Crossing from France to Italy in the snow of the Alps - Day 6 of TMB

5:43 a.m. on December 7, 2019 (EST)
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Crossing from France to Italy in the snow of the Alps | Day 6 of TMB from Les Mottets, France to Plan de Veny, Italy

In today's episode of Tour de Mont Blanc we hiked from Les Mottets in France to Plan de Veny in Italy.

Watch the full video here: 

The day started at 6am in the morning when our alarm took off and we wanted to get up early to be able to conquer the mountain early in the day. The night was calm and only the cow bells were heard. We saw that there was another tent close to ours probably set up later in the evening. Because really that was the only flat spots in the area on the ruins of some old buildings.

The day promised to be warm and sunny with no clouds on the horizon. But when we checked the weather forecast earlier it was said that it can be a thunderstorm later in the day so we wanted to start the hike as soon as possible.

The refugee house was just around the corner, we just didn't get to it yesterday. We were happy to see and film the marmot right at the entrance that was behaving quite sociable and calm and we thought that he was used to people very much.

All the first part of the trail was going quite gently uphill, the path was swirling in a snaky kind of mode for quite a while. And it gave us great possibility to enjoy the views from all the sides. There were lots of people and groups hiking with us that day too.

After a while we started to meet the snowy areas again and there were quite a lot of dangerous parts where you had to go through the waterfall on a snowy slope that was melting on the sun. We found that sometimes it was better to step on the untouched snow to make our way. But on the uphill there wasn't too much snow and it was climbing gently up all the way, it was just a bit long.

When we got to the top of the hill Col de Seigne at 2500m we could enjoy 360 degree angle amazing views. There were quite a lot of people taking photos with the flags and border sign. From now on we'll be hiking in Italy for a while and it is a new experience to us when we don't speak the language of the country. We have lived in Spain and France before and were speaking and understanding the native language. But we hoped it's gonna be fine and we can get away using English language. We also took some photos, had our snack and started descending down.

On the way down there was more snowy hills and slopes and we were sliding quite a lot on them. Some good rigid boots with spikes would come in handy for these parts. We even saw some people going down with the sledge. We didn't think that at this time of the year will be so much snow on the trail and even the trekking poles are a bit too much for us because we are always filming and need our hands to be free most of the time, also we don't want the extra weight.

So it took us much effort and powers to get down and with the snow everything becomes much more stressful. And 1 km on a snowy trail feels like 5km on a trail without snow. Overall it was quite a bit easier than our previous snowy trail over the mountain two days earlier. That one was with much more snow and steeper, more extreme for sure. But we feel like every mountain is going to be different - depending on the angle of the sun there will be different amount of snow.

We got to the Refugee Elisabeth at around 14pm and wanted to buy some snacks for us like chocolate or cookies. Dima went up there to ask if they have something and they sold a pair of wafers for 2.50 every one. They were very small and it felt very commercialized to charge such a price for it.

We continued going downhill and finally were out on the flat route. It felt so easy and unusual almost if we didn't carry any weight at all. We haven't walked such kind of route in around three days now and it felt great and peaceful.

We saw that the area was all wetlands with not enough forest and trees and it was protected and probably there were some restorative works as well. So we couldn't really find a place to camp there. And we knew that we have to find something because then the trail goes uphill again the same kind of mountain we climbed today. So we didn't want to do that. We checked another refugee house that was smaller and they told us that it was impossible to camp in the area and that we have to descend down to the campsite. We saw many signs of the tent crossed as well. We just hoped it was about camping at daylight and setting off the fire and not referring to a wild camping for the night.

So with a bit of hesitation we decided to descend down to the campsite and this way we would be skipping some part of the TMB trail and one mountain climb but we really just couldn't do it in one day. And if there was a place to stay we would do that without any doubts. But that was the reality of things so we had to do that.

The way down was very easy pavement road mostly with no traffic going through the forest and river gorge or ravine. It was so peaceful and quiet and even the weather was very favourable and comfortable to walk in with no wind at all.

And so we got to the village La Visaille and then to Plan de Veny where we found the campsite Hobo camping Val Veny . On the way we saw more signs of camping prohibition and a huge park area with lots of picnic tables and even toilets so there could be lots of possible places to camp but unfortunately it was not authorised.

Hobo camping Val Veny was a huge flat space for the camper vans and tents with all the needed facilities and even a mini market at a place. They made us a special offer to stay on the side of the iglu tent house for rent so that we would have more secluded and isolated place to us. It was just perfect but the view from it could beat it all with the huge rocks touching the sky and plenty of waterfalls descending from it down. We couldn't find better spot to camp for that night. So we had the shower, did some laundry washing and had our dinner. We bought some local yogurts and chocolate to try it out and were very happy about it. It felt very filling and natural. After having our dinner in a great mood we went to sleep.

So that day we ended up doing 16 kilometers and it was one of the longest days for us.

Have you ever hiked through the snow? What equipment did you use?

2:57 a.m. on December 8, 2019 (EST)
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If snow is a small part of the walk, I just kick steps into the snow.  Generally this describes the final approach to a pass or saddle.  If snow may be repeatedly encountered or travel is over slopes where a slip can be dangerous, I'll add trekking poles and an ice ax.  If snow is covering large portions of the terrain, or travel includes portions negotiating a very steep, snow covered route, then crampon (shoe spikes) are added, sometimes along with a rope and climbing hardware as well. 

If this sounds like something in your future, I advise enrolling in a course that teaches how to safely use these tools.  The skills are not complicated but trying to get schooled by someone who doesn't tech this stuff will risk missing some details that could be very significant and place you at greater risk.

Ed

9:34 a.m. on December 8, 2019 (EST)
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Snowshoes.

10:07 a.m. on December 8, 2019 (EST)
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OG's reply made me realize I only addressed 3 season hiking. 

If traveling in snow season I prefer modern tele skis with old fashioned 3-pin bail bindings and stiff, leather, double boots with ankle high cuffs.  The equipment is a sizable investment, but my boards get well used, as my home range is the Sierra, one of  the best for BC skiing with its wide range of terrain, and accommodating weather.  If you alpine ski, the skills and concepts do transfer over. 

Winter travel in the mountains requires knowledge of snow safety and use of other specialized gear.  Much to learn - seek out qualified instruction if you intend to travel beyond snow bound roads.  That is another investment if you intend to snow camp.

Ed

11:47 a.m. on December 9, 2019 (EST)
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whomeworry said:

OG's reply made me realize I only addressed 3 season hiking. 

If traveling in snow season I prefer modern tele skis with old fashioned 3-pin bail bindings and stiff, leather, double boots with ankle high cuffs.  The equipment is a sizable investment, but my boards get well used, as my home range is the Sierra, one of  the best for BC skiing with its wide range of terrain, and accommodating weather.  If you alpine ski, the skills and concepts do transfer over. 

Winter travel in the mountains requires knowledge of snow safety and use of other specialized gear.  Much to learn - seek out qualified instruction if you intend to travel beyond snow bound roads.  That is another investment if you intend to snow camp.

Ed

 Thank you for the detailed response. We know very little indeed about snow hiking and snow camping and the professional help would be really useful. The most experience with snow we gained on this particular TMB trail where we were absolutely not prepared for it. So every little help is appreciated and there is a whole new world to explore for us. Thanks again for giving us some new information to reflect on.

11:52 a.m. on December 9, 2019 (EST)
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Old Guide said:

Snowshoes.

 We unfortunately had quite a bad first experience with them a couple of years ago that we also filmed here: https://youtu.be/q_KA3PUVR3U But now we understand that how it is in everything, first experience rarely goes well and without having proper instructions and just a pair of rented snowshoes we couldn't walk too far. We definitely lacked the guidance and practice of course.

1:41 p.m. on December 9, 2019 (EST)
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I didn't see any form of 'crampon' or cleat' on your snowshoes. They would've helped in those packed conditions. Also if you learn how too 'Glissade' down hill in  them that helps.

Like boots, one must trust the snowshoe. When you start taking little steps and get nervous you are more likely to slide. Your ski poles are quite helpful.

One thing in deep powder, no one 'Floats' on snowshoes. Some people think they will. They will sink but never as much as without.

There is more to it but that's where experience helps.

You post real  fine videos. Thanks.

February 20, 2020
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