The path out of Les Contamines follows a gravel road past a lot of very pleasant forestry. The first point of interest is the pilgrimage chapel of Notre Dame de la Gorge. I’ve taken a great interest in chapels, churches, and cathedrals ever since I walked Camino de Santiago two years ago. My later reading of Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett only stoked a raging fire. Although this chapel isn’t much to look at, it did offer a nice place to collect our thoughts before the climb up to Col du Bonhomme began.
The trail climbs steeply over slabs of rock and gravel, crossing bridges and moving closely to the water underneath. After a few miles, the trail links up with an access road and took us past fields of grazing cows before reaching Refuge de la Balme. The views from the Refuge were spectacular, so much so, that a part of me thought of calling it a day and spending the night.
It was onward and upward after leaving Refuge de la Balme, as we needed to reach the high point of Col de la Croix before descending to the hamlet of Les Chapieux. The trail was rocky but less steep than the climb after the chapel. Views were to be had in all directions, with snow capped mountains, lush green hills, puffy white clouds, and running water filling every corner of the landscape.
We reached Col du Bonhomme in good time and made our way towards Col de la Croix. This was the first section of the trek where we came across snow and ice on the trail. It wasn’t anything substantial, but it did slow us down quite a bit. The decrease in pace was in good timing, as it let us soak in more of the incredible views all around. After walking on dirt followed by snow and ice, the scree and rocks were a welcome change up as we inched closer to Col de la Croix. We hopped a few streams and made it to the Col before a short descent to the refuge sharing it’s name, Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.
The ensuing walk downhill to the hamlet of Les Chapieux was rather uneventful, but pleasant all the same. As has been noted, in 1864 AW Moore and his guide visited Les Chapieux and deemed it a ‘wretched little hamlet’. Clearly, this is no longer the case as can be seen upon first approach. We passed on the first main accommodation and made our way to the smaller bed and breakfast next door. It’s owned by an older couple name Francois and Anne Marie. The are the most hospitable and incredible hosts I’ve ever had on a trek. For starters, the room was perfect. Everything was newly remodeled and very comfortable. For dinner, Francois cooked up multiple courses of traditional French cuisine. We shared the table with a British/Welsh, Danish, and Austrian couple. The conversation was great, and it was really nice to spend the evening in such a warm little hamlet.