A Walk Around Mont Blanc

by frankbeswick

A walk around the lower slopes of Europe's Highest Mountain was a memorable experience.

This is a journey that began in the chaos of a major airport blow out, which caused the redrawing of plans and some doubts as to whether the walk would proceed, but eventually the problems were surmounted. My youngest son, Matthew, an avid runner and long distance walker, eventually set off on a slightly truncated walk that covered over sixty kilometers of walking, staying overnight in mountain chalets, enjoying the scenery and the peace of the high Alps.

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A Difficult Start.

As Matthew looked upwards at the snow-capped wonder that towered above him he felt joyful, relieved and slightly triumphant. The well-laid plans for  this circumambulation of Mont Blanc had been cast into confusion by the massive power outage that struck Manchester Airport in June. Hasty rescheduling had got him finally to Geneva, but the results were a shortening of the walk. But travel is always fraught and what matters is that travelers overcome the obstacles that beset them. He should have commenced walking on Monday 27th June, but instead commenced the following day, and made up for the disappointment by looking round Geneva. To make up for lost time he took a bus from Geneva to get to Courmayeur in Italy which is where he should have been. Walking began the next day.

On Wednesday he did a relatively short stage, so he decided to double back to cover some of the ground that he had had to miss. As he was booked to stay five kilometers thence at the mountain refuge at Bertone he walked back to the ski station at Maison Vielle and did a walk along an alternative path back to his starting point, then on to Courmayeur for lunch, which was nineteen hundred and fifty meters in altitude. After that came the five kilometer slog uphill. This was a wonderful, though arduous introduction to the Alps. The grandeur of the mountains was spectacular, and, though this seems strange, it was as though you could hear the silence of the Alps, a sound that was only broken by the occasional gusting of wind and possibly cow bells, though these were more audible in the lower altitudes of the walk. But it was two hours of relentless slog before the destination with its welcoming showers, comfortable beds and hot food could be reached. The day's walking was twenty one kilometers. A hard day in the cold wind. And he felt the effects of altitude, with the shortage of breath that reminded him that where he was the air was thinner than at sea level. 

The Mountains

Mont Blanc
Mont Blanc
Matthew Beswick

A Long Day

Twenty seven kilometers,  about  sixteen miles. The air was misty  and chill, and the snow-tipped peaks towering above the stream of hikers reminded all that they were journeying in a  hard  place. The route at this point took the form of a balcony walk. Just as a balcony is a space fringing a house, so a balcony walk is where a narrow path goes across a mountain's slopes. Hikers walk with the mountain's slopes on either side of them.  But the walk steadily rose, ascending through wisps of swirling cloud and on scattered patches of  thin snow. Matthew donned his snow spikes, not crampons, but walking spikes. They were to be needed. 

The mists thickened as he ascended higher to the Col de Foret, the boundary between Italy and Switzerland. A col is a dip between two summits and cols play a great part in mountain navigation, as they are the passes that take routes through the mountains. Though not as high as the mountain tops on each side a col is still a high place. This col reached the two thousand five hundred meter altitude , and this meant that the air was thinner than it had been further down. Matthew noted that his breathing was a little laboured and he sensed the increasing chill in the air. Furthermore, the spikes that he had donned further down as a precaution showed their value as the snow thickened. He resisted the temptation to linger for a rest in this chilly zone, as it is easy to waste the body heat that you build up during a walk and which is easily drained. He journeyed on, soon descending on a route to the refuge at Lacherche, where he was to spend the night. It was a long walk downhill, but the descent had the advantage that the air grew warmer and thicker. He eventually reached the refuge and settled down to a shower and a meal. While the conditions were not easy, Matthew says that he regarded this as the best day on he walk. He had the feeling that walking in more difficult terrain took you deeper into the mountaineering experience. His legs were tired, yes for sure, but it was a tiredness born of a significant experience. Moreover, he reports that the views were wonderful. 

A long day was followed by a short one. Matthew was heading to the Refuge of Orsteres, a journey of fifteen kilometres, a distance of around nine and a half miles, but with the exception of a stretch at the end which was steep and exacting it was a pleasant walk through a valley, where Matthew could enjoy the views of alpine chalets. This walk was a useful counter to the exacting walk of the previous day. It was uneventful, but that is not a bad thing, for a peaceful journey is a balm for the soul.


Walking in the Alps

Matthew on the path
Matthew on the path
A friend of Matthew's

The Final Days.


The next step was to get to Champex, which is a beautiful lakeside town .He had stayed off the route on the previous night and so had to catch a bus. That presented no problems. After leaving Champex he had to ascend to a place called Bovine, which was at nineteen hundred and fifty meters, and though it was a long and steady ascent, it was not taxing and after the exertions on the col du Foret was not an arduous challenge. The route proceeded to descend to sixteen hundred meters at Col do Forclaz. The route then became more arduous, for he had to tackle the Col De las Balme, which at two thousand two hundred meters was eight hundred meters higher than the previous col. He recalls that the climb was long and relentless and that conditions at the top were very windy, so he was glad to reach the refuge at Charamillon, where he was to stay, after the twenty five kilometers of his day,s walk.

On the last day of the walk his weather luck ran out. The winds of the previous day had given way to low cloud which rendered navigation arduous. He walked for four and a half hours, then the heavens opened. Getting soaked is never good for your spirits, and when he heard that not only was it snowing heavily on the Col de Brevet, which he was due to ascend he realized that safety dictated a change of plan. Being foolhardy in mountains, particularly in bad weather conditions is never wise, so he decided to terminate the walk. He walked a little further to reach the cable car which took him down to Chamonix and where he was staying for the night. Next day he took a bus to Geneva, at whose airport he took the scheduled plane home. He still  feels some regret at having to cancel part of the route, but he had great experiences. Achievement does not require every goal to be hit, it is linked to circumstances. He has grounds to be satisfied. 


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A Vision of the Alps

A Vision of the Alps
A Vision of the Alps
Matthew Beswick
Updated: 07/13/2024, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick 5 days ago

No. The responsibility for litter lies with the local councils

DerdriuMarriner 5 days ago

Thank you for your comment below in answer to my previous observation and question.

May I make one more litter-mattering foray before back to Mont Blanc ;-D?

The highest-paid Unitedstatesian Chief Executive Officer (CEO) occurs in the business-, government-, residence-garbage collector Waste Management!

Would that be the same in the British Isles?

frankbeswick 7 days ago

Thanks. Glad you liked it.

frankbeswick 7 days ago

Britain strives to be litter free, as does the rest of Europe.

DerdriuMarriner 7 days ago

The Unitedstatesian government fined littering motorists in the 20th century. The 21st-century functions as litter fine- and ticket-free and furnishes litter picker-uppers for highway public-domain stretches at least twice yearly.

Is Mont Blanc a mountain-climbing site that is litter-strewn?

(My mountain-climbing experiences occurred with Brazil's Corcovado and France's Mont Sainte-Victoire. I recall them both as litter-free ;-D!)

dustytoes 7 days ago

Wow, what a beautiful hike. Glad he didn't let the beginning trials get him down. He got some great photos.

frankbeswick 8 days ago

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your response. As I am too ill to tackle mountain walks communicating with people like you is a great pleasure for me.

frankbeswick 8 days ago

Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate your response. As I am too ill to tackle mountain walks communicating with people like you is a great pleasure for me.

Tolovaj 8 days ago

I love the Alps too. I live less then one hour of drive south of Julian Alps and I can look at them every day. But I managed only one hike this year so far. And not nearly as attractive as yours. Thank you for you photos and inspiration!

frankbeswick 8 days ago

I took the striping to be cloud shadows. Why there is a blue element to it I know not.it could be blue light scattered in the atmosphere..

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