Day 12 - Finale

At breakfast Alan asks, ‘Did you hear what happened to us? We walked past La Flégère and on to Plan Praz and found the cable car wasn’t working. It took us two hours to walk down. We got in at half past seven.’
I thought everybody knew. The notes tell you to check. Oh, well.

With lunch in our rucksacks we board the bus to the cable car station. It tours Chamonix and quickly fills. Most people disembark with us and join the line for tickets, but our return tickets take us to the head of the queue and we squeeze into the laden cabin.

Starting the final day at La Flégère

Even at La Flégère the morning is hot, but Alec sets a smart pace along the contouring path towards Plan Praz. We complete the two hour walk in ninety minutes. The views of Mont Blanc and its glaciers are stunning.

Mont Blanc from the path between La Flégère and Plan Praz

At Plan Praz we can choose the vehicle track to Le Brévent or the path via Col du Brévent. After a brief hesitation we all opt for the latter and its better views, so up we go on a stiff climb on dusty zigzags. By now we are so much fitter than when we began, and we make it to the snow banks on the Col without incident. The view to the north reminds us of the road journey from Geneva which we shall reverse tomorrow.

Our path continues over rock and across the snow that persists on the northerly side of Le Brévent, leading to a short stretch of ladders. At the top is a woman dressed like Jo, looking like Jo. It is Jo, whose first words to me at Les Houches concerned her fear of ladders and exposed situations.

‘How did you get here? Do you know a man with a Land Rover?’ I demand to know.
‘No,’ she says with a laugh. ‘I walked from La Flégère. Adrian has gone to see some lakes, and I’m waiting for him. I came up the ladders when it was quiet, and I was all right.’

We chorus our approval of her success and head for the summit.

The final pull to the summit of Le Brévent

Despite the concrete and steelwork, Le Brévent is a special place. It might just be the best viewpoint we’ve had for Mont Blanc itself. The views all round are truly special.

Mont Blanc from Le Brévent

An Englishwoman who strode past us in the last two hundred metres of the approach asks us to take her photo. She’s just walked the TMB in six days, carrying a tent. Once she’s made a phone call, augmented her sunscreen and applied lipstick she disappears, no doubt hastening to her next superhuman recreation.

We stay a while, identifying Col de Tricot, the highest point of our first day, and Col de Balme, where we returned from Switzerland three days ago. Final photographs of Mont Blanc whir into our cameras, and then it’s time for the dreadful, long, steep, stony, foot-aching, knee-jolting descent of 1565m to Les Houches. OK, lads, slowly does it.

Bel Lachat appears below, perched on a tiny level segment of the precipitous mountain. We wind our way down and sit on the sunny deck for a drink. Then it’s down again, even more steeply and stonily.

The descent from Bel Lachat

Uphill traffic is sparse, but it includes very young children with their parents. Once again, we acknowledge the great gift these adults are giving to their kids, even if one or two of the little ones seem unconvinced.

Starting the final descent

In the forests, paths proliferate and a confusing number of options face us. Here, we later learn, Graham and Lesley made a wrong choice and ended up back in Chamonix. To their credit, they maintained Gaham’s one hundred percent record by walking along the valley to Les Houches. We, by luck and judgment, find the official route as far as the statue of Christ Roi, quite close to the bottom of the hill, and while Alec, Bill and I take a breather Martin goes on…the wrong way.

It takes a while for us to figure out what has happened. At first we assume he’s answering a call of nature, but he doesn’t respond to our shouts. We look around to see if he’s asleep or collapsed, but there’s no sign. Bill calls him on his mobile phone, and a couple of minutes later Martin calls back. He says he told us he was carrying on to avoid getting stiff: unfortunately none of us heard.

Anxious to make sure he doesn’t also walk back to Chamonix, we try to rendezvous, but the maze of paths and the absence of landmarks renders this a hopeless cause. Finally we agree over the phone to carry on down and meet at the hotel. A minute later we see him below us, and we all march into town together. Madame at the hotel has booked Martin and Bill in as ‘M & Mme Wise’ so after a beer apiece and a final clink of glasses Alec and I leave them to their honeymoon happiness.

At dinner Bill is relaxed and smiling. It seems as if the responsibility he feels for our safety and success has been lifted from his shoulders. Martin is back to his usual self, in form with his hand on a glass of beer. Alec has recovered from the physical discomfort of the descent, when he complained for the only time about his aches and pains and looked mildly stressed – I’m glad to know the beggar’s human after all. Me? I wanted to see the scenery, enjoy the companionship, have fun, and (as ever) to see if I could still do it. It was great…but I don’t want to try anything tougher.

The End.

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