We were all set to leave Liverpool on the fairly short flight to Geneva, however it transpired that travel time would be much longer than expected, an extra 7 hour delay after the Captain uttered the now infamous words, we’ve become aware of a hydraulic problem. …
Nonetheless Easyjet looked after us very well and we were on our way after what really didn’t seem like 7 hours at all. A later than expected arrival time meant the journey from Geneva to Chamonix was in the dark, but it was lit up by the Italian driver whose personality was fabulous and his impromptu language lesson superb.
It wasn’t until the next morning that the true awesomeness of our location on the Brevant side of Chamonix became obvious – the glorious weather showed Mont Blanc off wonderfully and the range of mountains just beyond our window looked incredible.
It was even more sublime when viewed from the hot tub enjoying a glass of champagne!
Once we’d got our shopping and essentials out of the way, the serious planning started, and, for a small group of us the next 2 days would be spent away from the luxury of our chalet and up in the high mountains – staying at the Loriaz refuge after one days travelling down the valley to the small but quite lovely village of Le Buet and then walking up in to the hills that range behind it.
This particular route up took us gently through forests with the crickets chirruping in the undergrowth and showed off incredible scenery on the far side of the valley, a real treat, especially useful for me I thought given that was my planned running route for later in the week, following the Tour du Mont Blanc from the Swiss border and then across into France, out to Plan Praz cable car station and down to Chamonix.
The weather treated us well and it didn’t seem to take long to arrive at the refuge and of course order a drink from the custodian who was busy preparing an evening meal for us and the only other resident, who introduced himself as John Piere, a Frenchman who was great fun and a fantastic person to share a meal with – the food was just top notch, wholesome cooking with a traditional feel, it hit the spot and set us up for a much longer and harder day to follow, one that would certainly test us.
The next morning we awoke (that is, those of us who’d got more than fitful sleep) and were greeted by some awe-inspiring scenery, the picture above shows part of the refuge and beyond the Swiss border as the morning light starts to reach us.
We cracked on straight after breakfast and slogged up a fairly relentless slope before reaching a pass and stopping for a well earned rest, the effect of altitude making itself felt.
From this vantage point we could see our first mountain, Cheval Blanc out in front of us across a desolate wasteland of broken ground, interspersed with towering rock pillars and which provided us with a degree of navigational challenge. Certainly finding a path which wouldn’t result in further height gain on the other side was difficult so we accepted the pain of further climbing as unavoidable and got on with the task of working our way across this incredible landscape.
Cheval Blanc was a super view point, and across from its summit at 9284ft or 2830m loomed Mont Buet, our target mountain and it seemed a significant peak, at 10157ft or 3096m with quartzite bands driven through its rocks.
The ascent was the part we all seemed to be looking forward to, perhaps with a touch of reverential apprehension, especially knowing there was a scramble up the North Ridge of the mountain with Via Ferrata to assist on the challenging sections.
The rock quality was fractious and in parts seemed to be ready to fall off the sides of the mountain, through all of this our route upwards led us twisting as it went, bolted into the rock was a steel cable and other pieces of metal, all designed to help us get up and in parts they were very welcome.
One after the other we made it up from the top of the North Ridge, then along to the summit itself, here the ground was covered in a dark grey dust with swirling mists flowing around, but the ascent had resulted in a palpable high, relief that the hardest sections of ascent were behind us, and that we had all tackled the North Ridge successfully.
Now the route down lay in front, nearly 7000ft back to Le Buet, this added a significant extra dimension to our day, especially as one of the group was struggling with their knee, making things very hard for them. The route took us past another refuge, this one substantially busier than Loriaz, the refuge de la Piere a Berard, and past groups of Chamois and Ibex in simply stunning scenery, sometimes close by on rock ledges, showing off their incredible skills at climbing!
It was a slog down, and was definitely against the clock – we didn’t even know if there was a train to catch when we got back to Le Buet, nonetheless it was our only option, as we got to the outskirts of the village we heard the sound of a train and realised it was heading to the border, only one stop further up the line – this meant two things, first the train was probably still running, second that it could well be the last one of the night. Luckily we had about 10 minutes spare before the train came back from Vallorcine, and we made the journey back to Chamonix, what a couple of days!