Tuesday 6th September 2011
Distance: 16km Time:6 hours
We awake to our first clear day in the alps and what a view is waiting for us! The rising sun lights the peaks while the view extends for miles. Instead of taking the usual route down to Les Chapieux we opt to take the higher ground on the Col de Fours variante, which cuts the corner off the official TMB track, but also climbs to the highest point and misses out a long section of road walking. To join the variante we retrace our steps for 15 minutes or so back up to the Col de la Croix then follow the ridge along to the Col des Fours before decending into the Valley of Glaciers.
The path is harder to follow on this section as it is not as well signposted and the path keeps disappearing and reappearing. Luckily if you take a wrong turn you notice an x spraypainted onto a rock to tell you this. Trekking across an increasingly lunar landscape with spots of ice, and after many false summits, we find ourselves at the Col de Fours, our highest point on the treck (though it is of equal height to another high point). From the top we are rather underwhelmed by what we think could be Mont Blanc, but we later realise it’s the Aiguille des Glaciers. We consider taking a detour the summit of Tete Nord des Fours, but Jo disallows this based on time – with long lunch breaks and late starts it can be hard to fit 6 hours of hiking in the daylight! Heading down the valley, we discover the area has an amazing echo, which we put to the test by singing scales.
The boys stop for a rest to change into shorts and enjoy the sun, thinking that they’ll catch up with the girls easily. However after the girls have to wait for 20 minutes further down for them to catch up, they get told off. They thought something might have happened and had just started to retrace their steps back up the hill – a waste of energy for nothing.
Reaching the valley we stop for lunch on a large rock just past the Ville de Glaciers. Tensions in the group are running high and Jo eventually blows up at the boys after waiting for an hour and a half for them to cook some lunch on an almost empty gas cylinder. With lots of energy in her the frustration of not moving is too much! We find that we are not yet halfway through the days walking and its now well into the afternoon. To ease the tension we agree on some ground rules on leaving at a decent time and not stopping overly long unless we are well ahead of schedule. We also find that other members of the group have issues as well and these are discussed leading to a much more enjoyable and argument free trek.
We charge on towards and up the main climb of the day, the climb up to the Col de la Seigne which marks the border between France and Italy. At the head of the valley lies the rather impressive Refuge des Mottets, a converted dairy farm which looks like it could be interesting to explore. The old cowshed has been turned into a dormitory! We have little time for this though and charge up the zig zagging slope at an impressive pace. Making good time on the uphill, Jo allows a short break by a stream, where some brave people decide to soak their feet in the ice cold water. Very refreshing, and the perfect antidote for sore feet!
On reaching the Col de la Seigne, Jen does a little dance across the border while crossing it several times. It feels odd to be able to stand with one foot in France and one foot in Italy! She also welcomes Italian soil by immediately going to the toilet! A slab in the ground marks the different countries with an “I” on one side and an “F” on the other. It’s time to change our greetings from Bonjour to Bonjourno! The view is stunning, with Mont Blanc becoming visible for the first time, greatly higher than the previous peak we saw. We stand in awe. The immediate surrounding peaks are huge and dramatic. A strange noise causes some alarm, but it’s just Alan who has decided to doink a large metal compass marker with a rock.
We push on down the valley, worrying that we may not have enough daylight to make it to our Refuge for the night, but can’t help pausing to explore an ex-border control post. It’s a very smart house built with traditional materials, but has now been turned into an information point. Inside we find a 3D map of the TMB, and are able to trace the route we have done so far.
Heading down, Jo leads with a punishingly fast pace, Jen spots a marmot, and we all notice the change in the way the route is marked. As the light starts to fad we reach the Rifugio Elisabetta, which sits not far below some large glaciers.
Exhausted we head into the Refuge for some dinner and sleep, though the size of the dorm is huge and packed. Fish and Alan are put in their place as an Israli couple next to them cook an amazing gourmet meal. They are inspired and vow to improve their camping meals. Heading to bed in the communal area we soon realise we are in for a rough night! A large asian man manages to keep the entire dormitory up half the night with is excessively loud snoring. Many people are vowing to buy earplugs by the next morning. A short respite in the noise happens when Jen squeaks awake loudly thinking that she has a nosebleed. This has the unintentional effect of shutting the snorer up for a bit.