A tour around the Tour du Mont Blanc - Day 2, Les Contamines to Les Chapieux
Today you really feel you are getting into the high mountains; crossing two high and wild passes with some spectacular high mountain scenery before descending to the relatively remote hamlet of Les Chapieux.
Todays walk is 18 kms and should take around six to seven hours. Like yesterday a fair amount of ascent, 1320m, and descent 930m.
Walk out of the village along the road (heading south) until the road forks and crosses the river. Cross the river and take the path up the river side. Don’t worry about missing a turning here as there are many paths and tracks but they all lead to Norte-Dame de la Gorge (1210m), about 50mins from Les Contamines. It is worth pausing here and taking in the beauty of the surrounding valley and church before the long climb to the Col. The church of Norte Dame de la Gorge is itself an inspiring building rebuilt in 1699 but originally dating back to the Middle Ages.
From the church, cross the river and head up the land rover track. From here, its around 4 hours to the Col. Initially the road is very steep but don’t worry, its not like that all the way!
Continuing past the refuge Nant Borrant, a lovely spot for a quick coffee, the valley starts to open, in contrast to the earlier part of the walk, with beautiful views of the higher mountains starting to open out. After a pleasant (almost) level section, there is a short climb to a great vantage spot (and public toilet) then a further short distance to the Refuge de la Balme (1706m) providing a welcome break.
After the Refuge the path splits from the main track and takes a shortcut up some zig-zags to gain the higher level. This is one of the best vantage spots for looking down the main valley towards Les Contamines and St Gervais beyond. As you traverse round to the left on the road, you can glimpse the cascades issuing from the Lacs Jovet, a popular day walk from Les Contamines. The feeling now is defiantly one of being in the high mountains again with some stark and rocky peaks surround the path. A steady climb up to the Col du Bonhomme (2329m) will reward you with a new stunning view over Vallon de la Gittaz and the Beaufortain district.
From the Col, the TMB heads up left and does a rising traverse towards the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2483m) which you should reach in around 45 minutes. The path here takes on a different character as you cross rock steps, scree and boulders – all very straight forward, but be advised this can be snow covered in early season).
Once at the Col there are further spectacular views looking south towards Mont Pourri and the obvious deep valley of our destination, the beautiful Valleé des Glaciers.
It’s a short 5 minute descent to the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme (2443m) where a well earned break (and cake) can be taken whilst absorbing the views.
From the Refuge, it’s a fairly steep descent to Les Chapieux which will take around one and a half to two hours depending on your level of tiredness!
For those seeking some extra exercise there is an alternative route from the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme to La Ville des Glaciers (Day 3) via the Col des Fours (2665m) which is approx. 30 mins from the Col. This makes the day somewhat longer but has the advantage of making the Day 3 shorter. Whether you cross the Col or not, its worth the side trip as there is a magnificent view of Mont Blanc and the Aiguille des Glaciers. If doing this option you would stay at Refuge des Mottets (1870m) instead of Les Chapieux
Please note that if you do decise to cross the Col and descend down to La Ville des Glaciers this should only be attempted in good weather if there is no lying snow.
So, whether you are in Les Chapieux or Les Mottets, make the most of your last night in France as tomorrow you will be switching your language to Italian as you cross the border during your next day.
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