Author’s note: This is a continuation on my series of trekking La Vanoise National Park in the high Alps of France. To see all posts in this series, click here.

All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. – Walk Disney

L’Arpont refuge. About a ten-hour hike from our starting point in Pralognon-la-Vanoise.

After a long day of hiking we finally arrived at our destination for the night: l’Arpont refuge. From afar, it looked like an old rustic stone dwelling left over from the old days. Yet inside it was actually quite nice, with bright open windows overlooking the mountains, wood floors and ceilings and a beautiful bakery. Perhaps I’d get a better night’s sleep.

Every refuge had its own traditional “drinking fountain” which pours out ice-cold water for our thirsty, dry throats. This one was my favorite as it was a water hole with a view.

Many buildings like this still exist in the Vanoise National Park. Stone was a popular resource used for the farmers and shepherds to build their dwellings. As you can see, stone stood the test of time and kept the buildings warm inside.

We reached l’Arpont refuge, took off our boots and put on a pair of “hot shoes” (old plastic crocs to be worn inside the refuges) and checked the place out. At first sight, everything was looking good, real good.

The beautiful bakery and restaurant at l’Arpont refuge.

Tarte aux pommes….oui oui!

Yet as soon as we checked in, my joyful anticipation for the night changed when we were shown our room (notice there is no “s” at the end). Once again, my heart dropped when I saw our evening accommodation. It was one long, rectangular shaped room with at least 40 beds lined side by side. I wanted to cry.

There were two rooms identical, adjacent to each other. There was a small “wall” along the left-hand side of the room that was open at top to the next room of 40 trekkers. Imagine sleeping in an open aired room with 80 people! I had a minor freak out attack.

Look how close the beds are to each other! Each blanket represents a twin-sized bed for the night.

I was trying hard not to have a major breakdown. Mark noticed my distress and said that he had somehow arranged to get a group of five beds for the night for the four of us. This meant we could leave one bed open in between us. I almost dropped to my knees in joy! If I slept head-to-toe with my Dad and had the extra bed on the other side of me, I’d have a little more space and tranquility. Maybe I’d even manage to sleep! My spirits began to rise. There was hope.

After unpacking my sack, it was time to get a head start in line for the shower. Of course my dad was already there. We knew about the infamous trekker queue and had a nice hot three-minute shower each, in peace. I even managed to wash a few items of mine while in the shower so I’d have a fresh shirt and pair of socks for the morning. Life was good.

But it was about to get even better. For it was four o’clock and the refuge had a lovely selection of regional Vin de Savoie and it was time to start happy hour while watching the mountains and marmots pass by.

Vin de Savoie, please!

We drank wine, relaxed and laughed about our day. We even had some local entertainment! The chickens throughly enjoyed eating all our leftovers from the last two days hiking (you are not allowed to throw any trash away at the refuges and must carry all your garbage). It was nice to get rid of all the smelly rotting food in our packs and humorous to see the chickens fight over it! No wonder why their eggs were so delicious!

The chickens devouring our leftovers.

We also got to enjoy watching two big fat marmots attacking the food compost. We were wondering what kind of luxury they were eating. Was it fromage de Savoie or last night’s pasta? Or were they enjoying our pre-packed veggies and lentils from the day before? Hard to tell but they certainly were ravenous! (No worries, all you nature lovers. They have very strict rules at the park but apparently this was “ok”).

We also heard the hilarious story about how the chickens got to and from the refuge each summer. As I mentioned earlier, this refuge is about a ten hour walk from the nearest village and the refuge is only open for the three months of summer. Thus how do the chickens arrive at this remote mountain top? Easy! They fly!  What, you say..chickens can’t fly! Ok, the chickens are flown in a helicopter, no joke, along with the other supplies for the refuge. There are even photos of the chicken delivery inside the refuge in case you are curious.

Two fat marmots attacking the food compost.

Life is good!

As we sipped on Vin de Savoie, I slowly forgot my worries about my sleeping situation. If worse came to worse I now had a backup sleeping pill loaned to me by Christine. I would keep it attached to my water bottle in case it was needed. I also had my only long sleeve shirt as an additional sound-proofer for the night. I devised a plan to tie it around my head, eyes and ears as tight as possible to block any light and keep my ear plugs in tack. Although I’d look like a zombie, I thought it would perhaps do the trick and finally allow me to drawn out the unmentionable noises that incessantly buzzed throughout the room. As for the nose, I was out of luck. (I would have to deal with the not so nice smells).

I sat outside enjoying the sun slowly drifting beneath the clouds. Despite the terrible night sleep, I had a wonderful day and even surprised myself by my ability to persevere.  I’d be fine tomorrow even if I had another lousy three hours of sleep. For I was in France and it was utterly fantastic

Bon soir!

Stay tuned…more coming soon!


  1. I’m glad you took shots of the hut’s stonework construction – it was so good to see that it was indeed built just like the old shepherd’s huts. I can understand your dismay about the dormitories, but how incredible to be spending the night on a mountain ridge – complete with marmots 🙂

  2. It really is breathtaking there…. I’m not a hiker but it would be amazing to hike there. I’ve got my fingers crossed that you got some sleep that night. =)

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