Maison Vieille made an excellent lunch stop with the first good meal we’d had on the Italian section. It’s tempting to linger here, and if you do you can always catch the cable car down to the valley floor. The walk down hasn’t much to recommend it apart from the satisfaction of walking every step and burning off a few lunchtime calories.
Accommodation in Courmayeur appeared to be plentiful and inexpensive compared to Chamonix, but the tourist office is not a lot of help.
Diary – Friday July 16
Rifugio Elizabetta – L’Arp Vieille – Lac Checrouit – Col Checrouit – Dolonne – Courmayeur
We were woken early by a large party of French people who had obviously never stayed in refuge before (the golden rule is to make your noise downstairs or outside while others are sleeping) – they dropped a bottle of pills, packed and repacked their rustling plastic bags and then started talking loudly. A few curt words soon shut them up and allowed us to snooze again until 7:00AM.
The breakfast was stingy – just a yoghurt, a slice of bread, a pre-packed croissant and a cup of coffee – hardly enough to sustain us through the morning’s ascent. But the weather was made up for it with blue skies and the tops of the mountains clear of cloud. As we left the rowdy group were loading their bags onto a mule.
It was already hot, shorts and t-shirts weather right from the start of the day. We made easy progress on the stroll down to the end of the Miage glacier where you break away and start climbing. Though the path was easy enough the heat made it hard work.
We continued up a steepening path to L’Arp Vieille and the views were getting better. A few more hundred metres of climbing, then the path turns sharply and to face the Italian side of Mont Blanc with fantastic views down the valley to the Grandes Jorasses.
This is an amazing spot, mentioned as 2430m in the Kev Reynolds guide and as Harper’s corner in our old guidebook. We stayed there some time gazing up at the snowy slopes and taking photographs. When we arrived the cloud was trying to settle on the top of Mont Blanc and when we left 30 minutes later the clouds were starting to build up.
The path meandered its way towards the Lac Checrouit, contouring around the valley side with a few rocky sections. The lake itself was unimpressive, almost dry and home to herd of cows – so much for the reflected view the guidebook talked about (in fact the position of the lake means you get a much worse view than that at Harper’s corner).
Beyond the lake the path works its way through some chairlifts used by skiers in the winter to arrive at Col Checrouit. At this point we began to notice the greetings changed from “Bonjour” to “Bongiorno” and felt that we were finally in Italy.
We grabbed a table at the Maison Vieille which had been almost completely taken over by about 300 Italian school children. We managed to order lunch and washed our pasta and polenta down with a beer. Just when the noise and commotion of 300 boisterous Italian teenagers was beginning to get to us half of them headed off on a trek around the area. The others moved away, settling down on a grassy bank at some distance.
To our surprise and delight (somehow we couldn’t imagine English teenagers doing this) they transformed into a choir and started to sing. We lingered for another 10 minutes listening to them. It was quite beautiful and made up for all the yelling and running around earlier.
After lunch we started to the descent to Dolonne. The first section to the cable car station is very easy, but after that the path becomes narrow and quite steep in places as it zigzags its way down the forested valley side. Some corners had suffered considerable erosion which meant it was quite steep and exposed at times, but it was fine as long as you took your time.
At the bottom we saw a couple we’d met at the Elisabetta and we stopped and had a drink with them. In general people are very friendly and a spirit of camaraderie builds up as you spot the same people day after day. Before you know it you are greeting people like old friends and swapping stories about your day.
After our stop we walked through the narrow streets of Dolonne and into Courmayeur. We went to the tourist information office, assuming that they would book a hotel for us, but all we got was a photocopied sheet of hotels and a shrug. Luckily the first one around the corner had space and soon we were soaking our tired muscles in a warm bath.
At this stage our initial aches had faded, and apart from the odd rub from shoes or rucksack, we were both feeling good. That evening we stocked up on supplies, found a bar that served free anti pasta, caught up with some more people who we met earlier on the TMB (at the Refuge de la Croix) and all went for a great pizza together.