A satisfying stage – from the gentle amble by the stream at the start to the climb up to the Plan des Dames and the Col du Bonhomme. There are some steep climbs but you are rewarded with excellent views, and though the route was crowded at the start when the day trippers turned off for the Lacs Jovet, we had the mountainside more or less to ourselves until we reached the col du Bonhomme.
We’d recommend the refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – good hearty food, friendly and helpful staff and small bedrooms.
Diary – Wednesday July 14
Les Contamines-Montjoie – Notre Dame de la Gorge – Nant Borrant – Refuge la Balme – Col du Bonhomme – Col de la Croix du Bonhomme – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme
The early morning alarm woke us to find blue skies and not a cloud in sight. It had snowed overnight and there was dusting of powder snow on the hillsides. After a quick breakfast – which was served from a cupboard in the dining room, we retrieved our almost dry boots, shopped for some bread, cheese and fruit and off we went.
The path walks alongside the river and is essentially a flat 40 minute stroll to reach Notre Dame de la Gorge. This is a beautiful little church, well worth a look inside.
Beyond the church the path follows what the guidebooks describe as a Roman road paved with stones. But there was more concrete than anything else, where the damage made from vehicles going up to la Balme had been repaired. Though the path was unpleasant, it’s worth remembering that the jeeps are taking up refreshments that were welcome by the time we’d got to la Balme on a warm and sweaty morning.
The paved section gave way to forestry road winding its way steeply in places through the trees. The forest disappears at Nant Borrant and soon opens into a beautiful valley / alpine meadow. Here it was time to strip down to shorts and t-shirts to make the most of the sunshine. We soon reached the Refuge de la Balme and made that welcome drinks stop. After this there was a steep rise to a power pylon and beyond where we walked over the first patches of snow we’d encountered.
The path forks at this point, and we were happy to find that most of the walkers on the path turned off towards the Lacs Jovet for a picnic lunch, leaving the main path more or less to ourselves. Another wind up a hillside took us the Plan des Dames where we decided to have lunch. It was a beautiful spot with great views looking back to the Aiguille du Bionnassay and a view in front of the last 400m that lead to the Col du Bonhomme.
This climb to the col was quite steep, much of it on patches of snow, but it was all quite easy. The views from the col were fabulous, but the strong wind we found there was not so welcome. There is a little stone shelter on the col which gave some relief from the chill. We didn’t stay long as we were getting cold, so we pushed on across the snow on the col and traversed around to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. This path rises slightly and goes over a couple of rocky sections, but soon we were at the stone cairn on the col. From here you can see the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme slightly below you. We took some quick pictures and headed to the refuge for warmth.
The refuge is large but even though it seemed pretty full we had a room for 4 with bunks that we had to share with ony one other person. The guardian is happy to make a daily telephone call ahead to both Refuge des Mottets and Refugio Elizabetta to book rooms for walkers on the TMB. We booked ahead to the Elizabetta and also ordered a packed lunch for the next day. The dinner was a four course meal: soup, main (omelette was the veggie option), cheese, and cake. We we were on a table with a party of 14 Germans also doing the Tour. They were amazed and jealous that we’d managed to get a space at the Elizabetta as they had tried to reserve in May but were told the refuge was full.
The atmosphere in the refuge is relaxed and friendly and the guardians are happy to offer advice as to the state of the route. The guardian even treated us to trumpet solo as it was one of the guests birthday. As the sun set Ibex came out and grazed the slopes next to the refuge.