Plan: Day 30 - Fenestrelle to Rif D Arlaud - 18 km, 1400 metres ascent, 6 hours.
Actual: As planned (we soon joined GTA stage 22):
20 km, 1500 metres ascent, 8 hours including 2 hours breaks.
Best bit: An excellent balcony path along a wide ridge with magnificent panoramic views.
It's the Italian Holiday Season.
Today we saw more people than usual.
In Laux two couples with packs passed in the other direction - probably Germans on the GTA having just set off from Usseaux.
Also in Laux we chatted about our route with an Italian couple out for a 'constitutional'.
Usseaux and Balboutet were lovely villages with attractive murals. Deserted as we passed through.
Some mountain bikers zoomed past us just beyond Balboutet. We spotted some signs - they were on a mountain bike marathon event. We watched. Five more passed. That was it.
In Cerogne an immaculate little house (nobody around) was having its view blocked by a renovation just below it - nobody was working there today.
But there was life in Cerogne, and it needed us. Time for our good deed of the day! Six Italian scouts. No map. Nothing in fact, other than their smart uniforms. They clearly hadn't come far. They were Lost. Now it wasn't really a big deal for us, as a signpost clearly confirmed our advice. But it took them a while to pluck up the courage to ask for directions from these two foreigners with big bags. They plodded of happily towards the fleshpots of Balboutet.
We lunched (alone as usual) in the sun at around 2150 metres in the Cerogne valley. The rock gardens were wonderful. The path was deserted. Birds of prey (we have a shortlist of 3 possible species) circled above us. We sent this message in an attempt to give our readers a glimpse of the wonderful flowers.
Up at Colle dell'Assietta there were mountain bikers, some day walkers, and a Park Ranger in a Fiat Panda with a blue light aloft. He seemed to be carrying a gun. (We didn't know we were in a Park. Are we?) A spaniel was running in front of the car.
Lots of memorials to the fallen were passed. This has been a war zone. The presence of the Fort at Fenestrelle deterred conflict down there, and battles were fought on this high ground, out of range of the Fort. More recently the two World Wars claimed many lives around here, and remnants of wartime fortifications and barracks remain.
The views were splendid, with the Ecrins appearing quite close by, and long views back to the Fort and the valley that leads to Turin. Tomorrow's hills stood out to the north, beyond the deep trench of the Susa valley.
The GTA route off the track along the crest wasn't marked as such. It was easily found though - scantily signed 'Sentiero Balcone' with a warning that only expert cyclists should attempt it. There was no sign at all for our destination. A few GTA signs did appear, but we lost them a couple of times. There was nobody around other than a farmer shouting at his cows.
Then at 4.20 we reached the sleepy little hamlet of Montagna Seu. It sits about 700 metres above the Susa valley and is home to a small mountain refuge - Rifugio D Arlaud. A few day walkers were lazing in the sun. Sara had booked us in here from Torre Pellice, so we were expected. We had been told that the Susa valley gets very busy, and there are even lots of English visitors.
We have the place to ourselves tonight.
Waiting for dinner, we have a view from our balcony. This is special. Not all mountain refuges provide rooms with balconies. The view extends to the snowy peaks of the 4000 metre Ecrins, over 50km away. Himalayan music seems to chant from a clear blue sky (from the Rif, actually).
Well, we've made it this far with no crises (apart from the time I thought I'd fried Sue's ipod), no injuries, no illnesses, no kit failures. A few things have yet to be used - spare socks, gloves, first aid kit, etc.
So we haven't had tales of doom and despair, and exciting episodes of extreme endurance to relate, not even any bad weather yet (today the great yellow orb has beamed constantly from a deep blue sky again).
It's just the routine of the 'up and down' life of the IBR....