Diary – Saturday July 17
Courmayeur – Rifugio Bertone – Mont de la Saxe – Tête Bernada – Alpe du Secheron – Secheron – Lavachey
We woke up again to blue skies, but this time there were little fluffy clouds about. Maybe the weather was changing. By the time we had finished breakfast the cloud was sticking to the summit of Mont Blanc indicating the possibility of bad weather on the way so we started as soon as we could in case of showers later in the day. We stopped for bread and local cheese as we walked though Courmayeur, then climbed steeply up a road. The path then breaks off to zigzag steeply up the hillside to the Bertone hut. At this point we realised that in our rush to leave we hadn’t booked ahead for the night, so we dug out the mobile and phoned to reserve a place at Rifugio Bonatti It was full because there was a course being run from the hut. We resorted to our accommodation list and soon found a hotel with a free room in the village of La Vachey which required a minor change to the planned route at the end of the day.
The path up to Rifugio Bertone is steep in places and proved hard work in the hot weather. There are numerous false summits, but just when you begin to believe you’ll never get there the refuge is upon you. Rifugio Bertone is perched precariously above Courmayeur and has great views from the terrace. In our case it also gave views of the ominous clouds over Mont Blanc, it looked like it would rain later – but we were walking away from it, so we could be lucky.
A cool drink and water top up later, we set off for Mont de la Saxe. The start of the climb to reach the whaleback ridge is very steep and direct with no zigzags, but at least you gain height quickly. Soon the path levelled out and we found ourselves on a beautiful walk along the length of the wide ridge. We stopped for lunch to enjoy the views, but we only saw fleeting glimpses of the Grandes Jorasses as the clouds drew in and started to thicken.
After lunch we continued the gently rising path past the Tête Bernada where path starts to zigzag and become more exposed. The grass slopes beneath you and just runs away to the valley 700m below. By the time we had got to the Tête de la Tronche it had become even more exposed with steep drops either side of the path – there should have been wonderful views here but the sky was now completely grey with cloud. The drop off the Tête de la Tronche to the Col du Sapin is very steep, but not too bad if taken slowly.
At this point we modified our planned route, instead of going over the Pas Entre-Deux-Sauts we dropped into the Val Armina and stopped at Secheron for a drink of water. From here an obvious path leads down the centre of the valley where you wade knee-deep in flowers (do not be tempted to contour around the valley on a path at the same level as the building at Secheron as this leads nowhere). At the end of the valley the path turns right along the side of the Val Ferret and then zigzags down to the valley floor beneath the Bonatti hut. As we hit the valley floor the rain started to fall, but it was only 5 minutes walk to the Lavachey Hotel which faces the base of the Grandes Jorasses.
Our hotel room was half board – but there is no other choice in La Vachey anyway. We had a hearty meal of minestrone soup, chicken escalope (omelette was the veggie option) with chips and courgettes, and tiramisu.The restaurant was full mostly with people who weren’t staying there, so it must have a reputation, well-deserved in our opinion.
By the end of the day we were both feeling exhausted – the cumulative effects of the Tour were beginning to show.