Les Contamines to Refuge Du Bonhomme
Camping Le Pontet offers a nice small breakfast for hikers with plenty of coffee to fuel up before the 2nd day of hiking Tour du Mont Blanc. I set out before 8 am, with hikers in front of me and behind me. All headed in the same direction.
The beginning is mostly flat and tree lined. A mixture of gravel trail and roads with small outcroppings of various buildings littering the first 1-2 miles of hiking. The crisp morning air was refreshing and the tree covered section should be relished before the upcoming elevation gain and rising sun (another day in the European heat wave).
A small stream/river runs along this flat section of trail, and you will spot a beautiful small church across a bridge on your right. This is named Church of Notre Dame de la Gorge and is a known tourist attraction in the area. I wish I could have viewed the interior; I heard it is beautiful.
Immediately after I passed the Church, the trail turns to slick stone and begins heading steadily uphill. Another hiker had mentioned that this section could be very slippery in the rain, but luckily we had dry conditions this morning. During this uphill section, I got trapped behind a slower moving American tour group who had hired a guide for their own personal Tour du Mont Blanc trip. Their large guided group hike was in stark contrast to my personal solo adventure. If I was traversing with a 10-15 person group, it might have been beneficial to choose a guided trek; it was nice to hear their guide explaining various facts about the Tour and offering different advice on hiking.
The smooth rock uphill climb is pretty enjoyable, with trees on both sides. The coffee was still pushing me forward at a quick pace and I made it past the American tour group and flew upwards — for the mountains were calling….and I needed to find them.
Continuing to gain elevation, the trail winds through the forest and offers some waterfall views along the way. Both of which were cascading with large amount of snow melt and supply a good excuse to take a break.
After tree surrounded trekking all morning, you eventually break away from the forest and immediately are presented with mountains on all sides. Of course the ones in front are upwards, and I knew that the elevation gain was not going to stop. However, the next 2 miles of trail was extremely pleasant and relatively flat. Several small mountain hostels are located on each side of the trail. Around 10:30 am I arrived at a very well kept public restroom area high up in the mountains. Immediately following this is a very cute hostel/restaurant with an outdoor patio. Many of the hikers who were at the same hostel as me the night before were stopping here to rest and refuel.
After the long morning climb, I was happy to arrive at this small refugee (La Balme) and sit at one of the umbrella covered tables. Here I ordered a coffee and small breakfast while enjoying nearly 360 degree views of green fields and jagged mountain peaks. The owner here spoke excellent English and for $4.00 — I had the most beautiful location for a small breakfast.
After leaving the cafe, I hiked onward with beautiful cow pastures on both sides. Refueled by brunch and coffee, I sped forward towards the approaching elevation gain, which i could see several miles in front of me. This entire section of hike honestly seems like something out of a postcard — almost like it is not real.
After breaking away from the cow fields, the trail begins heading steeply upwards towards today’s summit. Elevation is again difficult but not without great rewards. The view I stumbled into, was nothing short of the quintessential sights I have always imagined the Alps would offer. It is a beautiful section for hiking upwards.
Rolling stone covered fields behind, and jagged mountain peaks ahead. This section of trail should be relished by all. If the steep incline didn’t slow me down, the constant looking around definitely lowered my pace.
I was lucky enough to have some fellow hikers snap a picture of me on this climb. Again you can see the distant trail that I’ve already covered, and the extent of the elevation gain that I would assume is only about 1/3 complete by this point.
I met some fellow American hikers here. They were from New York and we talked briefly about their plans to do the Tour du Mont blanc, as well as home. It’s interesting to run into American’s on European treks. You get so used to talking with locals and visitors from other European countries — you sometimes get very excited to talk about anything from home.
I would end up leap frogging with this group several times today; them passing me and me passing them. The trail onward is slow progress. Speed is hindered by by elevation as well as my first encounter with snow!
The summit becomes more apparent in the distance, and now the hike is more perseverance than anything else.
Rocky and snowy switchbacks will become your new best friend while hiking the final stretch towards Col du Bonhomme (the first summit for today).
Reaching the Col is somewhat of a mixture between trying to catch your breath while simultaneously having your breath taken away from this 360 degree Alpine view. The summit was filled with 30-50 other hikers relaxing, enjoying the views, and snacking. I stopped to chat with my American friends, and met a group of cousins from Australia as well. **Travel Tip: Talking to strangers while hiking helps me feel more cemented into the fabric of the trail, while also providing someone to take pictures of me 🙂
After taking a needed break, I left Col Du Bonhomme and steered myself towards the next summit for today. Trekking through the now often snow covered trail and climbing over boulders and rock outcroppings protruding through the ice.
The area between Col Du Bonhomme and Col de la Croix is amazing. There is not a structure in site — and you are graced with mountain views at every turn.
Through my conversations with my fellow hikers, I learned that habitations headed forward could be very sparse….and many had booked ahead in Les Chapieux (the small village where I had planned to stay) However, I had heard of a beautiful mountaintop hostel just over the next Col. It was a little shorter than I planned on stopping, but I figured they would have a phone to call ahead and check on accommodations further down the mountain.
Immediately after crossing Col de la Croix, I saw the amazing Refuge Col de la Croix du Bonhomme — perfectly named for the two amazing peaks I had just traversed.
I entered the hostel, and asked the front clerk to check ahead for accommodations. It was still pretty early in the day (2 pm), and my plan was to continue onward. After a few minutes of him speaking french to the other hostel, he hung up, smiled at me, and said — “It looks like you will be staying here tonight.” — apparently there was no room for me at the next Inn 🙂
I was happy to oblige, as the front porch of this refuge had the most beautiful mountain views, without another building in site. Also….they had food, beer, and a roof to put over my head.
The 4 American’s I had previously met today walked in not long after and we all shared a beer together. The hostel provided a guitar which one of them was happy to play and provide music for our small group. I actually found out their names! (Emily, Brian, Tyler, & Nancy). They would end up hiking on to the next village, but the music and laughs were greatly appreciated.
I also ran into the Australian cousins and a girl named Julia who I recognized from the trail today. We all ended up having hiker family dinner at the hostel together and I even got to play a game of scrabble.
Overall, today was difficult, rewarding, and gave me my first taste of the ‘real’ alpine spirit. Surrounded by nothing but fellow hikers, nature, and mountains.
Thanks for reading!
Extra Pictures from Today!