TMB Day 9 / Haute Route Day 1 – Argentière to Refuge les Grands – Attic Camp to Slippery Slope Camp
Kilometers hiked: 10.5-ish
Total Kilometers: 152
Haute Kilometers: 10.5
Useless gifts given: 4
More cowbell? Yes.
With two new jabronis in our merry crew we didn’t exactly move efficiently today. There was too much catching up and horsing around to do. But we had a great, if sweaty time getting the miles hiked and everyone to camp, mostly intact and happy.
We roused ourselves around 8am, new faces excited for the trail, old hands thinking about the town chores that needed doing. We packed up our stinkables, then said goodbye to our attic loft before shouldering our packs for the arduous, 5 minutes to the bus stop. We made it! First obstacle overcome. Everyone feeling good.
We smashed into the packed bus to Chamonix. The day was clear and bright, refreshed after yesterday’s great release. Tension in the air gone, just a cheerful coolness. It was going to be a good day. The grocery store was an adventure. Everyone was a little bit unsure of how much food to buy even though it was only two days to our next town. How much granola? How many baguettes? Croissants? You know, the tough questions. We all bought too much food, then sat on the ground outside eating the extra.
Walking through the immaculate pedestrian streets in search of a quality cheese monger, Spice Rack remembered to insist that we spice things up a bit with a useless gift exchange. That is as it sounds. Less than €20, weighing less than a pound, silly, and given in a secret santa-style exchange. We scattered to find the most useless items Chamonix has to offer. Alamo ended up with a bright pink, “Chamonix, Mont Blanc” zippered purse that dangles from his pack. Gryllz is now the proud owner of a large doughnut pool inflatable that will make a great trail toilet seat. Spice is the noisy cow of the group with an authentic, tourist cowbell jangling with every step. I now have a giant rainbow pinwheel strapped to my pack, telling us if it’s windy or not. We look gooood. That’s the important thing. We found the cheese then jumped back on the bus to the trail.
The official walker’s Haute Route starts in Chamonix, but none of us are purists so we decided to miss the first few hours walking up valley, instead skipping to Argentière. This would cut some extraneous miles from our first day to help ease in the newcomers, and make up for the time we lost fooling around in Chamonix. Argentière is where I left the TMB so I’m happy to pick up right where I left off, continuous footpath still in play, if it matters at all. Arbitrary goals. We finally put feet on the trail at 12:20pm. Wow.
Sweating started immediately with a steady climb through forest. The shade gave us welcome respite from the valley heat and wild strawberries provided a welcome distraction from our exertions. The group moved slowly under overloaded packs as we awkwardly gauged each other to find the harmony that is so elusive for any newly formed group in the early going. We reached the bottom of a ski slope, then started the real ascent out of the valley.
Steep climbing on a dirt road zigzagging up a grassy hillside. Mountain bikers tore down the numerous trails, and locals carried on the tradition of bringing large bowls of pasta salad to the col. The breezy conditions kept the temperature pleasant, the green grass swaying, and my pinwheel spinning. Spice donged along up the trail. It’s a little bit obnoxious, but hilarious and I don’t think I’ll get tired of it.
Even with eight days hiking behind me, I was dragging up the trail. Too much food for sure, but I was happy to be operating on the safe side at least in the beginning. I do feel responsible for the well-being of this group as the idea man behind this ambitious trek. It’s a different feeling from the free-for-all of the PCT with everyone fending for themselves and hikers coming and going as they are ground down over the long months and miles. I am glad to have Spice along for the journey with her superb trail cred to bounce ideas off of. I felt the pain of Alamo and Gryllz, just breaking in, although they were in good spirits. Two lunch breaks later, we crested the Col de Balme(2191m), crossing from France to Switzerland.
The air was alive with energy, blowing wind, and jumping insects. I wished I felt the same. The climb had taken a lot out of me, but dark chocolate restored some of what I lost. Spice and I worked on our acro yoga some more, impressing the local bikers hanging at the refuge. We stuffed some more calories, then set out on the long traverse around the mountain to camp.
The going was rough and beautiful. We crossed our first snowfields as we stayed way above the valley of Trient where the main TMB visits. We sang songs and got to know each other as we struggled on the rugged trail. It’s a good group. Everyone gets along great. Lots of jokes and laughing. Lots of shenanigans.
When we reached Refuge Les Grands, we sat around thinking of our final descent before making the right choice to camp right there instead. The views are superb from our tucked away campsite on a lightly sloping grassy hill. The Trient glacier tumbles and jumbles down the mountain at our feet and some other big snowy thing rears up to our right. Our impending ferocious climb to Fenêtre d’Arpette is entirely visible across the valley. Tomorrow’s gonna be a tough one. We share stories and a beer around a communal dinner as fire strokes the peaks above. Amazing. What a place. I’m happy to be surrounded by such great friends in such a spectacular environment. I feel lucky to have the privilege to share this bliss with the people important to me. I hope they feel the same. At least until tomorrow’s climb. No sign of purple rain today. Only cowboys.