The morning views on departing Rifugio Elisabetta as my Tour du Mont Blanc hike continued were spectactular. As forecast, the weather was closing in but there was still a bit of sunshine breaking through and turning the braided waterways of the Lac Combal to molten silver.
The TMB day between Elisabetta and the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme can be done in two ways – a longer, easier version via Les Chapieux or the shorter, higher via the Col Ford. Taking the high route depends on good weather so I had to wait and see what the conditions would be like when I reached the turn off.
The early sunshine was soon engulfed by rain showers as I headed for the Franco-Italian border at the Col de la Seigne. Make sure to keep looking back as you pass through the meadows and ascend to the Casermetta (formerly an Italian customs house and now a museum) for the incredible views of the Val Veni, especially the spear-like Aiguille Noire de Peuterey and all the way along to the Grand Jorasses.
After the snow-covered col it was time to wind slowly down into France, with several stream crossings full of rushing snow melt. More rain and then a hailstorm kept me pushing onwards to the lovely refuge of Les Mottets, where I could eat my picnic under shelter and get a coffee. This is a former farm and the dining hall is like a museum, bedecked with cow bells and vintage farming implements.
It was raining again and the cloud had descended when I got to the variante turn off so carry on I must, down the pleasant valley, with furry friends…
From Les Chapieux it took me nearly three hours to gain the hut. I found the route finding through the meadows a bit tricky but persevere with the sweeping curves of the grassy path and eventually it will come out all right.
Leaving the flowery meadows behind conditions got tough for the last climb. There was a lot of snow on the path and visibility deteriorated to the point where I could only see 20 metres ahead.
I felt particularly vulnerable after coming across a group of people who were looking after a young man with a broken leg on the trail. They seemed to have things under control, with the man wrapped in a space blanket and stabilised but there would be no helicopter rescue in those conditions. Fortunately there are poles marking this route so it was easy to find my way.
I was pretty excited to be allocated a four-person dormitory at the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme after the 50-person experience at Rifugio Elisabetta! Three Frenchmen and not a snorer amongst them so it was a good night for a tired hiker.
This is a big refuge and very well run, with room for everyone, even with all the wet clothing and boots hung up. The meal was excellent, including a delicious meaty stew and baked polenta. Of course being in France there was a cheese plate before dessert! As with Elisabetta the night before the water in the showers was freezing so I could only hope for a proper wash in Les Contamines…
By Natasha von Geldern
Here is my day by day account of hiking the TMB:
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