This year has been characterised by lockdown in Victoria, but their was a little glimmer of freedom over the Queens Birthday. We took it to stretch our legs and soak in the beauty of the Victorian Alps and this was the result.
The weather has been toying with us all the morning, the earlier trip to the Aiguille du Midi had been delayed and now storms were forecast for the afternoon. Of course the weather earlier in the week had been perfect as we watched paragliders climb on thermals, caressing the sides of mountains. It was starting to feel like a case of “should have been here yesterday”
My dream was to paraglide over Les Bossons Glacier, look down on this magnificent beast, its seracs rising like spikes on a spine. Gaze deeply into it’s blue heart and be in awe of it bottomless crevasses. This was the last day we would to do that. The area is off limits once the season switches to summer. It’s a safety precaution to make sure rescue helicopters have a clear path to the peaks should someone get in trouble and this pretty much happens every year.
Thing are very different up high and with tickets in hand we prayed they would be good. This was our one and only chance to peer into the secret life of Mont Blanc and go higher than we had ever been before. 3800m in fact, nearly twice as high as our highest peak in Australia.
It’s a rest day, which for us means more exploring and on the agenda was the Aiguille du Midi and Paragliding, something that had evaded us until now. Wanting to beat the crowds we arrive at the telepherique early, but the signs are not good with the start delayed due to bad weather. This is common, where the weather in the valley is fine but the same cannot be said for the peaks. A squint into the sky reveals nothing the massive mountain hidden by cloud.
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.
Following a rest day of high drama, failure to launch and running against the storm which I’ll write about later. Today we returned to our regularly scheduled program.
With the weather closed in overnight and little hope of moving on, this was a day not to forget the foul weather gear. Switching our poor excuse for language from French to Italian we pass over the border, a solitary faded line in the Mont Blanc tunnel indicating you’re now in Italy. Well and truly on our way to one of the most picturesque of the Mont Blanc or should I say Monte Bianco valleys, the Italian Val Ferret.
The summit edge of Mont Blanc defines the border, with France predominantly claiming it. Although their has been consternation over the years with wars and victories redefining the Italian / Franco border, in the 21st century the towns of Courmayeur in Italy and St Gervais in France jointly manage it. Even though the village of Chamonix arguably has the greatest access and amenity.
We didn’t think this year would come off with much of our snow season spent traveling in Europe. But with an unexpected reuniting with friends and a season extending into early October we found a date that worked and prayed the weather would be good and the snow would still be about. Something we didn’t need to worry about.
Usually it’s just Claire and I on these trips, it can be tricky to find hiking buddies that compliment your pace, ideals and hiking values. In catching up with an old friend we found that and for this trip Sharon joined us. Having lived in some cold parts of Canada, which bit’s aren’t, we were thankful to have her knowledge and experience of mountain hiking in snow conditions.
It doesn’t seem to matter where you are in the world or what you are doing there is always the potential to have a bad day. Which in essence is the choice you make in how you respond to your circumstances in the moment. And this was truly a selfish and first world bad day of wanting to fit in all the amazing experiences on this epic European adventure.
We knew when we booked our tour around Mont Blanc in June that it was a trade off of crowds versus the weather, but there is always that expectation that you’ll cheat the trade off and get both (low crowds, great weather). One of the key experiences we planned for was paragliding or Parapete. It was due to happen the following day, as that was the last opportunity to fly over the Les Bossons glacier before it became a no fly zone for the summer.
The forecast was for perfect weather today and storms tomorrow. My heart sank, I had determined this walk was my least favourite and would have gladly given it up to paraglide but it was all too late for that and my chosen response had the potential to rob me of today’s experience while pining the loss of tomorrows. As I write this some months later it sounds ridiculous but in the moment that is what was happening.
We’ve chosen to visit at a time where the crowds are generally less but the weather is not as predictable. This time last year many of the high passes were still snowed in and met many adventures with disappointment
This winter has been warmer and the snow in the high passes has already given way to melting but the weather this week is unsettled and as a result so is the schedule.
This morning’s breakfast announcement brings a switch and instead of mentally preparing for a tough hike up the face of the Aiguillette des Houches, we’re instead crossing the Col de Voza with today’s highlight being the swing bridge crossing of the Torrent Bionnassay and views of its Glacier.
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.
Poking about in a little loft room, not much bigger than a pantry we enjoy our one night in Paris, setting up for the experience of a lifetime, exploring the valleys and passes of the Mont Blanc Massif. The train is on time and there are many other hikers assembling on the platforms, packs and equipment on backs. It’s been a year in the planning and to say I’m a little apprehensive would be an understatement. I love mountains, but not exposed heights, it a conundrum I’ve been working on over the southern summer, pushing into longer, steeper, higher and more exposed walks.
While train travel is a wonderful way to get around Europe there is no simple A to B routes and most require multiple trains, today its 3.