I wish I would have started earlier but sitting in the comfortable hotel and enjoying a delicious breakfast with local products, I didn’t know that I was facing my longest hiking day of the tour! And so it was about 9 am when I said a big thank you to the family and left the hotel. My plan for today was to hike all the way from Courmayeur to Chalet Val Ferret via Monte de la Saxe.
You name it! I walked the stretch to Courmayeur center for the 7th time before I passed the church and slowly left the charming Italian town of Courmayeur behind me.
The climb out of Courmayeur towards Rifugio Bertone
Thankfully the climb out of Courmayeur (1224m) towards Rifugio Bertone (1996m) was mainly through a beautiful pine forest. The sun was already burning from above and every little bit of shade helped me getting up the mountain.
I just hiked around another switchback when I bumped into Kaitlyn and Del. They were hiking slowly because Kaitlyn had some issues with her foot. I am always super-concerned when I meet another hiker who suffers from an injury, however small it is. Just because I know how fast things can get worse since a knee injury nearly ruined my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Arriving at Rifugio Giorgio Bertone it was definitely time for another cool coke! I took a seat on the terrace together with the Scottish family and two guys from Israel. I loved meeting all these people again and again. Life seemed to be just about perfect in the mountains!
Later a helicopter came close to bring some supplies to the hut. It’s always an attraction and people got busy taking photos and videos. For me it was just about time to hike on.
The Monte de la Saxe variant
I wanted to hike the Monte de la Saxe variant as I had read before it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful sections of the Tour du Mont Blanc. Looking at the steep grass-covered mountain lying ahead I had some mixed feelings. But I was here for adventure, right?!
And I started to climb up what was probably the steepest grade I ever set my foot on! The trail was sandy and very often I had to climb up fast because I was afraid to slide back if I just stopped for a second. Halfway up I realized that the two Israelians were climbing after me and I was happy that I wasn’t alone on this challenging ascent.
We arrived at the top together and enjoyed the breathtaking views around us. The hard climb was forgotten in no time! What followed was probably the finest ridge walk I have ever done! the mountain I was on was covered in mountain meadows and the views in all directions were just gorgeous! I definitely couldn’t get enough!! (I am sorry to say that my photos cannot really capture this beauty. You have to go there!)
When nature calls…
After a while I could feel some urgent needs coming up. I needed a bathroom break. Looking around I saw no place at all that was suitable and offered a little privacy (that’s an issue all along the TMB). Short before the terrain got steeper again and the trail crested along I couldn’t help it. Someone was climbing up the mountain with a perfect view but I didn’t care at all. I had to go.
Relieved I started cresting along the mountainside uphill towards Tete de la Tronche. Damn, that was steep! With no vegetation at all on the mountain slope I didn’t feel quite comfortable. On the last stretch of hiking over rocks the Israelians caught up to me and together we climbed up the last meters to Tete de la Tronche (2584m).
It was time for a break and to enjoy the views!
From Tete de la Tronche via Col Sapin to Rifugio Bonatti
I spent my break up on Tete de la Tronche with a whole bunch of Israelians. It was wonderful just to sit there and look around. A raven came for a while and hobbled around on the green grass.
I checked the maps and pointed along the mountains where the trail would lead us. It was still ways to go and it was already well past midday. I better get going!
The descent from Tete de la Tronche to Col du Sapin was very steep but without a steep drop-off not at all a problem for me. Dangerous for my knees though with lots of sliding sand and rocks. From Col du Sapin (2436m) the trail descended into a wide valley where another trail provided a bail out option in case of bad weather.
The weather was beautiful and so I decided to climb up again and basically hike around Testa d’entre deux Sauts (2729m), the mountain I could see to my left. The hike was beautiful with some snow patches here and there and millions of butterflies! With the song “Butterfly” from one of my favourite bands a-ha on my lips I descended again into a valley on my way to Rifugio Bonatti.
It’s a long way….
It was getting late in the afternoon and with all the climbing I had done today my legs felt heavy when I hiked along the valley towards Rifugio Bonatti. Some buildings appeared but that wasn’t the Rifugio, the trail just passed by in the distance. Some marmots were playing between the stones and whistling whenever they were aware of me being around. Cute little animals!
I was thinking about dinner. Was it at 7pm? And would I make it until then? I checked my map. From Rifugio Bonatti it was still a long way…
From Rifugio Bonatti to Chalet Val Ferret
Finally it appeared. First I could only see the roof and then the upper part of the building. I stopped at the trail junction but had already decided not to visit Rifugio Bonatti. It was already 5pm and I had another 3km along the mountain plus the descent into the valley. My legs were burning. Mostly from the sun. Should I put on some sunscreen? It was somewhere in my pack… No time. I need to go! (As I am writing these lines, my skin peels off from that days sunburn! Reminders of the TMB!)
The trail followed along the mountainside crossing some glacial streams. Some of these crossing were due to some snow patches not that easy and with tired legs I was extra cautious. I didn’t like being alone at some crossings but I couldn’t help it. It felt like forever until the trail finally started to descend in endlessly long switchbacks down into Val Ferret.
It was 6:30pm when I checked in at Chalet Val Ferret.
Staying at Chalet Val Ferret
Chalet Val Ferret has never been my first choice for this night. Initially I wanted to stay at Rifugio Bonatti but being one of the most beautiful refuges it was booked out early. And so I booked Chalet Val Ferret for a ridiculous 90 Euro per night with halfboard (the most expensive price I paid on the whole tour!).
But when I arrived in the evening I was glad I did. I couldn’t have made another step. Standing under the hot shower I peeled off the tape from one of my blisters. It looked horrible… Hopefully my feet would hold up. I knew it wasn’t right that my blisters didn’t have the time to heal but quitting this hike was not an option for me. Not at all!
Barefoot in my crocs I made my way to the dinner table. I was more than hungry! It seemed like no other TMB hikers stayed at this place. On the next table sat a woman with her three loud and naughty kids. Phantastic! I tried to ignore the noises and concentrated on my dinner. First course was a handful of pasta followed by some kind of meat with little potatoes and beans. Dessert was a small portion of fruit salad. I was wondering if I could order it all a second time!
Of course I didn’t. Quickly I disappeared into my room and got comfortable in the bed. I managed to read one page in my book before I fell asleep. It was a long day…. but judging the landscape it was also the most beautiful day of my tour so far!
Tomorrow I would cross the border into Switzerland!
–> next post: Day 6 – Chalet Val Ferret to La Fouly
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