Even in less than perfect weather there is much to recommend the Col du Tricot route and if the sun shines you will be rewarded the extra effort by some tremendous views.
It’s best not attempted if there is a risk of thunderstorms as there is little shelter on the high stretches.
Diary – Tuesday July 13
Bellevue – Bionnassay Torrent – Col du Tricot – Chalet de Miage – Chalets de Truc – Les Contamines-Montjoie
We got up at 6:30AM so that we could make an early start. There was low cloud again but we assumed it was early morning fog so it didn’t deter us. We took the train to Les Houches and went back up the cable car to Bellevue. The higher we got the more the fog thickened until suddenly the pylons of the cable car were looming out of the mist at us. We began to realise that this wasn’t fog at all but that we were in the clouds. As we got to Bellevue the clouds cleared for a moment and we could see the route ahead. The cloud was swirling around us, and the hanging valley (the Combe de Tricot) leading to the Col du Tricot was nowhere to be seen. We mused on what to do for a few moments – it wasn’t too late to change our plans and take the low variation – but we decided to stick to the plan and trust the forecast.
We crossed the tracks of the Tramway du Mont Blanc and slowly wound our way around the hillside onto the moraine of the Bionnassay glacier. The Himalayan-style suspension bridge that crosses the Bionnassay Torrent soon loomed out of the mist. We bounced across it as it started to drizzle, and worked our way up the moraine on the other side. It was atmospheric in an eerie sort of way, with swirling mists and sudden fleeting views of the mountains.
After about an hour we reached the start of the Combe de Tricot which rises to the col. Here the path opens out and we were surrounded by wild flowers – alpine rhododendrons, mountain orchids and alpine ladies-mantle amongst many others, all covered in dew.
All we could still see was cloud but optimistic as ever, we pushed on, hoping that it would lift but it only got thicker. Sometimes it was hard be sure that we were in a u-shaped glacial valley, but we had fleeting glimpses and we could see the snow that lay on the slopes around us but not on our path as we continued the flog up to the col. Though it was definitely harder work without the views to push us onwards, it was quite enjoyable, if a little cold.
The cloud brightened in front of us as we reached the Col du Tricot. We opened a celebratory bar of chocolate and as we munched the cloud started to break and we caught a glimpse of the Chalet de Miage way below us.Thankfully the cloud was thinner in front of us.
The descent is down tight zigzags, but the path is not too steep and in a surprisingly quick time we found ourselves amongst the cows at the bottom. We stopped at the Chalet de Miage for lunch – soup and a cheese sandwich (note that here, sandwich is a loose term for a loaf of bread with half a kilo of cheese in it). Even better that that, the sun came out. It was just a small patch of blue but at least we could see the mountains and the Glacier de Miage and feel some warmth on our faces while we ate.
Having finished lunch we got up and started zigzagging up the steep slope towards the Chalets de Truc. After we’d taken about 5 steps up the slope it decided to rain and within seconds it turned into a torrential downpour. All around us people were stopping to put on their waterproofs and as it didn’t look like it would pass any time soon, we did the same.
It was still raining as we passed the Chalets de Truc, but soon after it stopped and as we paused to look down into the valley of Les Contamines-Montjoie our rucksacks gently steamed in the weak sunshine.
The descent into Les Contamines-Montjoie follows forest tracks that can be slippery and steep in places, but are not too bad. An alternative could be to walk the forestry gravel road but this is much longer and is probably less fun. Finally we emerged at the end of an asphalt road that marked the edge of the village. The road zigzags, but a footpath goes straight down through the middle of it, taking you to the centre of the village in no time.
We opted for the first hotel we came to – the Hotel Grizzli. It was cheap compared to Chamonix prices and the rooms had jacuzzis (ok, baths with water jets) which was the best way to warm up after a rainy day. The hotel owner was incredibly friendly and offered to dry our boots out overnight.
We went out in search of beer but les Contamines is a strange town – though there are some nods to the tourist trade, it’s not geared up for tourism, and bars and cafés are few and far between. We settled for a beer in a crêperie, which turned out of be full of locals all with the same idea.
That evening we had a fantastic pizza in a restaurant that, to be honest, didn’t look so good from the outside, and the skies cleared ..then it rained, ..then it cleared, ..then it rained….
The forecast was for good weather tomorrow but could we believe it?