Monthly Archives: July 2013

The last post…

This will be the last update to our blog!

Tour de Mont Blanc is officially completed! We got back to Milan last night and had showers and a delicious dinner of pasta and ragu, spinach/courgette frittata, and cotolette. Then we went out for icecream (which was much cheaper than the alps!)

We all slept extremely well, and woke up this morning to a breakfast of fresh coffee and croissants. Then we headed to the market where we bought fruit as well as presents for our families! Alan left for his bus to Zurich so there are only four of us left… We’re playing mariokart and heading to the local swimming pool for a bit before Carl and Aisling fly to Dublin tonight.

Thanks to everyone who read the blog and thanks for all your comments and messages of support! The TMB is something we would recommend to anyone and we hope to do a trip like this again next year. We have already arranged a reunion hike up Croagh Patrick in the autumn!

Happy Hiking!

The famous 5

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We’ve made it!

We just completed the Tour de Mont Blanc!!!

We’re just in the car back to Milan now feeling pretty chuffed! We’re also hugely looking forward to showering as we’re very smelly….

We have a few days to post about as we had no signal for a few days! So here goes…

Our last update was just before our massive ascent, which we survived! It was just as tough as we expected, and every time we thought it was over we’d find we had more to climb. Anyway, we finally made it to the top and had a cooked lunch- such luxury! We had gnocchi with tomato sauce and sausages, and spent far too long lying on the grass, exhausted…

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Here’s the view from lunch

It turned out that spending too long at lunch was a bad idea, a very bad idea… As we washed our plates and pans with snow, a thunderstorm started! We were really exposed and had to run down the side of the mountain. Alan wasn’t feeling well so this was a bit of a disaster. Suddenly it started pouring down and we had to leg it down to a bridge for some shelter. There was a river flowing under the bridge but we thought we’d be alright for a while, until it started to leak! Muddy brown water was pouring on top of us and our bags as we tried to pull our waterproofs on. This got so bad that we decided our best option was to continue our hike in the rain, rather than wait it out.

Finally we made it to our camping site for the night (which was free!). After the challenging day we had just had, we decided to eat at the local auberge for dinner (the thunderstorm was coming in waves). They would only take us for dinner at 7:30 so that meant we had to sit at a table playing card games for 2 hours while starving! Remember, we had been up since 5am… Finally we had a dinner of Beaufort tart, rabbit with mustard and tiramisu! Nice way to end a long day! We had the chats with some other hikers, guides, and even other Irish people!

That night was luckily uneventful and we woke up well-rested the following morning…

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Ready for a day of hiking

We stopped by a local goat’s cheese shop in the morning and stocked up on fresh baguettes, cheese and nectarines. Great way to start a day!

Off we went towards Col de la Seigne, which is the border between Italy and France. It was a really warm day so we had a lot of ‘suncream stops’…

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Cooling down in the shade

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Beautiful Valley

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Checking the road signs

The Italians got very excited at the border (the anthem was sung more than once) and we stopped for lunch soon afterwards.

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The border

We hiked down to Rifugio Elisabetta, where we set up camp (Well, the boys set up camp).

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Francy watching the boys sort out the tents

We ate a wonderful meal of pizza and risotto and pork and potatoes and cake!

Unfortunately we didn’t sleep too well due to ANOTHER thunderstorm and also the fact that we were on a slope near the top of a very windy valley!

We woke up this morning and quickly packed everything before heading up to the refuge for breakfast. Then we began our final day! As we were so wrecked we elected to take the cable car down (Carl’s first time!!) and cooked our lunch on the stove in a car park… Cringe…

Final update this evening!

The last morning!

We arrive back to Courmayeur tonight, and then Luca will drive us to Milan. We have a longer post ready to be published when we get a bit of Internet, but for now, check out this sunrise!!

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Coffee update

Quick update from our cappuccino stop at Chalet de Nant Borrant (1459m) : the ascent is going well, but still 1000m climb to go 😦
Coffee was much needed after our quick early cereal!

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Carl checking the guidebook

Back when we get to the top at Col de La Croix du Bonhomme!

P.S. we made a new friend this morning!

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A curious baby snail on our tent 🙂

Made it through the night!

We made it!

Thunderstorm calmed as the night grew darker…and as planned, we are up before sunrise to tackle the hardest of our treks!

Just having breakfast at the moment, but we will soon be setting off from Les Contamines!

Mondays are always harder…

Au revoir!

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Under a raging thunderstorm…

After the difficult experiences of yesterday, this morning we woke up with the right spirit to take on a nice and easier day…….at 10 o’clock! :S Since it was a Sunday, we decided it was well deserved! We took a long relaxed breakfast with fresh croissants and sat at actual chairs. We also had partially hot showers! (They were partially freezing too, but anyway…)

We departed from Les Houches and set off to Col du Voza, which is along one of the access routes for climbing Mont Blanc!

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View of Mont Blanc from Col du Voza

We had a picnic up there after a very sweaty hike up, and took it nice and slow on the way down.

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Action shot

It was extremely warm today, but we managed to cool down at a nice waterfall!

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Feeling refreshed

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Alan making the most of a trough of water

We struggled to find a nice campsite, and eventually chose one beside a river, 15 minutes from our destination of Les Contamines. There were some grey clouds forming overhead, so 3 of us rushed off to the supermarket and stumbled upon a fête with music and market stalls! Unfortunately we had agreed to eat in tonight so had to head back to the tents to cook on our stove (along with food for the next 2 days as we won’t be passing any shops).

All of a sudden,
BANG!
A huge bolt of lightning came down right beside us! And the rain started pouring down…
We went hiding into our tents and it is from within the rage of rain, lightning and the torrential river right next to us that we are now in contact with you! We hope to survive the night! (joking, storm is easing away)

Anyway, off to bed now, up at 5 am tomorrow morning as we will be facing the most tremendous hike of the tour – 7.5 hours (5.5 of ascent!) towards our destination, Les Chapieux.
Hopefully we will get enough sleep (river and storm very loud!) and we will be in touch in the morning.

Until then,
Bonne Nuit!

The fantastic 5

Collection of photos

We have arrived at Les Houches!

Here’s a picture of our view from last night:

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Wow

We ended up having a very dramatic day- had a long hike through intense heat, realised that there was no access to water (so had to last the day on a few litres between us), watched a family of marmots, Francy got bitten/stung by insects/plants, we had crêpes at 2520m, played some of the nerdiest games of all time (multilingual buzz and Fibonacci series) and sang Disney songs to keep ourselves alert…..
Aisling’s knee ‘snapped’ so she could no longer walk downhill (certainly not fast enough to get to the supermarket before it closed) and Luca decided to have her hitch-hiked down the mountain. Luckily a lovely Dutch family drove her down.

We got to a Carrefour in the town and did a huge shop for 38euro- woohoo! We’ve had dinner and Normandy cider and are now ready for bed…

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Goodnight!

Setting off to Les Houches!

We took a gentle start this morning to make the most of the amazing view of Mont Blanc, then bought a litre of milk for breakfast. We said goodbye to our Scottish friends who had been doing the stages alongside us, today is their last day!
The hike today will be 700m uphill and then 1500m downhill- ouch…
Forecast is extreme sun so we’ve loads of suncream on!

We have arrived in France!

Apologies for such a late update!!

We spent the last few days in Switzerland, and we were camping so didn’t have access to wifi and mobile Internet was €7.50 per mb! So we have a lot to write about….

At the time of the last post we had just arrived at La Fouly, Switzerland. That night we set off to find a place to pitch our tents, and ended up walking through a giant campsite to get there. We did our best not to look suspicious and it seemed to work! We found a nice spot beside a river and settled down to some pasta arrabiata and sausages- the Italians were not too happy that we couldn’t salt our pasta water! We washed our clothes in the river and then played bullsh*t (the card game) with a few beers.

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Alan with our campsite and clothesline

The next day, Tuesday, we set off on our ‘easiest’ day of hiking (according to the guidebook). What this actually meant was that we descended first, all the way to 1055m, and had to climb up a hill at the end of the day. We were not prepared for the climb at all- it was steep and poor terrain, but eventually we made it! We arrived to a lakeside town called Champex, which was a welcome relief after a long sweaty hike! Alan insisted on jumping in straight away but the rest of us chose to eat lunch first.

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Napping by the lake

Eventually the threat of thunderstorms moved us along (but not before we had our icecreams) so we headed to the supermarket, which was overpriced and under-stocked yet again! (Beginning to see a pattern here!)
We headed off on part of our stage for the next day, as we planned to take a ‘variante’ route instead of the normal one. We climbed past some incredible waterfalls and weirs and found a patch of land beside a river. We cooked lots of pasta carbonara, and just as the last batch was nearly finished (we cook each meal in 3 batches as we only have one small stove) the first clap of thunder came. This was to be the start of a very very long thunderstorm…

For all of us it was our first time sleeping outside during a thunderstorm, and on top of that we were sleeping on the side of a mountain. The rain was incessant and very heavy, and the lightning would light up the entire tent, after which we would try desperately to calculate how far away the storm was. This led to a sleepless night for many of us.

The next morning we awoke at 6am to begin our ascent to the highest point of the tour- Le Fenêtre d’Arpette (at 2665mm). This meant that we had an ascent of 1199m which was hard! We also were still a bit shaken by the thunderstorms so every little cloud freaked us out. After a strenuous hike through snow and steep scree hills we made it!

We stopped for an awful lunch of ‘American bread’ (sweet brioche- the only one on sale in the shop) with salami and a little nap for some of us. Next came an obscenely steep descent for hours along a horrifically rocky path. You might have noticed that we didn’t enjoy this day too much! The only redeeming factor was the impressive glacier we saw on the way (below).

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Glacier

To add insult to injury, a huge rain/thunderstorm began on the way to our campsite. Due to our overwhelming misery we decided to upgrade to staying in a real campsite- such luxury! This meant that we had access to hot showers and flushing toilets, but due to our indulgence we had to try and save money on dinner. This was a disaster…. We had tinned ravioli….with beans. The ravioli were like little rectangles of spaghetti hoops with playdough inside- vile… We then sat in a nearby bar where a glass of sprite cost 5euro!

Luckily everything improved from there! We slept extremely well (even though there were a few storms) and woke up to an amazing view. We were near enough to a shop so could even buy fresh (well, UHT, but from a fridge) milk.

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View from our tent

We set off on a beautifully maintained path, and didn’t even notice the huge ascent we were doing. All of a sudden we arrived at ‘Col de Balme’ (2191m) which was also the border between Switzerland and France! Life was instantly better. We stopped in a little cafe for hot chocolate (with rum for some) and homemade lemon tart. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we realised how much cheaper and better quality things are in France!

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The view from the cafe looking back at Col de Balme

Unfortunately some clouds came in so we chose a gentler/safer route down. We arrived at the lovely town of Tré-le-champ, and noticed a nearby auberge. We were so happy with all things ‘France’ that we decided to splash out again- we went for half-board camping. Best. Decision. Ever.
We got hot showers, toilets, a lovely campsite, and an amazing dinner- tuna salad, pasta with mushrooms and turkey (sounds odd but was delicious), a cheese course(!!), and crème fraiche with blackberries.
The two Italians had never been to France before so assumed that we had to eat all the cheese on the cheeseboard…. Other than that it was one of the best meals of our lives!

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Very happy in France
We hung our clothes in the dry room(!!) and slept like babies in our tents. We woke up to another great view of the Mont Blanc Massif.

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After a breakfast of coffee, toast, muesli and jam we set off. (We also discovered Carl’s ‘missing’ phone in the dry room). We climbed up a very steep path with actual ladders in some places, and finally made it to Lac Blanc! We’re currently enjoying hot chocolate while looking out over the frozen lake with a view of Mont Blanc in the background!

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Lac Blanc

This means that we are OFFICIALLY HALFWAY!
We’ve had some great experiences, seen a huge variety of insects, smelled things no man should ever have to smell, eaten a lot of cheese, listened to far too much of Alan’s singing, and gone 5.5 days with no deodorant, no makeup, no beds, and only washing our clothes in rivers. Luca developed an odd rash on his abdomen, Alan fell sideways into a river, Aisling slashed her hand in a supermarket, we’ve each been sunburnt more than once, we are all far too familiar with each others bodily functions, it looks like noone will be shaving until next Wednesday, but we hope to shower at least once before then! Here’s to the next half of the TMB!!

Messages:
For ale: ohfeckkkkk
For Gareth: ‘halfway’
For the O’Connor family: enjoy the gathering!! I’m sorry ill be missing it! See you all next weekend (you have a little schmutz)
For Mary: you’re awesome!

[update: we’ve set up camp for the night so that our tent faces the peak of Mont Blanc- this means that we’re quite slanted and covered in thousands of tiny grasshoppers but it’s a price we’re willing to pay! On y va!]

At La Fouly!

Today we arrived in Switzerland, the first time here for Aisling and Carl! Just got a bit of signal for the first time since yesterday morning so lots to write about!

Yesterday we arrived at Courmayeur at ten-ish and had some trouble finding parking (it had to be free and be suitable for 11 days). We hiked up through the town after a pit-stop at an ATM. It was a tough hike, and we realised how much harder it is to carry sleeping and cooking equipment!! We got to the top of our climb and got our first view of Mont Blanc!! (Monte Bianco for some!)

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beautiful view of Mont Blanc

We had some lunch, and for some reason all of the local flies decided to hang out on Aisling’s orange jacket. We set off with our backpacks a little lighter having eaten half of our 30 bread rolls!

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view from our lunch spot

We hiked along for what seemed like hours until we eventually dropped down into the valley for the night. It was a tough hike and we were all quite tired and sore, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that we couldn’t find the restaurant we had booked for dinner! When we found it we were delighted, and we had polenta and chicken and affogato! After dinner it was getting quite dark so we decided to pitch our tent beside a nearby river (camping is frowned upon/illegal in most of these places), where we met a Danish family that were doing the exact same thing! They were doing the tour in an anti-clockwise direction so luckily could give us some tips. We fell asleep pretty quickly after pitching the tents (except for Luca and Alan who decided that it was the perfect time to wash our clothes in the river!)

This morning we woke up to an incredible sunrise, and had a leisurely breakfast of coffee(!!), cornflakes, and porridge (all with water). We washed in the river, and set off feeling nice and clean. We had an amazing hike up along Val Ferret, although it got veryyy steep at the end and the sun was extremely strong. We took a lunchbreak for over an hour and recharged, even making the decision to boil some frankfurters as we were so hungry! The view from up there was incredible… (Will have to upload the photos later as they’re on another phone).

Hiked over the border to Switzerland which was very exciting! There seemed to be a lot more snow there too, which was a challenge. The downhill hike was very tough on our legs, but eventually we made it to a dairy farm where we bought a litre of fresh milk and enjoyed it in the sunshine- it was so relaxing! Unfortunately a medical emergency meant we had to leave quickly and resulted in us taking a ‘variant’ of the real TMB route. All is ok now though!

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the view from our milk bar

After a really challenging hike into the valley we have arrived at La Fouly and are currently enjoying panaché and icecream, and making the most of our free wifi! Just bought tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s lunch in a supermarket and it came to 71 euro- Switzerland is really as expensive as people say!

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the view from our beer garden!

Overall, the trip is going really well! We’ve all had a few issues with sore feet/hips/too much to carry. Generally we’re all getting on great, and the other hikers we have met have been very friendly. Yesterday everyone seemed to speak Italian but today everyone speaks French, so it’s been a bit confusing. We’re looking forward to being able to shower (even though we don’t know when it will be), and some of us got a bit sunburnt today (sorry mum!) but otherwise it’s amazing how well you can live (and how far you can travel) using only your 2 feet and carrying everything on your back!

That’s all for now, we will post another update tomorrow or Wednesday!