7th July, Col Checroui 1956m – Mont de la Saxe 2030m – Refugio Bonatti, Val Ferret (Italy) 2025m, 6.25 h
From Col Checroui the TMB descends rapidly down a steep path next to ski runs to the village of Dolonne and then to the Italian resort of Courmayeur (1,226m) itself. Courmayeur is a bustling and lively town with all facilities and a noticeably Italian feel, in contrast to the French Chamonix and the small settlements met on the route so far. On arrival we could take a coffee break still in sunshine and make some purchases before tackling the ascent of the other side of the valley. There is a steep climb to the Rifugio Bertone (1,989m) on the way to the Rifugio Bonatti (2,025m). A highlight of the day, in fact of the whole Tour, is the traverse of the long grassy flank of Mont de la Saxe (2,030m) which acts as a lookout for the Mont Blanc range opposite. For us the rain started soon after we left Courmayeur and we were already soaked by the time we reached the Rifugio Bertone, where we stopped for lunch. We could hardly see across the valley, never mind see the mountains. The enormously varied alpine flora of the steep slopes could however be appreciated at close range, although it would have been so much better seen in sunshine instead of rain. The Rifugio Bonatti, named after the famous Alpinist Walter Bonatti, is a modern and comfortable hut known for its generous and delicious food. Alone its position on a grassy shelf opposite the Grandes Jorasses would normally be enough to recommend it. I arrived there late in the day together with a young couple who were training for the TMB Race. They had travelled at least three times as far as I that day and would do the same the next. His record for the entire TMB was 37 hours!