Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Friday 27 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 3 - Some Unexpected Hurdles (UHs)

A street in Saorge

Plan: Rif Biv Testa d'Alpe to Fontan - 19 km, 600 metres ascent, 8 hours

Actual: Fly Camp to Camp Site at Fontan - 460 metres
24 km, 1100 metres ascent, 10.3 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: Hot showers and cold beers at the end of the day.

UH No 1: We woke up to the buzzing of flies at Colla Sgora. But at least it was only 24C!

Today's path started on the broad track through lovely forest that the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri has adopted as its route. This follows the border, the small border stones being marked '1947' on the French side and being numbered (we passed numbers 390 to 386 or so) on the Italian side. A foot long grass snake lay on the path. It moved quite quickly when I tried to pick it up.

UH No 2: A piece of string across the path near Bivi Testa d'Alpe (we never did find the 'Bivi') seemed to ask us to go a different way. Obligingly we took an alternative route and actually got to the summit of Tête d'Alpe (1587 metres - highest point yet). But the signpost to this spot had been taken down and the path was faint. Our plan to continue along the path (which of course was clearly marked on our French map - and was in France) was foiled by deep thicket, so we considered our options then returned to the string.

After having spent an hour sidestepping this flimsy obstacle, our brew up by the path junction to Breil was most welcome.

Here we decided not to visit Breil but to continue along the AV and descend indirectly to Saorge.

The forest path was delightful and from now on the flies slowly subsided. We saw no other walkers today, but at our turn off the AV there were a few cars with picnickers, one of whom was carrying a crutch and a collecting basket. We were curious.
'What are you collecting?'
'Nothing' insisted the woman 'the basket is empty.'

Our path to Collette du Mont Agu was an ancient donkey trail through the woods, built to a high standard many years ago. Nowadays it is not on a GR or AV route and doesn't even have a number. So it is not maintained, with fallen trees and other debris presenting minor obstacles. Occasional yellow paint flashes on trees reminded us that we were on this path, though at one point we did need to retrace to find the flashes.

Lunch in the shade at the Collette, where the path met the well maintained GR52A at an excellent viewpoint, was a high point of the day.

We had decided not to drop directly to Saorge but to head down to the Roya gorge and walk along the canyon side to Saorge. We descended to the sound of thunder, with a few drops of rain. It was sunny on the coast and black in the mountains to the north. We were on the edge today, and it came to nothing. That will not always be the case on this trip.

UH No 3: On reaching the GR52A junction with the gorge path we joined the route of Via Alpina Path R158.
The Via Alpina is a richly funded (millions of Euros) project spanning the Alps.
We should have been alerted by their sparse description of the route - 'This stage leaves Breil on the valley balcony path above the Roya valley to Saorge, a hanging village typical of the Mediterranean hinterland.'
The section from our path junction to Saorge was described as taking 45 minutes, with 9 metres ascent.
The Via Alpina staff who wrote this should be forced to walk it with 15 kg rucksacks after a hard day. It took us 2 hours and my altimeter recorded 350 metres of ascent to the top of the spectacular ancient village.
The French map, the top of which we walk off at Saorge, shows the mythical Via Alpina route, whereas the Italian map - we are just on the edge of our first Italian map - is more accurate.
We hope the Italian maps will be as accurate in Italy as this one is in France!

We did get a few glimpses of the gorge, and the approach to Saorge was stunning.

The cans of orange juice were also most welcome, as we had exhausted today's supply to 2 litres of water each (we normally carry only 1 litre, but springs are scarce here.

UH No 4: We planned to camp at Fontan. The path leading to Fontan, which we never properly found, would have involved significant further ascent. So we walked down the road. This was fine apart from a 400 metre tunnel with no footpath. At least it was well lit, with little traffic.

The camp site is small and quiet, between the river and the road. The ground is grassy but stony, and the facilities are sparse but more than adequate for us and two lots of car campers. The restaurant next door doesn't open until tomorrow, but there's another one in the village.

UH No 5: After cleaning off 3 days of grime we headed off to the restaurant. A man greeted us at the door at 7.30.
Great.
He was locking up.
At least there was a bar open, to aid our rehydration as we headed back to camp to our emergency rations of soup, pasta and tuna. We didn't expect to have to call on them quite so early in the trip!

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