Day 1 — The Long Descent
Planpraz to Les Houches
Mile Completed: 8 (100 to go)
Elevation: 1,500 foot ascent, 4,500 foot descent
We made the long flight to Geneva two days ago and took a shuttle to Chamonix, France (I’ll do an entry on fun things to do in Chamonix). We took a couple of days to enjoy the area and rest up before setting off on the TMB.
Today was the big day. Our first day was a “modest” eight-mile hike from the Planpraz gondola to the little town of Les Houches. Many have described this as the worst day of the TMB because of the 4,500-foot descent.
We started the day with a trip from Chamonix to the top of the gondola, which had amazing views of Mont Blanc of the surrounding mountains.
We hiked for about an hour before reaching out first mountain refuge — now, I love wilderness and roadless areas in the States, but I have to say there is something pretty amazingly civilized about the refuges in the Alps. Think restaurant/bar and hostel/hotel depending on the size of these. So after our lunch of local Chamonix baguette, cheese, and sausage (yummy), we hiked over to Refuge de Bellachat for an espresso. Other hikers were having baguette sandwiches, green salads, local beers, or just snacks. Typically, you encounter at least one or two refuges per day on the TMB, and most people spend some nights sleeping in the refuges (unless you are camping). I am sure I will have more on the refuges.
After lunch, we began the descent to Les Houches. The 4,500-foot descent had all the subtlety of a bobsled run. We first day knees were not ready for this. We dealt with alpine steep, mid-alpine steep, first train steep, and old road with loose rocks steep. While scenic, I have to be honest that this, at times, felt more like the descent into Hell than a fun hike in the Alps. After several hours, we made it into the little town of Les Houches and a lovely hotel for a dip in their pool, some bar time, and an amazing French dinner.
Tomorrow promises more modest descent with an uphill as a variety. We are off tomorrow to Les Contamines.
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