Refugio Bonatti - Refugio Elena
Striding out from Bonatti at 7:15am with a good breakfast behind us we knew it was going to be a long day. One of the more difficult sections of the TMB, the route to Col Ferret was always going to be a challenge, especially in adverse weather conditions. The initial track from the Refugio is steady going. It's a well worn path that cuts across the hillside towards a farm and then weaves downhill through the trees to Arnuva where there is a tearoom and outdoor seating. Whether you are able to stop in the tearoom or not (we couldn't, it was closed) it is the last flat ground you are going to see for some time. The path begins to wind uphill across open grass, increasing in altitude until you reach Refugio Elena. The refuge is well placed at a the end of the valley with the huge Glacier de Pré de Bar behind it which spills out onto the mountainside. Elena is only open until mid-September. Therefore it was closed and there were no facilities but it can still be used to shelter from the elements and as an opportune spot to look up at the hill you have yet to climb.
Refugio Elena to Grand Col Ferret
This is probably one of the harder sections of the standard TMB and for us the poor weather certainly made it seem so. Taking around 1h30m to reach the summit of Grand Col Ferret, the track is relentless. I have no comments regarding the view due to driving rain and sleet which along with the cloud made visibility very low. After an arduous climb, the path evens out to reach a triangulation point at the top. At 2534m you feel pretty high up and Switzerland beckons. Apparently the panorama is incredible...
Grand Col Ferret to La Fouly
Passing by Grand Col Ferret, the path then leads gradually downhill. After an hour of walking you will reach La Peula where you can find a variety of food and drinks. Despite welcoming this watering hole, the cost of the first rest in Switzerland doesn't come cheap. Even though this is a great spot to warm your hands by the fire, you can expect to pay at least 18CHF for two sandwiches and two cups of coffee. Prices nearly as steep as the climb!
Leaving La Peula it takes another hour to reach the tiny hamlet of Ferret and then a further 45 minutes to reach La Fouly, mainly walking alongside the river and in the process crossing a very wonky bridge. As with lots of places in Switzerland, La Fouly is a cute, little town with extra large price tags. The main campsite in the town is Camping du Glaciers which has fantastic amenities, including a heated room to sit, cook and enjoy the company of others. However, camping here will set you back 24CHF a night for two people and it is by far the cheapest option available. Switzerland is expensive and even going to the local supermarket to buy food involves taking out a small loan. You can still visit on a budget though. We bought soup and bread, cooked it at the campsite on a fellow camper's stove (thanks Kevin!) and then played cards with friends we had met along the trip. Great fun.