July 7: Started off again, catching a bus to take us to the trailhead for the ascent of the Col de la Ferret, the boundary between Italy and Switzerland, another day with a 3000+ foot elevation gain. I was feeling a bit better about it though. A bit.
Sat on the bus across from a couple of nice Aussies, who were traveling in a group that we came to call the “Red Brigade.” Got off the bus as it was beginning to spit rain and their guide, a snotty female, said it was snowing higher up.
Started trudging up to the Refuggio Elena and with my newfound Buddhist calm, I made it up without even getting out of breath, and someone in the Aussie group actually thought I was fast. Hah! Little did he know.
Started up from Elena for the two hour, 3000-foot climb to the col. Jeff took my pack at the first switchback, and I climbed almost the whole way without stopping and without seriously losing my breath. Of course I was really really slow, but still the Red Brigade didn’t overtake me, except for a couple of Kiwis who were really nice and who we kept passing and repassing.
Meanwhile Gus had zipped up to the top. He’s a damned machine. We started calling him Frodo when we could just make out his hooded form climbing high up ahead of us. He also looked in his rain gear like the snowboarding Flying Tomato.

Descended, passing mountain bikers hauling their bikes up to do the hair-raising switchbacks down the other side, I suspect. We read a Jon Krakauer piece in Eiger Dreams that describes Chamonix and the Mont Blanc massif as the “death wish capital of the world.” So that made sense. Continued down on a road after passing a little cowshed buvette where we once again passed the nasty Brits plus the snotty American.
As we got to the bottom of the road down the mountain from the buvette, now nearly four or five hours from when we started out at the trailhead, I heard quick jogging footfalls behind me. I turned around to meet the desk clerk from the Hotel Walser in Courmayeur. I was too dazed with disbelief to ask him wtf!!! He was clad only in little shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt and as Jeff noted, he didn’t even have a water bottle! We exchanged a few pleasantries and off he trotted. Jeeze!
Descended a little more and finally came to La Fouly and checked into the Hotel Des Glaciers,
run by an aging Swiss hippie in a filmy, tie-dyed dress, long hennaed hair, and palsy. All the work was done by a brisk, efficient young woman, who reminded me of my Camp Miramichee friends. She looked athletic and capable and kept ejecting this big, black cat from the restaurant. Every time she turned her back, he’d sneak in after some new arrival and hang around until she’d notice him again. It was hilarious but when I mentioned the “chat noir” to her, she wouldn’t crack a smile.


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