Day 6: Les Contamines to Refugio Elisabetta

Day 3 of the hike! An “easy” day, at least on paper. 9.1 miles and just over 4,000 feet in gain and 1,300 in loss. Legit, but much easier than the last two days.

But then there’s the reality that nothing is easy on the TMB, even the, much needed “rest” days.

I was awoken at 5 am to thunder. I bolted out of bed and grabbed our clothes that were drying in the window. (We have yet to encounter a screen on a window.) I was lucky to be able to catch a few more minutes of sleep before the 6:00 alarm went off. We all got up, dressed, and packed up, before heading down to (a very disappointing) breakfast. You get what you get with half board.

By the time we strapped on our packs, retied our shoes, zipped up our windbreakers, and pulled up our rain pants, there was a legit lightning storm occuring. In true Knott fashion, we weighed our options and decided to forge ahead. We made it about 100 meters before needing to shelter under an awning. But 100 meters is 100 meters in the right direction. Eventually the head of the storm passed us and we kept trekking ahead.

Three miles, mostly flat (yay!), through the storm. Most folks who we stayed with us last night opted to take the bus or taxi those three miles and they missed out. I saw at least two snails and one dead frog on the trail during those three miles. I spent only a few hours worrying if we’d be okay. I cried. I bet they didn’t cry. Or see dead frogs.

After those three treacherous miles, the skies cleared quite a bit and we found ourselves at a cheese factory. This trail is just amazing. We didn’t get any cheese, but found great entertainment in the cows, sheep, and goats on the property.

Just a bit up (and I mean up) the trial lead right to a rufugio. We were cold and tired so we took off our shoes and packs and headed in. Fortunately, they were open-ish for hot coffee, hot chocolate, and delightful ham, egg, and cheese crepes. Y’all, this trail is unreal. Even when it sucks there are treats like crepes!

Refueled, we began the rest of the ascent. We had been doing soo good, despite the rain, all having great attitudes and grit. But a few hundred feet up, the first of two hailstorms began. That killed all our momentum. The hail quickly turned from pea size to marble size and it hurt like hell as it hurled itself at our bodies. We huddled together and waiting the many minutes for the front of the hailstorm to pass. And then on we went.

We kept climbing, slowly, but productively. With just a couple hundred feet before the pass, the highest point of today’s hike, wave two of the hail came. This time it was golfball sized and caused actual cuts and huge welts on our bodies. Again, we huddled together, trying to calm each other, hoping to avoid a major injury. And, again, the hail eventually got smaller and then ended. But we were bruised. Our egos and our legs. But we had no choice but to keep hiking toward the pass.

Before long, we made it. To the top of today’s pass. And to Italy!! There was no one to check passports or ask for claimed items. Just a dozen other hikers who were stopped for photos, lunch, and passing around a bottle of whiskey. Thank you to those kind souls who let us in on the celebration of making to to the top and to Italy!

Italy welcomed us by providing two downhill miles. We stopped shortly after the pass to eat the sandwiches we had picked up from the grocery this morning. Delish! Eventually our rufugio for the night appeared. So cute, but so far uphill. Like 100 meters straight up from the trail. Ellie mentioned that if you want a bed here, you have to earn in.

All the entertainment of the hike came from the clouds. When it wasn’t pouring, the clouds were dancing around us, changing shape so quickly. At times we were below them, but then a few minutes later above them. Once we got to the refugio, one cloud enveloped Ellie and me. We were literally in the clouds in the Italian Alps and it was magical.

We got in early, about 2:00, and spent the afternoon playing games, drinking a crafe of wine, and meeting new folks. And showering. With a token that provide fourish minutes of hot water. Almost not worth it.

We have another communal dinner tonight and I have high expectations given the fact that we’re in Italy now. The rain started again this afternoon and hasn’t let up. Doesn’t look great for tomorrow either. 😞 But, in true Knott fashion, we’re forge ahead.

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