Tour du Mont Blanc, Day 2: More cowbell

On the first official day of the tour, we woke up early and ate whole-grain bread, cheese, yogurt and honey for breakfast. We left at 8 a.m. and walked across Les Houches to the Belllevue cable car. It took us up 1,500 feet and we began our hike, which was mostly downhill that day.

After the challenge of the day before, it was a welcome change – not because it was particularly less physically challenging, but it was less fear-inducing. The path was wide and relatively smooth. We passed through several small French hamlets, with timber-lined houses that sported small vegetable gardens, window baskets of colorful flowers and rose bushes climbing up the white walls.

On this day, we saw cows wearing the cowbells — giant leather collars with a huge metal bell beneath. We saw goats frolicking in a pasture, horses, donkeys and sheep.

The trail took a steep descent into a gorge with a glacier-fed river running through it, and we stopped so Emile could cool his feet in the icy stream. We ate our apples, made the steep ascent out of the gorge and walked through a series of little villages — Champel, Tresse, Le Greviot, to name a few. In one village, we passed by the home of the astronomer who discovered Neptune. The trail finally cut off the road again and we walked through the woods next to another stream. We walked until about 1 p.m. and found ourselves at the Hotel le Christiana in Les Contanimes. They had an outdoor pool, so when we checked in we changed into swimsuits and went to jump in. The water looked inviting, but it was cold!

We covered 8 miles in less than 4 hours with breaks. We discussed our pace and agreed we were hiking at the rate we expected to. We ate vegetable soup, veal, polenta, fresh fruit and cheese for dinner that night. We checked the weather for the next day, which showed a chance of thunderstorms, and agreed we should take off early since the chance was highest in the afternoon.

Next: Col du Bonhomme

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