TMB, Day 7: Alpine Bliss

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It rains heavily overnight, and the sound of the rain beating against the roof produces a very satisfying night of sleep for us both. I love it when that happens. We shower and head down to breakfast where we are greeted by our kind French hosts, who have prepared a wonderful continental breakfast spread, including fresh, hot croissants. Matt is in heaven. Our hosts are sweet but seem a bit nervous, hovering over us to make sure that we have everything we need. They don’t speak much English, and I am afraid that our Coffee Break French isn’t helping to make them feel assured that we are totally tres bien.

It’s almost nine before we are on our way, making the long walk back to the town center to pick up the TMB. The tourist office is open by the time we reach town, so we decide to stop in and inquire about any baggage shuttle services that may be able to deliver our suitcase of extra clothing to Zermatt when we finish the Haute Route. This type of service is common on the TMB, but apparently it isn’t a thing for the Haute Route, and we are quoted a crazy price of 250 Euros. For that price, I am definitely willing to wheel that bag all 100+ miles to Zermatt myself. Better yet, I’ll have Matt do it!

Back on the main drag, we are delighted to find that the weekly Farmer’s Market is happening today. We pass stand after stand of freshly-baked breads, colorful fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheeses and plump, herbed olives. Many of the stalls offer free tastes, and we sample our way down the street before deciding which cheeses to purchase for our trail picnic. Hiking through villages does have its advantages!

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With plenty of food for the day, we take to the streets above town in search of the trail. We pass the town church and peak in to have a quick look. One would never guess how ornate and beautiful the interior of the church is based on the exterior, and we are stunned into silence as we walk around looking at all of the beautiful artwork. France is really starting to grow on us!

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After a few missteps, we finally find the trail and begin the steep climb along a rocky road into the forest. Once the road ends the real fun begins, and we continue climbing over some cool-looking but certainly ankle twisting root-covered trail.

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Eventually, we emerge back onto the road and we climb through a meadow to Auberge du Truc. From there, it’s only 30 minutes to Refuge Miage, where we find a slew of hikers sitting at the outdoor picnic tables, enjoying the grand view and indulging in the house specialty of Tarte du Myrtile.

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Matt stops dead in his tracks as soon as he lays his eyes on the blueberry and whipped cream extravaganza. There’s no way we are leaving this refuge without ordering one, and the other patrons egg us on claiming we will need it for the calories to fuel us up the big climb to the Col de Tricot, that it’s really a matter of personal safety. I don’t bother telling them to save their energy on people who need more convincing. We know better than to miss an amazing opportunity like this!

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With our bellies stuffed with berries, we begin the long, steep climb up to the pass. It’s almost midday now, and we can see the Col de Tricot, our destination, over 600 meters above us. To get there, we head up an endless series of switchbacks over the steep, rocky track, but we are definitely not complaining. Switchbacks are a rarity on the trails in Europe, so we are loving the helpful zig-zags!

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We huff and puff our way up to the top and somehow manageto build up an appetite again, so we stop for our lunch break. Just as we break out the food, a herd of sheep appear out of nowhere, and one bold ewe wanders right up to us to check out our food.

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If there’s one way to get on Matt’s bad side, it’s by taking his food, and he is having none of it. The sheep gets the hint pretty quickly but can’t resist the smell of his body odor. The look on Matt’s face when the sheep nosedives into his armpit is priceless and has me giggling like a school girl.

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Once I finally stop laughing, we pack up our things and begin the descent toward Les Houches, our destination for the evening. The downhill is pretty manageable, and we enjoy some amazing glacier views as well as some pretty incredible wildflower displays. At times, it feels like we are walking in an exquisite garden.

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We finally work our way down to a Himalayan-style suspension bridge hanging over a roaring river that is fun to cross as long as you don’t look down for too long. The water below us is flowing so fast that it almost makes you dizzy!

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From there, it’s a very steep climb with a little scrambling as we hike up the moraine on a ridge. Eventually we come to a meadow and then have a gorgeous, undulating balcony walk as we skirt the contours of the mountain making our way towards Bellevue, a popular gondola stop for day-trippers from Chamonix.

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There is a tram line here, and we wave at the trains as they pass by us every now and then. We come to a private pasture where a nice herd of cows is grazing and resting. They are wearing thick, leather neck collars with giant cow bells dangling, and the sound of the constant clanging combined with the scene of the gentle bovines with the majestic peaks behind them is absolutely perfect. This is exactly what you imagine when you think of hiking in the Alps.

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We walk about ten minutes before we reach the small mountain village with the tram station. It’s already 5:45, and we wonder if we should catch the gondola down to Les Houches. If time weren’t an issue, we would prefer to walk it, but we must be careful not to be late for the dinner hour at our hotel tonight.

We take the tram back to Bellevue and catch the very last gondola of the afternoon. Within minutes, we are whisked down 1800 meters to town. It’s 24 Euro per person, but it’s worth every cent to avoid missing our dinner!

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It’s a ten-minute walk through Les Houches to our cute, little bunkhouse, the Gite Michel Fagot. We check in and are shown to our room at the top of the stairs, which is quite spacious but basic with two sets of bunkbeds, a leather chair and little else.

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The staff at the guesthouse is very friendly, and they set up dinner for us in the courtyard. We have a little downtime, so we enjoy a cold beer as we catch up on our trail notes for the day.

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We sit at communal tables for dinner and share our meal with our roommates, a friendly, young French couple who are leaving their one year-old daughter at home for the first time while they run the entire TMB in just 4 days. They are appreciating the alone time but tell us they are exhausted. We believe them! We are served a delicious almerie packet of eggs, potatoes and green beans, with chocolate lava cake and granita for dessert. French cuisine is definitely growing on us!

To top it all off, we have beautiful clear skies that lead us on a quick dash around town to try to photograph the alpenglow. It’s the perfect ending to another highly enjoyable day on the TMB!

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