Friday 9th September
Distance: 17km Time: 7hrs
Leaving the Rifugio Bertone, we find ourselves deep in discussion as to which route we are going to take today. Do we take the new TMB route along the valley to Rifugio Bonatti, or do we take the old much harder route along the ridge? Seems we are all feeling the effects of this strenuous walk, but vote unanimously to take the harder route along the ridge as it is such a nice day and we feel the views will be well worth it. The paths fork not far from the Refuge at a viewpoint, where we stop to make our final decision. Some hikers pass us and offer to take our photo.
The Mont de la Saxe route option continues steeply up on to the ridge, and for a short while we almost regret our decision. We are still relatively fresh however, when we join the ridge (Mont de la Saxe) and the path becomes more gentle. It is a wonderful walk along the ridge up to Téte de la Tronche, our high point of the day. We take the uphill at a relaxed pace, enjoying the splendid vista of mountains, and the company of cows. Apart from two Germans who fall far behind us, this route is completely deserted of people. Jo has a brief moment of anxiety, wondering if it is wise to be wearing a red shirt in a field of cows, but other than one cow who follows closely behind her for a short while, there are no mishaps.
On the hill top of Téte de la Tronche we stop at the cairn for an early lunch, taking the time to enjoy the views before heading steeply down to Col Sapin. Jen spots a bird of prey flying high above, which Jo attempts to take a picture of. The path is steep and a bit of a slippery scree slope here, so we are very suprised when a couple jogs past us. Seems they plan on running the whole route in 5 days, which although very impressive to us, is nothing compared to those insane runners who do the whole route in about 24 hours! Our opinion of them lessons however when we catch up with them at the Col Sapin. They don’t know whether to turn left or right! If they’d been paying any attention to the surrounding scenery, they would have realised that turning right would take them back in the direction they came from.
We take the left down into the valley, trying not to look to closely at the opposite side which we will have to climb up again. It’s a very hot day, and we are grateful to reach the stream. Jen washes her face, while Jo tries to take a photo of a green beetle. The valley is alive with the sound of cow bells ringing – a very relaxing soundtrack.
We make our way up over the second Col, the Pas Entre-Deux-Sauts, before heading down the next valley to Rifugio Bonatti.
Rifugio Bonatti is set spectacularly the opposite side of the valley to a mountainous vista. We stop there for some lunch, some nice cool lemonade bought from the Refuge and spend some time sunbathing. Entertainment is provided in the form of a helicopter, which goes back and forth between the refuge and the valley floor bringing up wood and other supplies. It fairly gets windy when the helicopter lands! We are very tempted to stay here, but with an afternoon on our hands we decide to push on towards Rifugio Elena.
Most of the rest of the way is a gentle uphill stroll along the side of the valley, the plants in this area being very diverse and interesting. The final climb up to Rifugio Elena is however rather tortuously steep uphill, not a welcome climb for this late in the day. The refuge itself is sunk into the hillside in order to try and escape the fate of its predecessor, which was destroyed in an avalanche. This make it practically invisible until you suddenly come upon it. Suffering from extreme exhaustion, Jo struggles up the last bit, and collapses in a heap when Alan indicates where the refuge is by thrusting a pole in the air. He meant to say, We’ve made it, but Jo interprets it as it’s up there!
Jo, the only one having the group dinner, finds herself alone with a table for one, while everyone else seems to be grouped together on all the other tables. Makes one feel a little isolated not having any dinner companions, though extra food did seem to come her way.
That evening we talk about all the continental toilet accidents we’ve had since coming into Italy, and look forward to crossing into Switzerland tomorrow, where toilets are normal! Seems we’ve all had at least one incident of bad aim, or spray coming off the toilets! We settle into our enourmous dormitory for the night, which is remarkably snorer free, and offers a lot more privacy than in previous dorms.