Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc clockwise, my path continued from the beautiful Italian town of Courmayeur towards the Rifugio Elisabetta.
The ‘TMB’ is one of the world’s most famous long distance hikes. It is a circuit of the magnificent Mt Blanc massif, on paths that cover around 170 kilometres (105 miles). Read more on how to plan and prepare for hiking the Tour du Mt Blanc, including a TMB packing list.
It took me a few minutes to navigate out of Courmayeur but essentially you follow the road to the outlying village of Dolonne (passing under a road bridge). The old part of this village is particularly charming, with its old washing place.
The path follows a stiff uphill through the forest from Dolonne to Rifugio Vielle, where I had a lovely lunch with some Americans I met on the way. This is about two hours from Courmayeur.
The vegetables were perfectly grilled and that cheese was intensely good! Of course the views weren’t bad either…
After leaving Rifugio Vielle the scenery gets much more spectacular as the path follows a long balcony, with views all along the mountain range and flower-filled meadows. It was great to leave the ski fields behind.
After a few stream crossings I reached the high point – a spur jutting out from Mont Favre and took a break to enjoy the magnificent views of Mont Blanc (height 4,808m) and the Miage and Brenva glaciers.
My boots got a bit wet, as did the paws of a marmot I saw crossing. There are large patches of snow here but rarely on the trail. More marmots were making their home in ruined alpage buildings.
It takes longer than you expect to descend from the spur as the path winds through rushing streams. Although I was silly enough to think that the attractive red-roofed refuge at the head of Lac Combal must be Elisabetta and was very disappointed to find I had another hour to waslk through the Vallon de la Lee Blanche (basically the upper reaches of the Val Veni).
It’s a wide track and easy walking until the final plod up to the rifugio. The braiding streams of the Lac Combal flow through marshes studded with wildflowers, including acqualegia, hostas, juniper and bilberry. It is a riot of rich yellows and purples. Combal was once a proper lake but now is more a network of waterways and waterplants.
Rifugio Elisabetta is a typical Italian mountain refuge and enjoys an out-of-this-world view down the Val Veni, which is either the way you have hiked if travelling clockwise, or tomorrow’s walk if hiking anti-clockwise!
Nestling below the Aiguilles des Glaciers and the Pyramides Calcaires, I enjoyed sitting on the benches outside the Rifugio Elisabetta, catching the last of the sun rays. I watched a herd of Bouquetin, or Alpine Ibex, grazing, playfighting and scampering across the snow. David Attenborough eat your heart out!
This is a very friendly rifugio with great food and coffee and alcohol. A risotto with blue cheese and a berry panacotta were highlights of the meal.
Like everywhere popular on the Tour du Mt Blanc it was full so make sure you reserve your place in plenty of time. The only criticism I would have is that they have packed in too many people for the size of the hut.
Like the Rifugio Bonatti it has a huge dormitory with 50-or-so people sleeping in long rows (personal space is minimal and ear plugs are advised for sleeping), which would be ok except the dining area downstairs does not have enough space for everyone to sit down.
They do the evening meal in two sittings (7pm and 8.15pm) and have to kick everyone out half an hour beforehand to set the tables. Still, it’s all part of the TMB experience and a small price to pay for the stunning location of this mountain refuge.
By Natasha von Geldern
Here is my day by day account of hiking the TMB:
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