Plan: Day 48 - Etroubles to Rif Champillon - 10 km, 900 metres ascent (way out - I think I got today and tomorrow mixed up!), 4.5 hours.
Actual: Almost exactly as planned:
12 km, 1500 metres ascent, 6.3 hours including 2 hours breaks and 30 minutes on the wrong path.
Best bit: The (now) traditional Sunday Lunch.
Having skirmished with Alta Via della Valle d'Aosta No 2 (AV2 - a fine route previously unknown to us) for a number of days, yesterday we joined Alta Via della Valle d'Aosta No 1 (AV1) from Rif W Bonatti, leaving it in the narrow streets of Cuchepache in favour of the excitement of the Valle del Gran San Bernardo.
Today we continued along AV1 to another private rifugio after reaching that path via an excellent route from Etroubles, along path number 22.
We started slowly. There was no hurry. Last night's celebrations in town had slightly affected our sleep. And today was always going to be a short one.
But back to last night. We enjoyed another lovely alfresco camp site meal, thanks to Etroubles' well stocked 'market' (supermarket) - lots of salad, ham and cheese goes down well, before returning to the narrow cobbled streets where the festival of traditional crafts and farming techniques was just getting going. Something seemed to be happening on every corner, down every alley, and through most doorways.
A sheep was being shorn with what appeared to be a large pair of scissors; the wool was being 'carded' by a woman using a couple of large hair brushes, then another lady was nonchalantly spinning the wool onto a reel whilst chatting to passers by.
A brass quartet played in the street; a pharmacist in a bow tie dispensed peculiar potions from a set of glassware that would have made any chemistry teacher proud (lots of coloured boiling liquids emitting coloured vapours).
A duo with peculiar wind up instruments played as a wood carver chiselled his work.
Huge intricate traditional dresses hung from balconies.
Tubs of polenta bubbled lazily (here is one doing just that) (€1.50 a bowl), whilst huge slabs of steak fizzed on hot plates nearby.
Home made jams, honey, jewellery, and other crafty items adorned numerous stalls.
There were lumberjacks with big muscles and felt hats, lumberjacking.
I dragged Sue, kicking and screaming, away from this ugly spectacle to where a whole building seemed to be full of 'pan ner' (€4), piled high on wooden frames like the ones we saw in the bread kitchen at Fenestrelle Fort.
The car parks were full in this, the last small town before the Swiss border on a main artery.
People milled around in increasing numbers. We returned to camp after a while - 10 pm was a late night for us.
The sound from the revellers died away sometime after 2 am.
So we earned a slow start today. But 9 am isn't too bad!
Goodbyes to the friendly camp site lady were followed by a visit to the bakery, 50 metres away - and rated by my chef as one of the best. A convenient Bancomat (cash dispenser) put us back in funds. All in all Etroubles was an excellent place to visit.
We left along marked paths but made only our second navigation error of the trip, mistaking an arrow slanting downwards for a turn we shouldn't have made. By the time we realised our (my) error we'd risen 70 metres and Sue had consumed several handfuls of raspberries and strawberries whilst I had obtained some good images of the valley and listened to some squawking jays. The valley view all the way back to Mont Blanc was recorded in this message.
We enjoyed the bed of pine needles on rarely walked path 22. It was deserted apart from the flying insects dancing in the shafts of light filtering through the trees. Or was it?
We were soon beyond the ruined buildings that had featured along the path, and the traffic noise had long gone. A red deer, oblivious to our presence until very close, leapt off, barking in surprise.
Stopping for a second breakfast of tea and cake, I dumped my rucksack on some wet grass. We enjoyed the brew; Mont Blanc had just appeared on the western horizon.
Picking up the rucksack, I discovered we were not alone. Another family lived here. Their children were all over my rucksack. They had many children. They were a family of slugs.
Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I'm sure that will make me less slimy!
I disturbed a grouse. Instead of the familiar 'habayler habayler' this bird went 'whichoo whichoo'. I wonder what type it was? [Red-legged partridge]
Lovely path 22 rounded a couple of gullies, then thrutched up past field gentians and fat grasshoppers to negotiate another gully, before contouring lazily up to join the AV1 path at around 2300 metres. The views across to Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses, under a deep blue sky, were wonderful.
We enjoyed a luxurious Sunday lunch at 2350 metres, with this view, undisturbed by flies or slugs. Departure was delayed by the spectacle of two fighting hawks, and an urgent need to utilise part of our washing line to replace one of my boot laces.
Col de Champillon, 2708 metres, revealed a new view - the mass of Grand Combin, and Mont Gele both being prominent in that view. We are on three routes here:
TDC - we'd wondered what this was. Now we know - Tour des Combins - an easy walk around the Grand Combin massif.
The col is easily accessible from the east, and a short walk past sunbathers and other afternoon strollers soon found us outside Rifugio Champillon (3.20) where we spent a pleasant afternoon.
A golden eagle appeared for a while. We watched this whilst others outside the refuge found the marmots more interesting.
There's hardly anyone staying here. Just as well as they say they have no record of the phone call Nick made on 30 July, booking us in tonight. Dinner at 6.30 has been delayed due to late arrivals. 'That must be us' we keep telling them!
Roman may be right about the power of Bonatti's name. This place should be as good, but.....