Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Friday 4 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 10 - The Hills Are Alive.....

Ibex

Plan: Lac della Vacca to Rif Soria Ellena - 15 km, 1100 metres ascent, 7 hours

Actual: River Camp in Val del Sabbione to Rif Soria Ellena - 1840 metres
20 km, 1600 metres ascent, 9.4 hours including 1.6 hours breaks.

Best bit: Herds of ibex and chamois

New high point: Colle dei Vei del Bouc - 2620 metres

The hills today were alive with herds of ibex and chamois. Marmots scuttled everywhere and snow finches and stonechats busily protected their nests.
Even here at the Rifugio, whilst we are dining a fox is sitting expectantly on a picnic table outside.

(Later...said fox tries to seek refuge in the Rifugio whilst a stone eagle hovers hungrily above.)
The Swiss identified it as a 'stone eagle'. It looked much like a golden eagle to me, perhaps even bigger! [It was actually a bearded vulture.]

It was one of those days we will remember fondly when the going gets tough.

It was great.

Having crossed the river last night we were soon at the top of a thrutchy bank strewn with bistort and Nottingham catchfly and strolling along the M5, dodging mosquitos that luckily hadn't found our excellent camp site. Up at Lac della Vacca it was wonderful. A wild camp site for connoisseurs. It was a shame we had missed out, but yesterday's decision to stop early made sense at the time.

The boundary with France was nearby, so we nipped up to visit it. Gentle slopes led to alpine pastures much less rugged than on our Italian side.

And so we headed up the ancient donkey track to our highest point of the trip, at 2620 metres, where we found another herd of ibex. The clear air held wonderful mountain views.

A 1200 metre descent on well graded paths followed. Our paths today were old trade or war routes, so are 'donkey friendly'. This makes them much gentler in gradient than many alpine paths, and a pleasure to be on.

Having seen nobody in the morning's remote valley (since leaving the GTA route nearly 24 hours earlier, actually), it came as a surprise to meet a day hiker below the col. Several more were met as we descended to the security (and welcome lavatory) of the bar in San Giacomo.

From there it was an easy stroll on the GTA (rejoined here at the start of stage 6, after we left it yesterday half way through stage 3 - our border route took a big short cut!) up a broad path to this fine establishment, run by a Philippino lady and her sister. We have the company of 3 Italians and 13 Swiss/Germans. The common language is English. The menu for tonight reads:

• Pasta w/gorgonzola sauce
• Baked meat w/pizza sauce + flowered polenta w/cheese
• Catalana cream

And delicious it was too, in between watching the eagle.

Strange that English is the common language when according to the hut book the only native English speakers to pass through here within the last two years are Geoff Bailey and Kate Malfroy (malfroykate@mac.com) who passed through on 20 June on day 5 of their 35 day GTA trip. We knew of their existence from yesterday's Germans, and it will be good to swap stories at some point.

Anyone wishing to view our summary and detailed itineraries, or our kit lists, should use the link to the GTA web page from the home page of http://www.topwalks.com/

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Thursday 3 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 9 - Alpine Strawberries for Breakfast

Campsite in Val del Sabbione

Plan: Limonetto to Lac della Vacca - 13 km, 1900 metres ascent, 7 hours

Actual: Bus from Limone to Limonetto, then planned route as far as wild camp in Val del Sabbione - 1800 metres
10 km, 1300 metres ascent, 6.75 hours including 1.25 hours breaks.

Best bit: Scenic Lakes
Summit: Monte Ciotto Mieu (MCM) 2378 metres (just a couple of metres below our high point to date)

We stopped today before 4pm, so it was another short day. That was because it had started to rain!, and we spotted a possibly good site for the tent. By the time we had dropped down to the river and filtered some water (there was a big herd of chamois above us) the sun was shining again. But we persisted and found a nice spot across the river.

We can catch up tomorrow, albeit by way of a long day.

The act of crossing the river to get to this secluded spot was notable for me in that after nearly falling in at the first attempt, I used my crocs for the purpose for which they were bought 18 months ago - river crossings - for the very first time.

We didn't see a soul after leaving Limonetto on the 900 metre climb up to a notch on the horizon - Passo di Ciotto Mieu. The strawberries provided a succulent second breakfast, the sun shone, the flowers waved in the breeze, the streams sparkled...

Yes, we now have streams and need to carry only a litre of water, or less. My load has however been compensated for this reduction by the addition of a spare gas cylinder.

The views from MCM were the clearest we have had yet, though neither Monte Viso nor Monte Rosa (should we really be able to see our final destination at this stage of the walk, already?) could quite be seen today.

Two people came the other way on the main path whilst we had our mini excursion to the summit. Then on the steep (aided by wires) descent to Lac della Alberg we met a German couple doing the GTA. Alright, they weren't camping at all, but having done the first half of the route last year they are now finishing it off. So they are the closest yet to our own aspirations.
We recommended that they visit the MCM summit, but I don't think they did, so they won't have found our message in the summit box.

After a lovely lunch by Lac della Alberg, our own route left the GTA by a short cut over boulder fields (not Sue's favourite terrain, but it saved a 200 metre climb) to Lac della Frisson, dominated by the rocky conical peak of Monte Frisson, high above us.

The path was clearly rarely used, especially beyond Passo della Mena, from where the 500 metre descent over steep grass on an overgrown zigzagy path was quite hard on the knees. But that is a feature of this route - it goes where others don't go - and it wouldn't surprise me if no English speaking person has ventured up the attractive but remote valley in which we are camped for a good few years.

The paths around here have some startlingly interesting names! We are camped just off M5c, and today we have also enjoyed paths L12, L7, and M24 (poorly marked, that one, not advised in mist).

More obscure paths follow tomorrow, before we rejoin the GTA route. We hope we can find them!

It doesn't take a genius to work out that we have no signal here, and we may not have one for some time! Please bear with us at such times.

Anyone wishing to view our summary and detailed itineraries, or our kit lists, should use the link to the GTA web page from the home page of http://www.topwalks.com/

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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Wednesday 2 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 8 - The Sun Shines on Limone

Limone's main square

Plan: Rest Day

Actual: Rest Day around Camp Site at Limone, and a visit to Borgo-S-Dalmazzo

Best bit: The morning's bright blue sky.

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
135 km (123), 8500 metres ascent (8000), 46 hours (roughly!) walking (49).
No of summits visited: 4
Highest point: Ridge at 2380 metres beyond Colla Rossa

Checked messages again today:

We are doing this on rest days (assuming we have a signal) but it's just a quick check using the phone, which in the absence of any other medium (no internet cafés here) is our only contact with the outside world, except by postcard. So if you really need to contact us, please text.

Pauline, from my old office did just that. Hello Pauline, and congratulations on closing the last of the cases I managed before I left GT, over 4 years ago. (NB we were a very efficient team - the delay was entirely due to third parties!)

Well done, Ken and Helen, on scaling one of eastern Canada's highest peaks. We are already looking forward to next year's trip.

Hello Night Bird, Sue appreciates your concern. The 'heat rash' extended up her legs to her back, but has now subsided. The bite on her eyelid did wonders for her looks, she says. Personally, I found it rather ugly! Luckily she remained calm when Monday's planned water supply proved absent.

Congratulations Kate (daughter) on getting your own house. You have plenty of time to practise your skills in the kitchen before we return! I know you won't read this, but perhaps Mike could pass the message on.

Robert I'm sure will agree with us, the Mad Buzzard of Orthwaite is indeed awesome. Anyone wanting a mini adrenaline adventure could do worse than pay it a visit.

Limone is a lovely town, and this camp site is excellent. We strolled into town for breakfast before returning to the (very solid) gazebo to diary write and send a few postcards, etc.

The trip to Borgo (we could have gone the other way, to Fontan, but that would have seemed odd) was needed to buy gas, as Limone only sells the piercing type. Four years ago we crossed the Pyrenees without any such problem, but it looks as if a significant feature of our rest days may be the problem of gas re-supply. On the plus side, thanks to the heat and the efficient pot cosy, the first cylinder lasted a week, doing about 20 brews and 3 full meals.

Yesterday we saw much bird life, as well as lots of marmots and more deer. At one point a group of animated snow finches was chasing off a flock of alpine choughs, and later we disturbed a ptarmigan.

After this morning's blue skies it clouded over a little this afternoon, but we kept away from the rain and enjoyed a wander around the town, which reminds us a little of Cortina d'Ampezzo.

Dinner was taken at Ristorante la Diligenza, and was indeed excellent (and served most diligently!).

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Tuesday 1 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 7 - Flirting with the Border

On the Border with Alpenrose

Plan: Colla Rossa to Limonetto - 23 km, 1200 metres ascent, 7.5 hours

Actual: Efficient Rifugio to Limonetto, then bus to camp site at Limone - 1000 metres
19 km, 600 metres ascent, 6.5 hours including 1.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: Timed to perfection!

The full dormitory at Rif Don Barbera was absolutely quiet all night, and with good ventilation we all slept well.

The 10 of us in the Refuge all breakfasted at 7 and set off at about 8. Bizarrely, all 4 groups/pairs set off in the same direction. This was on the 'Tour di Marguareis' - a five day hutting circuit that could be ideal for Notchy, Night Bird, Birthday Boy, and others who prefer a milder form of backpacking to that which we are enjoying on this trip!

The good path was well waymarked, as we were soon also on the GTA route, the inspiration for our walk, for the first time.
We then more or less followed the now familiar border posts all morning.

Mist came and went. One moment we could see for miles, over massive cloud inversions, next moment we could be in a cloud, with 10 metres visibility and just the verdant flowers to enjoy. Today our floral radar observed the usual vast array, most of which we couldn't identify, but dominated by leopardsbane, globularia and a variety of gentians and orchids.

By lunch time we had reached Colle di Tenda, where a huge C19 fort, Fort Central, dominates the scene. We couldn't look around it as it was not maintained and had an impenetrable moat.
Just below was the remains of another huge construction, perhaps from the 1930s. Its high walls provided just enough shade for us to enjoy a satisfactorily cool lunch - the last of our tinned mackerel.

We passed nearby a couple more of these old C19 forts today, and we will see more. But it is relics from between the World Wars, when Italy was fortifying itself against possible invasion from France, that really litter the border, right from the start of our walk by the coast.

Descending to Limonetto, we lost the path briefly and followed a track down to a pleasant beech forest. This afternoon a new novelty featured on our walk - water. First some marshy ground, then a couple of open ended pipes gushing into the meadow, then some mountain streams, and at the foot of the beech forest an impressive waterfall. Hopefully our days of setting off with 2 litres of water each are over.

Below the waterfall a solid fence protected the privacy of an impressive mansion. At the end of its drive an open gate announced its name as 'Wonderfall'. The gate closed automatically as we photographed it!

It was 2.30, with drops of water coming from the seemingly blue sky, and the day's work was done, thanks to yesterday's heavy investment in mileage.

Limonetto is a small place to spend a day off, but we had barely explored it by the time a bus arrived. This took us down to Limone, whilst a storm tried to get going. We sheltered briefly at a bus stop then as the rain faltered we strolled into the large pedestrian precinct of this pleasant town.

By 3pm we were seated under cover outside Caffé Carillon, which provided welcome beers (with crisps and nuts thrown in). The storm raged for a while and a flurry of activity removed items from the outdoor displays of nearby shops.

We were in no hurry. We had timed our arrival to perfection. One week into our trip and our only use for waterproofs has been as pillows. We know that won't last, but we can enjoy the moment.

The kind people at the café drew us a sketch of how to get to the camp site (about 1km distant from its placement on our map) and once the storm had passed and the road was steaming dry, we strolled down to this excellent spot. It's nearly full of old caravans with bijou cabins attached to them - holiday homes for Italians. We are welcome though, and next to our pitch in a quiet corner is a gazebo with a huge picnic table that we can use for dining in comfort.

Some bikers arrive and set up as our neighbours, so we are guaranteed a quiet night. One is a Swiss fan of British bikes - he has rebuilt an old Triumph machine. The others are German officionados of the Dakar Rally, with the latest KTM has to offer.

We do a few camp chores before tucking in to some of the produce we have carried all the way (in expectation of a wild camp) from Fontan - including a large loaf of bread....

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Monday 30 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 6 - A Fine Alpine Ridge

On the Border near Porta Bertrand

Plan: Rif Allavena to Colla Rossa - 24 km, 1600 metres ascent, 8 hours

Actual: Fawlty Towers Rifugio to Rif Don Barbera - 2070 metres
30 km, 1750 metres ascent, 9.8 hours including 1.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: Superb ridge with slopes pink with alpenrose.

First, apologies for the delay (I think) in Saturday's missive. It seemed to have gone but then it seemed not to have gone, so you may have it twice. Sending images may be the problem....so I've deleted Saorge from the Day 4 report just sent..

Today, perhaps for the first and only time, we are ahead of schedule. That's because my planned water supply at Colla Rossa, proved to be a figment of the Italian map maker's imagination. So with no water encountered all day, it seemed wise to come as far as this excellent little refuge and its fine cuisine.

We waved off Arne, the mountain biker from Bad Gastein, and headed directly back to the border. We were going well, and Arne was surprised to pass us 2 hours later - we had taken a more direct route!

The morning was spent on easy broad tracks in the forest, until the sharp ascent of Monte Saccarello (2200 metres - our high point), where we lunched near a 14 metre tall statue of Christ "The Redeemer".

We had seen a chamois in the forest; later a roe deer showed us its bum. (Sue says we saw more than its bottom as it leapt over the alpenrose!)
Today the whistles of marmots became a familiar sound that will accompany us all the way on this trip.

We left the AV dei Monti Liguri path for the last time at lunchtime and this afternoon we were again on a relatively unfrequented route described only as 'A35' on our map. It was a lovely ridge path that side-stepped any difficulties and delivered us safely to this refuge in plenty of time to order dinner.

We found another summit, Cima Misoun, 2356 metres, a new high point. A visitors book allowed us to make the first English entry since it was started in June 2006. Neither this nor last night's refuge has any recorded English speaking visitor over the past two years.

Later, the ridge path took us to a new high point of 2390 metres.

We saw no other walkers at all today, on this fine traverse. Not one!

But there are 10 of us staying in this refuge, so perhaps we are entering more frequented territory.

Will we go higher tomorrow?
Will the weather hold? We had flurries of cloud today, and it rained at the refuge after we arrived. But it's now a beautifully clear evening. Despite walking up to the border I can't find a signal, so this, and the re-sending of Day 4, will have to wait.

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Monday, 30 June 2008

Sunday 29 June 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 5 - The Day of the Flowers

On the Balcony Path along the Border

Plan: Fontan to Rif Allavena - 23 km, 1600 metres ascent, 8.5 hours

Actual: Noisy Camp at Fontan to Rif Allavena - 1545 metres
23 km, 1930 metres ascent, 10 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: The flowers and the well graded paths.

Actually, the whole day was the best bit.

Last night's Roquefort Pizza (and there was a great deal of Roquefort) was digested to the sound of our French neighbours partying. There were only 3 of them but their pernod made them very loud!

Another fine sunny day. A thoroughly superb day. All morning we wound our way back up to 1100 metres on wonderfully graded woodland donkey tracks.

The flowers were magnificent.

We saw our only people of the day around lunchtime at Passo Muratone - a few 4WD enthusiasts and 8 day walkers.

The morning had been a cool 25C in the trees, but the afternoon saw my thermometer rise to 38C.

Raw Heat.

A light breeze overcame the worst of that, and the well graded path, now at times vertiginous and aided by wires, saw us comfortably along our border route.

Despite the haze the views down to the remote gorges in France were superb. They almost matched the wonderful variety of flowers - today we saw many lilies and gentians as well as the usual orchids and bellflowers, etc.

There were huge banks of alpenrose as we reached our new high point for the trip - Col Vallette, 1981 metres, near the end of the day.

Allavena Refuge takes 70 people. We are here tonight with just Arne, an Austrian mountain biker who has come from the coast today, mainly on the AV dei Monti Liguri that we have been following. He is tired.

There seem to be half a dozen people running this place, which has a Faulty Towers feel to it.

The food was fine despite an impossible mountain of polenta.

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