Breakfast is served at 6:30 this morning, so we wake up at 6 and pack up before heading down to the dining room for our breakfast of toast and jam. It’s already our 9th day on the TMB, but we are still surprised every morning by how unsubstantial the breakfasts are each day. We are facing a 4000 foot climb today, and we will be tackling it with nothing more than a few carbs and some sugar in our bellies. It makes us all the more grateful for the delicious, multi-course dinner we had last night.
Despite the beautiful clear night we had last night, a heavy fog has settled in this morning, and we can’t see a thing as we head out on the trail. Even making sense of the network of paths around the refuge is difficult, and we have to consult the book and the maps.me app on Matt’s phone several times to make sure we are headed the right way.
The fog is mercurial, and every now and then it spreads and lifts to reveal a tiny scene of the Mont Blanc massif on our right. The mountains are being coy and shy, but we get a few wonderful glimpses of them. As usual, there is nobody walking in our direction, and we love these few hours of quiet when it seems that we have the trail all to ourselves.
We skirt the contours of the mountain and come to a beautiful waterfall scene that we spend a few minutes photographing.
From there, it’s up and over a rocky cliff, and, just as we crest the top, I notice that Matt has stopped dead in his tracks and is motioning for me to stop. Two ibex are making their way down the trail toward us, and they do not seem to be aware of our presence. We stand motionless, letting them come to us, and they get quite close. Such beautiful animals!
Next comes a steep climb until we reach the Tete aux Vents where we have an important decision to make.
We have to decide if we are going to descend the ladders down to Tre-le-Champ or take an alternate footpath down. I haven’t made up my mind either way yet, but I am worried about freaking out on the ladders. I’ve never done anything like this before, and most people go up them, not down.
There is a group of hikers hanging out at the top, and I ask them which route they took. They did the ladders and say they weren’t too bad. Matt asks if they are a “can’t miss” experience, and they say yes, which seals my fate. In the back of my mind, I figure that I have no choice, right? If I can’t handle this, how am I going to do the Haute Route or the Alta Via 2? I have to push my fears aside and do it.
We start the descent and get more intel from hikers we meet along the way who give us advice to put our poles away and have our hands free. The first section we hit is a set of steps made out of timber that is nailed into the granite with rebar. Some of the slabs are a little loose, but they aren’t too bad overall. Then we come to the first set of ladders, and we start out with a bang.
There are two ladders here. The first is short and no problem, but the second one in this section is about 20 feet in length. Matt goes first and gives me lots of helpful advice on what to do. Luckily, there is a sturdy, handrail at the top of each ladder that makes it really easy to get onto them. Going down isn’t nearly as tough as I thought it would be. As long as I have something firm to hold onto, I am good, and I am actually surprised to find out that I am having fun!
We hike a little ways before coming to the next section, and this one has more ladders, but they are all short, little runs. In between, there are catwalks to get from ladder to ladder, and it is much more tame than I thought it would be. After a third and final section, we emerge out onto a pleasant alpine bowl with all kinds of vertical rock spires. Climbers are spread out over the terrain all around us, taking a rest or waiting their turn to scale the rock surfaces. I breathe a big sigh of relief that we are through this section and continue our descent down to Tre-le-Champ.
Before too long, we run into yet another ibex on the trail. This one clearly sees us (and the other hikers who come up), but he has no concern for us and does his business of eating grass and shrubs just a few feet away from us.
We make it down to a dirt road around lunchtime. There are signs pointing the way to an auberge, and, since the timing is almost perfect, we take the short side-trip to the inn to see if we can score some fresh bread. The inn is set in a beautiful garden, and there are many guests having lunch at the tables outside. We opt for a cold lemon soda (so refreshing!) and a loaf of bread cooked just a few hours ago in the inn’s kitchen.
We hike back up the road for a bit until we find a nice log in the shade where we can drop our bags and enjoy a simple picnic lunch. We get some strange looks from the people driving by, but eating on a log feels so normal to us. We wonder what the big deal is.
After lunch, we have a big climb up through the woods to above tree line, eventually making our way up to L’Aiguillette des Posettes. We emerge from the trees and enjoy expansive views as we hike along the spine, going up, up, up to 2201 meters/7221 feet.
At the top, there is a high alpine meadow that looks like the perfect spot for a break, and we take full advantage, pulling out our sit pads, taking off our boots and laying down in the sun for a little snooze.
Just before we are all packed up again, a young Israeli girl approaches us. We have noticed her walking back and forth a few times, and she tells us that she is all turned around and trying to figure out where to go. She is headed towards Chamonix, and we are able to steer her in the right direction, at least we hope!
Headed clockwise toward Trient, the trail proves difficult to find, too. We walk across long grassy, ski pistes, looking for any signs or arrows pointing toward the Col de Posettes, and we second guess ourselves all along the way. We aren’t completely convinced that we are headed the right way until we finally find the well-defined trail again. It’s a beautiful afternoon, and the majestic alpine views along this stretch of trail are gorgeous.
Eventually, we make it to the Col de Balme which stands right on the Franco-Swiss border. There is a small refuge there, so we stop to check it out.
We have a reservation for tonight at a very basic refuge in the village of Le Peuty, just outside of Trient. La Peuty is a few miles down the trail and nearly 3000 feet of descent for, but it is getting late in the day. We are already feeling tired, so we are curious if they have any beds available here for the night. We drop our bags off at the picnic tables just outside the front door and step inside into the small dining room where a disheveled older couple and a scruffy young man are seated playing cards.
The younger fellow hops up to greet us, and we inquire about availability for the night. It turns out that there is plenty of room, but, despite the fantastic location of the refuge and feeling more than ready to be done walking for the day, there’s something that makes us both want to take a pass on this place and push on.
We thank him but tell him we are going to continue on to Le Peuty. We ask about how long it should take us to get there, and he informs us that it should only take an hour to go down, maybe an hour and a half if we walk at a grandpa pace. Encouraged, we head out and start a never-ending series of switchbacks that takes us through a beautiful forest and into the Vallée du Trient.
Nearly two hours later(!), we finally arrive in the tiny hamlet of La Peuty. We knew we were slow hikers, but it hurts our ego a bit to learn that we walk even slower than what the fellow from the refuge considers to be “grandpa” pace. We walk through the campground at the end of town and find the Refuge Le Peuty, which feels a bit more like a remote mountain hut than what we have experienced so far.
As far as we can tell, there is no-one around, so we let ourselves in and have a look around. The bottom floor consists of a simple communal kitchen, complete with cooking utensils, and a large bathroom area. We climb an exterior ladder to get up to the bunkroom on the second floor, where we find a room filled with wall-to-wall mattresses spread along the outside walls.
It is almost 8 o’clock, and there is nobody else there, except for a lone hiker, who is already tucked into his sleeping bag. He hops out of bed, eager for some companionship. It turns out that he has just started to hike the Haute Route from Chamonix, so the three of us are actually on the same trail. After we finish the TMB tomorrow in Champex Lac, we are going to hike onto Zermatt for another ten days on the Haute Route. Dave is an engineer from Australia. He’s in his early thirties and is on a European sojourn from his job at a remote mining site on Australia’s west coast. He is here solo and seems relieved to meet some other people doing the Haute Route, too. I am already feeling bad for when he discovers what turtles we are!
We haven’t had dinner yet, so we excuse ourselves and walk 15 minutes or so down to the town of Trient, where there are fancier auberges with restaurants.
This is where all the people are, and the dining room is packed with guests. We arrive just as they are serving dessert and ask if it would be possible to order some food. The only thing that they will serve us is some homemade soup, some cheese and a few slices of fresh bread. We are grateful to get anything at this late hour, and we sheepishly take two seats next to a friendly Malaysian-American couple who are hiking the entire trail with their 8, 10, and 12 year-olds. Impressive!
On the way back to Le Peuty, the innkeeper of the refuge drives up to us on the road and stops to ask us for money for our accommodation for the night (20 Euro/person). David is still up when we get back, and we climb into our sleeping bags and chat with each other from across the room about hiking and life in general as we fall asleep, hoping for no mice!