Although it is perhaps a bit ambitious, I have it in my mind to see what the area around Mount Blanc is like. Mt Blanc, being the highest point in all of the alps (and indeed all of western europe), is of course of special interest to a mountain nut like myself.
So, even though it is a little out of our way out west, we make our way towards it. We eventually arrive at the small town of Courmayeur, on the Italian side of Mt Blanc. Things are getting pretty french here (we are very close to the french border), and it shows in the names of places and things.
Andree's leg is getting better, fortunately, although she is still in no shape for any serious mountaineering (which would have been what we would have done over the last few days had she been able). A stop at the local tourist office nets us a very nice topographic map of the local hiking trails. That, in combination with my friend Gilbert's "hikes in the Alps" book, allows us to choose an interesting mountain hike that we think Andree can handle.
Our choice is called Mt. Fortin, and is a 9200+ ft (2800+m) peak across a valley from the Mt. Blanc Massif. If the weather co-operates, we'll get a great view of the mountain. Since once again we are faced with only having an afternoon, we race up the little valley to find a spot to camp and get ready. Turns out that at this time of year (early October) absolutely nothing is open up there, so we pull up in an closed-down campground and quickly get ready.
We insist that Andree carry nothing, except maybe her cane, pack, and are ready to go by 2pm. Since we have only 5 hours of light to complete the hike, we zoom off to the trailhead and practically power-walk up to the first steep section of trail. The weather, although not perfect, (there is quite a bit of cloud overhead) is more than adequate.
The surrounding terrain looks foreboding in the grey light of the day. Although not as visually pleasing as the dolomites, it has its own sense of grandeur. Huge glaciers spill down out of the clouds from the Mt. Blanc Massif, and one glacier in particular, totally covered in talus at its lower end, grabs my imagination. I am always fascinated by glaciers - I think they are interesting dynamic entities, capable of completely carving up mountains, and exhibiting a slow, powerful, dangerous beauty.
As we climb higher, we get steadily improving views of the surrounding terrain. Andree is managing to climb up just as fast as Markus and I, even with a cane. Good stuff. We are hiking so fast that we easily beat the estimated hike time by a fair bit, and we arrive at the top.
A ruined hut stands nearby, prompting Markus to comment on the shoddy masonrywork. I get Andree to give the camera a high-summit-like victory stance with her cane, and then Markus and I are off to bag a nearby but slightly higher summit. From there we are able to point the cameras back and take pictures of Mt. Fortin with the much bigger mountains of the Mt. Blanc Massif in the background. Unfortunately, the clouds never lift enough for us to see the upper mountain. By my estimate we can see no higher then the 10,000 foot (3000+m) level. Oh well, such is life. I was secretly hoping to get an idea of what climbing this side of Mt. Blanc might entail.
Still, it is great to be hiking again, and in such a great area. One could hike and climb around here for many many years and never repeat a trip, I am sure. We race back down faster than we came up and beat the sunset by a few minutes.
Well, we have no open campgrounds, and there doesn't seem to be anyone around. Why not just camp wherever? And indeed that is what we do, locating a totally empty picnic area with some picnic tables and set up camp in the parking area. It is here that we actually have our very first camp supper, cooking and all. After 2 weeks of fancy Italian restaurants, we have finally managed it. We make a pretty good tortellini with tomato pesto sauce, and then it is off to bed shortly afterwards, with a nearby fast-rushing creek to lull us to sleep.