Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 3

Our first day in Switzerland was also meant to be the easiest day of the TMB. Most of it was sidling or downhill. Although everyone’s knees might have been a bit happier if there was a bit less downhill. We stocked up on food in La Fouly then kept heading down the valley. Along the way we passed the same kiwi couple that I had met while walking backwards a few days earlier. When we passed them for the second time a while later the guy asked “is that Brittany?” It turned out to be Dan who had gone to the same hall of residence as me. With our sunglasses and hats on, neither of us had recognised the other, although I had been thinking that his voice sounded eerily familiar. Dan had also been cycle touring so it was great to catch up and compare notes.

We came out of the bush and passed through a cute little Swiss village that appeared to be deserted except for several old men, each sitting by themselves in their front yards. My personal highlight was the property with an extraordinary number of garden gnomes.

Two of the many gnomes

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Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc: Part 2

For only the second time this trip it was time for Andy and I to split up for a few days. Andy kept walking around Mont Blanc while I gallivanted off to Switzerland to hang out in Geneva.

Andy’s experience

That’s right folks, yet again Andy was flying solo…along with four other hikers (Hank, Parker, Hannah and Rowan for those who need a wee reminder). We left Refuge Robert Blanc after a fairly standard European breakfast (slightly sad bits of bread with butter, jam and plenty of coffee). After saying farewell to Brittany, we set off toward the Col de la Seigne which marks the border between France and Italy. The route towards the Col skirts beneath the ‘Glacier des Glaciers’, affording fantastic views of both the glacier face and the down the Tarentaise Valley.

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Hiking the Tour du Ruan: Part 2

The morning of day four on the Tour du Ruan we awoke to more rain and fog. After so much indecision the day before, we had a new problem to contend with – the ladder section. A whole different level from just a chain section. Once again I went to discuss our options with the refuge staff.

The ladder section covers 80 vertical metres and the people in the refuge basically told us it wasn’t a great idea if it was raining. Their proposal was that we avoid the ladders by taking a different route, however this would add an extra day to our trip. We didn’t really have an extra day, Andy and I needed to get back to Chamonix on schedule to start a second tramp the day after (we’re a bit crazy).

The staff didn’t seem thoroughly discouraging so we decided to just go for it. The day before that approach had worked out well for us. The weather was meant to get worse in the afternoon so we were advised to leave sooner rather than later, they also gave us some tips on the route once we hit the high point on the Swiss border. In the fog we might not be able to see and the signposting apparently wasn’t very clear.

Ready to cross the fog into Switzerland

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Hiking the Tour du Ruan: Part 1

After spending a day on logistics in Chamonix (map-buying, outdoors-store-visiting, pastry-eating) we met up with our NZ friend Corde who used to work with Andy back in Christchurch. It was great to see him again and also to get a bit of news about how Christchurch and our old office are going.

Our plan was to do the four day Tour du Ruan which is an alpine circuit we had found online. With no car available we were also tacking on an additional two half days to access and descend from our start/end point of the circuit. It had been surprisingly difficult to find information online about the trip and we maybe hadn’t done the best job of preparing Corde for what was to come. Initially we had told him we would be doing an easy three day hike then once we’d changed plans we hadn’t really made it clear how much more difficult the new walk was. “So it’s a six day trip… and the days might be quite long… and there’s about 4800m of climbing…. plus 800m to access the route… oh and apparently there’s a ladder section. But it’ll be fine.”

Once reunited with Corde we hopped on the Mont Blanc Express to take us up the valley. We got off at Vallorcine, just before the Swiss border, and took the requisite ‘starting tramp’ photo. Then I checked the map. Oops, we were meant to get off one station earlier at Le Buet. Sorry guys.

Ready to start the trip

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A second visit to the patron saint of cycling

In 2014 I went on a holiday to Europe which included cycle touring in Italy. I started out in the area around Lake Como and stayed at a really awesome hostel in the town of Menaggio. From here I undertook my first big cycle climb with panniers up to visit the church of the patron saint of cycling, Madonna del Ghisallo. A ‘pilgrimage’ seemed like an appropriate start to my first ever cycle tour.

Three years later I was keen to return to Lake Como to show Andy since I had enjoyed the area so much. Andy isn’t into pilgrimages but was keen for the climb up to the church for the bike ride if nothing else.

We caught the bus from Zurich to the town of Como and that first evening aimed for a campsite only about 10km away. That seemed pretty achievable even with an arrival time into Como of 6:30pm since it was going to be light until 9 or 10 pm. Unfortunately we hadn’t counted on the elevation gain of 200m.

Italian village

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A day in Zurich

I don’t want to reinforce any stereotypes, but my Swiss friend Vincent was super organised and precise when it came to planning our short stay in Zurich. Prior to arrival we received a short itinerary of the activities that he’d planned, most of which meant nothing to us with our limited knowledge of the city.

We started with a classic European breakfast of bread, spreads, cheeses and coffee. Vincent had purposefully bought a range of traditional Swiss breads, like croissants cooked in lye water so that the surface was like a pretzel (side note: does anyone know what lye water is?)

Then it was time for a walk up the Uetliberg with Vincent, his girlfriend Anne and her dog. It was a pretty hot day and a reasonable climb up the hill but we were rewarded with a view out over the city and beers at the top. There was even a tower so that you could climb just that little bit higher up.

Andy, me, Anne, Vincent and Anne’s dog at the top of the Uetliberg

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Welcome to Switzerland

From Munich we caught a bus to Konstanz which, surprise surprise, is on Lake Constance. En route we came across Surprise Ferry Crossing #3. You’d think we would have stopped being surprised by now. But no, when the bus pulled up to a ferry loading zone we looked at each other. “No way. Not again. Surely not.” Surprise! The bus drove onto the ferry and we had a pleasant journey across a calm Lake Constance.

Our bus just drove right on

Konstanz is in Germany, but it is oh so close to Switzerland. After getting off the bus we very quickly crossed the border. It was a bit of a non-event but slightly more noticeable than other border crossings we’ve done, there was still a border control building but it is no longer in use now that Switzerland is part of the Schengen zone.

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