Plan: Day 31 - Rif D Arlaud to Rif Vaccarone - 17 km, 2100 metres ascent, 6.5 hours.
Actual: As planned, then a 300 metre descent from Rif Vaccarone to below the Clapier Lakes, about 200 metres from the French border - wild camp at 2450 metres :
23 km, 1800 metres ascent, 9.7 hours including 2.5 hours breaks.
Best bit: Superb panoramic views.
A down and up and across day.
Stephane served up a good breakfast at 7am. He and Elisa run Rifugio Daniele Arlaud very efficiently, so far as we could see, catering mainly for day walkers. They are on the GTA route but don't get many customers from that source. Perhaps the refuge was renovated after the German guide books were written. It has indeed been most tastefully renovated and was a lovely place to stay.
Thanks for the cooking, Stephane, and for your scary skiing tales.
Also, you may be interested to know that after over four weeks of walking you are the first person to have shown any interest in our kit. The Free Loader solar charger has been living unnoticed in my map case, until you spotted it!
The descent to the Susa valley through shady woodland was lovely.
The alimentari provided sustenance for a couple of nights and three lunches.
An English landrover with three people in it passed us. It didn't stop.
Stephane was right about the Sentiero Balcone (SB). Many paths are so marked. Apparently there is consternation about paths leading to and from the SB being so marked, especially from people who inadvertently find themselves at the tops of mountains or the bottoms of valleys having mistaken the link paths for the real thing.
And as for the Via Alpina - luckily we ignored it today. It would have sent us on an arduous roundabout route to a refuge that has been closed for some years. The maps do not indicate that the refuge is closed, so nor does the Via Alpina information. The route descriptions are brief - they read as if they have been written by someone who has casually perused the relevant map. You or I could probably write as good a description!
Forget the Via Alpina. It seems to have been devised from maps to keep people in 8 alpine countries happy. It's an ill conceived mess. Buy the maps and devise your own routes. That's my humble opinion.
Anyway, we had Gillian Price's excellent GTA book. We have been impressed by its detail and accuracy. Today it led us unerringly to the attractive village of Eclause. It even warned of barking dogs there. They were indeed noisy.
Then we had map number 1 - Valli di Susa - and our own planned IBR. So no confusion about where we were going today.
A pleasant lane then an unpleasant excursion along an SB footpath (planned, but on reflection we should have stayed on the road) led us to a picnic bench in the shade (have I mentioned the sun beamed down on us all day again) for our first shot at weight reduction since the excesses of the alimentari.
Having transferred as much as we could from our packs to our stomachs we set off up a steep path signposted (3 signs, the SB one being new) towards Rifugio Vaccarone, which we knew from Stephane would be closed.
The path soon relaxed into a series of huge zigzags which at every turn revealed a wider panorama. Monte Viso popped up and grew huge on the southern horizon as we slowly got higher.
Two day walkers, the only walkers we saw walking all day, were coming down.
So the 1700 metre ascent to Passo Clopaca was a doddle.
The views from the pass were superb - distant peaks and long valleys.
Gliders soared and a black bird whistled past, its wings tucked back like a miniature olympic diver clad in black.
The belvedere path to Rif Vaccarone was lovely - it stuck rigidly around the 2750 metre contour for nearly 5 km, covering rocky, barren ground, with clumps of flowers where they could get a hold. The rare Mt Cenis bellflower appeared for the first time amongst prolific spring gentians, leopardsbane, glacier crowfoot, forgetmenots and moss campion.
A family with a dog were installed in the small metal bivouac shelter just before Rif Vaccarone. They must have been relieved when we continued past them.
Rif Vaccarone held a big surprise. A gang of men. Machinery. It was being rebuilt and will no doubt reopen for business next year. It's in a great position and should do well with the right guardian.
We filled all our water bottles and continued for an hour to this fine camping spot, accessed by wading a river, just below the French border. It's not far from Rif Vaccarone, just 300 metres down a cliff, aided by fixed ropes.