MONT BLANC CIRCUIT
What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
After crossing the Col de Balme on day two and teetering downhill on the snow high on the mountain and then zigzagging through the woodland, there was nothing more magical for our first camp in Switzerland than La Peuty. Located on the edge of the village the rough camp spot was quiet (thankfully not the one near the cement works which other reviews have complained about) and more importantly we could sit next to a field of wild flowers in the evening with a small campfire and a well earned beer. I was very surprised about the amount of snow still around having not walked in the Alps before, but it made the trip all the better; especially on the last day and after a tough ascent of Le Brevent we could slid on bums back down to Plan Praz.
What did you think of your group leader?
Our group leader Simon had a relaxed style which was great and meant that we were able to walk at our own pace and meet at specific check points (usually refuges for food and drink stops). This meant that a trip that could have felt like bootcamp still felt like a holiday. Simon also had the unfortunate task of looking after some group members feet when they suffered from blisters which i though was over and above what i would have expected from a group leader. Ben our logistics coordinator was also really great. Being the only vegetarian i expected that i would be eating similar food every day, but i ate very well and was well catered for.
Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Get fit and break in your boots! Most walking days have around 1000m of ascent and also descent which is often quite steep. The upside is that there is always a refuge somewhere enroute to treat yourself to a coffee/hot chocolate/ cake. The Refuge Bonatti has the best hot chocolate and well worth sampling! Also, make the most of the rest days. The cable cars, especially up the Auguille de Midi are well worth the money to get close to Mont Blanc and watch alpinists on the snow. It is also very easy to find somewhere to paraglide in Chamonix on the last day.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
The campsites are all very good, even the two rough camps aren't really wild in that there are facilities available, just no showers. Having group tasks on the camping option - like washing up, means that getting to know one another happens right way. I am usually a purist about walking the whole of a route. However when we had to endure a long road slog from the refuge after the Grand Col de Ferret (about 7 km of road) to the camp, even i would have been grateful if the buses hadn't still been on a 'winter' timetablen and were running up the valley. Yes there are some short sections where buses are used - for us this was only on two of the days due to the bus timetables at the start of the summer season. There is also a section from Cormayeur which is missed -but then this would have been walking up a ski road so not necessarily the most enjoyable walk i imagine. Most people who organise this trip themselves would stay at the refuges which means that by camping you are covering extra distance every day anyway to get right down to the valley floor. As such this more than makes up for the odd bus trip. The second to last day walk involved 3 cols and over 1000m of ascent and the steepest zigzagged path I've ever walked. This is marked on the map as a variant path and is more challenging than the main route, and is therefore a very rewarding acheivement, and the chance to see the glacier so close up and to cross the rope bridge across the river made it worth the effort.