Day 1: Les Contamines (Notre Dame de la Gorge) -> Les Chapieux

What better birthday gift for your dog than a nearly week-long hike? (Unfortunately, he couldn’t join us for the last 2 days as the Aiguilles Rouges are a protected natural area.) So, on Olle’s 7th birthday, we set off for the first stage from Les Contamines. Back when I was backpacking in New Zealand, I had a special technique to hoist my backpack onto my back. Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary now, but I must admit that I was delighted at the thought of my backpack being at least 1.2 kilograms lighter every day. (I started with 14 kilograms, and Olle eats two 600-gram portions daily.)

Until the Col du Bonhomme, I was on familiar ground. The first time we went skiing in Les Contas (as the fans affectionately call it), we fell in love with this small ski area in the Mont Blanc massif. Not only did we return often for other holidays, but we even got married there! Most people stop at the Refuge du Col du Bonhomme, so we walked the last stretch to Les Chapieux in peace.

We had agreed to always set up the tent before indulging in a drink. Having too many choices is challenging for me, but fortunately, we had a few criteria to assess our location:

1: Sounds simple but isn’t always: a flat piece of ground.

2: Not too close to other people.

3: Can you see the sunrise or sunset?


Day 2: Les Chapieux -> Col de Chécrouit

After a filling (but dubiously tasting) breakfast and breaking down our camp, I initially felt invincible, but soon my heavy backpack began to take its toll. So, I walked the last stretch to Col de Seigne on fumes, and 10 minutes before the Col, I found an excellent excuse to stop. A beautiful, sheltered bowl where we could picnic, take off our shoes, let Olle nap, and gather the courage to walk much further. We had planned to bivouac by a lake that night, but later, we found out that it was not allowed. Meanwhile, the sun was replaced by an increasingly threatening cloud cover. We tried to keep our spirits up by fantasizing about the delicious food and the comfortable hotel bed that awaited us if we persevered to walk to Courmayeur. But at some point, we really couldn’t go any further, with pain everywhere and the approaching storm could no longer be ignored. But when in need… you see a cozy hut with donkeys, and where Olle is not usually welcome in the mountain hut, thanks to him, we got a private little house! And once settled, the thunderstorm broke out in all its intensity. Afterward, we enjoyed a delightful meal and drinks – leave it to the Italians!


Day 3: Col de Chécrouit -> Courmayeur -> La Fouly

In Courmayeur, we wanted to have the best coffee in town. After asking a few locals for advice, we opened a real menu at the oldest café in Courmayeur. Later, we looked for a pharmacy for sports tape, nail scissors, and some freeze-dried food, but the latter is sacrilege in Italy. Since it wouldn’t stop raining that day, and we had a lot of kilometers and altitude meters ahead of us before we could stay somewhere with Olle (not welcome in the 3 refuges we would encounter), we decided to hitchhike to save time. (We were refused on the (empty) bus because Olle didn’t have a muzzle. So, we walked along the road with our thumbs up. At some point, it was lunchtime, and I wanted to enjoy a delicious Italian lunch before we continued our arduous mission. Unfortunately, everything was closed, and we had to count our blessings that we at least found a covered terrace where we could consume our tough bread with parfait. But the terrace turned out to be a good hitchhiking spot, and after 5 minutes, a friendly Belgian with a packed car stopped, not really enough room for us three. Yet, it gave us some hope again to continue hitchhiking with a fake smile. After 15 minutes, a familiar car passed by; it was the Belgian again who had completely rearranged his car to make room for us. Really super nice! He mentioned that we (Olle!) had already caught his attention at our coffee café, and he felt a bit sorry for us because of the bad weather. At Arp-Nouva Désot (the end of the road), he dropped us off and went back to the restaurant where he wanted to have lunch. To compensate for the and then our hike for the day really started. You could see that it could have been a beautiful stage with good weather. Now, eyes forward and walk at a steady pace! I always struggle with the last stretches, especially when you’re back in civilization on a less inspiring route. If, at such a moment, you walk extra kilometers trying to find the campsite, it doesn’t help at all. But luckily, I always recover from good food, and that was well taken care of that evening! Maurice from Maurice&Mauricette had picked mushrooms himself and made a risotto, delicious! And the waitress was so delighted with Olle that he also got some treats! Then back into the rain to the campsite. After a hot shower, we sprinted to the tent and went to sleep (hoping not to need the bathroom).


Day 4 La Fouly -> Champex

Hoping for somewhat dry weather when breaking down our tent, we tried to stretch out breakfast at Maurice&Mauricette for as long as possible. But at some point, we had to admit that it was hopeless. Fortunately, that day was a short stage to the comfortable apartment of a friend in Champex. Somewhat burdened, we dried all our stuff at his place and settled on his comfortable couch with a warm cup of tea while it was still raining outside. Around cocktail time, Rich joined us, and we indulged in craft-brewed beers and the chips with the Z that hold great nostalgic value for me. Afterward, an authentic Swiss fondue complete with Trockenfleisch, yum!


Day 5: Champex – le Peuty

We had breakfast with flakes, chocolate sprinkles, and even vruchtenhagel, as befits a Dutchman abroad. Then, Rich and I folded the (dry!) tent, which is much easier with two people. We planned to walk via Fenêtre d’Arpette to le Peuty but, given the still-bad weather, we decided to take the easier route via Bovine. Around 1:00, we saw a very inviting hut. When I opened the door, the first thing I saw was a large round table with 10 types of cake! But first, we had something substantial to eat, which was also very delicious! Then back into the rain, which even briefly turned into snow. Along the way, we cheered on all the trail runners who were running the TMB. Unbelievable that they run around Mont Blanc four times faster than us… On the Col de la Forclaz, I could already smell the stable, but we missed a turn-off and added some extra kilometers to our journey. We made jokes about what we would find in le Peuty, but apart from a field with a picnic table, there wasn’t much to write home about. At that picnic table, we quickly devoured some freeze-dried curry and finished eating just in time before it started raining again. At 8:00, we were in the tent, and we even fell asleep right away! It was a cold night, and Olle promoted himself from the foot end to the inside spoon and ultimately slept royally on my mat…


Day 6: le Peuty-> La Flégère

That morning, we woke up to a clear sky; it would be the only day we could see Mont Blanc.. Very relaxed coffee on the Col de la Balme, then a nice lunch in La Tour, and then the sad moment came when we had to say goodbye to both Rich and Olle. Rich because he had to go back to work, Olle because dogs are not allowed in the Aiguilles Rouges… A bit of a bitter pill to swallow, but the best remedy: switch off your mind, walk fast, and then white beers with a view of Mont Blanc. We slept at Refuge La Flégère, where the food was fine and cozy, the shower perfect, but our roommates downstairs were beyond all decency. About 20 Chinese disguised as Japanese who behaved extremely antisocial, read: spitting, talking loudly with the light on in the middle of the night, etc., etc..


Day 7: La Flégère -> Samoëns

Because further sleep was pointless, we decided to have breakfast with the early shift at 6:30. This would be the most beautiful day of the entire tour in terms of views, but unfortunately, the weather was cloudy, and now I had really had enough! An advantage of walking without a dog is that our backpack was much lighter now, as we didn’t have to carry camping gear and dog food. Especially when you have to descend a lot, as on this day, it’s lovely to be able to walk more lightly, it even felt like skipping sometimes! At Bel Lachat, we stopped for a lousy and expensive coffee with a view. A bit lower on the mountain, we finally ate the bread we bought on Saturday in la Fouly, and it was still delicious! Today was mentally tough again because along the main road and in fear that our hotel probably was also on this road… But well, if you find a hotel called Poppy Rock, you naturally don’t look any further. And it didn’t disappoint, really refreshing to have such a cheesy hotel in the Alps with pacman carpet and all sorts of other bizarre details. The sun had come out again by now, but once on the couch with beer and chips, it was too much to ask of our willpower to get up again. So, we just stayed in the dark lounge drinking beer until we could roll into the restaurant for a genuine Mont Blanc burger. We were in bed, exhausted, by 8:30, a real bed in a private room, albeit without spitters, but with pingpongers in the courtyard. Grrrrr….


Day 8: Samoëns -> Les Contamines

The next morning, we woke up early again, and one of the best breakfast buffets ever awaited us downstairs! After stuffing ourselves professionally, we took the bus to the starting point of this last stage. We were quite pleased with ourselves because we walked much faster than the trail signs. The first part wasn’t so interesting, but after the Col de Voza, we took the alternative route, passing two glaciers (Taconnaz and Bionnassay), beautifully bathed in sunlight. Then a view of the Dômes de Miage, which I found very cool because that was the first serious ski tour I did with Rich alone. After Col de Tricot, we were back on familiar ground, homestretch to Les Contamines. Here, we wanted to celebrate our well-accomplished journey with a good panaché, but that was not so simple, , everything was closed! Well, almost everything, eventually found one café. CHEERS!