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The Tour Du Mont Blanc

The Tour Du Mont Blanc

The group photo taken outside Heathrow airport on the 5thSeptember featured 7 members of Hampshire Scout Expeditions who were about to embark on a challenging expedition to trek the famous Trail Du Mont Blanc. None of us truly knew the immense task ahead that we had signed up for. The route in question was to start in the Chamonix valley situated near the massive peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges and the Aiguille du Midi. It would then take us through relentless undulating mountain and forest trails into Italy, Switzerland and back into France. Our aim was to complete the 170km route that circumnavigates the Mont Blanc Massif in 6 days, carrying all our kit needed to wild camp 3 out of the 5 nights. The remaining nights we would stay in refuges close by the trail.

After gathering supplies in Chamonix, a final kit check and packing commenced in our chalet the night before our first day on the trail. The morning greeted us with cloudy and misty conditions from Les Houches (1,008m) up our initial 650m ascent into the mountains; however we quickly removed layers to avoid overheating before reaching Col de Voza. At this point the clouds cleared and paved the way for glorious weather and amazing scenery for the rest of the trek. Nearly all the height gained was then quickly lost travelling down into Les Contamines. Our journey continued up a lot higher with the team making good progress where we finished the day at 2443m elevation at Col de la Croix du Bonhomme before sunset. We set up our bivvy bags under the starlit sky much to the amusement of other hikers inhabiting the refuge that night.

It was a chilly start brushing off the ice that had accumulated overnight on our bivvy bags before a quick calorie rich and convenient breakfast consisting of muesli, which none of us are particular fans of. We didn’t let this bother us though as we were all aware this trip would be far from the familiar comforts of home. The day ahead was the shortest, roughly 20km but an exciting one which included our first border crossing into North East Italy. There was yet again considerable height gain up to Col de la Seigne providing stunning views of both France and Italy each side of the Col. Our pace slowed down the steep descents to Refugio Elisabetta where we would spend the night along with several other trekkers from all over the world. It was here we were lucky enough to spot the silhouettes of some male Ibex traversing a steep ridge brandishing impressive curved horns.

Sadly one of the team had to separate from the rest of us due to injury manifesting itself after the first 2 gruelling days. Quick planning and difficult decisions had to be made by the leaders of the expedition to split us so 5 of us carried on with the trek while a leader remained with the injured member thus forming the support team. At the start of day three there was some relatively small height gain which warmed us up as the sun was still hidden from view. As the day went on we continued high along the mountain pass now on the opposite side of the range with more breath-taking landscape including Mont Blanc itself. Next came the never-ending descent into Courmayeur and if this wasn’t enough to contend with, the searing heat, dusty tracks and swarms of crickets made it a difficult task. We met with the others who kindly prepared lunch in the town and it was here that unfortunately another injury meant the support team grew to three. The four of us able to press on were faced with an enormous amount of altitude increase out of Courmayeur to Refugio Bonatti where we wild camped the night.

By day 4 of the expedition the blisters had got to a point where plasters were needed by most of us to make it bearable along with sharing memories of previous HSX expeditions to keep our spirits high. Not only did we struggle towards the end of our long 39km day physically but mentally we were drained so we were very grateful that the support team managed to secure us a refuge for accommodation that night. Our entrance into Switzerland the Grand Col Ferret, at 2537m our highest point, was reached in the morning after a steep ascent. We passed by several herds of cows high in the Swiss Alps whose bells filled the valleys with melodic ringing before dropping down alongside the glacial river. Probably the flattest section of the route led us through small villages before the final climb into Champex, which is home to a glacial lake with beautifully clear water. We had some well-earned rest that evening and it was great to all be back together as a team again to support one another.

The injured participants then headed by public transport back to Les Houches so our leader Jamie could re-join us on the last 2 days of walking. Over half way now we kept telling ourselves as we put one foot in front of the other plodding along the paths through Switzerland. Navigation was more difficult during this section, as the signs were not always obvious and fatigue was really setting in. The route was back into France now passing over Col de Balme giving rise to the Chamonix Valley but there was still a way to go yet. A short detour to find food in Argentière really helped our motivation to carry on to reduce the distance we needed to cover on the last day. This meant walking a total distance of 39km with around 3,000m of ascent including a series of metal ladders hammered into the rock to reach La Tête aux Vents after sundown. Over 13hrs since leaving the refuge – we decided this was where we would lay our heads for the night.

It was a great location from which to see the sunrise the next morning as we set off early on the final day. Our toughest challenge was finding a water source from this point and in the end we had to purchase some rather expensive bottled water from a refuge. More views of Mont Blanc’s snow-capped peak standing a proud 4810m tall were seen from Le Brevent as we were joined by many tourists some of whom took a Gondola most of the way. From there we knew the only way back to Les Houches was down a knee-crunching 1500m consisting of mountain and forest trails. This seemed to go on forever as we all had to dig deep and find our last reserves of energy. We met up with our support team still carrying their injuries during the last hour of the Trail du Mont Blanc. They welcomed us with much needed supplies of food and drinks during that final walk into Les Houches which it felt like we had left a lifetime ago. Arriving at the chalet together to end our tour of the Alps was a real sense of achievement after the many ups and downs both physical and mental which we had all shared.

In the days that followed we had some well-deserved R&R in Chamonix including a spa overlooking some glaciers and the adrenaline fuelled alpine luge. I didn’t know I was capable of eating so much bread and cheese and of course drinking wine in our final days there. Then it was time for the transfer back to Geneva airport for the short flight back to Heathrow terminal 5 which went very smoothly. Now back home my view of Butser hill a measly 271m above sea level just doesn’t compare to the landscape I was enjoying a few days ago. It’s back to work on Monday for the majority of us leaving me only dreaming of the next HSX expedition I get the opportunity to be a part of.

Sam Howe

Day 4 – The Team Reunite!

Day 4 – The Team Reunite!

I write this having found accommodation at the last minute due to discovering our planned refuge for tomorrow night failed to get a permit for this season (that would explain the lack of response!).  With typical Swiss efficiency, the errors in our email were highlighted and corrected and we were told that we weren’t lucky to get a space, but it was unusual for us to get beds at such late notice!

To give you all a quick update, over the course of yesterday a couple of the team members picked up injuries which meant that they withdrew at various stages of the route.  Meeting in Courmayeur (Italy), the team split with 3 of them crossing back into France via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, they then proceeded by train, tram and bus into Switzerland and onto Champex.  The transport officials surprised the team by their laid back approach to tickets (I think we saved about half the travel fair as a result!).  Our final leg on the bus was clearly the drivers last journey of the day and he had better places to be, his driving lessons were clearly conducted on a rally course!

While the walking team crossed from Italy into Switzerland this morning, the team carrying injuries booked accommodation and sourced lunch for the next day (while taking the opportunity for a refreshing dip in the glacial Champex Lac!).

As I type, the team are arriving at the hostel in time for dinner!


Latest update on HSX Mont Blanc

Latest update on HSX Mont Blanc

“Things are going well, we are already underway with day three.”

“Day 1 – Les Houches to refuge bonhomme les croix 30km with over 2000m of ascent.  Much to the delight of those staying in the refuge we bivvied our waking up to ice on the outside but fantastic views over the alps and our onward journey.” 

“Day 2 to refugio elisabetta a slightly shorter 20km day crossing the border into Italy the views have improved dramatically as has the weather: 

“Day 3 we have split the team to speed up progress due to one of the team aggravating an existing injury… the bulk of the team will bivvy overnight at Refugio binatti a plan is being formulated for the other two but we will rejoin them in the next 36 hours.” 



And we’re off…

And we’re off…

I’m writing this from over 10,000m up as we travel at over 800km/h across the English Channel on our way to Geneva. Geneva is just the start of our adventure!

As We’ll then travel onto Chamonix, which is the home of Alpine adventure before we start our trek on Friday morning.

However, just a few hours ago after we met up last night at the new home of the newly married Mr & Mrs Robinson (bearing in mind that Mrs Rosemary Robinson is spending her honeymoon with us and without Mr Robinson) we were on the M25 queuing in traffic to get to Heathrow airport. A coffee and bacon role later and here we now are aboard this BA flight.

Anyway, Friday we’ll start our six day trek of the Trail du Mont-Blanc. Staying in a mix of Alpine Refuges and wild camping as we cover the 170km distance and 10,000m of height gain through three countries.

Have fun..