TMB Day 5: Courmayeur to Rifugio Bonatti

Day 5 had an emotional start. This was the morning I said goodbye to Steph, with whom I had shared 4 adventure-filled days on the TMB. We were both nervous about me hiking for 6 days on my own.

On more than one occasion so far, I had charged off down a trail, brimming with enthusiasm, before my patient friend called me back and pointed me to the correct branch in the path. After promising her (repeatedly) I would triple check the guidebook each crossroads, she gave me a big hug and waved me off on my way.

A latté with a view

Without doubt I missed my hiking buddy. But Day 5 ended up being my favourite day on the TMB. In fact, it is in the running for my favourite day of my life!

After Courmayeur began a tough 2-hour slog uphill through a forest, with minimal scenery to distract. The reward came after climbing above the tree line at the Rifugio Bertone. Here glorious views of the Alps opened up, with sunshine and blue skies.

I stopped for a quick latté at the cafe. Europeans are so civilized in establishing opportunities for refreshment!

Sandwich in paradise

At the crossroads just after the refuge, I took the Mont de la Saxe option, which I would  recommend without reservation. 45-min of steep climbing preceded a breathtaking walk along the crest of the mountain for 2 hours, with my jaw agape at the spectacular 360 degree panoramic views. There was not another person in sight for this entire stretch. I will remember that day as a life-changing juncture; the world felt full of limitless possibility.

Following the Kev Reynolds guidebook, the directions on reaching the Vallon d’Armina recommend to ignore “escape route” down to the Val Ferret. He suggests continuing up another pass called “Entre-Deux Sauts,” then descending a steep valley to Rifugio Bonatti. This is the path I took: scenic, but exhausting.

For some reason, nearly every other hiker I spoke to had taken the “escape route.” I found the last valley beautiful, but the climb to the final pass was a slog, and if I did it again, I would take the shortcut.

 

Views from the crest of Mont de la Saxe
Alpine Lake on Mont de la Saxe
Cows in Vallon d’Armina
Looking back from the Pas Entre-Deux-Sauts

Rifugio Bonatti is famous as one of the nicest on the TMB, but my review is mixed. The location is spectacular, staff were warm and welcoming. But my personal sleeping and eating experiences left something to be desired.

Sardine-like bunks at Rifugio Bonatti

The staff led me to an 18-person dormitory, full to capacity. This room had 2 long sleeping platforms with small allotments of space for each “bunk”. My assigned bunk placed me shoulder-to-shoulder with a strange man on either side of me, which didn’t make for a very relaxed sleep. Another woman told me the next morning she slept alone in an 8-bunk dorm, and she paid the same price as I did.

I also had more trouble having my allergies accommodated at Rifugio Bonatti than anywhere else on the TMB. For all my accommodation along the TMB, I had emailed in advance explaining my allergies (with translations into French and Italian), and most had substitutions cheerfully available.

At Bonatti the staff swore up and down that the delicious-looking starter soup had oats in it (I think something was lost in translation) and their lackluster substitution was plain white rice. The main course was a quiche I couldn’t eat either, and they gave me plain steamed zucchini and green beans and potatoes. At least I had the fruit for dessert, and they did feed me something. But after hiking hard for 8 hours, I was still hungry after dinner wrapped up with no protein in sight.