Tour du Mont Blanc :: Courmayer Rest Day

Our first rest day. Had a lie-in until all hours, getting up at 07:30. For once, though, we didn’t have to roll up the sleeping bags and mats, pack the bags and take down the tents, which was a great treat. Once we’d had breakfast, we split up into smaller groups to head off for the day. Most opted to catch the bus into Entrèves and catch the cable car up to Pointe Helbronner and some people even continued on across the glacier to the Aiguille du Midi.

For some reason, though, I got the notion into my head that I’d like to take the marked trail under the path of the cable car up to Refuge Torino at 3320m. Given that Entrèves is at around 1300m, that would mean a 2000m ascent. I guess the attraction was that I wouldn’t get much other opportunities to do a straight 2000m ascent and I wanted to get some idea what it would be like to walk at that altitude.

So, off I went at around 09:00 and walked down the road to la Palud, just above Entrèves, to where the path started. The sign gave two and half hours to reach the first cable car station at Mont Fréty, but I managed to do it in half that even though I wasn’t going very fast. The path was very steep, though, zig-zagging up through the forest and out into the sunshine a few hundred metres below the station. I really enjoyed the walk and it was cool to text Catherine and find out she was still at the bottom in the queue for the cable car.

I wandered around there for a bit and came across a sign that seemed to be suggesting that the path to Refuge Torino was closed but that there were a couple of other paths that branched off on the way up. The sign was in Italian, though, so I just ignored it … what do I know what “Chiuso!!!” means? I headed past the little alpine gardens and headed up the path a bit and passed by more bit warning signs, again in Italian so I just shrugged and continued on.

At this point, I was out in the open on a rocky path with the sun beating down, so I stopped at a little statue of Notre Dame to put on sunscreen. A middle-aged Italian lady, with what looked to be her father, struggled up the path behind me and accosted me with a very severe “Bon Jorno!”. That was a fun part of the whole trip actually … you always greeted people on the trail in the language of the country you were in, regardless of their nationality, so as you crossed from France to Italy to France the standard greeting changed from “Bonjour!” to “Bon Jorno!” and back.

Anyway, I continued up the rocky path and it got more and more dodgy as I went along. In places it trailed off where small rock slides had damaged the path and in other places it turned into a light scramble. The higher I got, the more I got slightly nervous since I was completely alone (I didn’t see another soul once I’d left the Italian lady and her father behind) and felt like I was up really high. On some of the steep bits, it really felt like I could trip and tumble the 2000m or so to the entrance to the Tunnel du Mt Blanc. Stunning views, but given the warning signs I’d passed over and the killer bee I had to fight off, I started thinking about turning back.


Me

Me

After a short while, I got to a place marked on some maps as les Portes at around 2600m where the path turned into what was described as a “passage délicat”. What was directly ahead, some would describe as a “heavy scramble”, but what I could see looked like an actual climb. With some company, preferably someone with some experience, I might have fancied it, but instead I sat down and had my lunch and started to head back down. As I set off I texted Catherine to tell her what I was doing, and she text back saying she was hugely relieved after seeing what was ahead of me from the cable car.

Back at Mont Fréty, I settled myself down in the grass amongst the hoardes of italians – some of which were in little bikinis which was a nice diversion – and fell fast asleep until Catherine, Janina and Felicity arrived back down. We then got into the queue for the next cable car and jealously watched the little groups of people with ice axes and crampons about to head up to Helbronner for some glacier walking and climbing. After a fairly long wait, we caught the cable car back down (only €9 for me, whereas it was €36 return from the bottom to Helbronner and back) and then caught the bus back from Entréves to the campsite.

After dozing about in the sun for a bit more, we had our showers and wandered down to the bar-ristorante in Planpincieux where the whole group met up and shared stories of the day. The group that went across the cable car to the Aiguille du Midi caught a nice break in the weather and raved on about the views they got of Mont Blanc, the Glacier du Géant and the Vallée Blanche. It was at that point that Janina, Vanessa, Catherine and I started talking about doing a glacier walk on our last rest day in Chamonix.


Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc and Chamonix

Aiguille du Midi, Mont Blanc and Chamonix

Dinner that night was pasta, steak and tart and cream in a very Italian (well, it was in Italy!) family restaurant. It was quite funny having to compete with the volume of an Italian game show on the telly while talking. Back at the campsite we had a few short games of cards before turning in.

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