Tour de Mont Blanc, Part 2
In Part 2, Travis and I tend to a wayward French flock, interrogate a CERN physicist about the probability of a black hole swallowing the planet, and are charmed by the beauty we find in Courmayeur, Italy.
Here are my previous TMB posts:
The morning of Day 2 went a long way towards changing my approach to the TMB for good. Travis and I decided to continue hiking together and went to check out of the gîte. Travis paid €12.50 for his soft bed in the warm building. My damage for 32 square feet of cold, wet grass outside was €9.50. That was tough to swallow and I realized I was going to be spending a lot more time indoors on this one.
The day’s hiking began with an early climb up to the Col du Bonhomme (2,483m) and then the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme (2,443m). On reaching the Col del la Croix, we took a pit stop at the Refuge du Bonhomme.
That’s when I discovered Travis’ strange but hilarious quirk. He has a thing for sheep. Apparently, when the opportunity arises, he enjoys chasing flocks of them to watch them scatter in front him. In fact, he’s currently pursuing his own personal challenge of chasing sheep on all 7 continents (not really, but I tried to talk him into it).
Fortune was smiling on us and a large, seemingly unattended flock grazed just below the refuge, ripe for the picking. Travis was unable to resist and went tearing through the befuddled herd with me trailing behind giving my best David Attenborough impersonation.
We immediately learned, through an ear piercing whistle from across the col, that the unattended flock was not as unattended as we thought. A seriously unimpressed French shepherd was racing our way with two barking dogs at his heels. Following a few tense moments, we averted an international incident with some soothing looks and constant repetition of how “desolée” we were.
We returned to our packs, still chuckling, and headed back to the Col de la Croix to take the alternate TMB route over the Col des Fours (2,665m). This lead us to the first of several “alternate to the alternate” routes as we attempted to avoid dropping down to the Ville des Glaciers (1,789m) and headed directly toward the Refuge des Mottets (1,870m) by cutting across the north side of the valley wall.
The trail started strong but quickly petered out and left us bushwhacking across the side of the mountain. Following animal trails where we could, we crossed several ridges, descended a chasm, forded a river and passed through a cattle milking operation before finally reaching a road that led to Refuge des Mottets.
Once there, with evening falling, we considered staying rather than pushing up and over the Col de la Seigne (2,516m). But we’d heard good things about Rifugio Elizabetta on the other side and decided to grind on to finish what would ultimately be 20 mile day with two major passes.
Our perseverance paid off. We crossed from France into Italy at the col and descended the other side and found Rif. Elizabetta (2,195m) to be a gorgeous refuge set below a pair of imposing glaciers. Inside, we were treated to red wine and a solid dinner of risotto, pork, potatoes, vegetables and chocolate cake.
One of my favorite parts of hiking is having conversations with interesting people. The dinner at Elizabetta was a gem in this respect as Travis and I talked with two guys from Minnesota, a man I only know as Charlie’s brother, and an American couple who work at CERN in Geneva.
The conversation with the duo from CERN was particularly fascinating. We got the chance to dig into the latest happenings at the Large Hadron Collider (“LHC”) and the research into the Higgs Boson (also known as the “God” particle). One of his big assignments had been to calculate the likelihood of the Higgs Boson research creating a black hole that would swallow the earth. For those who care, he found that it was infinitesimally small. Non-zero, but still really, really tiny.
We started early intending to briefly follow the main TMB through the Val Veni before turning east on an alternate route to the Rifugio Maison Vieille (1,956m). We were once again engrossed in conversation as we hiked and completely missed our turn. We realized this when we were even with the rifugio but about 500m below it on the valley floor. This resulted in an intense and entirely unnecessary scramble up a series of double black ski slopes as we sought to reach the rifugio and return to the alternate TMB route.
We rested at Maison Vieille and struck up a conversation with Charlie (a parkour instructor) and Charlie’s brother, our dinner buddy from the night before. After the conversation broke, Charlie’s brother inadvertently blessed us with the quote of the trip when he declared to Charlie, “I carry nothing but cheese.” It was pure perfection, although we didn’t get the chance to check his backpack to verify.
We began the long, steep climb down Col Chécrouit (1,956m) to Courmayeur (1,226m), our stop for the night. We settled in Courmayeur at the Pensione Venezia and decided to check out the town. On our second stop, we ran into some fellow TMB’ers and lingered into the small hours sharing stories and enjoying the enchanting ambience of the small mountain town.
The next day came late to Room 8 of the Pensione Venezia. When it finally arrived, Travis and I agreed that we liked what Courmayeur had to offer and decided that Day 4 would be a zero day. We roused ourselves and headed out to grab breakfast.
Later, after the only real rain storm of the trip, I ran into my friends Tom and Paula again. I got caught up with them and, now joined by Travis, had a delicious pizza dinner with them and their entire 16-member group. We returned to the Pensione Venezia aiming to get an early jump on the trail the next day.
More details on the TMB to come soon. Check out Part I if you missed it.