La Thuile: The Hidden Wilderness Ring

In 2019 I walked a self-designed distance hiking ring in my domestic alps. In 3/4 days of wild hike you will see many of the most gorgeous Alpine landscapes I’ve ever seen.

Right below it’s the story and emotions, then a day by day description and gear list.

I have a special affection for Aosta Valley. 

The reason isn’t that it’s the Italian region with more mountains (244 of it’s mountains have a Wikipedia page), neither cause it’s home of Mont Blanc (the highest peak in Alps), neither even it’s still not so touristic as other parts of Alps. 

It’s because to me is a second home. 

My parents took me there since I was a Child: in Aosta Valley I learned skiing (4yo) and climbing (much later, 26yo). To make this feeling easier to understand, I could narrate when my mother, pregnant 8th month of me, walked up to Lago d’Arpy, that was the starting point of the adventure I’m narrating you below.

The most famous place in Aosta Valley it’s for sure Mont Blanc with the glamorous Courmayeur laying at its feet. But there are so many hidden or forgotten spots in Aosta Valley that I could spend all my life exploring keep missing some locations. 

One of my favorite of those is the valley of La Thuile, that is delimitated by rocky peaks with blue lakes and the massive glacier of Rutor. In this valley there is a large amounts of paths, but a lots of them are almost forgotten, as many are not connected, and there are just few huts out of the town. 

It was 28th August when I took a map, drawing by myself what then I called The Hidden Wilderness Ring. I then came back on this trekking in July 2020 with Anne, to see the seasons changing on so peculiar environment.  

I spent the past 6 years traveling 42 countries, but I rarely found a sublime wilderness as in this place just 1h and 30 mins from home. And it’s not cause it’s “the famous Aosta Valley”, but because it’s a place I have a connection with that I allows me to design my own path, with a deep knowledge.

I’m discovering this every day more: as I recently moved to a different region of Alps, every place has a local beauty and even a local wilderness, that not other person than “me” can perceive. Now, feel yours the “me”, and start discovering your place of heart. 

Below is the day-by day description, that permits you to follow the path. 

Remember: this is simply a description, you will be moving in a wild terrain under your own responsibility.

If you want to hike the Ring, be respectful for the untouched landscape. Especially if you will do in tent, don’t leave garbages, food or any kind of leftovers and don’t turn on open fires!

Total duration: 3-4 days, about 60km, about 3800D+
Difficulty: hard
Average altitude around 2500m

Best period: from second half of August to first snow of October
Whether to expect: with good forecast is 10C in the day, right or below 0C in the night, but remember you are up in the mountains!

Day 1 (6h, 20km, 1600mD+)

Starting from La Thuile, you hike up to Colle della Croce (2450m) hiking then down to Arpy Lake (2080m). Alternatively you can park to San Carlo Pass (1950m) and reached Arpy Lake on easy gravel road (40mins), cutting some elevation gain.

From here stay left to the lake and then follow the river up to steepy trail that pass between rocky plates, that take you to Pietra Rossa Lake (2550m) in about 1-1:30h, with beautiful view of Mont Blanc Massif. 

From the lake the pass is visible on S-SW, but not marked in anyway. Walk straight to it, staying right in ablation valley. Walks carefully on big rocks and climb easly the glacier leftover to unnamed pass (2850m) that brings you to wild Combette Valley, 1:15h from the lake. From the pass you can admire Matterhorn, Monte Rosa massif and Gran Combin at NE. 

Descent the Combette Valley walking again on big stones and climb carefully down some rocky plates. When the valley becomes more flat, stay left and descent down to marked trail (45 mins). 

The traverse from Pietra Rossa Lake to Combette Valley is one of the most challenging of the whole hike.

At marked trail go left and after some exposed parts with ropes, head to Deffeyes refuge (2500m, 30 mins), where I suggest to take a break (try their Polenta Gnocchi with fondue!) admiring the big Rutor Glacier.

From the refuge stay left and then right, to Low Rutor Lake, then proceed SW on easy path to Seracchi Lake (this is a great place for tent). 

As detour you can hike up to Lago nella Roccia (2610m), reaching an incredible view-point on Rutor glacier, then traverse down to Lago Superiore del Rutor reaching back the original Hidden Wilderness Ring at Seracchi Lake (all this part is on unmarked trail with some exposed traverses, be careful!). 

From Seracchi Lake traverse E, cross the bridge and enter the beautiful Bella Comba Valley. Climb it up to the lakes (2350m, 1h from Deffeyes Refuge). Stay right the first lake, then cut left right before the second lake and start climbing up to Tachuy Lakes. Getting Tachuy Pass (2650m) is 1 hour from Bella Comba lakes and perfect place for setting your tent (small lake to take water from). 

Day 2 (7h, 22km, 1400mD+)

From the pass, descent steepy in France to Petit Lake then follow the Saint-Claude stream down to beautiful houses of La Sassiere (1950m, 1:15h), where a hut is available.

Follow the road SW for about 800m then take the small trail on the right that traverse Louie Blanche valley. When the valley becomes steep, the Hidden Wilderness Ring goes right (left bring you to Lac du Retur) and take you to Passage de la Louie Blanche pass (2550m), 1:30h from La Sassiere, that is an excellent place for tent. 

From here it is steepy descent to Moulines (2000m) where you cross the stream on beautiful bridge and start traversing to Traversiette Pass (2360m, 45min), well visible for the huge lift buildings and old military outpost, passing below chair lift. From the pass, descent N-NE the ski slopes, pass the last lift building then take the roman age trail that bring you to Piccolo San Bernardo Pass (2180m, 40mins), you are now back in Italy. Bar du Lac serves excellent polenta and other stuff, making it a good lunch spot.

Right after the Bar du Lac, stay left to Verney Lake viewpoint, pass it and steepy descent to Verney Lake (2050m). Stay left and start climbing up NW near the stream, in this section the trail sometimes disappears but you just follow up the small valley to Upper Verney Lake (2300m). From here on you will pass many excellent places for tent, but I personally preferred to keep climbing up, in a beautiful landscape, made of alpine meadows with small blue lakes. This is anyway the best stop to add making the Ring in 4 days.

Right before the Upper Verney Lake take the path that climb up NW, and start a long up-down-up traverse that brings you below a grassy pass, it’s Rousse Pass (2550m, 1h from Verney Lake). From Rousse pass follow the small flat valley that brings you above Tormottaz Lake. Keep following up and down the trail and descent to cozy Glacier D’Arguentery lakes (that are more a quiet stream, 2450m), pass the precarious bridge, climb up a bit and get another flat valley with beautiful stream in the middle (2500m, 40mins). Place here your tent, not disturbing too much the cows that come here for the night.

Day 3 (6h, 23km, 850mD+)

Leave your tent place to N direction, keep right side of the valley and find the trail that gentle climb up to Bassa Serra pass (2750m, 40mins), where incredible view of Mont Blanc massif is waiting for you. On the old house is marked “end of trail”, and it’s for a reason, you are starting the most dangerous part of the tour!

On the pass, go left W after the house to big stone pyramid, here take the trail and go down to Chevannes plateau. It’s a very exposed part, be very careful going down here, especially if it’s wet or there is snow on the trail. 

Chevannes plateau and its countless streams is the most wild and beautiful section of the Hidden Wilderness Ring, traverse it N, following a disappearing a first world war path, pointing Mont Lechaud in front of you. Right below the Mont Lechaud you will find a better marked trail. A good detour is to follow it W, climbing up to old military building on the ridge, where there is amazing view on Mont Blanc Massif and Val Veny. Probably my favorite view-point in the world!

When you get the trail below Mont Lechaud, go right E and follow the exposed path. You will arrive soon to a steep channel that you must traverse. It’s another dangerous part, that always needs extra attention, and crampons in case of snow leftover. Do not do this if you don’t feel confident, a single wrong step means you are death!

Keep following the exposed trail and get Chevannes Pass (2580m, 1:30 from Bassa Serra Pass). From the pass, go E and follow the old gravel road for about 400m, then is marked left to Mont Fortin, follow this path. Traverse below Mont Perce some beautiful lakes and alpine meadows (good place for tent) up to Mont Fortin (2750m, 30mins) and from here keep following the ridge system to E, going down right above Auguinnes du Chevannes Lake and climbing up Mont Berrio Blanc Pass (2850m, 45mins), below forgotten mountains. 

From the pass, start a long and a bit exposed traverse that soon brings you to another unnamed peak of the ridge, where the path starts going down to Youla Pass. Last part of the trail climbs up again to Youla Pass (2650m), but you can cut right E when it’s possible, reaching the U of the valley (45 mins). From here is easy going on well marked trail becoming gravel road to Gorre (1650m, 1:45h). On the u-turn after the house of Gorre, go straight S-SW and follow the trail that traverses down to La Thuille (1500m, 20 mins). If you started from San Carlo Pass,  follow the road to Thovex for about 20 mins and find the road that goes up to San Carlo Pass. Getting up to the pass is about 1:30h walking, so I suggest you to hitch-hike or take the bus (even if it’s not clear their time schedule).  

Gearlist (for around 8kg backpack + photography gears): 

Photography:
Sony Rx100 VI
DJI Mavic 2 Pro

– 35l backpack
My choice: LaFuma Windactive 38l

– 3 seasons tent
My choice: MSR Freelite 1

– matress
My choice: Thermarest Z-lite Sol

– 0C confort sleeping bag + liner
My choice: Thermarest Hyperion, Quechua Ultralight Silk Liner

– cooking stove + spoon
My choice: MSR Windburner 1l, MSR 4 season gas, MSR Nesting Bowl, Optimus Sliding Long Spoon

– water purifier
My choice: MSR Guardian

– 1l water bottle
My choice: Kathadyn BeFree

– basic first aid kit

– toiletting, suncream, biodegradable napkins, garbage bag…

– 3 packed dinners
My choice: Firepot XL dehydrated meals, herbal thee

– 3 breakfasts
My choice: Bulkpowders protein porridge + chocolate, coffee

– trekking food
My choice: dehydrated fruit and nuts, no single energy bars, no single gel

– sun heat
My choice: Quechua Trek 500

– warm heat
My choice: Ortovox Wool Hat

– cat 3-4 sunglasses
My choice: Julbo Explorer 2.0 Zebra cat 2-4

– 1 light basic layer + warm shirt
My choice: merino underwear by Ortovox

– 1 pair light hiking socks
My choice: Quechua MH 500 MID

– 2nd layer wind-stopper
My choice: Fleece Hoody wind-stopper by Ortovox (out of production)

– warm insulating layer
My choice: Ortovox Piz Boval Jacket

– waterproof shell
My choice: Salomon S/Lab Motionfit 360 JKT

– 2 piece trekking pants
My choice: Salomon Wayfarer Straight Zip Pan

– technical running shoes
My choice: Salomon S/Lab XA Alpine 2 with Vibram Lightbase sole

– trekking poles
My choice: Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z

As many parts of the trail are unmarked, the altitudes are not precise and took with my GPS device.

Timing depend on your pace and backpack weight. My personal pace was quite fast, with 500D+/h and 10kg backpack. I completed the ring in 3 days, but making it in 4 allows you to enjoy more the places and walk more relaxed. 

This trail traverses many kind of terrain in high-altitude environment. Many parts are not well marked and the trail traverse several steepy and exposed sections. It’s definitely a trail dedicated to experienced hikers. 

The gear list I report is my personal equipment, but it may vary on your habitudes, weather conditions or in presence of snow. 

I take no responsibility if you decide to hike it following this guide or use my gear list. 

A small extra: my long time connection with Aosta Valley, back to 1994.

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