Our hikes during the past two days have allowed us to see Mont Blanc from two completely different perspectives. On Monday we started the day on the local bus to catch the gondola at Les Praz to La Flégère ski resort for a hike to Lac Blanc (White Lake) a small glacial lake high in the mountains above the ski resort.
The trail up to the lake was high up on the side of the valley wall called the Grand Balcon Sud. Far below was a small village on the valley floor, with towering granite spires rising high above. At the lake we enjoyed views of the Mont Blanc massif looking from north to south toward Italy (where we will be hiking tomorrow). After a long descent, it was nice to enjoy a cold beer and the expansive views while lounging in a deck chair and waiting for the gondola ride back down the Les Praz. The local bus ride back to the chalet was quite crowded since these transit buses are also used by local students as schools release for the day.
Today, Neil and Marta drove our group from Chamonix to Courmayeur, Italy by way an 11.2 km tunnel under Mont Blanc. The tunnel is an amazing feat of engineering and traffic is controlled by a timed gate and a strict speed limit to avoid congestion in the tunnel. The entire trip was only 40 minutes!
Part of our group spent a wonderful and relaxing day exploring Courmayeur and enjoying delicious Italian cuisine. This quaint Italian village is a popular resort destination for hiking and skiiing enthusiasts.
The hike started with a bit of a climb from the Val Ferret (the valley that flanks the southern side of the Mont Blanc Massif) up to the Bonatti Refuge. The trail then meandered thru rolling pastoral fields, a stark contrast from the rugged, rocky trails we had experienced so far. Since we were now in Italy, the standard trail greeting changed from “Bon Jour” to “Buon Giorno!”
The views of Mont Blanc from the south were spectacular, rising vertically and dramatically. It was easy to see how the Alps are formed from the African tectonic Plate “crashing” onto the Eurasian Plate to form the mountains to our north. It is also remarkable to see so many glaciers from such a close vantage point. Although receding, it is impressive to see how thru pressure and motion the glaciers have carved their paths.
Once again we ended our day with a refreshing soak of our tired feet in a cold glacial river. I can’t think of a more effective way to rapidly recover from the hours of hiking… of course some good wine, limoncello, and cold beer are pretty good for relaxing at the end of another spectacular day!