Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Alpine Trekking peaks - Hiking Mont Buet

The remote feeling Berard Valley above the forest
View walking up the Berard Valley
In the cool stillness of the hour before dawn I departed the sleeping campsite in the Vallorcine valley at the foot of the Aiguiette des Posettes and followed the track by the railway to the Hotel du Buet. On the far side of the road that links Chamonix to Switzerland, a trail led steeply up into the forest above signposted to Cascade a Berard, refuge Pierre a Berard and Mont Buet. The sign gave me the thrilling news that the hike to the latter would take six hours - that was just one way.

My objective was 1800 metres or 6000 feet above and in the interests of keeping this a family holiday I had opted to do the Mont Buet ascent in a single day and forgo the night at the hut.

At 3099 metres or 10167 ft Mont Buet is the highest French mountain this side of the Chamonix Valley and the stunning views from the summit along with access by one of the highest marked hiking trails in the region make it a popular goal for the hiker. The normal ascent route from the pretty hamlet of Le Buet near Vallorcine is  without technical difficulty in summer conditions the main challenge of the climb being the amount of ascent involved as well as well as heading into the zone where the effects of high altitude meke themselves felt.  It was for these reasons that the mountain was known locally as Mont Blanc des Dames or Mont Blanc for the Ladies and used as both a practise climb for Mont Blanc itself or as an alternative.

The early part of my ascent, steeply up through the coniferous forest requires few directions for a well marked path leads one higher into the Aiguilles Rouges Nature Reserve emerging from the trees into the remote feeling Berard Valley; a wonderfully untouched part of the French Alps. My route up the valley led a little way up the right hand slope before contouring along the slope. The path here seen following the river below forms part of a loop trail but either can be taken. The higher one is - surprisingly - less rough.

The peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges from the path above the hut
 The two paths meet again at the head of the valley where a final steep climb heads up to the Refuge Pierre a Berard at 1900 metres - the sun had risen now and I was warm as I approached the hut. Orange juice from the fridge on a warm alpine day brought to mind A Long Walk in the Alps - my hike from the Eiger to the Matterhorn - I had climbed 2000 feet which was a third of the way.

Beyond and to the right of the hut the path continues as though it means business; that climb to the hut steep? Nah... this is steep! A relentless climb to high altitude through an environment that gradually becomes harsher the higher one gets. pretty soon I had left the grass of the Berard meadows behind as the path picked its way over the bare stone of the approach to the Col du Salenton at 2524 metres. Route finding issues on this ascent of Mont Buet are few but care is needed here. Cairns mark the way through the rocky steps and shelves below the col and while the way ahead is generally clear straying from the path can lead to more difficult ground. This area could be hazardous in mist when te route ahead cannot be seen.

 Mont Blanc seen beyond the peaks of the Aiguilles Rouges
Just before the col I reached a path on easier shaly ground and turned right along it for Mont Buet - left takes you to the Col du Salenton just above. It's also worth remembering for this section to return to this point on the way down instead of using the apparent short cut seen below. That one had harder sections of scrambling to overcome.

Now my route lay across a small snowfield and up a vast slope of gret shale which is often snow covered - the recent spell of warm dry weather meant that I didn't encounter much snow today. On most of my summer visits to the Chamonix area Mont Buet has been white topped. The altitude began to make itself felt as I ascended the ridge above and, now higher than the Aiguilles Rouges I paused for a rest looking back to Mont Blanc as its  white form  appeared through the drifting clouds beyond their jagged peaks.



The aiguille du Tour from Mont Buet
Mont Blanc seen across the Chamonix Valley from Mont Buet
The next section was easy and a steady walk brought me up alongside a high valley towards the stomy snow streaked slopes that rose to the top of Mont Buet. The mountain however was not giving up this battle lightly and my pace slowed as the path headed up a series of switchbacks on a never ending slope of steep shale. The antenna above drew me on. It marks the end of the ridge known as the Arete de Mortine, and is in a wonderful spot with views in three direcions from ten thousand feet up in the sky though I took the most inspiration from how easy the last part to the summit looked. a stroll on a wide ridge up to the cairn.

The summit view from Mont Buet is worth all the effort; in the South the snowy peaks of the Mont Blanc range shone under a summer sky with the white river of the Glacier d'Argentiere leading into their midst and the King of the Alps Mont Blanc standing aloof at their southern end. Closer the rocky spires of the Aiguilles Rouges hid the intervening Valee du chamonix from view while further west I could clearly identify Le Brevent where I had stood two days earlier with Josh looking up here to the mountain I'd planned to climb while to the North deep valleys hid beneath the clouds.


A chamois I saw just below the Col du Salenton
The heat haze hung over the low lying Rhone Valley in switzerland while up here at 3099 metres I put on a coat against the chilly breeze. Close at hand there was an unusual perspective of the Dents du Midi seen across the wild country of Emosson while that side of Mont Buet plunged in a forbidding drop to the unseen depths of the Tre les Eaux Valley.

One thing worth mentioing on te way back were the chamois I saw below the Col du Salenton. They are a timid creature and one always privileged to see them and this was only the second time I had seen one in the Alps.


Pete Buckley August 2012