Day 3 – Rifugio Bertone to Refuge du la Croix du Bonhomme – Strava Link
“Why would you bring a bike up here?”
A genuine Italian breakfast is not the best riding food…
I’m not sure how long we would have lasted on one large bowl of black coffee and biscotti. It was lucky then that after our first 4km singletrack descent from Rifugio Bertone we found ourselves a supermarket in Courmayer and stocked up on cheese, bread, chocolate mousse, tarts and orange juice for the day. Two breakfasts down we were ready to tackle another long start to our day. We started with a winding climb out of Courmayer into the south western side of the Aosta valley. Looking back we could see our previous night’s accommodation perched on the top of the hill as well as the entrance to the famous Mont Blanc tunnel. After a quick traverse around the side of Mont Chetif the road flattens and follows the valley floor up towards the Col de la Seigne. Here the road pitches up into steep winding switchbacks which work their way up alongside the river in and out of trees. At one point as you near the top the landscape changes altogether and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking you were riding through a lunar landscape. As the road begins to flatten off again it enters a second valley where a large dried-up lake sits afoot Rifugio Elisabetta.
By now we had begun to notice a theme of the greetings we were getting from walkers. It generally went as follows…
“Bon jour (or insert local greeting)”
“Something in French we couldn’t understand”
“Do you speak English?”
“Ah oui, a little” (by which they meant a lot), Then came translation of their previous statement,
“You are crazy! It must be very difficult bringing bikes up here! Why an earth would you bring a bike?” To which we replied…
“To ride down the other side!”
These conversations kept our minds off the fact that our average day consisted of approximately 6hrs of riding/pushing/carrying bikes up hills, 1hr of riding bikes down a hill and 1 hour of lunch.
Before we knew it we were at the Col de la Seigne and were crossing back into France from Italy.
The descent was incredible, flowy sections punctuated with switchbacks and short little technical sections to keep you on your toes. Near the top the trail is open and feels almost as if you’re riding down a threaded river. Popping and transferring between lines, picking up speed while the world drops away either side of you. It then hooks a left and begins winding its way downward, following a ridgeline and then all of a sudden diving left into the valley below, corners linking up and flowing like a river. We felt as though we were the water rolling and pitching in time with the terrain. We were living dangerously, picking up more and more speed as the trail went on and on. All we wanted to do was simply let go of your breaks and start flying. The trail rolls in time with the valley before crossing cascading rivers and dropping onto tightly wound switchbacks. After reaching the Refuge we jumped onto the road towards Les Chapieux and screamed into town, tears in our eyes from the speed. It was time for a quick break, filling of bottles and a snack and then the final 1000m climb of the day which would also be the last major climb of the whole trip.
The climb was slow going; the first third winding its way up grassy farmland switchbacks then kicking up and narrows until it becomes a few single threads of a trail basically heading straight up the side of a mountain. It then pitches up further once you reach the dramatic rock faces nearer the top. We met plenty more walkers with the exact same question, this time though in very strong Australian accents and even one or two fellow kiwis. However, any pain of the climb is quickly forgotten once the refuge is in sight. Refuge du Col de la Croix Du Bohnomme sits on the col of two valleys and gets full panoramic views from every angle, even the dinner table! It sees both sunrise and sunset as it Is the highest situated refuge on the entire TMB trail. Here we would unpack and rest before dinner.
One of the special things about shared dinners at refuges is the people you meet. And when you’re “the crazy people on bikes” it’s easy enough to strike up a conversation. We met walkers from Italy, France, the U.K. and Aussie and over dinner shared stories of our days of exploring. There really is something special about the sense of community in the refuges. Things like sharing in a birthday celebration or a highlight of the day are moments we will never forget.