Sunday, 28 July 2013

Le Brevent to Mont Chavin - Days Hundred and One to One Hundred and Five

The Casios sounded at 5.00 a.m. We packed in the pre-dawn light under the watchful eye of Le Brevent, a mysterious and rugged ridgeline destined to meet the souls of our boots. We rejoined the path whose fringes bobbed with globe flowers, orchids and cotton grass, still sleepy from their night under the stars. Climbing steadily, I watched the sun lick the skyline before taking whole mountain faces captive under an amber glow. A marmot printed the snow with busy feet and chamoix clashed horns on the cliff edge with envy-provoking sure footedness. We reached the Col De Brevent, at 2,525 metres, suddenly feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Mont Blanc sat on the other side of the valley as close as ever, streaming with glaciers and icy torrents. From the Col, we took a dramatically wrong turn, an act which consequently found us clinging to the mountainside with any limb that could offer purchase.

My state of illness and Jake's nurse-like inclination resulted in a day of rest at Les Houches. I became wonderfully well acquainted with the wall opposite the toilet, whose artex, painted white, spun and swirled like a snowstorm. I stretched my legs once, a pointless exercise in which I chased two flies around the room with my hat. They outwitted and outnimbled my efforts, leaving me, eventually, with nothing more than a stubbed toe. Meanwhile, on a trip to the pharmacy, Jake had been forced to 'charade' my symptoms to the lady behind the counter. Now if that's not love...

Once again, a day of rest had proven to be iconised by boredom and feet that tingled to walk. It was thus a relief to be back on the path, where we climbed to De Voza, perhaps the most infrastructured Col in the Alps, where climbers, hikers and day trippers congregated and the Mont Blanc train chugged. A man in a tight t-shirt approached us as we sat under the shade of a tree, asking us for directions for the Mont Blanc summit. 'Not sure, we aren't going that way.' He responded 'Why not? It's much more fun'. As he walked away, none the wiser, Jake mumbled under his breath, 'Probably would if I wasn't shit scared of heights'. At that, we ambled off down a gentle gradient, passing Le Hoches, the birth place of Alexis Bouvend, the chap who discovered Neptune, before arriving at a campsite in Le Pontet where we paid 14 euros to have footballs kicked at our tent by a gaggle of excitable children who would not, I predicted in my rage, make the French national team.

For the past two days our route had coincided with the world renowned Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB), a six to ten day hike that circumnavigated the mountain. Its extreme popularity saw us join a stream of hikers who pushed and pulled up the track, like a sweaty Slinky. At the Col De Bonhomme we sat on the rocks and ate soggy Ryvita that we had found in the campsite in Le Pontet. We gladly peeled away from the TMB route just after lunch and were slung onto the distinctive ridgeline of Tete De Gitte, whose magnificent, steep slopes were subtly contrasted by the pretty flowers that rooted the soil and rocks. Jake stepped slowly and cautiously along the precipice, as vertigo pulled his mind over the edge. Far ahead, on the ridge, I caught sight of a tiny Irish flag, billowing on the pack of a blue t-shirted body. We caught up with Kevin in the Gitte at Plan de la Lai, who informed us that the high temperatures would continue, before pressing on through slabs of limestone that jutted from the earth like slanted gravestones, one hundred metres high. We pitched at the bottom of a boggy slate fall, amongst alder scrub, with a westerly view over Lac de Roselend.

'Thirty six minutes, that's how long it takes to pack our lives away', Jake said, as we pulled our bags over our shoulders, on a morning that left my nose cold to the touch. Scarves of water drapped the mountain sides, their turbidity rendering them pure white. At the Col de Bossens, 2,469 metres, a family threw snowballs and slabs of ice lay with crumpled edges, like the curve of a child's paper fan. The L'Ornente river led us south, streaming with oxygen that plagued my bones with contentment. At one point we stood beneath an ice cave carved out by the river, whose dimpled ceiling and walls dripped with meltwater, collapse seemingly imminent.

Mont Chavin sat high on the valley side. A beautiful campsite gave us a view over the Italian Alps and Landry, a town in which we would meet Phil, a friend from England who attracted adventure. For the first time in a week I was able to eat again. We prepared a refreshing salad which we ate whilst looking south. The thermostat read 38 degrees Celsius.


  1. Krep walking Danny and Jake!!! You are inspiration to many of us!!!zuza

  2. Keep going, lads! You're doing great.