Today starts gently with a pleasant stretch heading south through the wooded Montjoie Valley beside the rushing Bon Nant Torrent. As the valley begins to constrict around you the only way out is up and over, and thus begins the long climb up to the first col (saddle between two mountains) of the day, Col du Bonhomme.
After Col du Bonhomme the climbing continues up to Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, and from there up to Col des Fours, with no descent to allow you to catch your breath in between. However, from each col you can expect your efforts to be rewarded with splendid views; take a moment to look behind and trace how far you have come and how much height you have gained, before gazing into the next valley which unfurls tantalisingly before you. From Col des Fours, the long-awaited descent will bring you into the Vallée des Glacieres, finishing at the enchanting setting of Refuge des Mottets.
Snow tends to remain late in the spring season on the upper slopes of the Col des Fours, and when it melts a torrent of water crashes down the valley which can be hard to cross. In poor weather or during spring it may be wise to seek advice regarding conditions from other hikers or the nearby refuges. The traditional and lower Tour du Mont Blanc route continues from Col de la Croix to Les Chapieux, from where a transfer is possible to Refuge des Mottets.
Vallée des Glacieres is a wild, secluded and inhospitable valley and yet farmers manage to carve out a living with dairy cows. You can sample some of their delicious and fresh cheese (fromage) directly from the farmhouses in the valley.
The Col des Fours route should NOT be attempted in poor weather, if you are a solo walker or if you are staying at Refuge La Nova in Les Chapieux
Early in the season, or in poor weather, it is not recommended to take the high route, in bad weather follow the route via Les Chapieux (see entry: Les Contamines to Mottets via Les Chapieux.
There are several river crossings. There are always stepping-stones available but these may be slippery, and especially when wet. Take extra caution on these crossings.
Some of the path is along rocky steps; be careful as these may be slippery, especially when wet.
There are some exposed edges; be sure to read instructions carefully, stick to the main path, and don’t wander close to the edge. Use handrails where provided.
In early spring/summer there may still be patches of snow. Walk around where it is possible, and otherwise place your feet carefully and use walking poles if you have them.
This route is above 2,500 metres so bear in mind you may feel a shortness of breath and additional muscle fatigue associated with the altitude.
Points of Interest
Notre Dame de la Gorge
Since 1699 this small chapel with an ornate painted façade has marked the end of the road and the start of the mountain trails. Over the years many travellers have entered to pray for a safe passage over the Col du Bonhomme. Why not pop in yourself; who knows what fortune it may bring?
Pont Naturel and Pont Romain
Walking south from Les Contamines the Bon-Nant Torrent is a constant presence beside you. After 5 kilometres you will pass Pont Naturel, a bizarre rock formation where the river rushes through an arch and you could, in theory, cross to the other side. A short while later you will come to the actual bridge, Pont Romain, which was built by the Romans.
Refuge des Mottets
Like many buildings in the Vallée des Glacieres, Refuge des Mottets was once a dairy farm; the long, thin dormitory building which is today crowded with walkers would once have been filled with cows. The dining room is filled with relics of its agricultural past, the refuge is set against the stunning backdrop of the Aguille de Glacieres, and they also serve a nice beer!
Optional Shuttle Bus from Les Contamines to Notre Dame de la Gorge - A free shuttle operates between The Office de Tourisme in Les Contamines and Notre Dame de la Gorge, with several stops between including Le Lay. The summer shuttle operates approximately between the end of June and the beginning of September. In the morning, it runs about every 45 mins to 1 hour from about 09:00. Timetables are usually published just before the Summer season, check the following link for a pdf titled ‘Horaires Navette été’ http://www.lescontamines.com/plans-ski-bus.html or ask at your hotel.
This shuttle cuts 5km and about 1 hour of walking from the day.
Food and Drink
Between Les Contamines and Refuge des Mottets there are few opportunities to buy food or drink, so be sure to bring enough provisions with you.
There is a café at Notre Dame de la Gorge after 3.7km. You will also pass Refuge Nant Borrant, Refuge de la Balme and Refuge du Bonhomme, after 5.4, 7.9, and 13.3kilometres, respectively.
Refuge des Mottets serve a set menu at 7pm so be sure to arrive in time.
Such is the way of Alpine hiking that you need to be prepared for all seasons and weathers; sturdy hiking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof/wind-break layer are all required, as is plenty of sun-cream and a healthy respect for the sun.
Walking poles will be a big advantage on some of these ascents and descents.
Ensure your phone is fully charged; if you doubt the battery will last throughout the hike, it might be beneficial to bring a power bank.
This walk is isolated with few opportunities to buy food or water so be sure to bring enough with you.