TMB – Day 1: Champex – Refuge Les Grands
I woke up to the sound of my alarm clock. From the window dim light entered the room. I could see trees through the window, evergreens, but could not tell their color as the pre-dawn light rendered the world behind the window black and white.
We packed. There was not much to pack really . We were staying in a hotel, none of our sleeping gear made it out last night and so our packing ritual involved shoving few pieces of clothing and cell phone charger back in the backpack and we were ready for breakfast which just as I expected was quite good. Variety of pastries and breads awaited us with different kinds of cheese and salami, and than there was yogurt and jam and eggs and raspberry pie, and of course hot beverage of choice. Another reason to love Boulangerie Gentiana.
We made our first steps on the trail at 7:13 a.m. Yellow signs led us through Champex and eventually pointed us to a forest where we followed the most beautiful crystal clear stream. It was a lovely walk and even the few drops of rain that fell from mostly clear sky did not make a difference in how we felt.
Forty minutes into our walk we arrived at Refuge Arpette. People here were still busy eating breakfast. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry to start the day early, one major difference from our experience on GR20 earlier this summer.
The trail started gaining elevation after we left the refuge. It was a long uphill that if climbed on a hot afternoon would be a demanding task. Today the sun went in and out of clouds and several times the sky spotted a quick shower. Overheating was not a worry. Lighting on the other hand was weighing on our minds. There was only one, promptly followed by a loud crack of a thunder and it happened shortly before we reached Fenetre d’Arpette, the highest point of the day and one of the highest points of the entire tour. The storm then moved to the next valley, leaving behind the last shower for the day which happened to also be the strongest. There was not a person in our line of sight that would not put a rain coat on.
The trail on the other side of the pass was slow going. The descent happened on a steeper grade with several rocky spots where we had to place our feet more carefully. It took us two hours to reach the bottom where Chalet du Glacier welcomed us with cold drinks, sandwiches, and a piece of blueberry pie.
We had one more uphill to climb. We saw the switchbacks while descending from the pass. They were just as steep as they seemed to be from the other side but the views, higher up once we walked out of the forested valley, were stunning. I dare to say the rugged glaciated peaks and meadows in full bloom took our breath away more than the uphill.
It was 4:11 p.m. when we arrived at Refuge Les Grand Dessus. We stayed long enough to fill our water bottles and to eat quick dinner of ramens. Then we left to look for a campsite which we heard should have been about a quarter mile further up the trail. We found it and luckily nobody was in. Our Big Agnes barely fit.
Our first evening on the TMB was a lovely one, sunny and warm, at least before the wind found us, and we walked back to the refuge to have a beer with fellow hikers before calling it a night around 8:00 p.m.