Tour du Mont Blanc :: la Fouly to Planpincieux

Up before 07:00 again, packed up and tore down the damp tents. Just as we were eating breakfast in the communal shelter the rain started coming down heavily and it looked like it would be our first chance to walk in the rain. Out came all the jackets, waterproof trousers, gaiters and rucksack covers. For some reason – perhaps the pink laces on my gaiters – everyone decided to pull the mickey out of me and it got even funnier when the rain stopped just as were about to head off and all the gear had to come off again.


Wet

Wet

Learning how to figure out what to wear was one of the most important lessons from the entire trek. Starting off in the morning in the cold and damp, you’d be tempted to wear full length trousers, fleece, jacket and woolly hat but within five minutes you’d be boiling hot and it would all have to come off again. Most mornings we started off chilly enough in shorts and a fleece and took the fleece off as we warmed up. Whenever we stopped for a break, we had to quickly put on a fleece and maybe a jacket, depending on the wind, because you tended to get cold very quickly. If it started to rain, you’d delay putting on even a jacket since if it was only a drizzle your body heat would stop you getting too wet. It was all about not getting too hot, cold or wet, and not wasting too much time changing.

From la Fouly, we set off towards our highest point of the trek, the Grand Col Ferret at 2537m, a 1000m climb. At one point we stopped at an abandonded hut for a quick break, and since the weather was coming in Charlie wanted us all behind him. Since Teresa was generally the one at the back (even though she walked at a very steady pace which left us in no doubt she’d easily finish the walk), Charlie asked her to walk directly behind him to group together. It was this point that Gary made what I think was the funniest quip of the whole trip – “We’ll get a great view of the Grand Crevasse du St. Teresa!”. Poor Teresa, but fair play to her for just laughing along.

Gary, a business trainer living in Jersey, and Teresa, a deputy head of a school somewhere I can’t remember, struck up one of the closer friendships on the trip which was really nice to see. They often seemed to be at the back of the group deep in conversation or joking with each other as part of the larger group. It was probably this that made Teresa enjoy the trip more and more and open up a lot as time went on, to the point where she had us in stitches laughing some nights.

Along the way, we stopped at a nice refuge at la Péule where we went inside a low-ceilinged barn-like room with a log fire and had out first lunch with a hot chocolate. Very cosy in there with everyone huddled together and the rain starting to come down again outside. Before heading off, we all got geared up again in our jackets and waterproof trousers and continued climbing towards the Grand Col where we had spectacular views of Val Ferret both on the Italian and French side whenever the weather cleared for a bit.

Out front, as Omar and I approached the Grand Col a French leader with an American group came bounding towards us shouting at his group “Look at these guys with big smiles! Why can’t you lot not smile like that?! I’m going with these guys!” which was a bit of fun. Up on the col, I met Kevin from Cork again chatting with a French guy, Jean-François, who told us how he’d walked around these mountains many times. When I asked him did he live in the area, he replied “No, I live in Paris. Nobody is perfect!” and when I asked him had he considered doing the ultra-marathon TMB (more on that later) he held up the cigarette he was smoking and joked “No, I enjoy life too much!”. You’ve got to love French humour sometimes …


Big Eejit on the Grand Col Ferret

Big Eejit on the Grand Col Ferret


Me Messin

Me Messin

At the Grand Col, I got a little hyper and got Catherine to take some silly photos of me running around the place. We crossed over into Italy and descended to Refuge Elena where we had our second butties outside before going inside to have coffees and hot chocolates, the latter of which was the thickest we’d seen … you could nearly stand a spoon in the chocolate! From there, we only had a fairly short descent to the valley floor where we caught a public bus to our campsite at Planpincieux.

Back up on the Grand Col, Brian asked me for one of my walking poles, saying he was suffering from what sounded like shin splints. By the time we reached the bus, you could see the amount of pain he was in and I really had to sympathise since I had experienced shin splints running quite a bit. Luckily, the following day was to be a rest day so he knew he had some hope of recovering.

The campsite at Planpincieux was probably the busiest we stayed at, with lots of families. It was quite strange seeing that everything was noticably different now that we were in Italy. For one thing, the bathroom had only a single normal toilet with the rest of them being squatters, which we all tried to avoid. Also, the showers required tokens for hot water so we all shared strategies on how get the most out of one’s token.

That night we had soup for starter, which we were delighted with because we felt a bit chilly. For main, we had heaps of pasta with pesto and bacon and, for dessert, we had pastries with cream. After washing up, we really lashed into the wine and played shithead late into the wee small hours (okay, 23:00) until both Felicity and Brian had lost a game each. Brian was particularly upset since Catherine, Janina and I were blatantly cheating against him, flashing cards at each other and the like. Funny thing was, though, that we had so much wine at that stage we actually had no clue what we were doing. Still, he lost in the end and that’s all that mattered at the time.

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