The sunrises on the last day of our guided journey and the snow angels have left a parting gift overnight, a dusting down to 2000m. The all too familiar outline of the Mont Blanc Massif yet again shows another aspect of itself, the Aiguille Du Gouter’s face shimmering in all its glory. The north balcony, a walk we did on our day off, now white like someone had painted between the high peaks and lowland forest.
Energy levels and expectations high we pack into the vans one last time and make our way to La Flegere. Today we ride the Telepherique to a premiere ski resort and our starting point for a loop walk taking in this well known Lac Blanc.
Alighting from the cable car our attention is unarguably turned to the alps, cloud touching the peaks, leaving the voids on displays and the dusting so neatly striped along the forest line. It is by far the postcard moment of the trip and makes a lasting impression. It is a high bar by which to measure the rest of this experience.
Like most resorts in summer the ground is rocky and barren but they make for world class ski grounds during the winter. The walk as usual is uneven and up as we follow the colourful line of people meandering ahead of us. Today is extra special as every view behind the veil reveals the last of our gift.
Cloud invites itself in and before long the curtain is drawn on the mighty peaks, only our imaginations let us see behind. The walk is deceivingly long and we seemed to be destined to finish how we started, strong cool uplifts, clouds enveloping us like a curious creature before passing on, but thankfully this time no one suffering any altitude sickness.
The trail climbs up yet again, this time a bit of rock scramble on a small face. In the distance the sound of a sheep, no lamb breaks the mist. We all turn to see a group of men and their dogs walking back from a thicket. A most strange scene, shepherds and dogs herding a lost lamb back to safe ground.
Anne spots this unfolding story first, for them it’s a regular day, but it is most unexpected for us and plays on Anne’s mind. She later shares with me the touching picture of Jesus as the shepherd and the story he told his disciples of leaving the ninety nine to find the one. An example of his extravagant mercy and love demonstrating the lengths he has gone to find us. Once lost, but our destiny, purpose and being now found in him. Something amazing happens when the bible is brought to life by our experiences and circumstances and I find the mountains is a place where this happens more often than not.
At first we do a double take, a little tarn in front of us, but it’s not the site of this shimmering pond, glistening in and out as the sun breaks the cloud. It’s the brown form standing on the other side mottle and camouflaged against the grasses and rock. Could it be? Would this make up for our missing it at the refuge? I think it is and on closer inspection trusting our eyes don’t betray us we lay sight of the fable Ibex.
The Alpine Ibex while not threatened or endangered is still a site and not something you see in the lower mountains everyday. The group comes to a halt mesmerised, fumbling for phones, cameras or any other device to capture the moment.
A hush falls across the team in some unconscious belief that it will be attracted to stay. The truth is probably closer to this animal being quite at home with humans given the massive population influx across the summer months, people sprawling across every trail and then some.
The Alpine Ibex is a species of wild goat resident in the European Alps that typically lives on the snow line between 1800 – 3300m. They favour rocky outcrops up to angles of about 45 degrees and is often where the most majestic photos are taken. As herbivores they feed in alpine meadows, accessing the higher plains in Summer where we find this one.
Our eyes are fixed on this amazing creature, bigger than a domestic goat, with large sweeping horns better at home on some mythical creature, this one is a male. He’s not perturbed by us snapping and instead decides it’s time to cross the trail and grazes around the boulders that shoulder the right of the tarn.
Fully in view, he is now mere feet from us and like a well rehearsed model puts his best side forward for the photo shoot. Having grown up around water buffalo an often docile looking but deadly animal when agitated. We lose no respect for the Ibex watching it’s every move.
Leaving him behind, we see another tour group walk right past, just off the trail before in fright their hearts jump into their throats realising what they have been completely oblivious to. With a new level of happiness that one of the key experiences in this part of the wold has been capture we continue the onward climb.
Small dots of white litter the ground in increasing numbers, the mountain has another surprise for us, snow! The low cloud and cold overnight temps have preserved the fresh fall. We soon find ourselves in enough to make foot prints and off to the side to play in, build snowmen, throw snowballs and take a little side adventure.
We’re deep in the cloud now, swirling around, briefly the outline of a hut is visible but quickly vanishes. Crossing a small wooden bridge, draining the overflow of Lac Blanc, we blindly feel our way between signs. Navigating the rocky terrain up a set of stairs to the refuge.
The skies clear to blue and for moment we glimpse the Drew’s and closer Lac Blanc, with it turquoise glacial looking water. As we’re becoming accustomed to, the hut is packed, walkers tempted in by the warmth and sweet smell of soups and hot drinks soothing cold numb fingers as they embrace the warm relief. Less friendly are the hut managers who make it their job to move on walkers using their outdoor areas if they haven’t purchased anything. Thankfully our team passes the stay test. For me I want to take in this amazing place and split from the group eating my packed lunch high above the lake. I’m mesmerised by its still waters only interrupted by the downward draft that conjures the surface to dance. The clouds amassing and disappearing like the curtains segmenting the acts of a play
Lac Blanc is split in two and we discover the lac proper is further up and what we’re admiring is the overflow full from the spring melt. Making our way to the larger lac, high rock walls rise around it skirted with the last remnants of winter cling to their sides. The water is crystal clear and one can only guess how deep it is as the edge quickly dives into the icy turquoise depths.
I have a tradition on mountain walks that I’ll swim in a lake or river or dive in the snow where we come across the opportunity. Sweeping my hand through the water my fingers tingle as the temperature plummets, my body anticipating the excitement of an extreme plunge. I entertain the thought my rational mind fighting my adventurous spirit.
A whooping sound cracks across the sky as it lifts from the lower valley, breaking my consternation. Blades of a helicopter come into view as it sweeps in on the hut, hovering like a hunter over prey it quickly does a transfer of gas bottles and falls away down the mountain, what a job. Drawn to the commotion and our time closing in this beautiful place I begrudgingly pass on a swim. I don’t have a towel or change of clothes anyway.
Scurrying back around the rock edge we bid the final highlight of our tour au revoir and disappear over the ridge leaving Lac Blanc behind. The decent faces the mountains making for a breath taking walk back. We’re a dab hand at descending, but the mountain again surprises us with some sizeable rock faced to negotiate. Masterfully someone has built log stairs one and the other sheer faced we make use of the rickety looking ladders bolted in the rock. Both add a new dimension to our walking, easily negotiated by all in the team.
Jumping off the last of the ladders we’re greeted by Lacs des Cheserys, a peaceful body with a commanding view of the Mont Blanc Massif from the Dome du Gouter to the Argentiere Glacier. This would be a stunning spot to stay overnight and not far is the Chalet des Cheserys that could make that possible.
The remainder of the walk follows the Grand Balcon Sud, switching back and forth as you lose altitude, passing old ruins and stone walls we conclude must have been avalanche barriers for the vulnerable towns far below.
The end is tinged with relief and excitement and a little pain as Anne relaxes her guard and slips twice in a few hundred meters, the first in over 50 kms of walking!
This final trail is a brilliant way to finish a week of highlights, Mont Blanc showing off all its power and majesty like a victory lap as we arrive back at La Flegere.
The curtains close one more time as we make our descent and it sinks in that this epic trip, once just a dream was over but the memories would last a lifetime
Our last team dinner has an air of victory about it, just a week ago we were a randomly cobbled group of people but tonight we are a team, but more than that friends. Our walks had afforded us the opportunity to get to know one another, support each other and encourage as friends in life’s challenges, dreams and opportunities.
What more could one ask for, except one more day…