The wind blew fiercely as we climbed out of the Vallee des Glaciers toward Col de la Seigne. We trudged slowly up the mountainside, pausing occasionally to catch our breath. We could see hikers above and below us. A glacier hung above us to the left. The wind pierced our layers, so we brought out hats and gloves. It seemed to knock us off the path, back to where we came from. We leaned in and walked on.
Eventually we looked down on the glacier to the left. We had climbed 3,600 feet to the top of the Col de la Seigne. From here, we could look back down at the valley we had come from in France, and we looked forward into Italy. You could see mountains in every direction, but our way lay forward, plunging into a new valley before us.
We began our descent and passed a pack horse carrying a group’s belongings. We saw a pair of marmots cavorting in the short alpine grass. We descended to the Refugio Elizabetta and had lunch leaning against the stone foundations of an old ruin. We descended into a valley and walked along even ground for some time, and the the trail cut hard right an up another steep mountainside. The map and the trail descriptor in the book were not very clear, and even though the sign pointed up, the beginning of the trail was overgrown with shaggy plants. Nonetheless, this appeared to be the trail, so we started up.
We came out of the overgrowth and the trail continued up again past the tree line. We had gained another few thousand feet when it began to thunder. We listened for a while, then felt a cold breeze on our necks, so we stopped and pulled out our rain gear — rain jackets, rain pants, pack covers and wide-brimmed rain hats. A few minutes later, it began to rain. Then it poured. Thunder cracked ominously overhead. We were about as high on the pass as we could possibly be, and we were soaked and exposed. We were tired as well, as this was our second steep climb of the day. There was nowhere to hunker down. The highest point on the pass was about 500 yards away, but I was afraid of being the highest thing around at the top of the point in a thunder and lightning storm. I expressed my fear out loud, and my son Emile said, “Once we get there, we are headed downhill again.” I took a deep breath and we forged on.
As we reached the pass it began to hail. On the other side, heading down, we were awash in a river of water and hail. We picked our way carefully to a point below the pass and stopped to put gloves on to protect our hands from the marble-sized chunks of ice raining from the sky. We continued on, very slowly, paying attention to each treacherous footstep so that we would not slip and fall off the mountain.
The storm stopped suddenly, and we paused to look out. A rainbow appeared a few thousand feet below us, and we would see the wall of rain heading down the valley ahead of us. It was a moment of wonder, one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. And we would never have seen it if we had not weathered the storm.
We continued down and it began to rain again, gentle and steady this time. We had lost track of the time because we didn’t want to take off any of our wet gear to check. Eventually we could see a building below. When we reached it we found that it was La Madison Vieille, our refuge for the night.
Next: TMB Part 5: The Refuges