TMB Day 3: Les Chapieux to Rifugio Elisabetta

Neither Steph nor I will ever forget Day 3 of the TMB. When I booked my vacation for August, I did not expect to be crossing a high mountain pass in a blizzard. But I am filled with pride we did so!

The hostess at Refuge de la Nova warned us of heavy rain and even snow in the forecast. I admit, we didn’t take her seriously. “It’s the middle of summer,” we snickered to ourselves. “As if!”

We would live to regret these words. The moral of the story: expect all weather on the TMB, no matter what month, no matter what the forecast. We came prepared with good rain gear and warm layers. I don’t know how we would have managed without sturdy waterproof jackets and pants, and warm hats. I did wish for warm mittens instead of the thin gloves I brought.

For those considering a flimsy disposable poncho “in case it rains” (but assuming it won’t) please reconsider.

Because of the grim weather report, we skipped the first 1.5 hour of the day’s route. A shuttle bus from Les Chapieux to Ville des Glaciers left our refuge around 8 am and cost 3 euros. This bypassed a path along a road we heard was a little boring. Clouds obscured the surrounding mountains, which would be a beautiful distraction on a sunnier day. This section was one of the rare parts of the trek where you must be anywhere near a road, and we didn’t regret the shortcut.

Ville des Glaciers is a cluster of stone buildings and where they make Beaufort cheese. The factory and store seemed closed for business when we arrived and we didn’t feel like waiting, so we continued.

View back down into the Vallée des Glaciers, before the snow

We started a long frigid climb to the next “col” (mountain pass), the Col de la Seigne. I have no pictures of this ascent because my phone froze solid and refused to operate. Almost frozen solid ourselves, we reached the cairn at the top of the pass after 2 hours of hiking. According to the guide book, this spot was one to take in some of the best views of the TMB. But our eyeballs, being pummeled by ice and snow, could only see perhaps a foot in any direction. Snow covered the rock cairn marking the border between France and Italy.

Just over the pass we met with 2 young women who took a wrong turn the day before. They ended up terrified and lost and forced to spend an unplanned night on the mountain. They had camping gear with them, otherwise their lives would certainly have been at risk. As it was, they were freezing and scared and I believe called it quits once they got to Courmayeur.

Some folks say “it is impossible to lose your way on the Tour du Mont Blanc, the trail is so well-marked.” I imagine those 2 girls might disagree.

Warm hospitality and chocolate at Rifugio Elisabetta

An hour later we arrived at the cozy and welcoming Rifugio Elisabetta, site of the world’s most delicious hot chocolate. I took a glorious 4-minute hot shower, a bargain at €2. (I would have paid €100… but shhh don’t tell them.) Since we arrived at around noon, we ate our lunch on arrival.

Steph and I had again splurged on a private room, this time a tiny one with bunk beds. We retreated there to take naps and read our books. We also relaxed in the dining room, chatting with other hikers and enjoying both the warmth and some chocolate cake before dinner.

Dinner comprised a delicious veggie risotto, followed by pork in a creamy sauce with green beans and potatoes. Chocolate pudding was dessert.

Another night very early to bed, with fervent prayers for sunshine for the next day.