Plan: Day 57 (first half) - Macugnaga to Rifugio G Oberto - 6 km, 1500 metres ascent, 3.5 hours.
Actual: Camping Sporting in Macugnaga to Rif G Oberto:
7 km, 1500 metres ascent, 4.7 hours including 1.2 hours breaks.
Best bit: A lovely alfresco lunch with fresh bread, tomato, toma di formezza and mortadella con oliva.
The Exit Route. That's what I thought until I looked at the map. Now I think the continuation of the route may well be from Saas Fee - heading back into Italy over Passo di Saas.
We have picked up a version of the GTA today, marked both on our map and on the ground. It follows a high route along red dots, briefly entering Switzerland before returning to the haven of Antronapiana in Italy.
The only reason to hasten today was to avoid the rain forecast for this afternoon. So we didn't hasten. The cloud was down at 2500 to 3000 metres so views were limited. It was cool. Good walking weather.
As seems to be the norm for the TMR, we started off up the road, provisioning for a couple of lunches at Staffa, one of the villages that makes up the district of Macugnaga. It's a reasonably sized town, with a variety of shops and bars. Alan Sloman would love it here.
I eventually dragged Sue away from these and we followed TMR signs to reach another lovely old mule track that wound gently up through woods, emerging after an hour or so at the Alpe Bill cable car station.
Then it was a rather thrutchy ascent on a rough rocky path below the cable car. Excavators were working on one section of the hill - perhaps something to do with skiing, or perhaps inserting walls to lessen the risk of landslides.
I grumbled about the mess whilst Sue feasted on berries. I could understand why we were the only people on the path. Sue waved to the cable car passengers. I vowed never to return to this path.
The flowers are more sparse now, after two months of summer since we set off, but harebells and biting stonecrop were still abundant on this rocky path. We also noted a different type of 'harebell' that turns out to be perforate bellflower - very common here.
We enjoyed an early lunch - our last above 2500 metres for the time being. It was excellent, with occasional glimpses of Monte Rosa's huge glaciers, gleaming in the sun under what must have been gaps in the cloud cover to our south west.
Then easily up, chatting on the way to an Italian couple we recognised from yesterday (the broken arm was a bit of a giveaway!), to the spacious rifugio (reached at 1.30), where we have a room to ourselves.
Day visitors from the cable car come and go. There appear to be just five other Italians staying. Italy's olympic channel emits images which we don't find particularly interesting. None of team GB's successes are shown. Notchy remains as our window on the outside world, despite the TV. A female ibex and two young linger outside - looking for scraps? (Of news?)
We turn out to be sharing the rifugio with a lone Italian who is walking - probably the TMR - and four others who exude an air of workmen on expenses on a day off. They have polished off two bottles of champagne and are half way through a two litre bottle of wine. Their room is next to the toilet. So is ours, the other side.
The rifugio is very jolly. Prayer flags and christmas decorations vie for prominence with a huge array of sunglasses and assorted loaves of bread for sale. A German calls to make a booking for tomorrow. Sue is enrolled as translator as the guardian and the other five occupants speak only Italian.
Water is scarce - not surprising as we are just a few metres below a 2888 metre pass on the Swiss border - so washing up is not really on the agenda. Dinner is eaten using plastic spoons and cups, and balsa wood knives and forks. Luckily the gnocchi was scoopable and the beef was tender.
It has finally started to rain at around 8 pm, so we could have made it down to Saas Fee for a night on the town. It would have been wonderful up here in good weather (there are lots of deck chairs outside), but in today's cold cloud we have remained inside and had a leisurely afternoon with the yatzy dice, etc.