Les Contamines, France to Col de la Croix du Bonhomme

We woke up to a beautiful morning – cool to start, with a few clouds hanging on to the mountaintops.  After reading several blogs from people that had skipped the first stage of the Tour du Mont Blanc as described in the Kev Reynolds guidebook {Les Houches to Les Contamines}, we decided to follow suit.  With limited vacation time, we thought that doing this would allow us to fully enjoy the TMB.

Catching a 7:00 am bus out of Chamonix, we headed toward Saint Gervais where we caught our second bus.  Setting out from Saint Gervais, the bus wound us through Les Contamines, bringing us to one of the bus stops at the end of town.   We weren’t entirely sure of where we were, but after checking in the guidebook, we knew that we would meet up with the TMB eventually if we kept following the signs for Notre Dame de la Gorge and looked for the river. About two minutes after deciding on our direction, we experienced a brief and minor catastrophe – the frame of Evan’s sunglasses had cracked fully through.  A true tragedy for him since he and his sunglasses are pretty much inseparable.  The duct tape in the first aid kit came in handy right off the bat!  Getting ourselves back on track, we anxiously made our way down toward the river to find the trail that we would be hiking for the next ten days.  After finding our first TMB route marker, we made our way along the flat trail for about 45 minutes before we reached the popular church – Notre Dame de la Gorge.

Immediately after leaving the church, we experienced our first ascent of the trek and the TMB suddenly became very real.  We passed our first refuge, Refuge de Nant Borrant, and stopped to relax and take in the views for a few minutes.  Continuing on, the trail passed some cow pastures, our first encounter with alpine cattle.  Because of the often massive bells hanging decoratively around their necks, we quickly learned that you can hear the cows before you see them.  Even when they don’t seem to be moving, their bells still chime enchantingly.  I will now forever associate the tinkling of cow bells with walking the TMB.  After another ascent and a great chat with a couple from Jacksonville Florida, we reached Refuge de la Balme where we stopped for some lunch – our first of many ham and cheese sandwiches on the trek.

Full and satisfied, we hiked on.  Over the next few hours our gain in altitude and movement deeper into the mountains began to offer us views that made us lose ourselves in awe.  Passing between steep mountains and waterfalls, and through alpine fields that held what seemed like hundreds of different wildflowers, Evan and I stopped multiple times just to look around and truly soak up everything that surrounded us. Around 5 hours after our start out from Les Contamines, we reached our first col on the TMB, the Col du Bonhomme (2,329 m).  A small hut stood like a lonely sentinel of the pass, offering shelter during bad weather.  Lucky for us, besides a little wind, the day was beautiful.  The Col du Bonhomme offered views of the valley from which we had come one way, and a vast stretch of other beautiful valleys the other way.  We relaxed at the col for a bit, chatting with the Floridians – Bill and Allison – before they had to move on.  We also saw our first alpine marmot!

Signs posted at the col indicated that we had about a 45 minute hike to our destination for the day – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – perched on the side of a mountain with sprawling views of the surrounding mountains.  After taking some photos with our little French flag at a massive cairn and meeting a couple from the UK that we would meet up with many times over the course of the next ten days, we made our way to the refuge.  Evan and I had read enough about the refuges to know the general refuge etiquette, so we changed out of our boots (which felt so. good.) into our sandals and stored our hikers and poles in the designated room.  We checked in with one of the refuge guardians and he showed us to our bunks.  We were staying in one of the large dorm rooms, but the refuge did also offer individual rooms.

We were quickly warned by the guardian that the showers open at 5:00, and that the hot water is limited because it is solar heated, so that we should get in line as soon as possible.  Thank goodness it was a very sunny day because even though we headed up to the showers right at 5:00, the line was already down the hall.  We both ended up with hot showers which felt wonderful.  Dinner was served at 7:00 and we were seated with a couple from Yorkshire in the UK – Graham and Andrea.  Great conversation was held between courses of soup and bread, beef stew and polenta, a cheese plate, and a delicious dessert. After dinner and between some periods of being completely engulfed in the clouds, the skies opened up for some great photo opportunities of the surrounding mountains and some Ibex (bouquetine in French) playing on the ridges nearby.  Worn out from the day, we wrote in the journal for a little while before turning in for the night.

Total Distance for Day: 13km
Highest Elevation: 2,483m
Total Hike Time: 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Related Posts:

Introduction to the Tour du Mont Blanc

Day 2: Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, France to Rifugio Elisabetta, Italy

Day 3: Rifugio Elisabetta, Italy to Courmayeur, Italy

Day 4: Courmayeur, Italy to Rifugio Bonatti, Italy

Day 5: Rifugio Bonatti, Italy to La Fouly, Switzerland

Day 6: La Fouly, Switzerland to Champex, Switzerland

Day 7: Champex, Switzerland to Trient, Switzerland

Day 8: Trient, Switzerland to Tre-Le-Champ, France

Day 9: Tre-Le-Champ, France to La Flégère, France

Day 10: La Flégère, France to Chamonix, France

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