After a rainy couple of days, we were fortunate to wake up to a beautiful clear morning at Refuge de La Croix du Bonhomme. We took advantage of that with side trips to Tête Nord des Fours and Lacs Jovet on our way to Les Contamines. From there, we returned to our origin in Les Houches via Refuge de Miage and Col du Tricot to complete our Tour du Mont Blanc.
This is part of our series of posts on the Tour du Mont Blanc, including:
- Planning the Tour du Mont Blanc
- Our Tour du Mont Blanc packing list
- TMB by day:
- 0-2: A Day in Chamonix, Les Houches – La Flégère – Trient
- 3-5: Champex – La Fouly and the Swiss Val Ferret – Col du Grand Ferret and the Italian Val Ferret
- 6-8: Mont de La Saxe and Courmayeur – Rifugio Elisabetta – Les Chapieux and Croix du Bonhomme
- 9-10: Tête Nord des Fours – Lacs Jovet – Les Contamines – Col du Tricot – Les Houches (this post)
Day 9: Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme to Les Contamines 7 July 2018
Saturday morning showed the benefits of staying in the refuges: while we had gone to sleep in a world of grey, we awoke to a perfectly clear morning. We were excited to have views of the area around the refuge and back down the way we had come the day before.
We ate breakfast and set out early: we wanted to make the most of the great weather. To start, we followed the trail to Tête Nord des Fours (9040′ / 2756 m). This was a fairly quick walk, slowed only by a couple of larger snowfields.
The high point offered spectacular 360º views, including a close up of Mont Blanc and particularly l’Aiguille des Glaciers. A large viewfinder helped us orient ourselves to the peaks near and far.
To our surprise, we had Tête Nord des Fours almost entirely to ourselves. We basked in the view and watched as the morning light moved across surrounding peaks. While we would have liked to spend the entire day there, we eventually moved on as we had a long ways — and another side trip — to make before reaching our destination.
We returned to the junction. The TMB then contoured along the mountains, serving up more boulders and small obstacles than we had passed on previous days. Some snowfields also lingered here. On this side of the crossing, the valley walls were steeper and more rugged than we had seen the previous day.
After a couple of kilometers, the TMB brought us to a viewpoint at Col du Bonhomme. We took the opportunity for a snack before beginning the muddy switchbacks that descended from the col.
Not long after the TMB leveled out, we reached a junction and our second detour, this one to Lacs Jovet. The side trail had us climb through rhododendron-covered hillsides, gradually and then steeply, to reach two lakes tucked below Mont Tondu.
We stopped at the spectacular first lake. The setting was so spectacular that lunch here seemed like a worthy destination. However, as we sat, we regained energy and decided to explore. We followed the shore clockwise around the first lake, then crossed a boulder field to reach the higher, smaller second lake. From there, we returned to the first lake, completed our circumnavigation, and again sat to enjoy the views. It required considerable self-discipline to not be tempted to hike up various high points near the lakes.
Eventually, it was also time to leave the lakes and head toward Les Contamines-Montjoie. We followed the trail back to the junction and continued descending on the TMB. Between the junction and Chalet Refuge La Balme, the trail gradually became a gravel road.
The next stretch was a strange mix of pleasant stream-side hike and less pleasant road walk. The descent continued to be steep and so the old Roman road was hard on our feet. Along the way, we paused to see an old Roman bridge (Pont de la Tena) and the gorge it crossed and to briefly see Notre Dame de La Gorge, a baroque church built between 1699 and 1707.
From Notre Dame de La Gorge, the TMB paralleled a road and stream. We passed through a large park featuring all manner of recreation and play structures for all seasons. Shortly after, we reached our hotel, Hôtel-Chalet de Tradition La Chemenaz (Booking.com), on the outskirts to Les Contamines. With our detours, the day added up to 12.9 miles (20.8 km) and 2628 feet of elevation gain (800 meters), though much more elevation lost.
We checked into our room. It was comfortable, but the roof of the hotel’s restaurant curiously obscured most of its patio and windows. The hotel’s neighborhood felt like somewhere that might be more active in ski season or in the summer’s high season. In early July, though, it was a ghost town of empty parking lots and shuttered windows.
For dinner, we walked into town (about 15 minutes) to eat at Restaurant la Table d’Hotes Savoie. While they had several delicious fondue options, we decided on appetizers, mains, wine, and dessert. All were tasty and filling. We particularly recommend the Mont Blanc sundae for dessert. With vanilla and chestnut ice cream, chestnut space, meringue, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce, it was both completely indulgent and so good. Service was also outstanding and friendly.
Day 10: Les Contamines to Les Houches 8 July 2018
In the morning, we decided to skip the hotel’s breakfast in favor of a well-reviewed bakery in Les Contamines.
A 15 minute walk brought us to Aux Delices de Montjoie, which presented overwhelming choice. We got some basics — pain au chocolate — and some of their specialties. We also picked up some baguette sandwiches for lunch. Everything was outstanding and inexpensive, at least compared to our neighborhood French bakery back in Seattle. Probably my primary food regret of the trip is not going back for more.
We had a gorgeous morning and an early start, so we decided to take the higher Refuge de Miage TMB variant for the day. Through the center of Les Contamines, the route was a little hard to follow; we found it easier to switch to Google maps for navigation here.
Once past the town, the first hour or so of the hike presented us with a steady, wooded climb. Eventually we broke out of the trees near Le Truc. Cows and stunning views of Dôme de Miage greeted us.
From Le Truc, we descended sharply on switchbacks to Refuge de Miage and the small cluster of surrounding chalets. The view across to the long climb back up to Col de Tricot was daunting.
With the long steep climb ahead of us, we only paused briefly, admiring a spectacular cluster of lupine near Refuge de Miage. Then, it was on to the switchbacks. We stopped often to look back to views of Dôme de Miage and the Mont Blanc massif. The sound of bells from unseen sheep drifted down to us.
Col de Tricot to Les Houches
Finally, we reached the Col de Tricot. To our surprise, views here were not much better than the views on the long hike up. Trails also led off in all directions from the col. I briefly explored an old trail leading through a stone arch.
We also contemplated the trail leading up to Mont Vorassay. It looked like this would have offered a great vantage point. If we’d planned to spend the night in Chamonix at the end of the TMB, we probably would have made the detour. However, because we needed to get to Geneva that night, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get to Chamonix, claim our left luggage, and eat before our reserved shuttle.
So, instead of ascending further, we descended toward the Torrent de Bionnassy and the suspension bridge crossing it. This offered new views of the Bionnassy glacier.
After the suspension bridge, we climbed briefly over forested moraines from the glacier. Part way up this stretch, we looked back to realize we had passed a few hundred yards from tarns or a lake at the foot of the glacier without seeing it. We would have enjoyed exploring this, but again, time constraints kept us heading forward.
The route led back up a ridge and to the terminus of the Mont Blanc tramway. The tramway and the adjacent hotels made for some interesting people watching, and reaching the ridge presented us with some new views toward Les Houches. We paused the longest at the recently reconstructed but apparently closed Hotel Bellevue.
From the ridge, only the long descent to Les Houches remained. This was probably my least favorite stretch of the TMB – it was steep and mostly on roads. Even descending quickly, it felt slow. I’m glad it was not our introduction to the TMB though also a bit sad it was our conclusion. Our last day totaled 11.6 miles (18.7 km) and 4969 feet (1500 meters) of elevation gain.
In Les Houches, we had about a 40-minute wait until the next train to Chamonix. We sat in the shade, looking back up at Mont Blanc and reflecting on the incredible eleven days we had.
Back in Chamonix, we made a beeline for Chalet 4810. It was a hot day, so rather than pastries, we opted for ice cream, which was also excellent. Refreshed, we set out to get… more food. Since it was mid-afternoon and we wanted to find somewhere our packs would not be in the way, our options were a bit limited.
We settled on Josephine: it was close to the tabac where our luggage was stored, had ample patio seating, and advertised burgers which we were both craving. I’d characterize the burgers as good, but not great, mostly because the cheese made them almost too rich. Kyle’s ice cream — served with blueberries — for dessert was the highlight. Service was friendly but slow and accompanied by many apologies for it being a Sunday.
As I paid, Kyle dashed off to collect the bags. With those in hand, we hurried the kilometer or so to the bus station and our easyBus shuttle. Once there, we realized we didn’t need to hurry. Despite the website’s warnings to make sure to have paper tickets and to arrive early, the tickets were not required and no one was in any hurry. We took advantage of the time to repack.
We had an uneventful drive back to the Geneva airport, where we took the shuttle to our hotel for the night. Based on great experiences with NH in Bilbao, we had decided to stay at the NH Geneva Airport (Booking.com). In contrast to our Bilbao experience, this one seemed a bit worn down. It was fine for a night, but nothing special — though I admit that if our flight had not been too early for breakfast, the breakfast could have changed our opinion a bit.