TMB Day 4, La Ville des Glaciers to Rifugio Elisabetta

July 22, 2019

We had set the alarm for 7 am, since our bus was leaving at 8:30 am. But at 5 am our neighbours started to pack up and leave. It was well-nigh impossible to sleep with all the door-slamming, talking, and rolling suitcases on the old floor. So we stayed in bed until 6:30 am and then got up. Tonight would be another night in a mountain hut so we needed to take the appropriate things. After we sorted those out we packed the big bag for transport to Courmayeur.

Breakfast was bread, jam, muesli, milk, and yogurt plus tea, coffee, and orange juice. The muesli was really good. And because we had gotten up so early we could have a leisurely breakfast.

Rosemary went over and picked up our sandwiches from the little shop and then we went over to wait for the bus. The road up to La Ville des Glaciers is a narrow one-lane road, so the local authorities had closed it to all but necessary local traffic and provided this bus service for tourists. Our bus was a 22-passenger van and our trip, the first of the day, was just about full.

La Ville des Glaciers
La Ville des Glaciers

We put on our packs and started up the trail towards Col de la Seigne. The trail was in good shape and wasn’t too steep, even though we gained altitude quickly. We passed by Refuge des Mottets; we had hoped to stay there but they were already full when Alpine Exploratory was making our bookings. The trail climbed steadily up the hillside above the refuge but the gradient was really good compared to some of the other trails we had walked on.

It was another beautiful day and it was the first day that our legs felt good, so it made for really enjoyable walking. There were a lot of mountain flowers and birds but we didn’t see or hear any marmots.

Juvenile Northern Wheatear
Juvenile Northern Wheatear

We climbed 655 meters over 4.5 kilometers to get to Col de la Seigne, which marks the Italian border. And just before we reached the col, Rosemary spotted a huge bird flying over! And soon there were four of them. We looked at them closely. They had small heads and necks so they must be vultures. Maybe they were the endangered Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture? But no, we couldn’t see any beards. However we had a good description.

Italy is ahead at the Col de Seigne
Italy is ahead at the Col de Seigne

At the col we sat on the Italian side and enjoyed the views while we ate our French-made baguettes. We checked out the ruins of the old Customs House, which looked very uncomfortable, and then started down towards Rifugio Elisabetta. Soon we came to a restored stone building, La Casermetta. It had a military history but it had been renovated for use as an environmental information centre, staffed by two women. Inside there was a relief map of the Mont Blanc massif as well as information about birds, plants, and geology.

La Casermetta information centre
La Casermetta information centre

Luckily for us one of the two was a birder, so she got out the (French) bird book. Our birds were Gyps fulvus, or Eurasian Griffons. She was very disappointed that she hadn’t noticed them as they passed over. We remembered now that we had first seen this species in Grazalema on last year’s Spanish trip.

Val Veny above Rifugio Elisabetta
Val Veny above Rifugio Elisabetta

After leaving La Casermetta we dropped down some more and then walked along the old military road through the flood-plain. Rifugio Elisabetta came into view shortly afterwards. What a spectacular setting! Perched on the hillside with views down Val Veny towards Courmayeur and behind it the snout of the Glacier de la Lée Blanche, it was a spectacular place to spend the night.

Our first view of Rifugio Elisabetta
Our first view of Rifugio Elisabetta

The hut looked in good condition and when we got to our room (with two bunk beds) there were construction workers outside the window, building a new terrace. We went back downstairs for drinks and spent the rest of the afternoon writing our journals and watching the workers.

New terrace, under construction
New terrace, under construction

Dinner was at 6 pm tonight but it took a while to find out who was sitting at what table. Finally we ended up sitting across from two Spanish women (who lived in England) and a British man (who lived in Spain). We started with a very good creamy risotto with cheese, followed by roast pork with roasted potatoes and green beans. Dessert was pana cotta.

After dinner we chatted with a young British woman who was travelling with her brother and their cousin. We commented that we couldn’t imagine our kids going on holidays with any of their cousins, and they replied that they wouldn’t travel with any of their other cousins either.

Next: TMB Day 5, Rifugio Elisabetta to Courmayeur