TMB Day 7 – Col de Voza to Random ski slope – Roof Camp to Sheep Invasion Camp
Kilometers hiked: 23-ish
Total Kilometers: 134
Clear weather and superb views all day today. I climbed high and far on an alternate to the TMB on recommendation of Spice Rack who finished her own TMB circuit in Chamonix. Solo again, I was able to remind myself how sweaty it is possible to become when there is only a hill, you, and your backpack.
As has become the norm out here, Spice and I woke up on our roof a little before sunrise to survey our kingdom. The skies were mostly clear and the sun poked bright streaks of purple-orange light in between the sharp jags. There was just enough haze in the valley to give the light structure, hanging in the sky. As will always be the norm, we took our time getting up, eating a leisurely breakfast as trekkers crested, then descended the col on exciting little quests of their own. Who are they? Where are they from? Who loves them? Do they prefer crunchy or creamy peanut butter? We actually didn’t linger too long this morning. Spice had business in Chamonix to take care of and I had big miles to hike. Plus, we were pretty sure we weren’t exactly supposed to be hanging out on this roof. Hiking by 8am. A quick drop down the ski slopes and into Les Houches (pronounced lay-hoosh).
Spice and I would part ways here. She would walk up valley to Chamonix to complete the last few miles of her TMB that she started a few days before meeting me in Champex. I would climb back up into the high hills opposite Mont Blanc and traverse the broken landscape of alpine lakes, ibex, and endless panoramas. We said our farewells, then split to hike our own hikes. At 11am, the heat of the low valley was already stifling as I crossed a road and a river before climbing into the forested hillside that would deliver me to the top of something in a few hours. As I said before, I had a lot of miles to cover, trying to set up a short day into Chamonix tomorrow so that I could get some chores and relaxing done before Gryllz and Alamo showed up in the evening. My pack was light, with just a small amount of food left, so I cranked my effort to maximum (11) to see what these legs still had in them.
I was pouring sweat before long, the trail maintaining a relentless slope. Mercifully there was ample shade of the likes that have not been seen on this trail thus far. A measured gummy intake got me to a Rio-style Jesus, perched on the dashboard of the whole valley. The sweaty climbing continued from there for many more thousands of feet. About 4,500ft total. Not much else to say except that there were delicious blueberries for the picking and some exciting exposed sections with metal handrails for protection. Views blew up my mind the whole way. The guidebook and signs said 3.5 hours. I did it in 2.5 hours. Still got it!
I reached a local summit just off the now-treeless trail and collapsed like a sweaty sack of potatoes, lines of chalky salt already drying on my shirt and pack straps. I killed the last of the bread and cheese from Courmayeur as I gazed in wide wonder at the joy I had found. Mont Blanc is a big, white mountain. It dominates everything in the range with its looming, glacier-covered presence that is complemented, but not overmatched by the sleek, granite stilettos of the lower peaks. The contrast is stark. With my stomach full and my feet aired out, I slapped back onto the trail to reach the high point of Le Brevent(2526m), which I could see covered in ant-like tourists, enjoying the spectacular views in their own ways after their thrilling ride up in the gondola.
Despite all the clean looking people I didn’t feel too out of place wandering around the ice cream stand and gondola station. There were plenty of other grody hikers and climbers lying about, enjoying the views, almost done now with their TMB adventures. If you are in Chamonix, this is about as must-see as it gets when the weather is clear. Quintessential Mont Blanc. Hike up, or take the gondola. Doesn’t matter. Get here.
The day was moving on, though, so at 4pm I left the party to find the high lakes that Spice insisted I visit, Lacs Noirs and Lac Blanc. A surprisingly steep and sketchy drop from the summit featuring some ladders left me cruising on switchbacks to ski slopes below. At a junction, I left the TMB proper to explore the higher secrets of this sub range, the Aiguilles Rouges massif.
My route took me back up to the ridge. My uphill muscles were now moaning as I asked them to work harder than they had since my days on the PCT. A lot of elevation today. But it was worth it. The rugged, rocky trail crested Col du Lac Cornu where I was treated to a splendid view of the ice-rimmed alpine lake, Lac Cornu. Campers poked out of hiding places here and there. This was clearly a well-known secret, but that didn’t matter. It was beautiful. Ibex grunted and whistled as I followed cairns and painted waymarks around and up to the next lake, Lacs Noirs. More frozen, more beautiful. The evening light cast a glorious glow on the surrounding green hillsides that combined in wonderful contrast with the rock and ice across the valley. Everywhere sharp rocks tickled the sky.
It was getting late now and I had to boogie if I wanted a chance at making it to Lac Blanc for sunset. The trail wasn’t one for fast traveling however as there were a number of sketchy snowfield crossings. A slip and slide on the slick snow would have ended badly in a hideous pile of rocks. I climbed down and around the sketchiest of the bunch, not feeling foolhardy enough to try it without spikes on my feet and too lazy to pull out the spikes I’ve been carrying from the bottom of my pack. Safely on smoother terrain, I cruised then crawled up one last climb.
It was 8pm. I checked my map. Still one hour from Lac Blanc. Not going to make it tonight. I found a grassy bulge and set up for the evening. Dark clouds hung over the Mont Blanc massif in front of me as the light faded for one last time on the glaciers far across the valley. The lights of Chamonix twinkled on again. A herd of sheep advances without stealth behind me maybe coming after my cous cous dinner. It’s been a hard day and I’m tired. The trail was exciting and rugged with views and experiences to match. Solo camping once more. Solo cowboy in a gorgeous spot. Feels familiar. Feels like home. I miss Spice though and fall asleep thinking about the delicious things she’s eating down in the valley. I’ll get my pizza/burrito/awesomehotfoodthing tomorrow. Enjoy now.