See that speck of a building below the glacier? It is Refugio Elisabetta, one of a collection of remote hostels on the 110-mile Tour du Mont Blanc.
I would never have stayed there if it had not been for my hiking adventure on the Camino de Santiago.
Perched on a spur in the Italian Alps, Refugio Elisabetta offered triple bunks in a crowded coed dorm and bright orange clogs for walking around an outdoor setting that left me gobsmacked. I showered in minimal privacy, shared a sink with other men, and waited to use the only toilet with a seat. We had lucked out with a private room with barely enough room for one set of bunks, but its tiny window opened to a view of the glacier. The dirty duvet made me wish I had packed my sleeping liner, but I was grateful for the bed after several exhausting days of climbs and descents.
Refugio Elisabetta was a highlight of our two-week trip around the Alps’ tallest mountain. The delicious communal dinner came with quick-binding friendships with trekkers who had traveled from throughout Europe. Some were sleeping in tents in the campground down the slope from the building.
In Camino Sunrise: Walking With My Shadows, I describe the restless night in my first albergue in Spain and how I had ruminated about the lack of privacy in coed dorms and bathrooms. Our first long-distance backpacking adventure eventually guided me to come to terms with ghosts that had haunted me since childhood.
And, oh, so thankfully, the Camino lessons led me to Refugio Elisabetta.