Day 10 - Le Grand Balcon du Sud

The woman serving breakfast speaks to us only in simple French, by far the best way for us to learn the language. We visit a baker’s shop where a charming woman sells us delicious sandwiches and quiches. What a great country to eat in! What on earth were we thinking of last night?

Most people plan to catch the 8.55am bus to Col des Montets to ascend to Le Grand Balcon du Sud, a high path that offers unparalleled views of the Mont Blanc massif. Hilja will disembark a little earlier to take a lower route that includes ladder pitches, but Alan, Margaret and Colin will follow us four. The Party of Five are walking up to the start of the ladder route, Adrian and Jo are walking to Col des Montets, and Mark and Robyn are taking a direct route from the hotel to the cable car at La Flégère, from where we all expect to descend. Well, almost all of us.

Argentière and Aiguille du Midi

After a couple of gloomy days we’re thrilled to see the Aiguille du Midi through the lifting clouds as we await the bus. A few minutes later we’re climbing steadily and well within ourselves on a well made path up a steep mountainside. We rise 600m before the gradient eases, and from that point onwards the day is filled with exceptional panoramas of the glaciers and peaks of the north western side of the Mont Blanc range, from Col de Balme to the highest dome of the White Mountain itself. This is truly a magnificent day for the eye, and after the initial climb the walking is easy.

Aiguille Verte and Glacier d’Argentière from the ascent to Le Grand Balcon du Sud

Mont Blanc

Mer de Glace

‘Pete! Stop!’
Alec’s urgent whisper brings me to a halt. ‘There’s an Ibex,’ he says.

Sure enough, walking slowly towards us, grazing its own pasture, is an Ibex. We signal to a following group, and they approach cautiously, cameras in hand. Alec has his 10x zoom at the ready as the beast slowly potters about, possibly wondering why humans click so much when they see him. He goes his way, and we go ours. And still we click away happily, as the cool bright day provides excellent visibility and fine walking.

We divert uphill towards Lac Blanc and meet up with Hilja after her ladder climbing. We tell her Alan is only a couple of minutes behind us, so she waits as we head on. At a pleasant little lake we call a lunch stop, but Alan chides us and tells us we should have continued to Lac Blanc itself. Bill gets up and follows, but the rest of us finish our lunch before the final clamber over steep rocks and snow banks to the sun-drenched terrace café beside the snow-filled lake. Café au lait and a second application of sunscreen round off a great morning’s walk.

Lac Blanc

Lac Blanc and Aiguille d’Argentière

The descent to La Flégère is long and rocky. A host of people are climbing towards us. All age groups are represented, and we comment that the youngsters being introduced to this activity in their earliest years will naturally develop into the superbly toned mountain athletes of the future (unless they develop an excessive affection for beer, of course).

At the scuffed and levelled skiing shelf of La Flégère we buy return tickets and ride to La Praz for a pleasant riverside walk into Chamonix. The hotel is well located and the welcome friendly and helpful. After a shower we hit the town. A newspaper headline tells of a hotel fire at Les Contamines: Hotel le Grizzli has been destroyed. They’ll have to redesign the breakfast bar! We sample a couple of beers before going for dinner, where Martin’s order of ‘fillet steak well done’ elicits the response ‘catastrophe’ from the waiter. At least he gets what he wants. We round the evening off with the French version of Irish coffee – also ‘catastrophe’.

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