We were undecided as to where to head to after Annecy. Options were to stay in France or go over the border in to Italy. I was a bit unsure of Sarah’s suggestion which was to head up in to the Alps to Chamonix. I didn’t want to put Gerty through too many gruelling ascending miles. After conceding that I didn’t have a better suggestion, we set off for the mountains.
From miles out we could see this gigantic mountain range on the horizon, and we were soon making our way up towards the snowy peaks. Its only around 80km from Annecy which took us about an hour and a half. The roads started to narrow and the gradient increased as we snaked up and around the first part of the climb. I seemed to be changing gear continually at one point! After fending off a maniac hgv driver for most of the journey (I don’t know how they mange to drive as fast on these roads) we made it to our free camp spot, which was in a town called Les Houches, a couple of miles outside Chamonix itself. A large gravel carpark would be our home for the foreseeable and with a few motorhomes already here we felt happy enough.
Even though this is a ski resort, some of the cable cars and lifts are in operation in the summer for the benefit of hikers, mountain bikers, gliders and mountaineers. Although, it’s considerably quieter in the summer months with lots of the shops closed until the winter season starts. We hadn’t known before hand that where we were parking was at the base station for one of the cable cars. As the weather was nice and due to turn the next day we decided to take a trip up the mountain for a bit of a hike.
The journey up to the top station took around 10 minutes and took us to c1900 metres. We had decided that we’d get a one way ticket and walk back down, a decision we half regretted an hour later. The majority of people around were mountain bikers. Once at the top station they dissappear in all directions down the numerous trails that have been built for them. We stood and admired them for a while and then started walking to some of the view points.
Even as high as we were, larger peaks, including Mont Blanc were towering above us. With a bit of cloud around up top, we couldn’t quite see the high points in all their glory, but had some fantastic views regardless. With our descent back to the van due to take an hour or so we tried to find the start of the path. It wasnt obvious and the staff at the top only spoke French. I manged a few hand signals and a ‘tourne a gouche’ and that was about it. We also had a small tourist handbook for reference. So, we set off on a bit of a guesstimate route. What could go wrong? We were only a mile and a bit up a mountain.
We agreed that the rather steep, narrow, grassy path in front of us was the start point so set off down. After a good 15 or so minutes of walking through bushes and me slipping over every other step we realised that we were walking down one of the mountain bike trails. Ahh well, at least it’d get us to the bottom, eventually!! I could see Sarah was starting to worry a bit so I tried to make light of it. Fortunately, a hundreds yards further down we could see a flattish bit, so we headed for that and a bit of a regroup. We were too far down to turn around so we carried on and eventually got to the actual path we probably should have taken. Even then, it was difficult work. The gradient was forcing us to walk zig zag across the trail in an almost semi squat which made our legs burn like hell.
The people that we did come across were all togged up in proper walking boots, gaters and walking poles. Our trainer, t-shirt combo looked rather amateurish in comparison.
The pain in our legs and the initial panicked scramble down the mountain bike trail was worth the views that we were treated to. It was simply stunning up there. It really is difficult to take your eyes away from staring at the high peaks. The scale is just something else.
About three quarters of the way down houses started to appear. Most looked to be ski lodges only used in winter but some appeared to be lived in. The one above was particularly nice and in the background you can just about see the car park where we left gerty.
We weren’t in any rush to do much else after getting back to the bottom and had a nice relaxing evening. Unfortunately, we had an awful sleep. We should have slept like logs, and probably would have if a group of lads hadn’t turned up about 10pm for a gathering. We had parked on their walk way down for a pee (we reckon) so they were up and down past us all night. Then at 4am the idiot parked next to us decided to start his van and kept the engine running for 5 minutes. This is the price you pay for not paying the price of a campsite who generally insist on it being quiet through the night.
We plan on staying here another night (silly fools) as we want to explore Chamonix centre. The plan is to move the van to a quieter spot which will hopefully prevent us murdering any noisy neighbours xx