So begins the grand finale of your Gran Paradiso to Mont Blanc hike; after a steady climb to Col Chavanne, you walk along the breathtaking southern flank of the Mont Blanc massif - never have these monstrous mountains felt so close!
Col Chavanne is perhaps the easiest col to reach of the entire trip, yet also one of the most dramatic! The ‘climb’ contours through a tight valley on a dirt road, gaining height at a barely-noticeable gradient. This road provides a lifeline to a number of isolated farms and dwellings to keep them somewhat connected to the outside world; most of these huts are now abandoned and being reclaimed by nature, but a few still operate as remote summer farms with small herds of cattle grazing the grassy slopes.
From the top of the col you find yourself looking north along the entire eastern sweep of the Mont Blanc massif - chaotic glaciers, craggy spires, rock buttresses, waterfalls that leap into the valley and the icy summit dome of Mont Blanc itself – which stretches tantalisingly into the distance and almost appears like you could reach out and grab it.
Here the walk joins the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB) trail – one of the highlights of the TMB, in fact – as it continues through Val Veni beside an icy stream that threads through the valley in fractured channels and collects in still pools to provide a crystal reflection of the surrounding mountains. A bus from La Visaille brings you to the lively hub of Courmayeur.
Enjoy a hearty and celebratory lunch in Rifugio Elisabetta content in the knowledge that it is all downhill to Courmayeur!
There are several river crossings. There are always stepping-stones available but these may be slippery, and especially when wet. Take extra caution on these crossings.
Some of the path is along rocky steps; be careful as these may be slippery, especially when wet.
There are some exposed edges; be sure to read instructions carefully, stick to the main path, and don’t wander close to the edge. Use handrails where provided.
In early spring/summer there may still be patches of snow. Walk around where it is possible, and otherwise place your feet carefully and use walking poles if you have them.
This route is above 2,500 metres so bear in mind you may feel a shortness of breath and additional muscle fatigue associated with the altitude.
Such is the way of Alpine hiking that you need to be prepared for all seasons and weathers; sturdy hiking boots, warm clothes and a waterproof/wind-break layer are all required, as is plenty of sun-cream and a healthy respect for the sun.
Walking poles will be a big advantage on some of these ascents and descents.
Ensure your phone is fully charged; if you doubt the battery will last throughout the hike, it might be beneficial to bring a power bank.
This walk is isolated with few opportunities to buy food or water so be sure to bring enough with you.
Points of Interest
As you walk the final few kilometres towards the Val Veni bus stop from Caban du Combal, there is a good chance you will encounter walkers with adzes protruding from swollen backpacks and a rope thrown jauntily on top. This is the main route to climb Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco to Italians) from the Italian side; if they are walking towards you they may just be setting out, but if they are coming in your direction ‘congratulations’ may be in order!
Duke of Abruzzi Alpine Museum
This museum was started by the Duke of Abruzzi, a titan of the mountaineering world during the early 20th century. The museum houses a wealth of documents, photos, climbing equipment and souvenirs which allow you to uncover 150 years of mountaineering history. The museum is in the Società delle Guide building in Courmayeur.
More information available here: http://www.guidecourmayeur.com/en/index.php
Food and Drink
Between La Thuile and La Visaille there are few opportunities to buy food or drink so be sure to bring enough provisions with you.
You will reach Rifugio Elisabetta after 17.2 kilometres, and Cabane du Combal after 21 kilometres. Opposite the bus stop at the end of the walk is Chalets del Miage, which would make a nice place to wait for the bus.