Two years ago (where does time go!) we spent the winter working as chalet hosts in Chamonix (maybe a blogpost to come on that soon?). Spending the winter getting to know the nooks and crannies of Cham was wonderful and we’ve longed to head back in the summertime. I imagined a sunny valley, grassy green meadows, wildflowers, and no more ski boots – not to mention the abundant adventure activities available! Having spent many a winter day skiing snowy slopes, it felt a bit strange coming back in the summertime to hike hills of golden grass and bare rocks instead. Nevertheless it was just as beautiful – if not more – than I remembered.
Wanting to make the most of being in the French Alps for only one night, we planned to hike to the Refuge du Lac Blanc and stay the night – that way we’d fit in a hike, some amazing views, and a classic French Refuge experience. Soaking up as much mountain goodness as humanly possible.
Lac Blanc is a high altitude alpine lake nestled in the rocky terrain of the the Aguilles Rouges mountain range. The cool, calm, glacial water acts as a perfect natural mirror – reflecting the changing sky above and the incredible, snowy peaks across the valley – including the majestic Mont Blanc towering at 4,810m above sea level. The lake sits at 2,352m and usually has some snow year-round, though in summer the trails are totally accessible. At the lake edge sits a mountain refuge – ‘Refuge du Lac Blanc’. Open from mid June to the end of September the refuge offers drinks and a bite to eat for day trippers. If you book in advance you can spend the night in the refuge in dormitory style bunk rooms – but I mean seriously book in advance (especially on weekends!). We tried to book two other dates that were fully booked before settling on the night we chose (and this was the start of September!). A night at the refuge costs €56 – which includes a hot shower, dinner and breakfast. Pillows and blankets are provided, however you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag liner and a towel if you want to shower.
There are many ways to reach Lac Blanc depending on where you’re hiking from. If you’re coming from Chamonix town (which we were) there are three main routes which can be easily adapted to suit different fitness/experience levels. Your options:
- Take the Flegere cable car from Les Praz up to the lift station at Flegere. From the Flegere lift station (1,877m) follow well marked signposts and paint splashes to Lac Blanc (direction north). This is a steady uphill track with some rocky sections, you’ll climb 475m and it’ll take about 1h45m.
- Take the Flegere cable car from Les Praz up to the lift station at Flegere. From Flegere hop on a chairlift to take you higher up to l’Index (2,385m). The route from here is more of a traverse rather than a climb and will take take about 1h15m, again follow signposts and paint splashes.
- OR, if you’re feeling sprightly, you can walk all the way from Chamonix town. Feeling rather full from a weekend of feasting in Annecy (blog post link) and wanting a bit more of a challenge and adventure we decided that this was the best option for us. Though it’s an extra 3hours of hiking we weren’t disappointed… Route details below.
With our car parked in Chamonix (we found free parking here), we took one of the many trails that leave the town and started the climb. Grab a map from the information center for reassurance, but you can take almost any of the routes from the North-West side of town as most cross onto the ‘Petit Balcon Sud’. This is a trail that runs the length of the valley at roughly 200m above the valley floor. The particular route we took started in Les Plans. Weaving through thick alpine forest the trail occasionally breaks, offering spectacular views of the valley and up to the mountains above.
Once on the ‘Petit Balcon Sud’ trail follow it north. The trail is well signposted and before long you’ll come across signs that point you to Chalet La Floria and La Flegere – follow these signs. You’ll reach Chalet La Floria (a restaurant nestled in the woods) after about 30-40mins. La Floria takes its name from the abundant blooms that cover every inch of the building – go figure! It serves lunches and drinks with a view, quite a spot!
Continue climbing north from La Floria, following signposts to La Flegere. This next section is a bit more of a climb – through forest, with glimpses of glittering snowy summits and up onto ski slopes. Some parts are rocky and some steep. Eventually you’ll arrive at La Flegere and see the cable car station (which you could have taken!). La Floria to La Flegere will take 2h30, or thereabouts, and you’ll climb 540m. From La Flegere follow signposts and paint splashes (as described above) for 1h45m, to reach Lac Blanc.
The climb from La Flegere is above the treeline and thus rocky and shrubby. This part felt like it took forever, perhaps our legs were growing tired after several hours of uphill. The sun was dipping lower, air becoming cooler, and we were ready to get to the lake! After one last (particularly rocky!) rise, we saw Lac Blanc and the little wooden refuge before us. An incredible sight and a satisfying feeling.
After checking in to the refuge and leaving our bags in the locker room I headed out to explore the lake, surrounding rocks and expansive views.
Towering pinnacles, craggy gorges and blankets of white dominate the horizon in every direction. The mirror-like surface of the lake constantly changes as clouds sail above and colours of twilight fill the sky. I don’t think any words quite describe how breathtaking it is up there. Cool and still. You feel like the only person in the world. A tiny speck in this vast world. The only sound is of your breathing, inhaling sweet, crisp mountain air.
I was really lucky to bump into two other kiwis up there (what are the chances!). Both photographers, they were two really down to earth guys on an amazing trip (check them out here and here). We were as excited as each other to be there and the three of us got chatting straight away – photography and travels, where we came from and what we were doing, sharing stories and sharing this experience. This is what I love about travel
At dusk we were called to the dining room by the chalet host “à table! à table!” (meaning ‘the food is ready!’). The dining room walls are adorned with vintage mountain equipment, and with four tables of ten the room is cosy and welcoming. We enjoyed big bowls of hot vegetable soup, accompanied by thick wedges of tomme de savoie cheese (cheese from the local alpine region). As if the hearty soup weren’t filling enough, large platters of beef bourguignon, mushrooms and pasta followed. For those who are vegetarian, there was a vege option, but aside from that it is a set menu each night. Finally we finished the feast with poached pears and chocolate sauce. Hearty hiking grub.
It reminded me of being on school camp – though with refreshing pints of beer and wine (you can purchase both up there) – it was a just little bit better :p We played cards, sipped wine and chatted to other hikers before heading off to the dormitory to hit the hay.
At the crack of dawn we were up to catch the sunrise, though unfortunately it was a little too cloudy and there wasn’t much of one (better luck next time!). After breakfast – bread, jam, cornflakes and coffee, we packed up and hit the trail.
There are a bunch of options to get down – ask at the refuge for more info, but you could head back the way you came. We decided to traverse north and descend toward Argentiere via the Aguillette d’Argentiere. This route passes Lac Cheserys – another beautiful alpine lake, spotting marmots and alpine ibex along the way. This route is a little technical – it includes some steep steel ladders, bridges and some areas where you really have to hold on with all fours. A great route if you have a good head for heights or are up for a bit of a adrenaline! The Aguillette d’Argentiere is an incredible rock that juts into the sky like a needle – a popular spot amongst climbers.
After Aguillette d’Argentiere follow signs down to Argentiere – the track zigzags in and out of lush forest and across the occasional stream. Once in Argentiere, take a bus or hitch hike back to Cham. We finished our hike with a well-earned visit (well we thought so anyway) to La Cremerie du Glacier. It’s a small wooden chalet nestled in the forest just south of Argentiere (we walked here at the end of our hike). The restaurant has been run by the same family for the last 70 years, serving typical ‘savoyard’ specialities – basically all things cheese. They have a great selection of fondues and the best croûtes in the world! For those who are yet to try a croûte – it’s basically a fancy version of a cheese toasty -but way more delicious. The restaurant is cosy, welcoming and feels like a real alpine experience. In the winter you can ski here from Grands Montets. Anyway this dreamy, cheesy spot is definitely worth a visit no matter what the season or your itinerary in Chamonix. Again be sure to book – nothing is more disappointing than being turned away when you can almost… taste… the… cheese.
I can’t believe it took us this long to get back to Cham for a summer trip – shocking!
We certainly weren’t there for long enough either. The photos don’t do it justice – I suggest you just get there!