Day 9 - Cold on the Col

Bill hammers on our door at 7am, so we roll out of our beds and go to the dining room. It seems that most people staying in the Relais have already eaten and left. For the life of me I fail to see why: the morning is grey, thunder rumbles ominously, and the rain starts to pour.

Breakfast turns out to be a somewhat scatterbrained affair, but it supplies enough energy to start the day’s activity. Alec shows great presence of mind by dashing to the shop to buy the last loaf, some cheese and ham. He and I pack our bags and see Martin rising from his pit, in no rush to begin the climb to Col de Balme. Wise by name, wise by nature.

By the time we set off the rain has eased, but the prospects look poor so we wear waterproofs. When we begin the main ascent, a series of well graded zigzags through the steep forest, the rain has stopped and we are feeling hot. We strip the waterproofs off, but where the gradient slackens and the forest ends a cold wind forces us to replace layers for comfort. We enter a chilly, misty world in which signposts appear like ghostly messages, but the track is wide and unambiguous as far as the notorious Chalet de Balme.


The only photo of the day, and unintended at that! Col de Balme on a cold July morning

This refuge is run by a fearsome woman who forbids the eating of picnics outside her premises, insists you buy something before being loaned the key to the lavatory, refuses to let you fill your water bottle, and is quite likely to charge you more than once for anything you buy. While we are debating our options in the whistling wind and bitter cold cloud, her hatchet-face glares through the doorway: it could stop a clock.

Our main concern is to get on with the walk, and in the prevailing conditions we see no sense in casting about for the scenic route via Col des Posettes. Martin gives the decisive command with shouts of ‘Straight down! Straight down’ so down we go, stopping at the café at Chalet de Charamillon for a warming coffee which, inexplicably, takes ten minutes to reach us. Mark and Robyn have opted for a ride down by chairlift and cable car, and they are sitting in the restaurant trying to warm up with a hot meal. We say au revoir and head down to Le Tour where we lunch near the cable car terminus in occasional spots of rain.

It’s all downhill to Argentière, but my eyesight and navigational aptitude seem to desert me for a moment. My colleagues patiently wait before suggesting we simply walk along the verge of the main road, an option so penetratingly sensible that I still don’t know why I was hesitating. All is soon well, as a helpful receptionist gives us all the information we need, and the seemingly bilingual valley (French-English) opens the doors of its bars and restaurants to relieve us of unwanted euros.

We take dinner at a bar run by a man from Bill’s home city of Melbourne. AussieBurgers and chips are on the menu. Bill and Martin look happier than ever before in a restaurant. Alec and I go terribly English and order fisherman’s pie. For the first time, we all retire early.

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