Don’t expect to be alone up there, even on a bad day like ours the whole world seemed to be going our way. That means that if bad weather strikes, it can be almost impossible to find anywhere to take shelter.
The Hotel du Col de la Forclaz is a good place to stop – it has an old-fashioned dining room where we encountered another organised party who’d been dragged up the Fenêtre d’Arpette in a thunderstorm. There’s also a dortoir, and the option to grab a bar meal. The camping is not recommended, it’s on a strip of land beside the hotel, where coaches and trucks go rattling past.
Diary -Tuesday July 20
Relais d’Arpette – Fenêtre d’Arpette – Chalet du Glacier – Col de la Forclaz
We were up at 6:00AM to get the early breakfast and were first out of the Relais at 7:00AM. There were a few large organised groups staying at the Relais and we wanted to get ahead of them. We were soon walking up the broad track that leads up the Val d’Arpette. The track narrows to a path which soon steepens, climbing over rocks and boulders. After a while it gets even steeper and you are constantly stepping up from rock to rock, hot work but an easy way to gain altitude quickly. It levels off at a small boulder field where the path forks (right to the Fenêtre or left to Les Ecandies). It is here that you get the first view of the Fenêtre d’Arpette high above you. We took the fork and climbed for 10 minutes up the narrow path before stopping for a rest and water and chocolate. While we rested we heard noises and looked up to see Ibex jumping from ledge to ledge on the cliffs behind us.
The path continues, winding its way steeply to the big boulder field in the corrie below the final climb. Here you have scramble over the large boulders, but there was still some snow ying between the rocks which made it much easier.
More small areas of boulders lead to the steep slope of loose moraine below the summit. You have to zigzag your way up and it can be hard going up a steep bank – there is a maze of paths made by people trying to find the best way, but they all lead to the same place.
On the top there is a large ledge with amazing close up views of the Glacier de Trient. It was windy on top and there was the odd low cloud about, but it was a great place for a rest. Looking across to the Pointe de Midi and the start of the Chamonix Aiguilles beyond we could see bad weather on the way but at that stage it looked as though it would stay further up the valley around Argentière.
After our rest we started down. The path is quite indistinct at first and steep, but once you start to pick your way down it becomes better. Soon it settles into a series of long zigzags that descend to some ruined buildings. It was at the top of this stretch that the weather decided to turn nasty on us.
In only a few minutes a thunderstorm appeared on the Aiguille du Tour and seconds later we were engulfed in cloud. Inside the cloud visibility was almost non-existent and the rain was torrential. It was incredible how fast the weather had changed.
We put our waterproofs on quickly and tried not to think about the fact that we were inside a thunder cloud, wet and carrying metal while lightening was flashing all around us. Our only comfort was that if it did come our way the man above us on the path holding an umbrella aloft would be more likely to get caught up in it.
We knew we needed to get down quickly but the path had turned into a stream and it was hard going as we slipped and slid our way downwards. After a while the visibility started to get better, by the time we got to the ruined buildings at Vésevey you could see about 5m. There was a small shepherd’s shelter here, but it was full and so we pushed on down to get out of the rain. 30 minutes later the rain eased to become drizzle just as we reached the tree line.
The path heads over to the right hand side of the valley here and passes some to rocky sections to drop down to the riverside at Chalet du Glacier. Just as we saw the buvette the rain started to pour again. Not surprisingly, Chalet du Glacier was full of people sheltering from the storm and they had run out of hot food (including soup). Thankfully they still had coffee, and we sat out the torrential rain for an hour.
After the rain stopped we walked the very pleasant bisse path to the Col de la Forclaz. A bisse is a channel used to transport water (a sort of aqueduct) dating back to Roman times. The one that runs along the side of this flat path is made from wood.
40 minutes later we were at the Col de la Forclaz, checking into the hotel and enjoying hot showers while our wet clothes steamed in the warmth of the room. In the late afternoon the clouds rolled away, leaving bright sunshine which we soaked up while drinking a beer outside. That night, during dinner, another thunderstorm stuck – but the hotel owners said it would be the last of the bad weather and sunny days were on their way.