With a meal under our belts and a chance to meet the group, the first day opens with clear weather but quickly closes in. Hearts sink as we exit the bus to drizzle. Fortunately this walk starts in the woods and amongst the Larch and Pines it’s dry. As expected we start climbing almost immediately and soon come across the sounds of cow bells and alle alle, this is not Switzerland and they don’t sound like framers. Turns out we are walking on the final day of the Mont Blanc Marathon and an estimated 2000-3000 runners are in the mountains. We breathe a sigh of relief that we won’t have to encounter them and the inherent danger that poses.
The weather stays moody and it adds an extra dimension to the walk at times passing through mist in the trees and at others feeling a cool breeze in the clearing. Our guide is passionate about the mountains, particularly the botany and we make many stops to learn about the trees and the flowers of the area, they make a great excuse to rest from the unrelenting uphill.
Our trail intersects another, there is some low tape across it but no signs and no sign of anyone so we bear onto it and start the main walk to the Aiguillette des Posettes which roughly translate to the small needles or peaks called the Posettes. Out of nowhere runners, hundreds of them, we’re caught in a single file sea of them with nowhere to go but over the edge or up the slope. For 20 minutes we play cat and mouse with the runners, running ourselves to gain ascent in the gaps as they descend. All attention is now on staying upright and not getting knocked over as they slip, slide and jump there way along the trail.
A trail veering to the right looks attractive and our guide makes a wise decision to get us out of the melee and from this point, walk the route in reverse, the Col des Posettes, or “mountain pass” our first destination.
Back focused on the amazing landscape and towering mountains just on the other side of the valley to us, our attention is yet again turned to other matters as we discover one of our party is experiencing breathing difficulties and has agreed with support to descend to the valley floor. We are a little shocked given we hadn’t even got to lunch on the first day and what’s more we hadn’t got more than 1900m in elevation. It’s safe for the rest of the group to continue with the itinerary, so we do, praying and hoping our new made friend and team member is ok.
The climbing is relentless, the wind now whipping mist up the sides. The temperature drops and it is our first taste of how cold it can get even in summer. Undulating in and out of the mist with each gully and ridge, the ground flattens out as we walk under the Aiguillette des Posettes and a hut near the col. These are no Australian emergency huts, their typically private restaurants / café serving all sort of beverages, snacks and lunch items. It seems they are quite a staple for mountain walkers. We order hot chocolate and it’s just the right tonic to warm us up.
The col has signs pointing everywhere but ours points up. With cloud abandoning our position the Aiguillette des Posettes becomes visible. Up is always further up than it seems and the group decides lunch on its flanks is preferable to a craggy top.
From here the vistas spill out to the Col de Balme, the border with Switzerland and right back down the Chamonix valley. Taking in the full mountain range of the Mont Blanc massif, it is a wonderful vantage point to see this most majestic site and orientate yourself early in the trip.
On a well worn path, one leg lift in front of the other we continue to climb with little respite in the profile. The clouds play hide and seek with us, obscuring the tall peaks of the massif for periods of time. As we approach the top the trail breaks into goat tracks, where avid and keen walkers have tried to outdo each other getting to the top by the most direct route, carving a weave of trails.
Breaking out before us is the Aiguilles Rouges, a set of sheer rock face peaks coloured in beautiful reds and maroons a result of the high iron content. These pre-Alps top out at just under 3000m but that makes them no less imposing.
This side of the valley is distinctly different with it much steeper slopes, sheer rock faces and warm tones that contrast against the bright dominating white of the Alps. It’s a special place to take a moment and appreciate the two very different environments that physically oppose each other but complement each other in a landscape forever being changed by the action of ice.
The summit here is less of a meandering ridge and more blunt razor back, making it easy to traverse and take in the sights. The descent is rocky, but well laid out. At 2200m there is little vegetation and the trail can be quite clearly seen descending, but in places lost in the rock formation giving the sense that at some point you’ll just need to walk straight over the edge.
To our left is the majestic but well receded Argentiere Glacier, its ground rock face the only evidence left of its previous might. To the right the peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges give way to the forest and a gnarly switch back track walked as part of the Tour du Mont Blanc.
We come across a couple of exposed rock faces that make fantastic photos spots, the Argentiere glacier photo bombing us. From here the path descends back into the trees and provides a leisurely meander back to Montroc. In summer buses run frequently in the valley and it’s not long before our motley crew having completed their first day of walking are strap hanging back to the Chamonix
On our return we check in with our ill team member and the news is concerning, but we won’t know till tomorrow just exactly what is going on.