France - Chamonix
Around the roof of Europe (September 2016) - map
Mont Blanc together with its range is a frequent target for tourists trying to reach the peak as well as climbers who try to conquer one of the most difficult big walls in Europe. It is also a photographer's paradise. While the summit of the mountain is only an ugly piece of snow, the surrounding mountains offer the most dramatic views available in the Alps.
Tour de Mont Blanc aka trail around the highest peak in Europe is generally considered one of the finest in the world. The path leads through three countries and is also popular among ultramarathon runners. The course which is 170 kilometers long can be completed in (hard-to-believe) twenty hours. We do not want to embarrass the top athletes and load heavy backpacks, just to be sure, we are not faster than professionals.
The area greets us with cloudy and a bit rainy weather. We ascend from the pass Col des Montets through the forest full of mushrooms until we reach the fog. It starts to be freezing suddenly, so we slip into our sleeping bags. The evening shooting does not take place as the visibility is limited to a few meters. Even if I try to descend under the layer of fog, the cloud falls too. On the other hand, the conditions are almost perfect in the morning with the fog rolling in the valleys.
We reach the Swiss border during the noon and have a cold cup in the hut in the pass Col de Balme. The day is perfect for hiking as well as for taking the pictures because the light is softened by the thin layer of clouds.
We go back in the afternoon, pass the parked car and ascend to the opposite slope which leads to a ridge directly facing the Mont Blanc range. In the evening we are caught by a storm which is very photogenic until the heavy rain starts. I'm stuck on the spot for about half an hour, and all I can do is to stand still and try to protect all my equipment, not even thinking of going back to our tent. Unfortunately, the sky is too bright again the next morning. While we try to dry our outfit, we observe a sweet couple of bouquetins falling in love (perhaps only he is in love, you can notice the ugly face of the female on the picture below).
The next day is very short, and we hike just to the hut at the lake Lac Blanc which is at the altitude of 2350 meters above sea level. We decide to spend a night inside. While the afternoon is ugly with lots of rain, the clouds break during the evening, and I witness one of the most extraordinary sunsets of my amateur career. Because the dinner is served at the time of the top light I run to the hut and back outside three times to eat quickly at least a bit, the other tourists laugh out loud. We spend the night in a tiny room together with a couple of septuagenarians who are about to finish the whole trail. Even they push hard during the day, they don't stop at night and compete in snoring. I can't sleep at all.
The morning shooting is also fine no matter the sky is too clear again. We pass the Col de la Glière and during the long and toilsome descent, we reach Chamonix. The bus driver, who takes us back to our car, does not want any money. Probably there is some strike of bus conductors. We try to camp in the nearby Switzerland, but after driving more than twenty kilometers through their garden-like country, we are unable to find a single spot for camping. Ashamed we return to large-minded France. Our camping neighbor is an elder climber at the grade 10 UIAA, and he says things like: 'if I do not climb for, let's say, two or three days, I have to brush my fingers with sandpaper.'
On the way back home we stop in Zermatt, the most pretentious Swiss resort. You are not even allowed to come by car, and the small city is full of electric lorries. The centre of Zermatt looks like a usual international airport - it is full of large shops with infinite shelves of perfumes. We take a funicular to Schwarzsee, which is close to iconic and beautiful Matterhorn, but we realize, that we have only 30 minutes left to go back with the last cablecar. We intensively look around to enjoy at maximum the views, after we paid a lot of money for this little trip.