7.17 slept much better last night, almost no shoulder pain! We stayed at Hotel du Col-de-Fenêtre in the village called Ferret. This is the namesake of the entire valley.
We shared the dormitory with one additional lady although there was room for a total of 6. There were some other Americans in the hotel but we abided by the customs in Europe when American's recognize other American's, we ignored each other. No 'hello where are you coming from', no 'you're American, me too!'. None of that nonsense when American's bump into other American's outside America.
Speaking of American's, I have never run across more American's in Europe (other than at the Airforce Base) than on the Tour du Mont Blanc. How to spot an American on the trail? Baseball caps, an Osprey back pack, or any reference to sports not common in Europe.
At breakfast we asked the staff how many people walk the TMB clockwise (the way we were going) vs. counter clockwise (the more popular direction), he said probably 20% go clockwise. We think it's probably less than that.
The breakfast was only juice, coffee, bread, butter and jam. This is really a slim offering especially since they have a full kitchen. I usually expect at least some cheese and meat too.
We started out hiking at 8.03 and decided to take the original TMB trail that goes a bit lower then the alternate version. Both trails meet at a small dairy farm called la Peula.
9.20 The dairy farm is also a hut with space for you to stay. You can even book a yurt! We bought some of the cheese, Tomme, and had a coffee before heading out.
Normally we wouldn't take a break so soon after starting but you really can't pass up cheese made in the mountains.
Over the next hour we made a slow ascent to the Grand Col Ferret. We hiked on the edge of a long sloping pasture. The cows that made the cheese we ate were way down in the valley close to the water. Two farm hands were out fixing the electric fence that keeps the cows close to the dairy.
11.00 We had the Col in sight when we heard bells and bleating. A whole herd of sheep and a few goats were making their way to another pasture. We had to stop to take pictures and video.
We veered off the main path at the direction of the guide book. There was a short hike to see a magnificent view of the Val Ferret. From there we could also see the Grand Col Ferret and decided there were too many people there. We ate our lunch at this little secret spot only known by the sheep and anyone reading the book.
After lunch (we ordered a picnic from the hotel) we finished our ascent to the Col and joined the masses taking pictures and munching on snacks. We didn't stay too long before heading out to the next stop, Refuge Elena, Italy.
The way down to the Refuge Elena is quite steep and there are many trails that braid together. It's easy to spot the right trail going down but I imagine going up would be more difficult.
In general going down is just as difficult as going up. There are different stresses on your body but it's by no means easy, at least for me (Jörn doesn't seem to have any issues).
Going up you really need to work your cardio system. Balancing pace with breath and making each step count. On the way down you are taxing more your muscles, watching each step, lowering your body down. I learned the hard way after my first hike to make sure I alternate my legs going down.
Sounds a little stupid because you don't really need to think while walking, not so in the mountains. Depending on the grade of the slope and the terrain I've been in situations where I had think and plan each step I took for hours. It's a really good way to push all the nonsense out of your mind. One misstep and you can be on your butt or worse. After my first hike I could hardly move my right leg the next day, because I was always 'letting' my body down the next step with my right leg.
13.45 By the time we made it down to Refuge Elena it was starting to rain. We enjoyed some cake and coffee. This refuge was quite busy because most anyone can access it. There is a parking lot further down the hill about 30 minutes walk. People come there to look at the glaciers. When we left it was still a bit drizzly but not a hard rain so we put on the rain covers and jackets and started down to the valley floor.
15.00 Down at the parking lot we had a decision to make; take the high trail and hope the rain doesn't get any stronger (TMB Variant) or take the road (the original TMB) and have places to hide in case it really comes down. We chose the road. It's not a glamorous way but we can be faster.
16.00 After one hour on the road we now faced our final climb for the day (385m over 1.3km) which would take another hour. In our last few minutes on the trail we saw the mules coming with goods for the Refuge Bonatti.
This Refuge is named for Walter Bonatti, it's quite new and houses 120 hikers every night. The rooms and beds were nice. We had room for 7 in ours but only shared with 3 other people. The showers were roomier than most. Usually we get only 1.5 meter squared to change/dry off next to the shower.
At dinner we sat with a couple from the UK and a couple from Norway. They were both going the counter-clockwise direction and had been out on the trail for several days. Dinner was lentil soup with cheese (kind of like onion soup), vegetarian tart and roasted vegetables.
We are typically asleep by 21.00 latest and we sleep like the dead.
How did you train for the hike?
In my last post I rambled on a bit on how there is not set rules for training for this type of hike other than hiking a lot before you go. However, for the three weeks leading up to the hike I went on 12-14 km hikes on the weekend and during the week I went to the gym. At my gym there is a stairmill, not a stair stepper but a machine that has steps but it runs like a treadmill. So I did a combination of workouts on the stairmill and also treadmill workouts at a 15% gradient. I wasn't looking for speed but rather endurance and preparing my muscles for this type of repetitive activity.
I am happy to report that by the end of day 2 I have no sore muscles! I do have some worn through blisters on the inner heel. This is a normal thing for me and depends on the gradient of ascent on when I get blisters. They don't hurt so I doesn't really bother me. I also notice at the end of each day that my feet and toes are really what ache the most. There really is no way to get your feet ready for that other than hiking a lot!