The Col des Fours variant of the route is definitely worth the effort, especially if there is plenty of good snow around – enquire at the refuge as to the state of the route. The view of Mont Blanc from here is spectacular. If you do descend to Les Chapieux don’t underestimate the distance – it can take longer than you think.
The Mottets refuge makes a good stopping point and is worth considering if the Elizabetta is full, though it would be a short day. The Elizabetta Refuge is a necessary evil – it’s in a great location but unless things have changed you might want to make sure you have some extra food to supplement the meagre dinner.
Diary – Thursday July 15
Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – Col des Fours – Chalet des Tufs – La Ville des Glaciers – Refuge des Mottets – Col de la Seigne – Rifugio Elizabetta
Thankfully, there was no snoring in the night from our room-mate, and we woke to another clear blue sky – perfect weather which dispersed any negative thoughts we had had about going high over the Col des Fours. We quickly packed and went down to breakfast to find the party of Germans had eaten all the food at our table. They’d even used our breakfast bowls! But the guardienne came to our rescue and though we had to fight to hold onto our food she made sure we had enough to eat and drink and soon we were on our way.
We headed off quickly, going back up to the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme and branching off from there – it took us 40 minutes to zigzag and slither up snow slopes to reach the Col des Fours. It’s best to get an early start to take advantage of the frozen snow. The views of Mont Blanc, Aiguille du Glacier and Col de la Seigne were magnificent from here, even without the optional detour up the Tête Nord des Fours. There was a lot of snow on the descent, and though Kev Reynolds advises against it in these conditions, we found no real difficulty, but if you are planning on doing it ask at the refuge for advice.
We made sure to keep away from the edge at the start of the descent and didn’t mind the occasional sitting glissade as we we kicked/ran our way down a large snowfield. 200 m of running down steepish snow is great fun. Lower down, it was quite marshy in places, with plenty of chances to slide over in the mud. The path soon levels out and becomes a pleasant meander alongside a small stream where there are masses of wild flowers including geraniums and orchids to stop you from keeping an eye on your feet.
It was a fairly easy descent along a winding path to the Chalet des Tufs from where a farm track runs all the way down to La Ville des Glaciers in the valley floor. Don’t expect too much from Ville des Glaciers – it’s really just a handfull of buildings and a small church that was locked when we were there. But a stroll alongside the river, over a few bridges and past some curious cows took us to the Refuge des Mottets. While the hikers who’d eaten our breakfast that morning checked in to the refuge we sat outside. The guardian was happy to sell us a beer and let us eat the lunch we’d brought with us.
After lunch it was one long climb to the Col de la Seigne. It starts with steep zigzags above the refuge, then the steepness reduces as it traverses around, but it never stops climbing. There are many false summits, but just keeping our heads down got us to the cairn on the col which marks the French/Swiss border (a line of stones has been laid across the col give more impact). The view of Mont Blanc, the Peuterey ridge and the Val Veni are magnificent from here and we enjoyed them as we took a break. The descent down the Val Veni offered no real obstacles – there were some snow patches at the top, but soon we were on an easy path heading for the hut.
The Rifugio Elizabetta sits on a little knoll which requires one last short climb, not so great at the end of a long day. A hot shower is included in the price of an overnight stay (make sure you take the token when you sign in). The are showers upstairs and downstairs (the ones below might have less of a queue) and the token gives you 20 litres of hot water – which is enough, but you have to be quick.
Dinner is in 2 sittings – we were on the first at 7:00PM -minestrone soup, pork and packet mashed potatoes (cheese for the veggie option) salad and peaches.The food was not the best we’d had in a refuge, and there was definitely not enough for hungry hikers, but we weren’t surprised as the hut does have a regimented but commercialised air. We took the opportunity to drink red a glass of Italian wine which washed the food down quite well.
At ten to eight we were asked to leave to make way for the second dinner sitting, so we bought some beers and went upstairs. After 15 minutes or so, we popped our heads back round the door and saw our dining table was not being used, so we back moved there and studied the maps for the next day. Somewhat unusually there was no weather forecast available at the refuge, but it looked settled so we were confident of another good day.
Don’t expect a good night’s sleep in the upstairs dorm if you are tall – there is not enough room at the end of the bunk where the eaves come in, even for pair of a size 39 feet. And let’s not mention the snoring. Added to that, there was a large organised group who had no concept of the need to be quiet while others sleep, so we didn’t get a good night’s rest.