TMB – Day 9: Refuge Le Randonneur – Refuge Elena
Courmayeur was a very nice town, clean with lovely houses spread through the valley. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up more bread and sausage, and in the pharmacy to get medicine. Dave had successfully shared his cold with me so now both of us needed something to keep the caught at bay.
To get to Courmayeur was a steep downhill walk. The path switchbacked under a cable car for some time, that was the steepest part, but the entire descent was not a knee-friendly one.
What comes down has to come back up here on TMB.
Our uphill started as soon as we left town. We had approximately 2,000 to gain, mostly through forest. The path was rocky but walking in the trees felt nice and when the view opened in front of us, it was an amazing one of Mount Blanc coming in and out of clouds and the surrounding peaks just as impressive.
Refuge G. Bertone was just there. We stopped for coffee. It was surprisingly cold, and for the following stretch, I put another layer on.
We had to climb couple hundred feet higher and from there the path traversed the slope on a gently rolling grade. Underneath was lush valley, houses, tunnel that goes through the mountains all the way to France, we saw buses too, quite a few of them, and a river, beautifully blue fed by numerous streams rushing from the massive on the other side of the valley.
Couple hours later we made another coffee stop at Refuge Bonatti. It was now 2:30 p.m. and this was an end of our stage. We inquired about beds in the dorm. No luck. But we kind of expected that. Two ladies we met at dinner yesterday mentioned they called and the Refuge was full.
Our back up plan was to continue two and half hours more to Refuge Elena which is larger, it offers over 100 beds. That meant descending all the way to the valley and then heading back uphill on the other side.
We were not thrilled to find out that all beds at Elena were taken too. The weather was taking a turn for worse, there was strong cold wind and a misty rain. The dampness was not inviting. We drank two cups of hot chocolate, hoping somebody might call to cancel. No luck. When a group of seven Czech ladies showed up with whom we shared last few days, they offered to let us sleep on their floor if they had a private room. It was a really generous and appreciated offer but it turned out they were staying in a large dorm, the same one we were told was fully booked.
So we donned more layers and headed into the mountains. We saw a spot or two close to the Refuge which would allow us to walk down for dinner, to stay warm and dry until it was time for bed, but here in Italy, it is prohibited to camp below 2,500 meters and we were some 400 meters shy of that threshold.
We ended up camping hundred meters or so below the limit anyway, at a very obvious camping spot with established fire ring. One tent was already set up when we arrived.
We quickly set our tent as well and hid inside. The clouds dropped and it was raining now harder. It was not a pleasant feeling to linger outside of the tent but on the other hand the moody weather provided some spectacular photo opportunities.
Dinner was cooked at the vestibule. Cup of soup and bread. And then, at a very early hour, way before the sun had a chance to set, we climbed into our sleeping bags and lay down to get hopefully a good night rest.
NOTES: August 13,2019
Courmayeur is a nice town with extremely expensive hotels. If booking in advance you might be lucky to find a reasonably priced accommodation but on last minute it was cheaper to get a room at a Refuge.
You can easily resupply in Courmayeur. There is also a pharmacy and a sport store in town.
Due to popularity of this area and easy access, refuges book quickly. Reservations might be a good idea, especially if you don’t carry a tent and would not be able to wild camp. Czech ladies reserved Refuge Elena two days prior to their arrival. All three refuges we walked by today looked nice and had very good views. Elena seems to be the cheapest of them when it comes to ordering coffee, soft drinks, and wine.
There is a well established camping area about 30-40 minutes of walking past the refuge. Super cool views if weather cooperates. It’s not protected well, but since camping is allowed only in higher altitude when you are above tree line, finding a protected spot during an adverse weather day is not an easy task.