We left the refuge right after breakfast. It was a struggle to pry ourselves away from the cozy, warm interior but the bright sunshine was beckoning. For the first time since I started, all my clothes were dry. Although the sun was shining it was freezing cold but I was just glad there was no rain and the mountainous views were finally visible. This was to be the most stunning day so far.
We followed a nice, easy ridge contouring the slopes for a couple of miles before making our way right down to the valley bottom. Today would be be a much shorter day than the last few had been – just 13 miles with only one big climb. I’m on track to finish on Saturday so I can take it a bit easier now.
Within ten minutes of setting off, Moshe’s water bladder fell from his pack and he lost almost all of his water. We’d walked just far enough that he couldn’t be bothered to go back to refill and so I shared mine with him until we found the next water source.
We began the big climb of the day, up to the Grand Col Ferret. As we climbed higher and higher up the valley, following a narrow path along the steep ridges, snow drifts started to appeared in the tight corners that the sun didn’t touch. The drifts were steep and it was a long way down to the bottom of the valley.
On one of these snow drifts things nearly went very badly. I elected to go first, with Moshe close behind me. Erez waited at the back for us to get across. I was following a faint and very shallow set of footprints, and each one felt very slippery and not well suited to taking my weight. I’d made it just over halfway across with Moshe close on my trail, when the footprints became almost nonexistent. I tried to carve out bigger footprints in which to put my feet but the ice was very compact so this proved difficult.
With just a couple of metres to go until the trail reappeared, I placed my left foot down in front of me and as I lifted my right foot I felt the left start to give way. I immediately pivoted and planted myself face first on the snowy slope, limbs outstrtched like a starfish, my heavy backpack trying to pull me down. I had nothing to grip onto and at this point the only thing keeping me from plummeting to the bottom was the friction between my body and the slope. Inertia had taken hold of me and I couldn’t move. I tried to raise my legs and find a foothold but I was too scared that any movement would cause my body to shift and begin the long and quite possibly fatal descent onto the rocks below.
I was just flailing on my stomach in a state of complete panic until Moshe edged his way forward. I’m fairly certain he saved my life. He lifted up my backpack, taking up most of the weight that was pushing me downwards. This allowed me to quickly kick off with my legs and grab onto a rock that was above me and to the left. Now with something to hold onto I could get my feet onto more solid ground. I managed to shimmy my way along to the edge of the snow, where I collapsed onto the rocks.
Erez decided it was probably not in his best interest to attempt the snow crossing so instead opted for a much longer route. He managed to scramble all the way down the side of the valley until he passed the end of the snow. He then ploughed across a stream and climbed steeply back up the other side. It took him about 15 minutes to get around a section of trail which without any snow should only have been about 15 seconds.
We waded through another freezing cold river where the bridge had been washed away and reached a plateau, upon which was perched the completely empty and abandoned Rifugio Elena. From here we began climbing up steeply towards Grand Col Ferret. I couldn’t work out which of the many passes above us we were heading towards, but every single one of them wasd completely white. I was feeling apprehensive about the snow after the earlier incident but we pushed on.
As the path flattened on the final ascent to the col, the snow was everywhere. But it was so soft and there was so much of it that although it slowed us down, there was no chance of anything bad happening. It was really fun to walk on and we were ploughing through up to our ankles and constantly stopping to take photos and admire the views.
Grand Col Ferret marks the border between Italy and Switzerland, and as we crested the pass, the Swiss landscape took our respective breaths away. It was a winter wonderland. Rolling slopes of white as far as the eye could see and not a visible sign of human life apart from the single trail of footprints leading down the other side.
We ran down into Switzerland, constantly falling over in the snow. If the weather had been poor and visibility was low, it would have extremely difficult to find our way, but the sun was shining and it was the most stunningly beautiful part of the entire walk. I doubt anything in the remaining few days will be able to surpass this.
After a few miles of frolicking in the snow we hit solid ground again and wound our way down to the valley below, following an easy path towards the small town of La Fouly.
On arriving in La Fouly I was relieved to see there was a small sports shop right next to the supermarket. Finally I could replace the headtorch I’d accidentally left behind on my first night at Refuge Nant Borrant. I bought a shiny new one with a ridiculous and unnecessary number of settings, most of which I would probably never use.
What were the chances that the two Moldovan guys I’d shared a room with turned up not ten minutes later (they’d caught a bus here from Courmayeur) and presented me with the headtorch I thought I had lost forever. I much preferred my new one so I told them they could keep it.
The three of us found the only bar in the village and sat in the sunshine with beer and food for the rest of the afternoon. This was the first day in which I had enough time – and good enough weather – to take the afternoon off from walking. Moshe and Erez are going to skip ahead ten miles to Champex tomorrow to avoid the flat and apparently boring section in between but I’m here to hike the entire Tour du Mont Blanc so I said goodbye to them and headed to the campsite on the edge of town to pitch up.
I’m over halfway now and only three more days to go!