All good things must come to an end. Sigh. As I write this, the fearsome foursome is back in the US (yay!) and in our respective homes attempting to readjust to our new time zones and the freedom of not carrying all of our necessities in a backpack. BUT, before I get lost in the 948 work emails waiting for me, I want to make sure that we had a proper wrap-up of the TMB adventure!
I’ll pick back up on the morning of Friday, September 8th where we had spent the prior night in the coolest B&B along Lac Champex…
We begrudgingly left beautiful Lac Champex to hike 18k to Trient, a small town 30 minutes past the traditional TMB stop of Col de la Forclaz. As usual we had a long day with hefty elevation gains (742m), and to keep things interesting, we also had 682m of elevation loss – what goes up, must come down! The morning was lovely…wandering through trees and a wide open meadow that made us want to burst out singing songs from “The Sound of Music”, but luckily for all, we refrained. We were enjoying the flat walk, so it was only a matter of time before we started the ascent. Hiking up, up, up, until we reached Alp Bovine – a Refuge surrounded by cows that had some of the most gorgeous views (of the mountains, not the cows) we’d seen so far. We had lunch…J&L split a ginormous omelet and I had the “truanch de fromage”, which was a piece of bread smothered in melted cheese. Both choices were delicious, but it was a very good thing that we had more hiking to do to work off some of that cheese! Our hotel in Trient was a mix of a Refuge and an Inn – while we had private rooms, the majority of the guests were staying in the dorms. And has Jenna has pointed out, we are well past college age and are too old to live it up in the dorms! But we did have an enjoyable, and delicious, group dinner where we were seated next to a mom and her 3 sons. They were a lively group from Manchester, UK – and it turns out that the mum was the one to convince her sons to do the hike! Too cool. While dinner was great (cheese fondue, yum), and the conversation lively, it turns out that the private rooms weren’t enough to quiet the noise of the other guests and we all had a restless night of sleep.
The weather gods had been smiling down on us for the entire trip, but as we set out the next morning, that was about to change. We had planned to hike 13k from Trient to Tres le Champ, and in doing so, would go from Switzerland to France for our last country crossing. While the distance wasn’t that substantial today, the elevation sure was…1069m of gain, with 1178m of loss. My knees hurt just thinking about it! Kev, the author of our “trusty” guide book, told us not to worry about the ascent because it would be completed at a “benevolent angle”. LIES. I don’t know what mountain he was climbing, but nothing about those switchbacks was benevolent. Huffing and puffing, we reached the tree line and just when we thought the climbing had tapered off and we would begin to enjoy ourselves, the weather had other plans and started to turn for the worse. You could see the clouds rolling in, the rain started to pour, and the wind began to pick up. We trudged on, our focus on making it to the high point, Col de Balme, where we could take cover in the Refuge du Col de Balme. This was a tiny Refuge with masses of hikers drinking hot cocoa and trying to warm up around a wood stove. As you can imagine, the smell of sweaty and damp hikers, in a small confined space, was intoxicating. The Refuge was run by a French family, and the best part (aside from being warm) was watching the elderly French woman run the counter. After she yelled at hikers in French, she would deliver hot beverages with a frown. Cozy. At this point, the weather was only predicted to get worse so while we ate Snickers bars and drank Coke (sadly, they did not offer fromage sandwiches), we decided to take an alternate route to Tres le Champ. This new route is recommended when the weather is bad and we thought it was the safer option. It took us immediately down the other side of the mountain, through Charamillion and Le Tour and then to Tres le Champ. Once we arrived at Montroc (small town, about 15 minutes from Tres le Champ), we decided to that instead of continuing on to Tres le Champ and suffering through another night in a Refuge (we were scheduled to stay in the dorms – yikes), we would take the train into Chamonix and meet up with Meghann for the night! Our fourth hiker was staying in an awesome hotel outside of Chamonix while she continued to recover from being sick. The new plan was to stay with her for the night, warm up and dry out, and then take the train back to Montroc the following morning to resume the hike.
The night at the Rocky Pop Hotel was awesome! It was a retro-gaming themed hotel where we were able to refresh with hot showers and a hot dinner. We even spent some time in the bar, relaxing with a few adult beverages while wearing our best hiking pajamas (see below for the “Who Wore It Best” photo competition). That’s just how we roll on a Saturday night! Despite living it up in socks and sandals at the bar, it was an early night – we still had another day of hiking ahead of us.
And then there were two. With a less than stellar forecast for our final day of hiking, Lee decided that he was happy in the hotel so he stayed behind as Jenna and I set out for the final leg of our TMB adventure. Today’s hike was short, so we would meet Lee and Meghann in Chamonix later in the afternoon. Jenna and I picked up the hike at the Montroc train station from the prior day. The plan was to hike from Montroc to Refuge la Flegere, where we would take a gondola down to the city of Chamonix. It was about a 9k day with 733m of elevation gain. The weather turned out to be gorgeous so as we hiked our way through the mossy trail, we had uninterrupted views of the entire Mont Blanc mountain range – some of the best views of the entire trip! The hike, while tough at certain points, was my favorite of the trail. It reminded me a lot of hiking in Washington, which probably had something to do with my growing affection for this stage. As usual, something went wrong with our guidebook and while we were looking forward to climbing a series of ladders up a rock face to reach the final Refuge, but somehow we ended up directly at the gondola lift? I seriously don’t understand our guidebook. We went back to reread Kev’s instructions and aren’t sure where we deviated from the route (especially since we followed all of the signs along the trail and his written instructions?), but we had a great hike nonetheless. Jenna and I took our final pictures at the top of the mountain, marveled at the beauty of the Mont Blanc range, and then with a sense of satisfaction we boarded the gondola for Chamonix and said goodbye to the TMB.
Upon arrival on the ground in Chamonix, and after a quick 2 mile walk to our hotel, it was time to reunite with our clean clothes that were patiently waiting for us (so exciting!). And Meghann and Lee, of course. We spent the afternoon wandering the streets of Chamonix – fortunately for us the city was having some sort of a street fair so there was a lot of activity throughout the town. We found souvenirs for our loved ones (well the rest of the group did, I just brought everyone chocolate – sorry to ruin the surprise), had massages at our fancy hotel, and enjoyed our first celebratory dinner. For our evening entertainment we checked out movies from the front desk – allowing Lee & I to channel our inner kid to sip on free juice boxes while watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Life was good.
The next morning we said goodbye to Chamonix and took our bus to spend our last day abroad in Geneva. We purposely didn’t plan that much in terms of activity for the day since we weren’t sure how we were going to be feeling. I think that came back to bite us in the end as we wandered around the city, trying to make a plan as we went along. The day wasn’t totally lost as we spent time exploring Old Town, Carouge, and had our second celebratory dinner with more fondue. Yes, you read that correctly, I said second celebratory dinner. This is a no judgment zone. We used our free transport passes to take the train back to the hotel – if you’re ever in Geneva, use the public transportation options, they are amazing. Don’t be impatient like me and try to use a taxi to get to places faster, you’ll only end up paying an arm and a leg in cab fare, waiting in traffic as you watch the trains go by. Lesson learned. But overall, souvenirs were purchased, sights were seen, and fondue was consumed – I’m calling Geneva a success (even if it is ridiculously expensive).
Tuesday was our final travel day, so to the airport we went. Extra Swiss Francs and Euros were exchanged, bags were checked, and flight snacks were purchased. While we were sad to be ending such an amazing adventure, I think it was clear that we were also ready to come home. While things didn’t go as planned throughout the trip, and looking back we definitely would have done some things differently, it was still a fantastic trip and I couldn’t have asked for a better group to be with. We are already talking about our next adventure – we’re thinking Iceland / Norway / Sweden / Finland in 2018 – so let us know if you’re up to join the Caboose! Note: slow hikers only.
Thanks for hanging in there for the updates, I know they got a bit wordy. And if anyone wants to hear more about the last 12 days, just say the word! A lot happened that wasn’t covered (I know it’s hard to believe that I left anything out) and you know how I like to talk.