Day 3 – des Mottets to Courmayeur
It rained heavily overnight and this morning there was still a steady downfall. From des Mottets, it was all uphill to Col de la Seigne (2516m). Even with a pair of Compeeds protecting my 2 huge heel blisters, I took it slow all morning. To be fair, I was moving a LOT faster than yesterday but every now and then I would step on a loose rock and that would trigger a sharp pain in my heel. The forecast was quite accurate and the sky cleared just before midday. The walk down to Rifugio Elisabetta was absolutely beautiful. The valley and the glaciers where truly breathtaking. The refuge itself was perched on a hill right under a glacier and boasted some spectacular views.
I carried on past the refuge and since the weather was clear, took the high elevation route to Courmayeur. This track took me high above the valley and afforded me bountiful views of the valley and the glaciers on the other side of the Val Veni. The walk took longer than expected because I couldn’t help but stop and admire my surroundings. Oh, and take some pictures too. You don’t get scenery like this in New York City or Sydney. I didn’t get a takeaway lunch from des Mottets so I ended up having a late lunch of beef stew (EUR 12) at Col Checrouit. I saved my half eaten sandwich from yesterday but it had gone off overnight 🙁
From Col Checrouit, it was a long and boring descent on an unpaved road down to Dolonne and Courmayeur. Thankfully Courmayeur is a beautiful town with views of the Alps on nearly every street. The high street embodies that of a sophisticated Italian getaway. Tanned skin, fashionable clothes, and shops to suit every taste. I stocked up on Compeeds at the local pharmacy for my assortment of blisters and took dinner at what I later found out was the best pizza place in town: Du Tunnel. The pizza was large and delicious but the Italian custom of EUR 1.5 service charge wasn’t so nice.
Day 4 – Courmayeur to La Peule
Before leaving Courmayeur I picked up a few snacks at the Carrefour then started the ascent up to Rifuge Bertone. It took nearly 2 sweaty hours to reach the refuge, which is 700m above town. From here, it was a lovely and relatively flat walk to the Rifuge Bonatti. There were lots of day walkers and people training for the TMB Ultra Marathon (UTMB) on this stretch. The Val Ferret valley also provided awesome views. After a steep and sweaty final ascent to Bonatti, I took a break and had my lunch there. The refuge has a large outdoor seating area which is great for getting some sun and for looking at the mountains and glaciers on the other side of the narrow valley.
From Bonatti to Rifugio Elena, there’s a short climb followed by a long flat. And then, much to my chagrin, a drop to the valley floor followed by a very steep climb up to Elena. There was one especially dodgy snow traverse which I probably should’ve detoured around but took head on and safely made it across. The ascent seemed never-ending but upon reaching Elena I was rewarded with a lovely full-on view of the Glacier de Pre de Bar. Since the refuge is accessible by road there were lots of day trippers here. I stopped to have a snack and refill my water bottles before tackling the Grand Col Ferret. It was already mid afternoon by this point so the thought of doing another mountain pass nearly took the wind out of me. The path was not as steep as the earlier ones today but still took some time.
It quickly started to get very cold and small hail started coming down but that wasn’t going to stop me from getting up and over the pass. At the top, the view looking back on the Val Ferret valley was incredible. But it was freezing cold so I didn’t spend much time up there and quickly started heading down into Switzerland. The fatigue was taking hold so I called it a day once I reached La Peule, a converted dairy farm with a surprisingly very high level of accommodation. There were also some Mongolian style yurts that you can stay in, which I found out later were cheaper than the dorms. Demi-pensione (bed, dinner, breakfast) in the dorm came out to CHF 58, which is over 25% more than in France!
Day 5 – La Peule to Relais D’Arpette
After breakfast I accidentally took the low altitude route to get to La Fouly. The weather was great but there were clouds hanging over the mountains so there wasn’t much to see anyhow. La Fouly is a nice little town but Praz-de-Fort is a gorgeous little town. Some of the timber chalets look over 100 years old! There weren’t many mountains views today but plenty of forest and river views. I was planning on taking lunch in Issert but the prices were really high and there weren’t many dining options available. Switzerland is a seriously expensive country! On the way up to Champex I ran into John at a small picnic area. We stopped and had a chat and he told me about another variante which I hadn’t considered and he highly recommended. A blister had slowed him down and today was his easy day. At the pace he normally moves I didn’t think I’d see him again after day 2.
My blisters are no longer bothering me thanks to the Compeeds but I wish I had bought extra wide medical tape to put over the Compeeds. After a few days they wear down and start to get stuck to my socks…The upwards path to Champex had random wood statues in honor of the champignon mushrooms which grow in the area. After a relatively easy ascent (compared with previous days) I reached Champex and had a late lunch. CHF 20 for a salad and plate of spagbol at a local restaurant. The supermarket didn’t open till 15:00 so I had no self-catering choice anyway. John caught up with me in Champex and I decided to join him on the variante to Fenetre d’Arpette (2665m). He camped and I stayed in the dortoir at Relais Arpette, a large and very well run refuge. When I got my bill that evening of CHF 80 I found out that it’s also an expensive refuge. Everything at the refuge, including the views, were excellent so it was well worth it.