in buggies freewheeling down the trail and having a great time. As they pass we realise that a lot of them are disabled, and some have instructors helping them with the buggies.
The weather closes in on us as we reach the Col de Voza, our high point of the day. On the saddle between two mountains, there is a small group of buildings here, and a tramway which heads further up the mountain. There is no sign of the views, however the forecast report is that the weather will be improving, so we are hoping for some spectacular views later in our trip.
Not far past the col we come to a refuge which is open and selling refreshments. This is one of the great things about the TMB. There are plenty of refuges which serve food throughout the day, as well as breakfast and dinner, meaning that if you’re prepared to pay a bit extra you can eat a fabulous meal and don’t have to carry the extra weight of food. Having bought our own food with us we continue onwards down the hill towards Les Contamines.
The route is of little interest continuing on towards Les Contamines, mainly due to the poor weather and large sections of road walking. In one place we see several donkeys, and further on we remark about the large bath-like water troughs made of concrete which are so common along the route. We are relieved when we finally join a footpath through forest and past waterfalls. Back on road again, we not a hiker hobbling along, with their companion carrying two rucksacks! This is the danger of not giving proper blister care! We are lucky to have our designated first-aider Jen who enthusiastically hands out plasters for pre-emptive blister plastering and who has even brought hayfever meds for Fish!
The final approach to Les Contamines is by a riverside path, thankfully flat. We are all feeling tired and a bit miserable as the rain starts and are looking forward to reaching the end of our day. Unfortunately it is not to be, as we find the only cheap place to stay in town is booked solid – a bit unusual for this late in the season. We quickly make arrangements with tourist office and book a gite 2km further along the route. While in Les Contamines we try to do a food shop, however we find that the shops are not open at this time on a Sunday. With assurances from the tourist office that our gite has a decent food shop, we push on for a further 2km.
On reaching Pontet Campsite, it takes us a while before we find the Gite du Pontet, the place we’ve booked for the night. Feeling pretty soaked, Alan boasts how he is much drier having brought an umbrella with him! We cook dinner on the Gite balcony, remarking that despite being wet, it’s still remarkably warm weather. It’s been a trying day and we are all exhausted. Jen suggest that we have a rest day the next day, however changes her mind after a decent nights sleep and large breakfast.
We meet an American dude who is walking the GR5 from Lake Geneva to Nice, and who tells us to look out for a “Buvette” which is a small alpine shop which sells candy to hikers.