TMB, Day 5: Crossing the Col des Fours

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We heard that there are thunderstorms in the forecast, and we have two options to get from Elisabetta to our next rifugio today. The first is the traditional TMB, which involves a long road walk that we hear is easy but a little boring. The other option is the high route. It is supposed to be beautiful but is only recommended in good weather. We are really hoping to do the high route, so we set the alarm early in hopes that we may be able to beat the storm.

By the time we get up and going, it is already raining, and we have lost our motivation to make good time. Breakfast at Elisabetta is unremarkable, and we wonder how long we will hike before we are hungry again.

It is cooler this morning, and the sky is thick with clouds that make the weather seem menacing. Sure enough, we aren’t five minutes down the trail, when it starts spitting rain on us. We pull out the rain jackets, pack covers and camera shell and prepare for the worst.

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The rain is a little annoying, but it’s not too bad. On the plus side, the flowers look especially beautiful with all the fresh rain droplets on them.

The climb up to Col de la Seigne (2512 meters/8241 feet) is our first challenge of the day. It’s a long, gradual trail up, which is a nice warm up for the day. Just before the pass, we stop for a quick break at the old Italian Customs house which is now a museum.

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The rain picks up just as we leave and really starts coming down just as we reach the pass. We decide it is time to put on the rain pants and gloves, and, as soon as we get them on, we head over the pass and begin the long descent into the Val Veni

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We are now hiking in France, which is pretty cool! Despite the rain and the clouds, the scenery impresses us with its lush, windswept green mountains that line both sides of the valley. We pass several waterfalls on the way and enjoy the switchbacks that help ease our way down to the valley floor.

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It’s 11:30 by the time we reach the Refuge des Motetts. This property was once a dairy farm but now is a charming rifugio with a small restaurant. It is still raining, so we decide to break for an early lunch here, hoping that the weather will pass. 

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The interior of the restaurant is rustic and cute, but the young waitstaff seem utterly confused by the notion of serving food to us customers, which somehow makes the experience feel authentically French. We have a big bowl of soup and a plate of pasta, both of which taste delicious and warm our bellies.

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A large group of hikers come in just as we are finishing our meal. This is our cue to leave, so we pay up and suit up in all of our rain gear again.

A few meters down the trail, we find a marmot den, where a trio of baby marmots is running around and being all cute and marmoty. With the rain still coming down, we are not about to switch lenses, but we do manage to get a decent shot with our wide angle lens.

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The trail is relatively flat here, and we pass by many old stone structures that appear to be abandoned. The fireweed is in bloom, and the bright pink blossoms add the perfect touch to the beautiful scenery we pass.

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We continue descending the valley until we reach the Ville des Glaciers where we will leave the main trail and take the alternate route up to the Col des Fours. Just before reaching the turnoff, we see some dairy cows and a sign indicating cheese for sale. You don’t have to ask us twice! We are all over that and try to find someone who can sell us cheese.

We wander about the buildings, which appear to be deserted at the moment, with the exception of a vicious attack puppy. He is super cute but is having a little too much fun nipping at our rain pants. The more we try to keep his sharp, little puppy teeth away from our expensive Gore-tex pants, the more he wants to attack them. The puppy ping-pongs between the two of us, and we both laugh hysterically while the other is being besieged by the young dire wolf. Matt uses his poles to fend him off, but he is undeterred.

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It’s a relief when the proprietor finally steps out of the residence. This cheese business is a family affair, and we have arrived at lunch, just as the family was sitting down to their meal. We apologize for the intrusion, but the young cheese monger dismisses our faux pas and takes us into the cheese cellar where he allows us to sample the delicious Beaufort cheese that his family makes.

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We buy a nice-sized chunk and profusely thank him for opening up for us before setting off, careful to keep a watchful eye out for the pint-sized Cujo. The coast appears to be clear, so we make our way quickly up the trail leading to Les Tufs. It begins to rain again, and the trail has turned into a muddy mess in many spots.

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The views off to our left get better and better the higher we go. The trail climbs beside  a river, and there are several waterfalls cascading down the mountain side that make attractive subjects for our cameras, even on a rainy day like this.

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After a steep climb, the trail levels off for awhile, and we finally see hints of blue sky ahead of us. Hopefully, the worst of the weather is behind us, at least for the time being.

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The scenery continues to improve as we make the final push up to the saddle.

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Just before reaching the top, we encounter our first snow field. There are plenty of divots in the snow, making the walking relatively easy.

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Once we reach the saddle, we find a spot away from the traffic for a quick rest before making the descent to our refuge for the evening. It’s a barren scene, but the exposed red shale, glaciated peaks and gloomy skies come together for a striking photo.

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As we sit there, the skies grow darker, so we decide to get a move on. We find a small patch of bright blue wildflowers close to the snow-line. It always amazes us to see these hearty little flowers growing in such inhospitable locations. The smallest patch of soil is all that is needed to nurture something so beautiful.

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There is a lot more snow on this side of the pass. We walk on the bare rocky surfaces for as long as possible but eventually have to make our way across a snowy slope. Matt crosses easily and is patient with me as I slowly pick my way across. Better safe than sorry!

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It’s a relief when we finally reach snow-free trail again, at least for me. When we reach the large cairn marking the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme, we know that we are close to the refuge we will call home for the night.

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The Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme is just a few minutes further, and we are psyched to be staying the night in such a glorious location.

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The reception is in the main dining room, and the place is already hustling and bustling when we check in. We are shown to our dorm room, which is set up like a train compartment with a small aisle down the middle and two sets of bunkbeds lining the walls on either side.

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We grab the last available bunk, and pull out our sleeping bags for the evening. There is a large hole in the wall next to my bed that has been covered with a flyer. One of our bunkmates tells me that he was scared to take that bed for fear that something would crawl out of the hole in the middle of the night. I hadn’t really thought of that, but now that he mentions it, it’s all I can think of. Merci beaucoup for that one.

We hear reports that the showers are ice cold and decide to take a pass. Tomorrow, we will be staying in a private room in a bed and breakfast with our own bathroom. That sounds much more appealing than what we are likely to experience here.

We head down to the dining room to hang out. We have our cameras with us, eager to take some photos of the amazing views on offer from the refuge, but the skies darken and foil our plans. We order a carafe of wine and attempt to catch up on trail notes instead. Just before dinnertime, a thick fog rolls in, obscuring the views completely.

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When dinner is served, we all have to shuffle tables and find our assigned seats for the evening. We eat a hearty family-style meal with a convivial group of hikers from Germany, England and the US. Once the meal is done, everyone clears out quickly and heads to bed. We follow suit and climb into our bunks, hoping and praying that nothing comes for a visit in the middle of the night!

4 thoughts on “TMB, Day 5: Crossing the Col des Fours

  1. You’ve no idea what a thrill it is to follow your adventures. Vicarious experiences for those of us who would never be able to do what you do but wish we could. Thanks! And happy hiking….

  2. Thank you Alison and Matt for sharing yet another beautiful adventure! It looks stunning. Were you able to check out any of the campgrounds along the way? I hear they are nice and a good way to cut your costs. And are the owners of the rifugios receptive to hikers using the facilities just for dining?

    Once again, you’ve inspired me to get out on a new adventure. I may try to go late September when the crowds are thinner. I can’t tell from your blog, but what time of year were you there?

    Thanks again for taking us all on your journeys. Saluti!

    1. Good questions, Laura! We hiked in early July. The huts were completely full at that time, and we ran into lots of dayhikers on the most beautiful sections of the trail. Going in September should definitely help with the crowds, but be careful to check that the huts are open and that the weather isn’t too dicey at that time of year.
      We only stayed in the huts, so we don’t have any first-hand information on what camping is like. There are a handful of developed campgrounds that are a little out of the way, but we heard that you are allowed to free camp as long as you set up your tent after dark and take it down before dawn. (Check on that before you do it!) You can definitely eat at the huts at lunchtime. In the evening, it may be dependent upon space. We ran into a girl at Bonhomme who was eating dinner at our table but camping outside somewhere near the hut. The huts are a fun part of the experience, so I would definitely give them a try for at least one night if you can afford it. We loved the TMB and hope you do, too!

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