Courmayeur - Refugio Bertone
Sometimes the signs along the trail are hilarious. A sign at the bottom of a hill will boldly declare that you have 1h30m until you reach the top. Bracing yourself for an uphill climb you set off and walk for 15/20 minutes until you reach the next sign which still boldly declares that you have 1h30m until you reach the top! Therefore, don't take them literally! One spot along the trail where this is evident is on the route from Courmayeur. A steady incline along Villair road leading from the town takes you to the foot of a forest which then rises in steep zigzags all the way to Rifugio Bertone at the top. Half way along this path was the spot where the signs played tricks with us. A friend we met along the trail (a guy called Herakles from Seattle) even went so far as to suggest the signs always altered their figures for the person looking at them depending on how slow they thought you were walking!
Great views can be seen through the trees down to Courmayeur at various places along the forest path. You are rewarded for your efforts at Bertone where there is sheltered seating and a selection of hot drinks. The coffee here is wonderful!
Refugio Bertone - Refugio Bonatti (via Col Sapin)
Replenished and refreshed from Bertone it is a small uphill climb to reach Mont de la Saxe with the way being flat and pleasant all the way to Col Sapin. Cloudy days provide an eerie haze across the grassland and be on the lookout for Ibex who like to hang out in these areas.
Every year there is a 330km race that ends in Courmayeur, if you are in the town to watch the runners come in you can cheer them on and watch the grimaces on their faces as they aim for the finish. Some of the runners complete the race in three days which works out at over 100km per day! Lots of runners passed us on this section of the route working out their final few kilometers down to the finish. If you are there when they are, give them room to run and a clap as they pass by.
The final route to Refugio Bonatti is a slippery slope of mud and if you are lucky enough to be walking in the rain, poles really help here. Despite this, the way is not difficult to navigate and with the exception of a final ascent to warmth and comfort, Bonatti is reached without too much effort. Refugio Bonatti is an excellently run private establishment. Everything about it is great: the location; the staff; the cleanliness; the bathrooms; the food and the general atmosphere. Hammering rain and uneven ground meant we welcomed the chance to stay in the refuge rather than camp and we were able to stay without booking ahead. We were there in September, where you rarely need to book ahead in order to stay but if you are hiking in July or August then booking is essential. The cost of a bed, breakfast and evening meal is €48 each and it is well worth it.