Plan: Day 43 - Planaval to Rif A Deffeyes - 14 km, 1600 metres ascent, 6 hours.
Actual: Exactly as planned to Rif Deffeyes (2494 metres):
14 km, 1500 metres ascent, 7.6 hours including 1.7 hours breaks.
Best bit: Reaching Passo di Planaval - 3016 metres, and enjoying the views and a mug of tea.
'You should be ok' said Pascale, the mountain guide, 'but I didn't tell you that', he had added, ominously, not being willing to accept any blame if things went wrong.
He was talking about the route over Passo di Planaval, the shorter but trickier of our two options for today. The path was indicated by small red dots on our map, but with both Kev Reynolds and Pascale backing this shorter option we felt confident.
Ada and Nadira at the Hotel Paramont had done us proud, providing us with a very comfortable day's rest and some excellent meals, so we were raring to start up our 1500 metre ascent.
A lady from Pascale's group, abandoned here with a poorly knee, looked a sorry sight. But she should surely be enjoying her stay at the nice hotel!
The warmth of the morning was tempered by a welcome cool breeze, but it was still a sweaty ascent up to 2000 metres, by which time we had curved around above Planaval.
A man had flown past early on, descending quickly. Where did he come from?
We passed two ladies with a pot of yellow paint, meticulously painting AV2 signs and arrows. So the wardens who had told Nicholas the signs that he had failed to find would be 'painted tomorrow' had probably been correct!
The ladies were very tanned - I hope they enjoy their work!
We entered a 'purple gentian' zone - the flowers were prolific in a fairly small area. It was the first time we had noticed them on this trip.
A helicopter landed nearby, whilst I tried to dispatch a blog picture on this sunny morning. Here it is. The entire contents of a cabin full of gear and workmen were being moved to the valley. Last to go (bar the workmen) was the cabin - an amusing sight as it flew through the air down the valley.
Newly constructed wooden bridges across the busy streams full of glacier melt provided evidence of the travails of these workmen.
Four French descended past us. A family anxious to get home. A reluctant 'bonjour'. They own the path. We were brushed aside. I'm afraid one of them has a walking pole imprint on his shoe.
They were the last people we saw today until this busy rifugio.
We soon left the main AV2 route to follow the alternative 'path 21' over the one hard high pass, as opposed to the two easier passes adopted by the main route.
Frequent yellow arrows and an occasional AV2 sign directed us up towards a steep snow filled coire. Creamy water from a nearby glacier lubricated our boots. (Sue is back in her boots today, emergency repairs having employed gaffer tape and a surplus pan scourer.)
Wide views down the Aosta valley led to the snow clad bulks of The Matterhorn and Monte Rosa, both wearing cloudy hats today.
Soon our concentration turned to our own route. After meandering up an increasingly rocky valley, with crevices filled by adenostyles, leopardsbane, birdsfoot trefoil and moon daisies, etc, the going steepened.
We stopped for a sandwich at 2750 metres. Then, as predicted by Pascale, the yellow markers expired. We had to pick our way through loose rock, then over steep snow where old prints could be seen. The final 250 metres took an hour - the other side of the snow was also loose and steep, and a hairy scree gully was crossed. Much care was required.
Eventually we reached the pass and enjoyed a brew and a cheese sandwich at 3016 metres, with wide ranging views and only the distant peaks in cloud. Rockfall could be heard to our left. It was 1.50 pm.
Grey glaciers lay ahead, but fortunately the descent was much easier, being at a gentler gradient despite more loose rocks. The yellow arrows made a welcome reappearance. We had excellent views of the Mont Blanc massif, despite the summit being in cloud.
Our path was narrow, following the ridges of the huge Rutor glacier's lateral moraine. Chains aided us past a protruding band of rock. Below, the snout of the glacier had formed a cave where large pieces had broken off. Higher up, grey crevasses crossed the ice, and below us were grey glacial lakes with icebergs floating in them.
This area is dotted with lakes. We passed a pretty one just before reaching the refuge at 4 pm.
Lots of people were sitting outside in the sun up here at 2494 metres. Unusually for a refuge, rucksacks are left in an outhouse and boxes are used for items required overnight in the dormitories. There is a 'no torsos' rule in the wash rooms! We have beds in a smallish room, to which we've been banished whilst tables are laid for the 'first sitting' for dinner. Because we did a full day's walk and arrived here late (4 pm), we have to wait (in our dorm, or outside) until 8.15 for our meal.
We are hungry.