Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 2: Les Contamines

A quick note: we switched off writing this blog, so take your best guess at who's voice you hear. :)

We woke up the next morning to a sky of grey clouds, under which we filtered some water (nasty-looking, but safe) and continued down off the mountain. Half an hour later, we arrived at a ski staging area where the gondolas
departed for the top of the mountain. The local hostel, fittingly named Chalet
de Prarion, was sadly closed. Instead, we chose to eat lunch in a large grassy field, complete with a little wooden bench. After a short rest, we headed toward Bionassay, passing through long stretches of green with many intersecting paths -- at one point we got lost and had to find the route buried under overgrown grass. We made our way down the side of the
mountain through thick dense trees, which evoked thoughts of Robin Hood and the Sherwood Forest. The route often passes by flocks of sheep -- their shepherd is rarely seen, though in his place are guard dogs. Although these dogs do not look intimidating, we were warned in Chamonix to exercise caution: these dogs are very territorial and will act on any perceived threats to the flock.

We walked as slowly and as carefully as we could on the far side of
the trail, not making eye contact with the dogs or even glancing at the sheep. We treaded quietly as the dogs tailed us for a good 10 minutes before we realized the dogs showed no signs of aggression -- I even managed to snap a few photos of them. Though the dogs got less threatening the further we strayed from the flock, one still followed us all the way to the border of Bionassay, just in case. Good dog.


Happiness is a stone bridge. After our very long and steep descent, we were greeted by a beautiful view of the small town of Bionassay. Except for a lone llama, the town looked vacant; a few cars and houses populated the roadsides, but we saw no signs of people. We walked down the main road and found Auberge Bionassay, the only hostel in town, which also eerily vacant. We later found out that since we arrived in June, before tourist season, the hostel was not yet in business. However, the owners nicely invited us in, where we ate a filling breakfast of baguettes, jam, and butter with some hot chocolate.

After breakfast, we refilled water at a local fountain and checked our gear for the next section. We realized that although it had stopped raining, our shoes were soaking wet. To remedy this, we used plastic bags to act as a barrier between our socks and the rain.

The bags also acted as a vapor barrier, preventing sweat from escaping. Vapor barriers have benefits and drawbacks. When resting, skin will naturally produce sweat. Without a barrier, the small amounts of vapor will seep slowly out of a sleeping bag. However, a vapor barrier will prevent the sweat from escaping, increasing the vapor pressure between the skin and the environment; in response, the body will stop sweating. This is beneficial because it keeps the body warm and slows dehydration. However, when active, the body will sweat regardless of vapor pressure. In our case, we had to deal with water entering our shoes from the rain/ground, as well as sweat building up in the bags. Therefore, we had to routinely swap out bags to keep our feet dry and prevent blisters.

Side note: This was NOT comfortable. But it kept the water out, and we were grateful that we had extra zip-loc bags around. What did we learn? Be prepared for lots of moisture.

Leaving Bionassay, we traveled down the hill. Here, the map got confusing, and we could not tell where to go in the spiderweb of roads. After getting not-so-great directions and taking a random detour across a bridge, we finally found the road to Les Contamines. It was drizzling the majority of the time we were walking, with occasional rainstorms.

One noteworthy sign we passed denoted the site
which was the birthplace of Alexis Bouvard, the alleged discoverer of Neptune. We were impressed until Julia’s high school computer science teacher posted on her Facebook album, noting that there is contention as to the legitimacy of the claim.

We arrived in Les Contamines after a big push (2nd wind much?); the trail plopped us conveniently in front of a supermarket and close to the tourism office. We resupplied and headed to the tourism office for camping information.

Camping in Europe is different than camping in the States; this “campground” was very well stocked with lots of amenities - we ended up staying in the hostel which consisted of about 20 beds in a single room. We had a nice long shower, did some laundry, and ate dinner at a nearby restaurant (the only nearby restaurant). NOTE! When checking in to the hostel, we mistakenly thought that the price included dinner (we were amazed at such a good deal!) and after a full 4 course dinner, we were stuffed. We left the restaurant only to be told by the hostel manager that we had inadvertently dined-and-dashed. Whoops!

Before going to bed and during the night we were pretty beat - Julia’s knee was bothering her, as was my back (previous injury from work) - and we were discussing options of taking a day off. Had a very comfortable sleep in a big bed!

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