TMB Day 4

TMB Day 4 – Coumayeur to Col de la Seigne – Bunny Slope Camp to Purple Rain Camp

Kilometers hiked: 22.5-ish

Total Kilometers: 74.5

In the words of Spice Rack, today felt like five days in one. This was probably mostly due to us getting our lazy butts up and moving at a reasonable hour for once, but there was an astonishing variety of trail, views, weather, and emotions. Again, the TMB delivered a thrilling ride.

Weeelllll, we were still lazy getting up, but a 5am alarm made sure that we were already on the trail when the Courmayeur bell tower started belling the 7am call to worship. We started with perhaps the steepest ascent of the whole trail, but peanut butter and vegan gummies powered our slow plodding. With a carefully measured pace to keep things casual, we ticked off the switchbacks through the trees, occasionally nibbling on a wild strawberry or two. We were happy for the cover on an already warm morning until the trail brought us out onto grassy ski slopes as we reached the top of the 700m climb. Great views and a welcome toilet were waiting for us when we walked onto the sundeck at Rifugio le Randonneur.

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Steep climbing through ski slopes above Courmayeur.

Trying to lose the weight of some spare change, Spice bought herself a cappuccino and the first ever Italian mocha for me, coaching the barista through the confusingly trivial act of mixing chocolate with coffee. The result was rich and delicious. We lounged in the sun sipping contentedly and eating peanut M&M’s while jamming to some groovy beats pumping through the radio.

Since we were already a bit sun burnt, requiring no further crisping, we carried on when the drinks ran dry. We finished the last smidge of the ski slope climb, then traversed high along an idyllic grassy hillside, dotted with wildflowers and the highest known concentration of marmots in the world. Spice kept them on their toes with an occasional squeak. She speaks marmot French not marmot Italian so there was some miscommunication. However, there was no miscommunication with the views. Like yesterday, the mountain panorama across the valley was bewilderingly rugged. Again the highest summits were topped in cloud, but the southern foot of the massif was a chaotic jumble of the sharpest ridges of needle aiguilles and broken icefalls crumbling from perched glaciers. Water cascaded hundreds of feet down the cliffy valley wall before joining the silty river emerging from the foot of the mighty Glacier du Miage. With all this beauty scrolling by, we enjoyed slipping greetings of “bon jovi” and “bon iver” in our best accents to the passing hordes of Counters.

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After a looooong and luxurious lunch break, where we discovered that leaving cheese in the sun will reduce its future palatability, a short descent through deceptively deep foliage put us at the tail of a long valley, braided with countless creaklets. A wide gravel road escorted us quickly through the vast landscape. We were one moose shy from being in Alaska. Before tackling the switchbacks that awaited us at the end, we took advantage of a breakthrough of sun to dunk ourselves in the positively arctic torrent springing from the snow not far above. We emerged so filled with life that we even managed to convince some Counters to repeat our mistake. But seriously, going for a dip is always the right decision. A fast burn put us at the doorstep of Rifugio Elisabetta, perched at the confluence of two dramatic valleys and possessor of overpriced Pringles. We settled on the outdoor patio furniture after a quick rummage through the stone building.

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A herd of Counters approaches on the gravel road to Elisabetta.

Sunny turned to thunderstormy in less time than it takes to say Jasper.  At 6pm with 4kms left to go, Spice and I donned our rain jackets and plowed headfirst into the rising wind.  We planned to camp on the col that marks the border of Italy and France.  Hindsight suggests that this was influenced by a particularly optimistic outlook.  The rain ceased and the wind turned warm. Patches of golden evening sunlight danced across ridges and grassy slopes, further boosting our mood and optimism.  The rain had swept all footprints from the trail and our solitude was deliciously palpable.  This perfect moment, with rain, both cold and warm, wind, both cold and warm, fiery sun, dark shadows, and vast landscape of gray and green was ours to share with the marmots.  These moments of unexpected raw beauty are to be treasured and we took our time, hiking apart in our own spheres of contemplation, finally reaching Col de la Seigne(2516m) at 7:15pm.

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That’s beauty.  So raw right now.

Views were artistic brushstrokes of hazy ridgelines in the fading light. France ahead, Italy behind. The spectacle knew none of this. Neither did the weather. Though the rain had ceased awhile ago, we were unconvinced of the prevailing conditions’ longevity. A small way above the pass was a broken stone hut with a few remaining walls, perhaps leftover from the war when this was an important strategic location. There was garbage strewn about and the place kinda smelled like piss, but the walls gave us that extra protection from the elements. We pitched my tarp in improvised fashion, finally tucking in as rain started to fall.

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Camp on the col.  Smells like piss.

We huddled close under extra pieces of clothing as the storm renewed its fury. Hard rain turned to stinging hail and back drumming thunderously on the tarp so that even conversation became difficult at times. Lightning flashed and thunder echoed. We forced smiles and tried convincing ourselves that everything was okay with fluctuating levels of confidence. Is it 3 or 5 seconds per mile? Mist splashed through gaps in our defenses and icy water puddled under our groundsheets. Grin and bear it, and laugh.

Looking out at the pass, there was not much distinguishable. The sky was purple and the rain continued to pour. This inspired the playing of Purple Rain from my phone nestled in Spice’s mug. We sang along with the only two words we knew. I’ll let you guess which ones. Even though it’s the longest song ever, the storm raged on so we switched to Taylor Swift’s Red album and sang heartily as the daylight diminished. Rock fall added to the cacophony as the world literally crumbled around us.

We looped the album almost twice, smiling and laughing, before we finally became weary and pulled out our sleeping quilts and pads to warm ourselves and maybe get some sleep. As we did this the rain lessened and then let up completely. Two and a half ours of intense storming, the storm was done. We were done. In bed, we warmed up in a flash then drifted from gray reality into the gray mysteries of sleep. Purple rain, pururple raaiin. Purple rain, pururple rain.

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