Day 3 Croix du Bonhomme – Elisabetta
September 24, 2009, 8:01 pm
Filed under: running

Friday, 4th September 2009

Mont Blanc from the Tete du Nord des Fours

Mont Blanc from the Tete du Nord des Fours

We were almost last out of the refuge but we were getting better at getting up and out. It was a lot clearer than the previous night; still some cloud around but the Tete du Nord des Fours was at least visible. We crossed the col de la croix du Bonhomme (for the third time) and climbed up to the Col des Fours (for the second time). We spent a long time trying to find the path up to the peak and even after we found the first of the way cairns we still did some mis-guided scrambling over the boulder field towards the ridge. It was well worth the extra effort. The cloud was largely above us and we could see into the valleys in every direction. You only get a two-way view from a col – if you’re lucky. We could see the snow domes on Mont Blanc although there was still a lot of cloud at that height.

We didn’t hang around long because it looked like the weather was closing in again and of course the path was blatantly obvious on the way down; it was hard to see how we had missed the cairns earlier.

Watercut Rocks

Watercut Rocks

The descent from the Col des Fours was a slog but not as bad as the guidebook suggested, in fact the muddy path at the bottom was worse than the steep shale at the top. There were some fantastic rock formations where the streams had forced a way down but otherwise there was little to see because we were again surrounded by thick cloud.

As the path levelled out we passed a couple of parties whose baggage was being carried by mules. They all looked completely miserable and we got far fewer ‘bonjours’ than we had from other groups. I’m just glad we didn’t meet the mules on the steep descent. We could see the Ville des Glaciers and the Refuge les Mottets from the bottom of the hill but they were still quite far away and we suffered a number of heavy showers before we got there. The rain was getting heavier so we stopped at Les Mottets for shelter, soup and hot chocolate. The refuge was also feeding a French group who had come by car, David and Brenda from the US (who we would meet again later) and a Liverpudlian guy with Joly Small from Ardrishaig, who could talk the hind legs off a donkey and would have been fascinating company for the evening.

Refuge des Mottets

Refuge des Mottets

The latter two had just come down from the Col de la Seigne and were relieved to get in out of the rain after fighting a strong headwind. They said they had met two German chaps who had been turned away from the Elisabetta the night before. Since that was where we were heading, and we had no reservation either since we had had no phone signal for two days, we were a bit worried. My feet were still giving me problems, the nearest refuge after the Elisabetta was almost three hours further on and the rain was persistent and torrential at times. As we started to put all our wet weather gear back on I asked Bill if he wanted to stay at Les Mottets for the night and I was hoping he did….but we left the shelter and headed up to the next col, at a bit of a yomp because of the risk of not haing a bed for the night.

The rain did go off a few times, and each time it did we stopped to admire the view. Stormy or not it was still fantastic to be in the mountains, and the glimpses of high peaks and valleys reminded us that there was a big white mountain somewhere in the middle of this.

Col de la Seigne

Col de la Seigne

At the col it was dismal. We took a couple of quick photos but it was very cold and we were now in full wet weather gear,gloves, hats and thermals. The rain had turned to sleet and hail and the only saving grace was that the wind was on our backs. So much for our welcome to Italy. Just down from the col was a curious new building which apparently is some sort of museum to Monte Bianco – no beds, no food, no use to us (maybe it’s very popular on a hot summer day).
Foul weather as we enter Italy

Foul weather as we enter Italy

We joked about where we would sleep if the Elisabetta refused us and I practised my best French in the hope I could sweet-talk the guardienne into giving us a bed for the night but I was seriously wondering whether our survival bags were going to have to be used and thinking that the cow-sheds ahead looked inviting.

Very welcome bed for the night

Very welcome bed for the night

Fortunately the Elisabetta was busy but not completely full and we were allocated two spaces on the long mattress in the loft… and two tokens for the HOT showers (you only get 20 litres of hot water so you have to be careful to turn the tap off while you lather up, but I enjoyed every precious litre). Every inch of space was taken up with wet gear hanging to dry and there was a bit of a party atmosphere with everyone just very glad to be inside. The draft beer probably helped too.

There was a bit of chaos in the crowded dortoir at night, with lights going on and off, the emergency lighting coming on in the middle of the night – so not the best night’s sleep, but definitely better than a bivvi in the cow pasture.

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