After breakfast and check-out at the hotel I made my way to the cable car station to get up the mountain. I had a lump in my throat and that I was about to finish the TMB didn’t feel like an accomplishment at all in this moment. A part of me already started missing the mountains and having days of hiking ahead of me. At least some days! Not much for a long-distance hiker!
But the section from La FlégÈre to Les Houches was the last of the tour and this was my last day on trail. Devon would certainly be ahead of me and the South Africans already finished their hike. I was wondering if I would meet any trail friends on my last day at all. Deeply in thoughts I didn’t know by then that I was facing the most difficult and demanding day of the whole TMB – physically and mentally!
Hiking towards Planpraz (2130m)
Right from the start on the stretch from La Flégère to Planpraz the trail crested a bit too close at the edge – for my taste! Around every corner I was expecting some improvement and the chance to relax but most of the time I was disappointed.
The scenery was great, though. On my way along the mountain I could see countless paragliders hanging in the – of course – blue sky over Chamonix. This trail section is called Grand Balcon Sud and it provides nice views of Mont Blanc and the Chamonix valley.
After 300 meters of elevation gain I reached Planpraz which is basically a skilift station. From Planpraz the climb up towards Col du Brévent began and looking up the mountain my hope for a relaxing hike faded away.
The last mountain pass – Col du Brévent (2368m)
But at some stage I would be up there and things would get better. Or so I thought. At the col was still a lot of snow but the uphill leading snowcrossing on the ridge looked much more scary than it was. I was alone and hadn’t seen any familiar hikers so far. Did they all quit earlier? I was tempted too yesterday. But here I was standing in ankle deep snow and stumbeling through countless rocks. And I enjoyed it!
I had to concentrate on my steps. Slowly I made my way through rocks and followed a path up the mountain until it just stopped. Was I right? Looking around I saw some people crossing a snowfield further down. That must be the trail! I backtracked a few meters and made my way on steep terrain towards the snowfield. A family came towards me. Already from the distance I could hear the woman in the front breathing heavily. She was doing what I would do very soon: digging every foot into the snow.
When they passed me I asked for the rest of the trail and was assured that it would be not as sketchy as this. Well, not really… The best was yet to come!
Where is my helicopter?!
The trail led around the mountain in a big bend and started to look a lot better when it suddenly disappeared. I stopped. Where was the trail? To the left was the mountain and to the right a steep drop-off into a huge valley. Up on some rocks I could see three people climbing. And then I saw the ladders followed by a handrail. But the problem was actually how to get to the start of the ladders. A snowfield was still blocking the main route and it was either crossing above the snowfield or underneath. Both options didn’t look inviting to me.
I watched an older French guy and two kids climbing down slowly. It took forever and gave me enough time to think about a bail out option. A helicopter would be nice right now. The man and the two kids passed me and I just wondered how you can take your young kids on that section. The little girl nearly slipped.
A couple came from the back and I let them pass and go ahead. It would take me some time to overcome my fear of the heights and get started. I watched the couple cross above the snowfield and their difficulties told me that I had to go underneath. It was inevitable so let’s do it!
Let’s do it!
The short section I had to cross looked horribly steep and judging from the footmarks other people have been more sliding than hiking. Looking down into the valley I definitely wanted to avoid slipping and sliding at all costs. Highly concentrated I sat down on my butt directly on the trail and reached down with my right leg to place my foot somewhere on the steep mountain side. (Must have been a very special sight!) I managed to stand up again and find hold with my left foot as well. A couple more steps and I reached a wall of grown rocks. Holding my trekking poles in one hand I started climbing up the rocks with hands and feet.
Covered in sweat I arrived at the start of the ladders and thankfully grabbed the cold metal that provided stability. Up the ladders was not a problem. I even managed to take a couple of photos. After the ladders a handrail gave additional safety for the last meters of climbing over grown rocks.
As soon as I reached something that looked like a proper trail again I had to sit down and catch my breath. What a climb!
Le Brévent (2525m) – the last highpoint of the tour
It was still uphill and over snow afterwards but it was nothing compared to what I had been through. At the trail junction to the summit of Le Brévent, which was only a little climb up, I met Cindy and Stewart. They told me about other hikers we know at the summit. I felt like skipping the additional meters to the summit but changed my mind after I said goodbye to the American couple.
At the summit I bought the most expensive coke ever (4 Euros for a can!!) and collapsed on one of the inviting sunchairs. I looked around. It was tempting to take the cable car down and avoid the steep downhill that was still on today’s program. But it was important to me – maybe more than ever – to hike every step and finish in Les Houches.
My rest on Le Brévent didn’t last too long. Seeing some dark rain clouds coming in the distance I dumped the coke and started what should be a never-ending downhill section.
1500 altitude meters of downhill
From the top of Le Brévent (2525m) to Les Houches (1017m) I had to loose 1500 meters of altitude. It started gentle and I was in a hurry because dark clouds were approaching from the other valley. I wanted to get down as far as I could before the rain started. Very soon Le Brévent was out of sight and instead I could see some steep switchbacks leading down towards Les Houches. It should never rain on me that day.
The downhill wasn’t easy. Steep and dangerous for the knees and with occasional rock climbing sections it was far from being a relaxing end of the hike.
After endless switchbacks and descending through a pine forest I reached a car park still 50 minutes away from Les Houches. It was the moment when my feet hit the concrete of this car park when I realized that my hike on the TMB was over. I had just finished the 170 km circuit around the highest mountain of the European Alps!
Walking down the car park I had to fight back some tears. Tears of happiness – hiking the TMB is a big accomplishment for every hiker who does it and especially for me in this year of 2018. Tears of sadness – my time in these wonderful mountains came to an end and very soon I had to say goodbye to my hiking friends.
The end of an awesome adventure
My finish in Les Houches was rather unspectacular. Walking down the main street and passing by the church I finally arrived at the bus stop next to Gite Michel Fagot. No other hikers were around. I asked a guy to take a photo of me in front of the church but the outcome is not presentable at all. He cut off my feet and I look way too tired…
Waiting for my bus to chamonix and looking at the Gite I stayed at only two weeks ago I realized that I was not the same anymore. The mountains had changed me.
I boarded the bus and made my way to Chamonix and the charming Hotel d’Arve I was booked in. Check-in, shower, wait – there’s a bathtub in my room! – bath after shower and I was ready to join the party people!
We had all planned to meet at a local pub and watch the soccer game France against Belgium and of course celebrate our TMB hike! It was a nice evening apart from the fact that I didn’t get enough food. There were just too many people because of the game. And so I was a little bit hungry when I made my way back to the hotel. Hungry but HAPPY!!!
To my hiking friends
My hike on the TMB wouldn’t have been what it was without the people. Strangers from all over the world became my friends. No matter if we met on day 2 and basically stayed together for the whole trip, if we shared a lunch or a piece of cheese, if we bumped into each other every now and then or if you just were around on a sketchy section… YOU made my hike on the TMB an awesome and unforgettable experience!
And all I can do is to write two inadequate words
Back to the overview!