Day 3 - Just Get On The Bus, Gus, (Don't need to discuss much)

- Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon

Breakfast is a poor affair, with crunchy bread and a sense that we are being swept out with the crumbs. Madame’s thin smile barely conceals her fierce efficiency. With packed lunches in our bags we pay €1 for a minibus ride of five kilometres over a rise of 240m to La Ville des Glaciers, possibly the best value we shall ever find in this world. Immediately the cold morning seems to warm up, though some people’s facial expressions suggest it all started too early.

Worth a thousand words?

Ahead of us, the Aiguille des Glaciers points skywards in the clear air. On its precipitous face, hairline paths wind high to an improbably located tiny refuge. Sleepwalkers, beware! Our track, however, is broad and easy, parallel to the rushing river, and we four set out at quite a lick, stimulated by the cool breeze.

We then slow down markedly on the zigzags which take us above the 2000m mark.

Looking back towards Les Chapieux

The views back down the valley and across to Mont Tondu and the ridges we noted the previous day would take our breath away if we had any left. The path wanders in and out of minor valleys, climbing all the time.

Martin steps in where angels fear to tread

Residual snow patches in steep gullies demand careful attention, as do some of the stream crossings. The gradient is never severe, but I find it hard going. It’s a relief to reach Col de la Seigne (2516m) and the border with Italy.

Cross-border entente at Col de la Seigne

After photographs symbolising international friendship we head downhill. The Vallon de la Lée Blanche opens below us. Mont Blanc flicks its veil of cloud, playing coquette but dangerous as hell. We stop at the recently opened information centre to give the warden a chance to practise her English explanation of the relief map of the Mont Blanc massif. During the descent, marmots lumber unconcernedly through the rocks and grass, almost but not quite posing for the camera, just like Mont Blanc. We make good progress and stop in hot sun near Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini for a picnic lunch.

Along the Vallon de la Lée Blanche

Glacier de la Lée Blanche and Aiguille de Tré la Tête

A big decision now faces us: either we continue down the broad track and along Val Veni, with the possibility of catching a bus, or we climb another 500m for incomparable views of the Mont Blanc range from a balcony path, followed by a descent of 1200m and a final ascent of 120m to the hotel at La Palud.

Lac de Combal from near Rifugio Elisabetta Soldini

Earlier we said we’d wait to see how we feel when we reach the end of Lac de Combal, and how the weather behaves. At the moment of truth, none of us can dream up an excuse for a valley walk or another bus ride, so we take the high route. Tough it is, a stiff climb in the heat of the day, an enforced slow progress, winding upwards past abandoned farmsteads with summertime views that God himself couldn’t have afforded before the credit crunch.

Glacier du Miage and Aiguille de Bionnassay

Mont Blanc plays hard to get

Behind us, Alan and Hilja, the Irish-Swedish septuagenarians, make steady progress, putting us to shame in our own struggle, but at last we all stand on the shoulder of Mont Favre. The views across the glaciated trough of Val Veni make the ascent worthwhile. Martin takes the bit between his teeth and leads the way on a long traverse with a general downhill trend that delivers us to the chalet at Col Chécroui and a most welcome drink of tea.

Alan joins us on the shoulder of Mont Favre, looking forward to the downhill stretch

All downhill at last – heading towards Lac Chécroui

So all we’ve got to do now is drop 800m down a steep mountainside, at which point, lads, no argument, we’re on a bus or in a taxi! The town of Courmayeur awaits our arrival.

And that pretty much says it all. I’ve achieved my interim objective of completing the high traverse, and the weather has played ball, even though Mont Blanc proved camera-shy. We pile into a taxi and ride to our hotel, where we are received with great consideration and are treated well throughout our two-night stay. We fill up on beer, wine, pasta and pizza, sleep soundly, and hope for clear weather on our rest day.

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