Plan: Day 23 - Val di Fiutrusa to Refuge Baillif-Viso - 24 km, 1600 metres ascent, 9 hours.
Actual: Colletto della Battagliola to Camp by Ref Baillif-Viso, 2507 metres, via Pontechianale and Vallone Soustra:
22 km, 1700 metres ascent, 9.8 hours including 2.5 hours breaks.
Best bit: Views from a 3000 metre summit.
New high points: Passo della Losetta - 2872 metres, then Point Joanne - 3054 metres.
Another lovely sunny morning, with cloud coming this afternoon when the cool air blown in from the north met the hot air from the Italian plains.
We have just enjoyed a good meal in this French refuge that has 65 places. We are camped outside as the refuge is full!
After three weeks in empty hills and near empty refuges, this is a bit of a shock. But there is a walk called 'Tour of Monte Viso'. People like to be guided round it in large groups. To be fair, though, there is a mixture of people here (no other native English speakers of course), including a number of adventurous mountain bikers. We met one this afternoon. He was carrying his bike over a rock field on the way to a 2800 metre pass.
I'm sure the tent will be quieter than the refuge, it is actually our preference tonight.
At the meal, we sat next to Marie-Claire, an English teacher, and her husband Jean-Paul, He is the chief National Park warden at Cauterets, near Lourdes. He knows all the isards in that area by the names he has given them. His work is his passion. It was lovely to meet and enjoy the evening with them.
After crossing the highest point on the entire GTA route yesterday, we reverted to our IBR today and finally broke the 3000 metre mark on Point Joanne which, fittingly, is on the border - though we couldn't find a border stone.
On a bearing of 20 degrees, far to the north, were the snow clad mountains of our final destination in the Monte Rosa area. It'll take us 5 more weeks to reach them.
This morning the sun was on the tent by 7am, after the cuckoos and the barking deer had already roused us, and we were up and away soon afterwards. Our tent was after all straddling a footpath. We need not have worried. Pontechianale was still asleep when we arrived there from a pleasant woodland descent, accompanied by birds in urgent conversation. But a café provided coffee and ablutions, and provisions were easily obtained.
The walk up to Chianale, another lovely old picture postcard village, was a delight. We met two nuns carefully picking things from the undergrowth. 'Infusions' they said. Could it be camomile they were collecting?
The Tour de France comes this way on Saturday or Sunday, so the short stretch of road we walked up, after rejoining our planned route, was freshly tarmaced.
Then it was a long 1000 metre ascent up the lovely Vallone Soustra. We were going well, and after a picnic in the sunshine reached the high col - Passo della Losetta - that briefly gained the 'high point of trip' accolade.
Monte Viso, rather shy until now, reappeared in all its glory, but came and went in the cloud as we ascended Point Joanne. A lone young ibex was on the summit looking for its mother. From there, this refuge looked very close.
Back on the col, after a false start to the edge of a cliff (the map shows the path that way), we headed briefly down the Vallanta valley before turning along a vertiginous belvedere path to reach the Passo di Vallanta, today's gateway to France.
There were quite a few folk around, including a couple with a fit and nimble mongrel, and a good path over rocks and through snow fields led us slowly down to the refuge after another long but fulfilling day.
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