Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Friday, 11 July 2008

Thursday 10 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 16 - A Long Way Round

Black Vanilla Orchid (Nigritella nigra)

Plan: Rif E Zanotti to Pietraporzio - 20 km, 1600 metres ascent, 9 hours

Actual: Route as planned to small camp site at Pietraporzio:
18 km, 1350 metres ascent, 10.3 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: The miniature rock gardens throughout the route.

Today we could have reached this camp site in about 3 hours. We had already taken a long way round compared with Gillian Price's version of the GTA route, and we can understand why some may shy away from yesterday's steep gradients.

But we persevered, following GTA signs all day on little walked paths, to arrive here tired but deeply satisfied at 6 o'clock after a 10 hour day, largely cloudless again for the third day running.

We rose around 7 to enjoy tea and cake for breakfast at 'Rivendell'. A dipper - rare in these parts but not the first we have seen - flitted up and down the stream as we packed up to leave by 8.
For the second night running we had enjoyed an idyllic camp site with not a single passer by.

After 5 minutes our path by-passed Rif E Zanotti, which as predicted seemed shut. It looked a nice place, but clearly the CAI has no guardian for this rarely visited place. Such Rifugios are available to stay in, but only by prior arrangement and collection of a key. They may also get winter usage from ski-tourers.

A man emerged from another small building 200 metres below and headed up the direct path to Zanotti. We found his building locked but steamed up!

From there we took an old military path, in one place passing through a finely constructed tunnel, up to Passo di Scolettas (2223 metres) where an extension to a (locked) private refuge effectively provides a conning tower with views down both valleys leading to this low pass.

Today's paths were back to the 'well graded' genre, probably for military purposes rather than for the King's hunting aspirations.

As we descended into the Pontebernado valley we met three women ascending.
Greetings exchanged - 'Buongiorno' - but no other information. They were probably 'hutting' the GTA by a German variant of the route. They were the only walkers we encountered today.

By 10am we were down in the valley, near Rifugio A Talarico. Unable to walk past this enticing establishment we took up a fine position at a picnic bench under some trees and enjoyed caffé lattés and the rest of our breakfast cake. Three fat ladies strolled aimlessly up and down a 100 metre flat stretch of the valley.

The Rifugio is now known as 'Zio John' and its guardian (John) is developing it as a centre for people interested in ecology and natural history. A very welcoming place.

We left 'Zio John' to ascend gently up 750 metres, past orange lilies and yellow foxgloves, then a lovely winding section through shrubby beeches. It was sunny, windless and 28C, but we passed a number of springs, the flowers were wonderful and the humidity low.

We were surprised to come across a dead chamois on the path. It looked healthy apart from a cut on its neck. Hurt in a fight? There was a large fat lizard nearby.

A building by a spring had an area that had been enclosed next to it. Now full of umbellifers and cranesbills, we wondered as to its purpose.

The path up to Colle di Stau, past clucking wheatears and flitting snow finches, was so finely graded we hardly noticed the climb.

Chocolate helped too! We stopped to see the cloud that has been sitting over the plains of Italy, whilst we have been in the sun these past three days, welling up over eastern hills.

Toadflax, daisies and birdsfoot trefoil welcomed us to the top of the pass, from which we descended to a grassy lip 30 metres lower for lunch. Usually it's the wind on an Alpine pass at 2500 metres that dictates a short descent for lunch. Today it was the flies, congregated at the highest point they could reach. Our spot, with a light breeze, was fly free. And our four day old bread was still fresher than we've had at some Rifugios.

The view was superb, dominated by high mountains on the border to our north.

These mountains ahead looked quite shaley, and on our descent we encountered some steepish shaley scree, with barbed wire from WW2. Perhaps there will be more of this scree to come. Fine, as long as it doesn't have a crust of snow!

The pink version of the black vanilla orchid reappeared here, to Sue's delight, and we enjoyed lovely bird song as we descended through woodland to the Rio Forneris at 1890 metres. Here the GTA was signed to our destination, and to Colle di Puriac further on along our planned route, but not up the narrow path from which we had arrived. A bit of a puzzle, as we had been following GTA markings all day!

We had a great view as the river plunged down 600 metres to the valley below, but our own path wound upwards for 400 metres through pleasant woodland to Becco Rosso. It was hot and steep. Even the plants were glistening with sweat. The high village of Ferrere looked serene in the distance.

We commenced the 1000 metre descent to Pontebernado with trepidation. It had been a long day already! But the military path had been well engineered. A 'pill box' distracted us. Its cool rooms led well into the hillside and its gun positions pointed east towards Italy. There were several of these 'boxes', and newly signed paths with still blank information boards led to more relics of war.

The gravelly path was beautifully lined with mountain houseleeks - sadly impossible not to tread on them!
It was like a rockery garden.

'It was like a rockery garden all day' said Sue, 'it makes up for my hanging baskets having to spend the summer in the shed!'

Orange and white butterflies floated past, then lower down they had black wings with white spots and a fluorescent tail. An adder lay curled up on the path. A red deer spotted us and ran off, barking.

As we approached the village - industrial noise, the sound of a road, and the smell of asphalt gradually invaded our senses.

We strolled into pleasant little Pontebernado at 5.30. Then, with Sue in her trusty trainers, down to the village of Pietraporzio. It's a friendly place, we discovered as we shopped for breakfast provisions and chatted to a lady in her 80s who knew all about the paths we had walked today.

Two minutes away from the village centre, a camp site beckoned. Next to our tent (well, 10 metres away) is a restaurant. We have enough gas and money for the time being. So any travelling on tomorrow's well earned rest day will, for a change, be entirely voluntary.

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