We woke on our third morning after a very refreshed sleep at Auberge de la Nova, located in the small hamlet of Les Chapieux. We had allowed ourselves a little sleep in (7am woohoo!) however the refuge was alive and in full swing long before that, so we were both awake before the alarm sounded. Shortly upon waking we headed down to breakfast and were surprised to see the dining room almost empty and the breakfast quite depleted. People sure got up and left early around here! Luke and I preferred to take our time in the mornings and leave when the trails were a bit quieter.
Breakfast at the refuge was much simpler consisting of yogurt, granola and sliced baguette with butter and jam. And coffee... there was always coffee. We had clearly been spoiled by our multi-course hotel breakfasts the first two mornings. Nevertheless we still managed to eat more than enough to fuel us for the morning ahead. It was a quiet and peaceful morning and we took our time in the dining room letting our bodies wake up and our minds prepare for the day ahead.
Day 3 would take us out of France and into Italy. It was a slightly shorter day, but still demanding with over 1000m of elevation gain. We packed up our bags, picked up our packed lunch from the refuge (the only time we ordered one) and set off on day 3 of the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Starting the walk, I experienced my first real low mood. I hadn’t properly pooped that morning (sorry if that’s too much info, but it would inevitably make its way into these posts) and my stomach was feeling a bit upset from all the bread and dairy. Luckily I had Luke chattering away at me and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself and feel gratitude for my high spirited, silly companion who always knew how to make me laugh. A lesson we learned through this hike was that wallowing in negativity had absolutely no benefit. There were many times when our bodies hurt or we were low on energy, frustrated, hot, tired, etc. Low points were acknowledged and then we moved on. We didn’t let them overtake us and focussed on feeling gratitude for where we were. This is a practice I feel I’ve carried forth post hike into my daily life. Just another gift from the TMB.
The day started with a short road section where we were greeted by a herd of sheep on the side of the road. They grazed lazily as we shuffled by, taking hardly any notice of us while their bells sang out loudly. About 1 km past Les Chapieux a signpost lead us off the road, and onto a scenic trail that climbed just above the road hugging the side of the mountain. Sheltered from the rising sun and with a cool morning breeze this portion of the walk was really quite enjoyable. We passed cows (who were hesitant to let us by) and a rather difficult stream crossing eventually arriving at our first rest stop: La Ville des Glaciers.
Note to future hikers, there are clean and private toilets here which both Luke and I appreciated immensely. It’s incredible what a good poop can do for your mood! After a short break we picked our bags back up and began the 30 minute walk to Refuge des Mottets. As we were leaving, I commented to Luke on the heaviness of my bag now with two full bottles of water.
“You filled your bottles up with water?” Luke looked at me with worry in his face.
“Of course I did”. Rule number one was when there was water, you filled up. Plus, the guide book had specifically said to top up water bottles here. Luke’s eyes shot at me, and his face filled with worry.
“Did you not see the huge sign on the sink reading ‘NON POTABLE’.
“You didn’t drink it... did you?”.
I was silent. I began racking my brain… did I drink the water, or just fill my bottle? Apparently a good poop can also cause a blissful amnesia. I decided that I HADN’T drunk the water, and stuck with that choice. If I had, there was nothing I could do now, and I tend to be prone to suggestion. If you tell me I ate something bad, I’ll usually get symptoms even if it was a lie. I’ve inherited this from my mother. I emptied my bottles, thankful I still had Luke’s water to steal if desperate times arose. Luckily our next rest stop was only a short 30 minutes away so we went on our way.
Luckily, no ill fate came from this mistake but a lesson was learned. Beware, the water at La Ville des Glacier. It is not drinkable as the guide book suggests. When we arrived at Refuge des Mottets we took a very short break to fill up our (my) empty water bottles. We also ran into an American couple who had stayed at our refuge the night before - we would run into them many times along the walk and share some trail miles the next day. Both heading to refuge Elisabetta we took off first to conquer the big climb of the day up to Col de la Seigne: our entrance into Italy.
With two days of hiking already under our belt, the climb didn’t take us as much by surprise. The path began with switchbacks, steep at times, before levelling out into a wider more groomed trail. The views were beautiful and we took our time stopping for water/ photo/ yoga / jelly baby breaks. Nothing quite beats warrior pose with those views. The incline was less steep overall on this climb, so we managed to push through the whole way up with little breaks.
Eventually we made it to the top of Col de la Seigne (2516m) our highest elevation yet. Because of the incredible weather, the views were astonishing; France lay behind us and Italy lay ahead. In each direction, pyramids and peaks were displayed, none more magnificent than the snow peaked Mont Blanc itself. We found a little grassy area to call our own, dropped our bags and plopped ourselves down for a rest looking out towards Italy, our destination. The wind at the top of the pass was fierce and we quickly had to layer up so as not to get cold.
We shared the packed lunch from the refuge consisting of a ham and cheese sandwich (for Luke), an apple, hard boiled egg, bag of crisps and full tomato. Yes, an interesting collection of foods. We dug into some of our energy snacks and I had a cliff bar. Full and satisfied we loitered on the Col for some time both doing Pilates, stretching and generally just soaking up the views.
We eventually gained the energy to pick up our bags to start the descent into Italy. The path was easy and clear although in worse weather conditions we had been told it can be hard to follow. Mountain bikers shared our trail and we were so impressed with their ability to manage the rocks and steep drop offs. Both going up and down, I was totally in awe of them while having absolutely no desire to try it myself. Friendly ‘bonjours’ were replaced with bonjournos signifying our entrance into Italy. Shortly down the trail we came to a building, La Casermetta an old border control hut from the Second World War, now converted into a small museum. Seeing the words ‘museum’ Luke’s eyes widened and of course he wanted to go in. Although I was reluctant to stop (we had JUST gotten moving again) marriage is about compromise and I had dragged him on this trip to start with so we dropped our bags outside and I gave him 10 minutes to explore.
Despite my initial reluctance, the tiny information centre was actually quite cool. It was supervised by a woman who happily showed us the large Mont Blanc model explaining to us the various areas and routes and telling us about the use of the building during the war. I imagine she spends a lot of the day alone in there and so when a keen history graduate walks through the door interested in every detail of the large model she gets excited.
Our visit was short but definitely worthwhile and before we knew it we were back on the trail. For about 45 minutes we descended down into the pastures of Lée Blanche and then levelled out into a nice flat trail where we were able to stretch out our legs. Knowing our destination was close, we happily walked this section at a leisurely pace, chatting and moving with ease. Before long, the trail started to climb and we saw Rifugio Elisabetta perched high up on the side of the mountain. Staring up from the trail below I was overcome with excitement and climbed the 5 to 10 minutes to the refuge.
Rifugio Elisabetta is one of the landmark refuges of the trek and was one of our favourites. The old wooden building had a warm vibe with hikers from all over wandering around in their socks and slippers, reading or chatting to each other with a drink in hand. Rifugio Elisabetta, stands at 2195m on a spur that overlooks the lower Vallon de la Lée Blanche. Sunset views were spectacular, only to be surpassed by the sunrise the next morning.
After checking in to our room, showering (figuring out the hot water coin system) and changing into clean clothes we wandered downstairs to the balcony to get a drink and relax. We stared out at the mountain views below and revelled in our days efforts. High up in the mountains, the air began to get chilly and we layered on our warm socks and fleeces. The wind picked up and I began to feel slightly emotional. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly why or what I was feeling, putting into words something that was just so deep but all I can say is I had the strongest sensation of contentness, like I was in the exact right place at the right time.
The hours passed and we grew hungrier (and drunker) and were relieved when dinner was served. We were once again seated at a long table this time with a family from Belgium and a couple from Catalonia. The Belgium parents were doing a portion of the TMB with their two young sons (aged 9 and 11ish) and those boys looked absolutely shattered. Having walked for 8 hours that day I wasn’t surprised. We chatted away to our dinner companions as the first course was served, one slice of bruschetta, followed by a second course of risotto. The main course was a plate of green beans and potatoes (I jumped for joy at the site of vegetables) with ham for the meat eaters and a slice of cheese for me. That’s right, a slice of cheese. Dessert was once again panna conna but this time I gave my portion to Luke. There is such a thing as too much dairy in a meal!
After dinner, I wanted to get out to stretch my legs but being up in the mountains in the dark there wasn’t very much I could do. I did a short loop outside the refuge then we headed up to our room to eat chocolate and play cards. With the combination of the days walk and the hot sun, it didn’t take long for exhaustion to settle in. Going to bed early is really easy when you don’t have much to distract you! We both brushed our teeth and climbed into our single bunk bed. Before I knew it, the lights were off and I was fast asleep. Another day on the TMB, another night sleeping in the mountains.
Start: Les Chapieux (1554m)
End: Rifugio Elisabetta (2196m)
Height gain: 1102m
Height loss: 462m
Time hiking: 4:10
Total elapsed time: 6:26
To see the full data on the day's hike, you can find me on Strava