We wake up this morning in the quaint, Swiss hamlet of Le Peuty in a tiny refuge with only one other occupant, David from Australia. There is a certain amount of excitement as today is the 10th and final day of the TMB for us, a worthy achievement in its own right. This is tempered by the fact that this is also simultaneously Day 3 of the Walker’s Haute Route for us. The Haute Route goes from Chamonix to Zermatt for 112 miles so, when we arrive back in Champex Lac, we’ll just continue walking for another ten days on to Zermatt!
But there is also a bit of trepidation as well because we have elected to climb the Fenetre d’Arpette (2665m) which is the alternate high route back to Champex Lac. It’s a beastly 4400 foot climb to the top and then an equally challenging descent back to civilization. It helps, however, that David (age 32, taking 4 months off between jobs) is super eager for the climb and for some company.
After a quick, light breakfast, we step out of the refuge and make our way to the trail. David sets a vigorous pace up the hill and keeps us talking which takes our mind off the climb. We come to a footbridge at Chalet du Glacier and cross the glacier-fed river rushing below us.
Once we edge above tree line we start to catch ever-improving glimpses of the impressive Glacier de Triente and the snowfield above it.
The climb is fairly steep and challenging. It doesn’t help that we had a calorie-deficient meal last night and an underwhelming breakfast. Today for the first time I am cognizant of how many calories are needed to sustain the kind of hiking we are doing. And we are definitely falling short!
As we draw even with the tongue of the glacier, clouds start to billow up from below, and, within seconds, the glacier completely disappears. For the rest of the climb the views come in and out every few minutes, and the clouds lend a quiet, atmospheric quality to our climb.
During a snack break, we meet a young American couple who we discover are Triple Crowners (people who have hiked all three of the US long-distance trails: the AT, the PCT and the CDT). We chat for a while about all things hiking and camping gear, as well as their experience on the Colorado Trail, which we hope to do next summer.
The time has come to power up to the top, which is now in a complete fog. Soon hikers who have come over the pass from the opposite direction start to descend, and we get passed by several groups as they pick their way down. This is usually not a problem, but the path is narrow, steep, and filled with boulders and slippery scree which makes finding space to step out of the way or catch our breath a bit more challenging. As we start to slow down, David bids us adieu. He is staying in Champex Lac tonight, too, so chances are good that this won’t be the last time we see each other.
Slowly but surely we make our way to the top. There are dozens of folks paused for a rest at the pass, including several we have met previously. It’s good to see these folks and realize how far we’ve come. We take some photos to celebrate the feat and begin the long, steep descent on the other side.
If we thought going up the Arpette was challenging, going down certainly takes it to a new level. By now we are accustomed to epic ascents and descents, but this one begins with a long section of steep scree footpaths that are slippery and difficult to negotiate, especially for Alison who is a Nervous Nellie on this type of terrain. It is really slippery, and, at one point, she just decides to sit down and slide down on her bum. Oh, boy, this is going to be a long day!
I’m not sure what it is, but today does seem tougher overall. Despite this now being our 10th day on the TMB and our 19th overall hiking in the mountains of Europe, the going is slow. I can’t really blame it on anything but age and a sense that it’s important to be cautious about each step to avoid a fatigue injury.
After what seems like an eternity of this, we hit a giant boulder field that goes on for the next two hours! Every step has to be chosen carefully on this terrain, and it is exhausting. This is technical hiking, where our eyes stay rooted to the trail. When I do glance up at the glaciated valley in front of me, sometimes open and other times socked in with cloud, I risk tripping or losing my footing. Still, this glorious a view demands a serious look!
Finally, we reach something of a turning point. The boulders disappear, and the trail smooths out. We find a spot where we can pull off the trail for some lunch. I know we need to eat more calories to pick up our energy. Thankfully, we are carrying enough food with us, and our moods pick up as we refuel, knowing that the toughest part is behind us.
All day, we have seen pretty alpine flowers. Here is a sample of what we managed to get pictures of as we crossed this tough terrain.
It’s still a long way down over rocky paths as the valley pinches down to a little stream. We eventually level out into a forest with lush green undergrowth that dumps us out onto a dirt track road and into a wide open grass meadow. We see several chalets off in the distance. A river comes in on the right with attractive waterfalls. We pass a refuge and see a sign indicating that Champex Lac is only 30 minutes away. It seems too good to be true.
The last part of the TMB is a pleasant single track that follows a rushing, clear water stream for a kilometer or so. Finally we step out onto a tarmac road and, within a few hundred meters, we find ourselves in a familiar spot, right where the bus dropped us off 11 days ago a short way above Pension En Plein Air. We can’t believe we are arriving before 6 pm. It’s been 10 days, 100 plus miles, and more elevation gain and loss than the Wonderland Trail, but we made it!
We are relieved and eager for a few creature comforts. We check in, retrieve our suitcase left behind and head up to our dorm. I shave. We shower and then hand wash some laundry before it’s time for dinner. We sit with a young British couple and a father/son duo from San Francisco who are now living in Japan and trade stories. With the Haute Route beckoning, we call it an early night.
Happy Bastille Day, France! Happy Birthday Eve, Alison!