TMB Day 2 – La Peule to Rifugio Bonatti – Yurt Camp to Bonatti View Camp
Kilometers hiked: 14-ish
Total Kilometers: 36
Today showed me what hiking in the Alps is all about.
Warm and cozy in the yurt, Spice Rack and I snoozed away the most productive part of the morning. We were also hoping to give the low hanging clouds that filled the valley and the views some time to clear out. C’mon Sun, work your magic! We emerged with some evidence to support our hypothesis, blue sky poked through in fleeting patches, brightening the grassy hillsides to a vibrant emerald. The ever present cowbells donged from the far hillside. After a warm blueberry tart, fresh from the oven and playing show-and-tell with our accommodation, we finished packing and got in line behind the passing group of guided daypackers to finish the climb to Grand Col Ferret. 10am, vacation indeed. Not the PCT.
Green pasture slopes was the terrain of the hour. The trail mostly contoured high along the valley wall. Anyone’s guess whether the rope on the downhill side was put there to keep the cows in or the tourists out. We chatted with the cutest couple of Clockers(hikers doing the TMB clockwise), the Inns, who hailed from Ohio and were chugging along, full of life and experiences at 65-ish. We few Clockers have a special bond and this was adding quality to our ranks. After a brief show of a real sheepdog doing real sheepdog herding, we pushed up the final long switchback to the Col, 2537m.
There was a predictable hubbub of activity on the saddle. Plenty of Counters(counterclockwise hikers) snapping selfies and taking video. It was hardly a bother, though. It seemed the clouds in Switzerland for the most part stopped at the border, leaving Italy and the eastern wall of the Mont Blanc massif mostly clear. And awesome. Super steep and jagged peaks marching south in a giant wall full of hanging glaciers and broken moraine. What can I write to sum it up? Check out the pictures.
Wind whipped some cloud across the peaks as we enjoyed some lunch and Spice gave me my first lessons in acro yoga. To kill some more time in this incredible place, we took a thrilling run along the connecting ridge where we found a tiny tarn fed by a summer holdout snowfield. By our reckoning, it sat smack on the Swiss-Italy border so we jumped in for an invigorating swim across and back. Gotta love the open border policy out here. Chilly and wet, it was time to leave the col and strike south down into the welcoming warmth of the Italian countryside.
The steep descent to Rifugio Elena was a knee-crunching affair, but I had to shed a tear for the Counters trudging up. Flowers dotted the grassy slopes and we were welcomed to the valley floor by a yard sale of hikers spread on the open field soaking up the righteous rays.
The rifugio was gorgeous, with a broad deck that benefited greatly when the remaining hoard of Counters moved off. Still, with the sun shining and some more kms to shred, Spice and I departed to continue our way down valley.
Wide meadows ringed by trees, cut through by babbling brooks of snow melt combined to remind me of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. Add the soaring cliffs of the Valley and you get an idea of how it felt. Incredible. We got “lost” by wandering into Chalet Val Ferret, enticed by the hammock and slackline. An hour later, after some more acro, not agro, yoga on the lawn, we were spurred back into action by the rumbling thunderhead darkening the skies above our route.
A quick climb left us contouring opposite a stunning mountain panorama on a quiet trail. We passed a few other late afternoon trekkers, but the crowds were now safely under cover in their rifugios. The storm mercifully didn’t give us any more than some shade before breaking as we reached Rifugio Bonatti. As expected for one of the most popular places on one of the most popular treks in the world, views were stunning. But dinner was calling, so we climbed up a side valley to a small bench where we set up to cowboy camp. A questionable choice given the cloud situation, but a risk worth taking considering the sunrise we’re in for.
The sun dipped behind the massif, streaking rays across the sky, leaving a serrated silhouette rimmed by a glowing crown of clouds. The Alps gave everything one could hope for today. Between the company and the scenery, this hike has no comparison.