A short tour of Les Fiz in the Chamonix valley

We have looked daily at the enormous rock face known as the Rochers des Fiz, everytime we visit the Chamonix valley. We have, in the past, crossed it and viewed it from the other side but never, until recently, walked along the face that we are so familiar with. That was the objective of this short tour.
Our tour started fairly early in the morning in old Servoz (Vieux Servoz to give it its French name). From here we took a familiar path in the direction of Lac Vert, a pretty little lake surrounded by trees. We arrived on a Sunday and the restaurant, just about the only facility at the lake, was entirely booked up with reservations, no room even for a coffee!

Lac Vert view of Mont Blanc and restaurant

Lac Vert view of Mont Blanc and restaurant

On arrival we took a walk to the lake and sat down on a bench in the shade and ate our lunch. When we walked past the restaurant again there was a large coach and lots of cars accounting for the “reservations”.
We then took the lower track for Plateau d’Assy. On our somewhat out of date IGN map this track is a road, but signs made it clear that this was no longer the case and later we discovered why! Despite the crowds at Lac Vert this track was quiet and very peaceful with magnificent views over countryside we knew very well, but not when viewed from these angles. After a while we reached signs stating that the track was closed and impassable with a pathway signed into the forest. We found this path on the map and started to follow it, but we did not want to climb too far up the hillside nor to join the road that the path was headed for. So, when a path headed off to our left and downhill we took it. This path was also on the map and returned us to our original track, we hoped after the impasse. The path dwindled somewhat and eventually reached a very eroded rocky torrent. The map showed that we needed to cross this and continue on the other side. Easier said than done! With no sign of the path on the far bank and no bridge or obvious crossing point. After searching for a short while we crossed the stream balancing on large rocks and scrambled up a scree slope to find the remnants of a path, which descended to the track again. Once on the track a brief glance backwards showed why the track was closed. The torrent had completely swept the track away and there was a yawning gap of about 100m. We continued along the track and emerged at Plateau d’Assy right by the famous post-WW2 church, Notre Dame de Toute Grace.
Plateau d’Assy was probably once an extremely popular tourist destination, famed for its fresh healthy mountain air. There still are large hospitals and convalescent homes but the tourists numbers seem now to be minute and what were once large prosperous hotels are now apartment blocks or empty shells. When we were looking for places to stay, we could only find two hotels, both small, and one restaurant. Not surprisingly there is a distinct air of past glory about the place. We had visited the church previously and it is truly magnificent, although this recent visit showed that vandals can strike even in such an immaculate place. We took a drink and some ice cream in the sun in the only open bar we could find, just opposite the church.
After, we went to our hotel, Le Tourisme, and let ourselves in using the key code we were given when we made the booking. Our room was basic but had a perfect view over Mont Blanc.

View from Hotel window

View from Hotel window

We ate at La Creperie des Fiz. The food was excellent but we were the only customers and when we left the family was dining at another table in the restaurant. That night there was the customary seasonal thunder and lightning but no rain.
In the morning we had breakfast in the bar attached to the hotel. The bar was quite busy, even at 8, when we arrived for our breakfast with coffees and “snifters” being served to a variety of locals, including one who appeared to be in dressing gown and slippers having a cognac. There seemed to be just two other hotel guests having breakfast. It was another lovely sunny morning.
We walked through part of the town to reach a path that climbed steeply towards Curalla and thence onto Refuge Varan, where we stopped for a drink, around midday. The last part of the route took us through a field alive with grasshoppers and butterflies, a wonderful experience coupled with the sweeping views.

View from Refuge Varan

View from Refuge Varan

After Varan we had to re-trace our steps a short way to take the path to Charbonniere. This path and immediate area were compleetly new to us and it was truly magnificent with grasshoppers galore. Much of the path is over open ground with panoramic views over the Arve Valley and up to the rock wall of the Fiz.IMG_20140908_131842696_HDR

At Charbonniere, we stopped by the chalets for lunch, then on again to meet the path that goes up to Plate Refuge. Looking up the rock face, it seems there cannot possibly be a walking route up. But there is and I can vouch for this, having walked down it several years previously. From the path junction the route is mostly in the forest until you reach Plaine Joux. For us, this provided a welcome break from the hot sun.

From Plaine Joux we took the road/track to our Refuge Le Chatelet d’Ayeres. This is an easy track for walking and we were glad of that, feeling tired after a longish day’s walk. However, about 1km from our destination we found a sign saying the track ahead was damaged and walkers might like to deviate to avoid it. Having yesterday encountered a similar problem with the track washed completely away, we decided we would take the recommended route and went down round and up again. This was psychologically and physically rather wearing and, we discovered next day, totally unnecessary!
Anyway, we arrived at the Refuge around 5 and drank a beer in the sun after dropping off our sacks in our delightful twin bedded room with views over Mont Blanc, again. There were only three other over-nighters but two people stopped by for dinner in the evening. We had the impression that the Refuge was not quite as well kempt as on our previous visit about 4 years previously. There were new guardians, but it was still delightful. Dinner was excellent, a savoyarde charcuterie followed by tarte myrtille. That night was filled with thunder and lightning.

Next day, we were going back to Servoz and decided to take the gentle descent by following the track back to Plaine Joux, which was rather rutted but certainly very easy walking compared with our approach. In no way did the track condition warrant the recommendation to follow the diversion. At Plaine Joux we took the road/track to Lac Vert then the track back to La Cote. From there, we walked along the road down into Servoz, where there was a hive of activity as roads were being re-surfaced.

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