TDG part 2 – Valgrisenche to Cogne (53.53km)

Section 2 towards Cogne Base Vita ..

Three mountains before the next Base Vita
Leaving Valgrisenche, it’s just gone 3am and I have an 8km climb to get to the refuge I’m planning to sleep at. It’s about 800m altitude gain, so about 100m D+ per km .. that works out to what .. 8 times Bukit Timah Hill? I estimated it’ll take just under 4 hrs to do that, so I should be tucked in by 7.30am all being well. Excellent. The climb is cold and dark, and not very much fun at all. There’s no one near me at all, and I’m guessing most have slept and gone one or are still at the first life base. I’m guessing I’m quite far back in the pack now with everything that happened yesterday. Not that I’m particularly bothered .. survival mode kicked race mode out of the water pretty early on, and all I can think of now is a warm place and a bit of sleep.

My wet feet in my wet shoes and wet socks are freezing. Wish I’d changed my socks now.

The warm lights of Chalet l’Epée are a very welcome sight, I’m so ready to sleep now! I’d taken just over 3 hrs to get there, and I stumble into the small refuge to ask for a bed. Then I’m told that there are no beds and the next closest place I can sleep is Eaux Rosses .. which happens to be 13KM AND 2 MOUNTAINS AWAY. This really is a WTF moment. That’s nearly enough to make me give up there and then.

I look like I felt. No room at the inn.
I’m offered a cup of tea instead, which I politely decline. I sit down in a quiet corner and notice that there are runners sleeping on benches and chairs regardless. But I want some quality sleep! Instead I lean against a pillar, take my still-wet shoes and socks off in hopes that they’ll dry a little (feet still freezing), and pull my buff over my eyes.  I open my eyes 30 minutes later to find the place is a little more packed with runners coming in and I take more time to pull myself together, have some Haribo Dragibus (I ditched Perpetuem after Valgrisenche, it was becoming too thick in the cold), wrap up warm and head out again.  

And suddenly it’s a different world outside.

The sunrise has just begun and I don’t need my headlamp anymore. It’s still freezing, but the climb to Col Fenetre (2854m) feels infinitely better in daylight, and it lifts my spirits no end. I can see the sunrise teasing the tops of the mountain ranges in front of me, warming the horizon and I’m energised with the increasing light. Time to bag another peak!

Sunrise #1, from Col Fenetre.
Col Fenetre descent
The descent is much warmer and a runner I pass along the way points to the other side of the valley. I don’t understand what he says and can’t see what he’s pointing at, and then I do. One pair of ibex horns poking out from behind a rock, then another, and another. Another 100m down the trail and I see the whole herd grazing, a truly magnificent sight!

Spot the ibex
See any horns?
The whole herd is there!

I’m running down the descent now but it seems to go on forever. Have to watch where I step as its all rocky and uneven, but it’s 3kms downhill and I’m trying to make the most of it. The last bit is steep switchbacks and I’m suddenly onto a sunny road and and headed into Rhemes Notre Dame.
Sunshiny morning!
9.30am – been going for nearly 24 hours now! There’s a little pitstop at Rhemes where I refuelled, and got ready to tackle the next climb. At this point, I can’t remember if I saw Steve or not .. probably not, just remember being delighted to be running in the sunshine again!
Off out of Rhemes towards Col Entrelor (3002m). You’re either going up or down in this race!
By this point I’ve already cocked up trying to do split laps on the TD6 I’m wearing, and because of my stops my average time looks like I’ve been moving backwards .. and I managed to lose an hour on the timer somewhere along the way. I think it’s because my fingers were so clumsy in my 3 pairs of gloves (yes, 3!) that I accidentally pressed buttons I shouldn’t have. Ah well. they really should make a Garmin that doesn’t have a limited battery life .. or at least one that’ll last a week on record! my original plan was a 12.10pm ETA at Rhemes, so I still have a decent buffer on my own plan, yay!
Top of the Col (Entrelor) with Lawrence from Melbourne
The climb up was steady, not great fun but my mantra was fast becoming “moderate hiker with a rucksack” .. the general speed I’d estimated my times on from the Alta Via routes. I make some new friends along the way (all of whom pass me!) including Lawrence from Australia, who’s climbing strong and steady. Everyone’s in their own world of pain / pleasure / mental games and I’m absolutely delighted to reach the top after about 5.5km. My photos are somewhat limited as I’d tied my camera to my pack in case I dropped it down the cliff, which also meant I couldn’t ask anyone to take a pic of my since the bungee cord was only as long as my arm.
The other side of Entrelor .. follow the little yellow flags!

 There’s what looks like a yellow henbox on the other side of the peak, it’s been helicoptered there a few days ago, housing a control point volunteer and some supplies. Quick top up and I’m off downhill. I like it when gravity works in my favour! I have Lawrence for company most of the way down, which was really very nice for a change, someone who speaks English as a first language! He was meant to be doing TDG with his wife (it was her idea), but she’d lucked out on the lottery so he’d gone solo instead.

That’s part of where we descended .. again!
Panoramic view on the way down to Eaux Rousses and a bit of flat at last!

There’s pleasant conversation all the way down and it’s 3.44pm we finally get to the control point at Eaux Rousses (1654m), 9.5km later, and the coke, water and salami I have there are very welcome. My planned arrival was 6.35pm, so more bonus points there! The heat is quite sapping. In the tent eating and regrouping, and I’m doing the same. It’s hard to think about moving fast, we’ve only just got down a peak and the next one is the highest in the course. Col Loson at 3299m, a 10.7km climb. No rest for the wicked. Some people in the tent are talking about getting up to the top and halfway down before it gets too dark, apparently there’s a pretty sketchy bit just after the top that shouldn’t be done in the dark, ideally. Not again!

Steve’s there when I come out of the tent, surprise! He gives me a pep talk, tries to make sense of my ramblings, and sends me on my way.

Going up to Loson

The climb sucks big time. It’s really hot now and I stop to take stuff off, only to have to put them on again later. I pass a French couple who stop to rest and relay the warning about trying to get past Loson before dark. Wang Da Qing, the Technica China chap from last night’s adventure passes me early on, relaying the news that the man from the accident didn’t survive. I’m reeling a little from this .. I think I’d convinced myself he would be ok. Feeling rather dazed and I don’t really know what to think. Just keep moving forward! Actually I can’t remember is this was before Entrelor or Loson, but I do remember him trying to teach me some climbing techniques .. not useful when I didn’t have the legs for it!

Runners are dotted all along the climb and it goes on FOREVER. I’m reminded of UTMB again, I really do suck at climbing. It’s getting to a point where I’m pretty sure I’m never going to get to the top, I’ve resorted to just looking at my feet and 6m ahead, so I don’t have to see how much farther I have to go. Suddenly I take another step and it’s not going UP anymore. Ican’tbelieveI’mfinallyatthetop! The added bonus is that it’s still light, and I’m descending cautiously as the guys weren’t kidding! There’s some sketchy bits with narrow widths, sheer drops and ropes on the cliffside. Steady on.

It’s dark again and I’m so tired I can’t see straight. The descent to the Rifugio Vittoria Sella is.4.35km, but takes forever on steep bits with stone gulleys to guide the water coming down from the top. Best tripping chances I’ve had all day! All 723 of them.

By the time I stumble into Sella, it’s freezing again and the warm lights of the refuge are very comforting. I’m desperate for a bed, but see Wang Da Qing and Lawrence in the refuge as I come in. The former is suffering from stomach upset so I offer some Dhamotil, and Lawrence is getting ready to head out again. Hot broth is amazing and the volunteers show me an empty bed and promise to come back to wake me in 2hrs. It felt like 2 minutes, but at least it was warm and comfortable. Its really hard to get going again, but it’s either get out into the cold or not at all. 8km downhill, here we go.

I’m alone all the way down, and it’s just before 3am when I get to the bottom of where I thought Cogne was. No such luck! I’m in Valtontey and it’s another 30 mins before I get to Cogne, with a very gratefully received Steve meeting me at a carpark halfway along. Once in the life base at Cogne, I’m quizzed by the China filmcrew waiting for the Technica team. Wang Da Qing hasn’t turned up yet – didn’t he leave Sella before I did? I answer as best I can, slightly annoyed with the camera in my face and my broken Chinese. I just want to eat and get fresh batteries for my headlamp.

Decent hot food, nearly an hour at Cogne goes by before I’m ushered out by Steve. 17km to the top of the next mountain, sore feet but too cold to take anything off for an inspection, didn’t even manage to brush my teeth! 🙁

Made it past 100km at last! 🙂

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