Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 1: Les Houches

The best place to start the hike is Les Houches. One main road connects the entire town, along it the tourist office, supermarket, and multiple inns and restaurants. The only camp in town, "Camping Bellevue,” costs about 10euro/night for 2 people. A fountain spouting potable water is sits right outside the Tourism Office. Depending on the season, a hostel East of the Tourism Office offers great deals (queen bed + cable came out to be 40euro + minimal fees). We stocked up on a few day’s worth of baugettes, sauccion, cheese, and snacks to sustain us until our next stop, Les Contamines (about 10 miles away)

Tip 1: Lodge Pricing
Camps: Total price is cost of 1 tent (with restrictions on how many can be included) + per head cost.
Hostels: Per head cost. Sometimes includes breakfast, and another option includes dinner, breakfast, and lodging.
Inns: We were too cheap to stay at any.

Note: Starting in Chamonix
While there are trails extending from Chamonix, most routes are unnecessarily tedious. Chamonix is a good place for day-hikes but not as a starting point for the Tour.

The start of the trail is very subtle, located on the left side of the only major road when heading east out of town. We took the Tour du Pays (country tour), which allowed us to summit Prarion before leading us back down to Bionassay. Two steps off the concrete, the path starts ascending uphill immediately, decorated with a few trail markers. Make sure to keep on top of the topo map to stay on track, as there are many other roads and trails along the TMB itself. The trail alternates between tarmac, gravel, and dirt paths. The
trail up the north side of Le Prarion weaves between logging trails, muddy and severely rutted. The path is relatively well marked until the last 100m up to Col de la Forclaz, where it meets a logging road with no signs. Make sure to head uphill (right) up the logging trail to meet back with the TMB in 50m. For the weary, there is a table up at
Col de la Forclaz to rest. Take this time to recover since the remainder of the
trail up is very steep and narrow, with the mountain on one side and a drop on the other. At exceedingly rocky/steep situations, there are chains attached to the mountain, but they are unreliable, short, few and far between.

A stone table at the top of Le Prarion provides a panoramic map that points out noteworthy landmarks in all directions, as well as amazing views of Les Houches and Les Contamines. We relaxed for a few minutes at the top and then moved south, continuing towards Bionassay. It started to rain, so we decided to stop early on the back (...can we think of another description? The East side? What’s the technical term for that?) of Le Prarion; a small grassy area 100m south of the peak served as a perfect place to pitch. The rain picked up as we set up camp and continued throughout the night.

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