Plan: Day 49 - Rif Champillon to Dzovenno - 16 km, 1400 metres ascent, 8 hours.
Actual: Exactly as planned to http://www.campinglaclexert.it/ at 1600 metres in Dzovenno:
17 km, 1400 metres ascent, 8 hours including 1.6 hours breaks.
Best bit: This afternoon's balcony path above Valpelline.
We enjoyed last night's dinner with Paul and Stephanie from Paris and Elisabeth from The Netherlands. The pasta, soup, polenta and sausages, followed by tiramisu, all went down very well, as we chatted about our route and about the TDC (Tour des Combins). They are doing the TDC in opposite directions, and enjoying the experience.
It was an enjoyable, convivial evening, during which the two German cyclists, for whom dinner had been delayed, eventually arrived. The rifugio staff showed concern rather than annoyance, fed them well, then the shattered pair went to bed.
Last night Luigina and her daughter Marina had been distracted by five surprise diners who they knew, and by the late arrivals. This morning they were more attentive, serving us excellent coffee, with plenty in the jug for second and third cups. The Parisians, Paul and Stephanie had tea. Shouldn't that be the other way around?
Sue was chattering incoherently about her dreams/nightmares, in one of which she married a woman with a felt hat.
Marina and Luigina showed interest in our route, which we could trace almost to its conclusion on the wall map in the rifugio.
It's a fairly new rifugio, having opened on 18 July 2005. It has had only a handful of English visitors, according to the hut book. A new book was started a couple of days ago, so we were pleased to be some of the first entries. It's an excellent place, and €30 cheaper than Bonatti, for the two of us. Surprisingly, it's on our 1:50000 map, unlike this camp site.
We left at 8 am, under a blue sky, armed with a postcard for M and L's friends at our planned destination. Red and yellow balloons hung lazily over the mountains across the Aosta valley.
As we regained reception and Notchy's News poured in, the bleeping phone was imitated by chattering tits in the pines below the tree line. These had dark helmets and were bigger than blue tits but smaller than great tits; willow tits?
The easy path led down to a watercourse at Champillon. Following it would take you to the car park that we found anyway, having missed the path down. It was a minor error with a bonus. Sue had been about to use the trowel, but she now spotted a thunder box surrounded by broken planks - straight out of a wild west movie. Amazingly it had some loo paper in it!
Then through dew laden meadows before a steep, slippery section with nettles led to the welcome security of the pine needles of a deserted woodland path that took us down past a single AV3 sign (who knows where that path goes?) to the small village of Rey.
Many of the buildings here have the traditional roofs we have observed throughout the trip, but they are more 'chalet style' in construction than further south. We walked down the road to Ollomont along a pavement lined with freshly planted shrubs. There was an air of affluence to the place. A small alimentari next to a bar was literally overflowing with people - we had not expected one here so had no need to stop, but others following in our steps could include it on their 'shop crawl'!
Following the AV1 signs we headed steeply up from our low point at 1350 metres, along a gravel track through meadows littered with snow making machines, then into shady woods for the rest of the ascent to Alp Berrio at around 1930 metres. Fountains around here meant that we needn't have carted water all the way up.
I lazed in the sun under our patch of blue sky whilst Sue removed more leather from her troublesome boot. Rif Champillon had disappeared into the cloud, and 'weather' was building up all around us.
A contouring path past copious clumps of eyebright, yellow rattle and lady's mantle led to a wide shelf with fine views across the valley. Old foundations indicated a former use. Wartime defences perhaps?
We'd planned to lunch on the col at 2500 metres, but at noon, 300 metres below that, we came upon a superb picnic bench constructed from huge logs. It halted our upward progress. As we set up the stove the Bognier family, husband and wife, from Chambery, appeared, the only other walkers we saw all day. We chatted at length with this jolly couple - on a seven day trip along AV1 - not far from their home. We recalled our visit to Chambery, with its huge elephant fountain, last year after a hutting trip to the Vanoise. They told us of the polenta and jam for breakfast at their excellent 'agriturismo' (farmhouse B+B) accommodation at La Renardiere in Bionaz.
Continuing upwards, zigzagging up the ancient narrow terraces built into the hillside (erosion control? - they seemed too narrow for any agricultural use) the warm cloud billowed around us at around 2400 metres. As Showell Styles said 'It's for the heat!'
So, the view from Col Breuson? We thought the elusive shape of The Matterhorn might reveal itself here, but whilst the sun beat down from the blue sky above, we were engulfed in a muggy cloud.
Down past more huge clumps of eyebright, and the rarely seen large-flowered (yellow) houseleeks, the closer mountains soon came back into view. So did big black clouds from the south.
We sent a message with a picture of Spring Gentians, to keep those back at home entertained.
We passed a small barn. It was full of cows. Sheltering. Ominous!
Steaming on to the safety of the valley, we slithered down steep sections of the woodland path, teeming with bird life. But most of this path comprised a superb belvedere above the Valpelline valley, the highlight of today's itinerary.
It went very calm and quiet. The grasshoppers must have been sheltering with the cows. The black cloud moved slowly towards us up the affluent looking valley, a sheen of rain at its vanguard.
We reached a lane. 3.30, only a mile or two to camp. Spots of rain.
We lost the race.
It was just a short walk along the main road up the valley to reach the new Lac Lexert camp site, set up by biathlon champion Patrick Favre and his family.
The bar/café was full of refugees from the rain. A screen quietly revealed the dramas of olympic swimming races to those with any interest. Most people just dripped into their cappuccinos.
It's worthy of mention that we have not yet indulged in hot chocolate on this trip - thanks to the hot weather - last night we recalled with Paul and Stephanie how different it was from August in the Alps three years ago!
Eventually we braved the rain and got the tent up. Once we were installed - not so easy, as Mr Favre, in his wisdom, decided to sow his nice grass directly onto hard core, rather than provide his camping customers with any topsoil - the rain of course stopped.
Then we showered - Sue did anyway, I pushed my shower token irretrievably down the wrong orifice.
Then we ate at the restaurant. Sue had seen the menu and was dribbling with expectancy as we entered. But somehow she contrived to inform them that we were staying half board at a nearby hotel to whom the restaurant provides a set meal.