August 16th, 2018
23.1km | ascent 1351m | descent 945m
Accommodation: Rifugio Bonatti (booked direct by email, €100 including dinner and breakfast)
After a good night’s sleep, we were downstairs at breakfast when it opened at 7am. There was a choice of cereal, yoghurt, bread and jams. Knowing today would be more demanding than yesterday, we ate quickly and set out in the cool morning air before 8am.
I’ve been a long time user of hiking poles, and I guess it’s an old habit, but I always look under bridges if there’s any chance that someone could’ve lost a rubber tip from their poles! Dad had forgotten to bring rubber tips so I gave him the one spare tip I had for the odd bit of road walking, then told him to look under the first bridge we came to soon after leaving, and wouldn’t you know it, we found him the second rubber tip he needed! After 40 minutes we arrived in a village called Ferret and filled up our water bottles from the fountain.
We had an option now for a low or high route, with both routes joining up at Le Peule farmhouse. We decided on the low route (still easing into the trail), but soon after, while climbing a ridiculously never-ending steep hill, we realised we were on the high route and had no idea how, when or why this had happened! Pausing every few seconds to regain our breath, knowing we were on our way to a farmhouse with refreshments (and hopefully cake) was the ‘dangling carrot’ we needed to keep going.
And yes, there was cake, 2071m high at La Peule farmhouse! Well, apricot tart to be precise, and it was terrific! I had forgotten how much of a sweet tooth my dad (and I) have, but this is going to be one very sweet cake tour of the TMB!
Leaving La Peule farmhouse, the climb continued, and continued… steeply in parts but was always well defined and there were plenty of people walking in both directions at all times. After 1.5 hours from the farmhouse, we reached the top of the Grand Col Ferret on the border of Switzerland and Italy, 2537m high – the highest pass we’d cross on the TMB.
There was a cold wind on top and we were very sweaty from the climb, so after a few pictures, we started the descent into the Italian Val Ferret with incredible valley, mountain and glacier views. We arrived at Rifugio Elena just after 1pm and decided to make this our lunch break. We found a flat area away from the refuge and pulled out our cheese, ham and crackers which made a wonderful lunch, followed by fruit and chocolate. We continued descending to the valley floor then stopped for a quick ice cream and topped up our water at the very busy Chalet Val Ferret, before beginning to ascend for the rest of the day.
Climbing again, up to our accommodation at Rifugio Bonatti, we chatted the whole way and it was a very enjoyable walk with awe-inspiring views.
When we arrived at Rifugio Bonatti, we were shown to our bunk room. We were sharing the room with three South African women (dad’s age) and one young American women… so 5 women and my dad! They were all walking the trail in the anti-clockwise direction, opposite to us, as was most people we’d now met over the past two days. Everyone was very friendly although I’m sure they were worried dad was going to snore! (I was too, originally, but it turns out he’s a very quiet sleeper and a great room mate!)
To operate the shower you needed to insert a free token (from reception). On my first attempt of showering, my breath was abruptly taken away with glacial ice cold water. It was so cold it was painful and that was just the splashes as I tiptoed on the edge of the shower basin. I dried off the few splashes, put on my evening clothes on my still salt-ridden and sweaty body and wandered how on earth the mirror could be fogged up if the water was like icicles? One of the South African women we were sharing the room with came out of the cubicle next door looking relaxed and clean, and told me she’d had a lovely hot shower. Take 2. Although the hot water trickled out, it was all I needed to rub the dirt away and putting on my evening clothes the second time in a matter of minutes felt considerably nicer.
Dinner was served at 6:30pm and was salad, pasta, courgette and a vegetable fritter with mash potato and a sweet yoghurt dessert. It was a huge meal but perfect after a long hike. We were sat at a long table with a French couple, a brother and sister from Taiwan and two Canadian guys. The French man told us all about the UTMB (Ultra marathon of the TMB) that starts on the 27th August – we’ve been seeing signs for it in all the villages and he’s going to volunteer during the race. It’s so incredible to think that people can run this trail, all 170km in around 20 hours!! Crazy!