Rifugio Maison Vieille to Rifugio Giorgio Bertone: Tour du Mont Blanc

Thursday 8th September 2011

Distance: 13km Time: 4hrs

We wake up refreshed to an amazing sunrise and some cuddles with the cats. It’s not long before we hit the trail again, which descends steeply down into Courmayeur, and Italian resort town famous for its skiing, and the cable car you can get up Mont Blanc. As we head down the slopes, we get confused as the trail markers seem to abandon us. Thinking back, there was one junction which did not appear to be marked, and Jo naturally took the route outlined in the guidebook. This seems to be out of date, as heading down we find ourselves rejoining the path later on. We are thankful that we don’t have to retrace our steps up the hill. Seems all paths lead to Courmayeur around here. On the way down we notice the cheat way of getting down the valley – one of the ski chairlifts head down here – though it doesn’t appear to be opperating today. There are a few viewpoint gaps in the forest, which look down on the town, and of course the hill on the opposite side which we will have to climb up later today.

We relutantly enter civilisation through the nearby town of Dolonne, before navigating the streets to the main town of Courmayeur. While heading down a particularly narrow street, Alan suddenly finds that he has stepped in wet cement! The man keeping guard of it seems to have been neglecting his job, but quickly smooths the cement out again. We are so distracted by this that we miss a turnoff down another narrow street and end up having to backtrack back to the guy.

In town we locate the tourist office, who direct us to a shop where we stock up on food. We then procede to eat a gourmet lunch on one of the many grassy areas in town. Fish surrounds himself with punnets of berries!

As a group we decide to do something amazing with our shorter day, and take the cable car up Mont Blanc! Although expensive this is a worthwhile trip, though involves a short bus journey to the cable car centre. On the way up we note the alpine garden growing halfway up the mountain, which is also accessible by the cable car, but we have neither time nor money for the extra excursion.

From the top of the cable car its a climb up steep steps to the upper viewpoint, where a Refuge can be found as well as views over Mont Blancs glaciers. Although not the true top of the mountain, which can only be assessed by foot, it is high enough up to make you feel like you’re on top of the world. If you have a lot of spare cash you can also get the next cable car over the top of the Mont Blanc Massive, and down to the French side of the alps! A lot of the viewpoint area is at the moment a bit of a construction site, complete with a modified cable car transporter. Despite the cold and some passing clouds we spend a good deal of time up here admiring the views down the valleys, and the glaciers which surround us, as well as the glacial features such as crevasses.

All too soon it’s time to head down, and rather predictably Alan freaks out a bit on the steep staircase back down – though he claims it’s because he is scared about our safety as we don’t seem to be bothering too much about how steep the stairs are. On the cable car down, the operator tells us jokingly about how they grow bananas in the alpine garden, before throwing his finished banana skin out of the car and telling us how it will grow into a new banana tree by next year!

Back in Courmayeur we find that we need to reach our refuge in about 2 hours time, and that it is a 2 hour walk away! We put our fitness to the test and charge up the hill, making it in 1 hour 45 minutes, including a few short rests which is really impressive compared to our usual pace. On the way up we get good views every so often through the trees. On one of the zig-zags we find a bench, and just can’t resist sitting down for 5 minutes. That’s all it takes to be overtaken by an Australian couple!

We arrive at the refuge and are lucky enough to get the last 4 beds in the dorm, though there is a lot of confusion as to which beds are free! Seriously if you are staying in one of these dorms make it obvious, or your bed will be taken! By the time we get sorted it’s getting dark, and those looking for a shower are horrified to realise that there are no lights in the shower block! Still a dark shower is better than no shower. Jo has the group meal again, and gets talking to the Australian couple who passed earlier, as well as speaking a few words of French with a French guy – who knew the French word for butter would come in useful!

That night Alan becomes greatly impressed with the guy sleeping next to him, as he is prepared with blindfold and earplugs. With a bit of experimenting Alan makes some homemade earplugs out of dried apricots, though he doesn’t quite manage to sell the idea to the rest of us.

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