Last night, we slept in a dorm room with about 18 people. There was one snorer in the room, and just guess where he was. That’s right, in the bed right next to Matt. Arrgh! It was a rough night of sleep for both of us, and, since breakfast is served beginning at 6:15, we decide to cut our losses and get up. We throw on our clothes and head downstairs to grab a bite to eat—that is, after we take some photos of the glacier wall right outside our door. What a view!
The sun hasn’t quite crested the mountains, so the scene isn’t as spectacular as we hoped for, but we are definitely not complaining. Waking up to a view like this one is something we’ll never take for granted!
Breakfast is tasty with lots of little portions of yogurt, bread, cheese, jams and a really tasty coffee cake. By the time we finish packing up, we are among the last to leave the rifugio. We are headed to the Italian village of Courmayeur tonight, which is the opposite direction that most hikers are going, so we should have the trails to ourselves for quite a while. That is exactly how we like it!
The nice, Greek couple we met at dinner yesterday recommended that we take the alternative high route to Courmayeur rather than the shorter TMB route, and since the weather is looking beautiful yet again, we are up for it. We start off retracing our steps to the rustic buildings we passed on our way in, and then follow the trail up beyond them into a beautiful open meadow that extends out in front of us as far as our eyes can see.
We have an incredible view of the Val Ferret at our backs, so we keep stopping and turning to see if each new vantage point is photo-worthy. And, of course, they all are!
Eventually, we come to a group of large boulders where there are lots of marmots sunning themselves. We try to get a closer look, but they all scamper back into their burrows when we start heading in their direction. Even so, we notice a small stream running behind the boulders and decide to use it as a foreground subject for the majestic wall of mountains behind us. Our little foray pays off in a big way, reminding us that it is always a good idea to follow the water to its source.
Even though we are not officially on the TMB, the trail is easy to find as we gradually head up to the pass. There is a big organized foot race happening on the Italian side of Mont Blanc this weekend, and there are little red flags marking the way for the runners. We also see helicopters coming and going with large loads of water and race supplies that they are dropping off at various points throughout the course. As we crest the first pass, a race official carrying an armful of race flags passes us. He must be double-checking the course to make sure the route is ready and easy to spot for the runners.
After a short break, we head down into the valley and then up the symmetrical equivalent on the other side of the valley up to the next pass. The high route takes us up from there on a very steep trail that I am thankful to be hiking up, rather than down. Even so, slippery loose dirt and rock leaves us with little to grip on to.
When we finally reach the top, there are 360 degree views, and we decide to have lunch in this glorious spot. The boots and socks come off, and we enjoy the wedge of cheese bought in La Fouly that we have been carrying for the past two days. Life is good!!
A short, steep downhill brings up to an epic “balcony” walk where we have unfettered views of the Val Ferret on our right for the next several kilometers. This is shaping up to be one of our most impressive hiking days ever!
Eventually, the trail starts to drop in elevation, and I slow down. Matt is ahead of me when I suddenly remember that we are not staying in Courmayeur at all tonight. When we made our reservations for the TMB back in April, we had trouble getting a room in Courmayeur (probably because of the race), and we decided that we would just walk a few kilometers beyond town to the Rifugio du Randonneur. Of course, we totally forgot abut that when we decided to take the long route this morning. It’s almost three in the afternoon, and we still have many miles ahead of us.
When I catch up to Matt, I let him know our predicament, and we pick up our pace. We finally make it down to Rifugio Bertone, and Matt tells me that the trail sign says we still have almost 3 hours to go to our refuge for the night! Unlike trail signs in the States that mark distances between significant locations, the TMB signs express an average hiking time. Elevation gain and loss, rather than distance, is a greater factor when determining how far you can hike in a day. We did not do our homework correctly today!
We decide to grab a coffee at the rifugio. Hopefully, a jolt of caffeine will help, and it will allow us to read about the trail past Courmayeur. We have a long way down to the town, a long walk on pavement and then a big uphill climb on roads up to the rifugio. Our guidebook mentions a chairlift that stops right near our rifugio, so we decide to ask at Bertone whether it is running.
The woman working there says she will call to see, and we can discern from her Italian that the chairlift is closed. She continues talking and explains to us that we can hike down to a pink house in the town of Villair and catch a ride with the owner of the rifugio. We don’t totally understand how or why this will work, but it is our best option, so we jump on the offer and get going.
The trail is steep, but we love the switchbacks and the shade we find. We pass many people headed up the trail, and they are all wearing backpacks that are clearly way too heavy. It is quite warm, and their faces are bright red. Most of them look pretty miserable. Matt hardly notices as he is distracted by all the butterflies on the trail.
Eventually, the trail ends, and the pavement begins. Before long, we see the charming houses of Villair. There is one house that is pink, and, just as we are walking up to the house, a woman opens up the window and greets us. Her name is Annalisa, and, as soon as we arrive, it all clicks. She is driving from her home here in Villair to the rifugio on the other side of Courmayeur for the evening. She says she will be ready to leave in about ten minutes. We are super grateful to have a ride and tell her that we are in no hurry. We take a seat on the curb to wait.
Annalisa has two sons who peek out the window at us to see who these funny strangers hanging out outside their home are. Eventually, we hear Annalisa saying goodbye to them and telling them to be good while she is away. We load our stuff into her car, which is in a hidden in a tiny parking garage under the neighbor’s front yard.
The ride from Annalisa’s house in Villair to the rifugio, and she chats with us in Italian the whole way. She tells us how she spends every night during the hiking season at the rifugio cooking dinner and serving breakfast for her guests. In the winter, things are a little easier, and she usually is able to go home at 5 after the ski slopes close.
The rifugio is super cute. We are in a small bunk room with a handful of other hikers. One couple from England is running the entire trail in four days, which makes us feel pretty lame for taking a ride. We do some laundry outside, while they take a shower. They are traveling ultra light and don’t even have a towel with them. They tell us that they will just drip dry in the bathroom until they can put their clothes back on. Hikers are a funny lot.
After we have showered and dried off, we head over to the restaurant to hang out and type up our trail notes before inhaling a huge plate of pasta. Cheers to another great day on the TMB!