It’s 5 am when the Korean woman who is our dortoir mate for the night jumps out of bed and starts furiously packing all of her things. Somewhere in the process, she comes to her senses and realizes that she is confused about the time. She abruptly stops and climbs back into bed.
We rouse ourselves out of bed at 6:15, wash up and pack our bags before heading down to breakfast at 7. There are delightfully few people staying here, so this time breakfast feels civilized in comparison to the mad scramble we experienced the day before in Champex Lac! There’s plenty of bread, butter, jam, coffee/tea, orange juice…enough food to get us out the door, even if it is a bit lacking in protein. We can already tell that we’ll be thankful to have those ProBars we packed for a mid-morning snack.
Despite the early wake up, we both slept well last night, and, after a day of hiking under our belts, we are eager to hit the trail. It is pleasantly cool when we start out. For the first time all summer, we opt to wear our long-sleeve shirts. How nice it would be if we could hike at these temperatures all day long.
There are many ways to get to Rifugio Bonatti today. One of the recommendations we got from the hikers we chatted with at Champex Lax was to always take the high route whenever possible, so we opt for that approach today. We follow the road out of Ferret until the pavement turns to dirt track.
We cross the river and start heading up hill on a single track. Soon we encounter several cows grazing and blocking the path. Most step aside, but one insists on licking Matt’s forearm (free salt!) before allowing us to pass.
We keep switchbacking up the valley until we reach Alpage de La Peule where there is a small dairy farm. We stop here for a brief break and order a milkshake made from fresh cow’s milk. Delicious! We also pick up a hunk of the local cheese and a half loaf of bread to have later for lunch. Then it’s back on the trail.
The trail rises steeply above La Peule and begins to turn the corner around the hillside, where our first view of the Aiguille du Talefre and de Triolet mountain come into view. From here on out, the rest of the day is a feast for the eyes, as we are treated to one incredible view after another.
On top of that, the sky is blue and occasionally accented by clouds. The grass is green. Various wildflowers are in bloom, and, even in the sun, the temperature is reasonable for mid-summer.
For the next hour and half we make our way steadily uphill toward the Grand Col Ferret (2500+ meters), stopping every five steps or so to take pictures. When we reach the pass, we are standing at the border between Switzerland and Italy, and the view down to the other side is breathtaking.
There are lots of other hikers here, so we climb the ridge to the right and find our own private spot for lunch. We picnic on the fresh bread and cheese we bought below and rest up before moving on.
After an indulgent break, it’s time to begin the descent to Rifugio Elena. Although steeper on this side, the views are equally gorgeous.
We stop for a coffee at Rifugio Elena and enjoy the efficiency and affordability of coffee in Italy. It turns out that the price of espresso in Italy is tightly regulated by the government, so you cannot be overcharged, even in a remote location like this. These people do it right!
We pick our way down the trail to the river, stopping occasionally for more pictures of the wildflowers, glaciers, and mountain peaks. The trail flattens out at the trailhead where there is a small parking lot next to a stream. It’s hot now and many people are swimming in the water, and we have to admit that it looks pretty enticing. We still have several miles to go before arriving at Rifugio Bonatti, so we stop briefly to soak our bandannas in cool water and drape them over our necks.
We set off confidently down the road and then, 10 minutes later, second guess ourselves and check our guidebook and map. It’s a good thing we did because we discover we have gone too far and need to backtrack a bit to get to the trail.
We are, once again, taking an alternate route to our guesthouse tonight. It involves about 40 minutes of sweaty uphill climbing to an alpine hut where we take a break, drink some cool water and have a snack.
The rest of the way is an undulating track. It is relatively level, and heads down the valley, just above treeline. We are tired, but we are inspired by the constant views of Glacier Pre de Bar and, towards the finish, our first views of Mont Blanc! Before long, Rifugio Bonatti comes into view. We have only to cross a few ravines with streams cascading down to get to our home for the evening. There are a few ruined stone houses to photograph along the way.
When we arrive, the owners are cordial and compliment us on our Italian, which feels good given how many years it’s been since we lived here. We are shown our dorm beds, and then we dash ourselves through the shower and find our way to the dining hall, which is full and boisterous.
We sit with two Greeks from Athens, two young American girls who have just graduated from college and four older folks from Sweden. It’s so loud it’s difficult to talk but it’s always fun to meet different people. Dinner is great and four courses: salad, soup, main (cabbage, “falafel”, mashed potatoes) and dessert. Nobody leaves hungry!
After dinner, we step outside to enjoy the fresh mountain air over a mezzo litro di vino rosso. Tutto bene. All is well. Buona notte!