Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Friday, 11 July 2008

Friday 11 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 17 - A Lavender Day

Pietraporzio
Plan: Rest Day

Actual: Rest Day

Best bit: The friendly shop.

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
243 km (233), 18450 metres ascent (17900), 96 hours (roughly!) walking (100).
No of summits visited: 6
No of cols or passes visited: 43
Highest point: Cima d'Orgials - 2647 metres
No of native English speakers met/seen from a distance: 0
Amount of walking time in shorts and t-shirts: Approx 95 hours

Messages:

Firstly to Notchy, who woke up last night to the fact that we had received no News since leaving the UK!
Viva Espagne, and 'The Beautiful Game', to use your words, Notchy.
The two couples from the Czech Republic with whom we shared the restaurant were most impressed as we received your flood of text messages and were able to show our wonderful command of current world affairs.
We hope your 'field kitchen' is standing up to the English weather and that you are able to keep your chef, to whom we send our best wishes, motivated.

To the telepathic blogger, Alan Sloman:
OI! You don't have exclusive rights to Capital Letters, you know!

OUCH! I felt that!

Anyway, mine were borrowed from Darren!

To Hazel at Home:
You've gone very quiet. Have you left home? Night Bird, have you gone with her?

To our house sitters:
Thank you for your efforts! Judging by JJ's reports from Timperley, when it's not raining you are probably mowing the lawn!

To Gayle and Mick:
I dreamt you got to John O'Groats. If so, well done. What next?

To Tom Rivell:
Thanks for your message. Enjoy Italy yourself, it sounds as if the weather further north is also good. Hope to see you in the UK in August.

To the Williams family:
Great to hear from you. We hope you have a wonderful time in Chamonix. Say hello to John and Janet Howarth, or Mark Seaton (Alpine Guide) if you bump into them. We think you may be back home before we reach Courmayeur on 8 August, but if not....

To Nick:
Thanks for the ongoing translation service. We are glad we didn't attempt the Via Ferrata that was just a dotted line on our map, even if our rationale (avoiding possibly difficult snow slope) was perhaps awry.

Finally, to JJ in Timperley:
Please accept our apologies re 16 July. We will be proceeding along our route after another rest day which we hope will be as relaxing as this one!

This was a genuine rest day, though we did rise 250 metres above the village in an attempt at a 3 km circuit to Pontebernado and back before Sue rebelled.

The ice creams back in Pietraporzio were lovely.

The people are as well. At the camp site, Christina - from the Seychelles, so she speaks perfect English - has been most friendly and helpful. But the ladies in the village panetteria (shop) are real stars. Imagine the reception a couple of smelly hikers from Italy, with only a smattering of English between them, might get in some parts of Blighty, when entering a small village shop. Yesterday the ladies sold us breakfast for today. This morning they provided us with an excellent lunch. This afternoon they gave us lavender to ease our muscles and tried their very best, with great patience, many suggestions, and a long queue of customers, to meet our requirements for the next three days. Our breakfast will be cake (no muesli here, and the cake worked last time); our GORP will be Ritter bars; our soup will be veggie stock with frankfurters and some dried veg from our initial supplies; our main courses will be tortellini with proscuitto.

The ladies deserve an award for their friendliness and patience. They even sent us away with large chocolates from behind the counter. They were great.

The village is very small. Most of its roofs are of corrugated iron. The church is in the very centre and has lovely frescos. The village bar displays the weather forecast outside. We were surprised how quickly the earlier picture transmitted; then we noticed a massive dish on the camp site office's roof, and another on the hillside above us.

The last three days have to be the best three days of Alpine weather I have ever experienced. Judging from the hut book at Rif Malinvern very few English come this way - we found evidence of two such people in the last 7 years.

A few more comments to end for the time being:

• The sky was constantly blue.
• We had fun with a nun.
• Fabulous views, especially when Monte Viso and Les Ecrins came into view.
• At one point I thought I'd discovered an extra supply of cheese; sadly my socks were found to be empty.
• We discovered ourselves to be on several different routes at the same time - GTA, Via Alpina, Sentiero Balcone - the list goes on, but nobody else was on that path!

Your comments and messages are of course a pleasure to receive, and are most welcome.

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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Happy Days

Here's Wednesday's view from Passo di Rostagno before our descent to 'Rivendell'. The snowy outline of Les Ecrins is visible, about 100 km away.

Back to Wednesday's Report

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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Thursday, 10 July 2008

Wednesday 9 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 15 - The Race

Rifugio Migliorero - and the Lady in White

Plan: Passo di Sometta to Rif E Zanotti - 16 km, 1300 metres ascent, 6.5 hours

Actual: Route as planned to a wild camp just before Rif E Zanotti in a lovely meadow at 2270 metres:
16 km, 1450 metres ascent, 9.3 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: Wall to wall sunshine and another idyllic camp site.

We decided not to go home!

'Not here' said the nun, 'the nearest place for a coffee is Rif Migliorero'.

We had spotted her leaving what could have been a café after we had spent our first two hours descending 700 metres to Callieri down a path, P19, that is clearly rarely used.

Striking camp had been a leisurely affair as we admired more reflections of the mountains in our little lake. There had been no condensation, but on the way down, past butterwort and bistort in the cool mountain air, we did notice patches of ground frost.

A stretch of lovely shady woodland, with cuckoos and other cheerful birds, was interspersed with marshy overgrown sections where orchids and tall thistles were rampant. The willowherb will be rampant here in a week or two - it probably already is in our garden.

'We're going there.' Said Sue to the nun.
'OK' said the nun, 'we'll race you'.

Now you would think 20 small children and a nun would be no match for two hardened randonneurs at the peak of their game. So we let them off to a start whilst we lazily washed down the second half of our breakfast with delicious spring water - who needs coffee anyway?

The muesli substitute had been a great success, except that at our earlier sitting we had only been able to get through half of the magnificent jam and pastry cake that goes under the name 'Prodotto Artigianale - Fatto a mano'.

This gave our competitors a start, but we were still confident of overhauling them.

As we entered the small village of San Bernolfo we admired a big board showing all the local footpaths. We had considered a higher route, using the red dotted paths on our map. This board had lots of big red crosses and the words 'Via attrezzata!' next to them. We don't know what it all means, other than we are glad not to have chosen that route.

Our path - and we are back on the GTA, albeit not Gillian Price's version, now involved an 800 metre ascent to a col.

Though marked as such on our map, this does not appear to be the main GTA route. The path ran ambitiously through a potato patch. In the steepest way possible, that is.

The King clearly didn't venture this far on his hunting expeditions. This path was of a different time. No concessions for the weak. We were grateful that the horde of children ahead had broken the trail through the potatoes and onto the gravelly hillside. They were still far ahead, but we were catching the nun!

Clumps of fading asphodel and rampant dark mullein and yellow rattle failed to stunt our progress as we slowly overhauled the failing nun.

Disaster.

We passed a girl dressed all in white, exhausted beside the path.

The nun and her entourage were still ahead. Would we catch them? They disappeared.

Sue thinks they had (divine?) assistance.
I'm just baffled (really, try spell checking my surname!).

It was a THRUTCH (and as AS would say, 'the capitals are intentional') to Passo di Laroussa. There was no sign of the kids, it was lunch time, and we had run out of water. Great!

As we descended, 400 metres below us Rifugio Migliorero, a four storey affair resembling a wizard's castle, came into view. Sitting in the sun outside, my binoculars revealed, was a large group of schoolchildren accompanied by a nun in a gleaming white habit. How had they got there?

It took us all of 45 minutes to descend to the nearest stream - almost within shouting range of the Rifugio. We crossed many snow patches but saw no other footprints.

We had lost the race, by fair means or foul, but we enjoyed a perfect lunch in the sun before heading off again (at 2.45!) for the afternoon's instalment of our walk.

We had to pass by the Rifugio. The nun stood beside the eerie building. We could see her mouthing...'We beat you then, you English weaklings. Even my little children beat you.'

Scurrying on, her words faded in the breeze as we slowly ascended the 500 metres to our next pass, Passo di Rostagno, our high point of the day at 2536 metres. Happy Days!

A black redstart fledged before my eyes, tumbling down the steep slope pursued by its worried mum.

It was another thrutch. As the nun stood looking like Gandalf outside his castle, we looked over the pass to a vista of fine mountains, backed by the snow clad Ecrins, some 100km distant. But 300 metres below us, only 45 minutes away, was Rivendell. Yes, a deserted valley with a fine meadow.

'That's our home for tonight' said Sue.

And it was a very good home indeed, generously shared with Family Chamois.

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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Tuesday 8 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 14 - In View of Monte Viso

Campsite near Passo di Sometta

Plan: Rif Malinvern to Passo di Sometta - 17 km, 1500 metres ascent, 7.5 hours

Actual: Route almost as planned to a wild camp 500 metres east of Passo di Sometta at 2150 metres, but looping into France via the Lausfer Lakes rather than descending to Sant' Anna di Vinadio:
17 km, 1500 metres ascent, 9.3 hours including 1.5 hours breaks and 0.5 hour diversion.

Best bit: All of it, capped by an idyllic camp site.

Where do I start?

Michael Roberts would have woven an inspirational poem after a day like today.

Jim Perrin would compose an evocative essay with no dark side to it.

All I can manage is this postcard....oh to have some literary skills. I need Mark Alvarez or Daryl May here to help me!

The crescent moon set early, leaving the milky way to beam down in its faint sort of way on Malinvern Rifugio and its 15 occupants.

We slept long and deep.

Only the two of us had ordered breakfast for 7am, unlike our previous sojourns in huts when the entire assembly had started then. But today our companions were mainly Dutch and Italian, not Germans as before.

We started in our normal, for the time being, westerly direction. That meant only half an hour before the sun was on our backs. But it was a pleasant temperature and a finely graded path with the usual plethora of flowers that saw us up the 800 metre climb, under a clear blue sky, to Passo d'Orgials, at 2600 metres just under our high point to date. So we nipped up the adjacent peak to bag both that and our new high point.

A photo from there, unfortunately for technical reasons taken into the sun, should by some miracle of technology (and a degree of patience on my part) have found its way onto these pages within minutes of being taken. [Summer in the Alps]

After an easy descent we had our first encounter of the day - a lone hiker, probably German, travelling in the opposite direction to us. He was worried about the snow on Colletto di Valscura, where we had been yesterday. When we parted company he was a much happier and reassured man.

Usually the afternoon brings a degree of cloud cover. Today - nothing. This was particularly gratifying as the giant cone of Monte Viso came into view and remained there until we descended to camp, concealing our far horizon. At nearly 3900 metres Monte Viso towers above its near neighbours and draws the eye as it pokes incongruously above all else on the horizon.

There is an excellent circular walk from Sant' Anna di Vinadio to the Lausfer Lakes. We trod most of it, observing a couple of sunbathing ibex along with many day walkers. Seeing some parents being ambushed by snowball happy children, we gathered our own ammunition and lobbed the deviant miscreants as they passed. 'Merci' exclaimed the delighted parents.

Our good deed for the day done, we tried to locate the dotted red (on our map) short cut path to Passo di Sometta. It looked dubious and took us away from obvious places to camp, so we retraced and continued along the excellent path to Passo Tesina and descended by little used path P19 to this excellent camping spot. I think it is where I had intended to stop anyway.

We are by a small lake with various streams draining into it. There is nobody around, nor likely to be - we are off the beaten track again. That means skinny dipping for Sue. The water's cold but she enjoys it.

Then we settle down to a truly gourmet dinner of delicious 'Marocaine' soup, tuna and artichoke hors d'oevres, and tortellini with proscuito crudo. All washed down with Yorkshire tea.

It just can't get better than this!

That means a 6 week anti-climax. Oh dear, should we come home now!?

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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Summer in the Alps

A new high point - Cima d'Orgials 2647 metres - 10am on 8/7/08

Where would you prefer to be?

Today's Report

Monday, 7 July 2008

Monday 7 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 13 - An Easy Day on the GTA

Decsending through steep snow towards Malinvern

Plan: Terme di Valdieri to Rif Malinvern - 15 km, 1300 metres ascent, 6.25 hours

Actual: Route as planned:
13 km, 1400 metres ascent, 6.3 hours including 0.8 hours breaks.

Best bit: The beautifully paved paths across huge rock fields.

We enjoyed a lie in and a late start today, as breakfast wasn't until 8am. Not a problem as it was raining!

By the time we set off before 9 the rain had disappeared without trace. We daubed ourselves, as usual, with sun tan cream for the 1000 metre ascent to Rif Questa.

Following stage 8 of Gillian Price's GTA (Grande Traversata delle Alpi) itinerary, we enjoyed the beauty of Valle di Valasco in the company of yellow splashes of flowering laburnum. The main track wound up through shady trees, but we started along a narrow path next to the roaring river and its lovely cascades.

The gradient eased as we accompanied lots of day walkers across a level meadow at the end of which was the 'Reale Casa di Caccia', a turreted hunting pavilion which opens next week as a nicely refurbished rifugio.

Views opened up as we strolled on along the old hunting track, paved to accommodate the King's carriage, past butterwort, meadow cranesbill, yellow wood violets, and marsh or common spotted orchids, to name but a few.

We took the longer of two options, turning off the Questa path just below the Rifugio to join a superb track (fit for the King!) to Lago di Claus.

By now a brisk breeze was blowing and the cloud had increased, making us pleasantly cool. The track crossing a large boulder field was remarkable - as wide as a road and with a jigsaw of rocks providing an almost flat surface.

A short descent took us to Lago inf. di Valscura at 2274 metres. Here groups were picnicking in the shelter of rocks. We sat behind Capanna Mario Bassino, a locked bivouac hut, without a view of the lake, but with a fine valley vista and well protected from the wind.

Pied wagtails bobbed and black redstarts chattered as we admired the profusion of gentians and pansies.

There was little sun now. Fleeces were required! We enjoyed tea, with bread and goats cheese, but only spent 35 minutes here. An unusually short lunch break.
The area has several derelict buildings and there is a large two storey barracks higher up towards the French border, reminding us that life has not always been so peaceful around here.

Setting off - for the first time - in fleeces, there was another climb to Colletto di Valscura (2520 metres), over small snow patches but nicely graded. We were on our own now and saw no other walkers after the couple we had encountered descending from the col. He had obscenely short shorts and a rucksack that appeared to be a large plastic bag secured with string; she was dressed in black and had obscenely large bosoms.

The col marked our exit from the Parco Marittime. A sad moment as we have so enjoyed that area. But move on we must, and rain was threatening (it held off, and brightened later).

The descent was tricky - our most difficult ground yet. That was because some large and fairly steep snow slopes had to be crossed - there were previous footprints but it needed concentration, as a slide wasn't a pleasant prospect. After this, the rocky path led through rubble down to Lago Malinvern at 2122 metres.

Arolla pines softened the harsh landscape.

We soon lost our fleeces, but grey clouds remained.

35 minutes later we were at the smart Rifugio Malinvern at 1839 metres - an early finish at 3.05pm. We have a nice room for three to ourselves and a large pot of tea. And comfort and advice from the guardian regarding our (slightly adjusted to hug the border) ongoing route. Thank you for that.

Meal time and evening were spent in the excellent company of Merlijn and Milka, from Amsterdam, enjoying happy hill memories and planning for future trips, with a bit of Alpine Flower spotting thrown in. Hello M + M, we hope that by the time you read this you have enjoyed your visit to the Ligurian coast, and Milka has had fun in the Dolomites.

Hello also to Damiana, who so ably assists the guardian at this friendly establishment and who kindly gave us her recipe for ginsinella together with a delicious sample as a nightcap.

Summer in the Alps

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Sunday 6 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 12 - Recharging Batteries

Spotted Gentian (Gentiana punctata)

Plan: Rest Day

Actual: These 'Rest Days' should be renamed 'Chores and Provisioning Days'!

Best bit: Alpine Garden and Fledging Coal Tits.

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
179 km (165), 12700 metres ascent (12200), 67 hours (roughly!) walking (71).
No of summits visited: 5
No of cols or passes visited: 31
Highest point: Colle del Vei del Bouc - 2620 metres
No of native English speakers met/seen from a distance: 0
No of ticks located: 1 (Sue, of course!)

Messages:

Thanks Nick, for this explanation regarding the eagle:
'stone eagle' ='steinadler' =golden eagle
BUT - we have now realised it had a diamond shaped tail and was therefore a bearded vulture (lammergeier).

Thanks also to Roman - 'Lighthiker' for your offer of support and info. As you can see, only part of our trip is along the GTA, which seems quite straightforward. Keeping closer to the border gave us a couple of wonderfully remote days on the last section of our IBR route, over rarely visited ground, and actually short cut the GTA route by a couple of days. In contrast, the next section of our route takes us 'the long way round'.

The GTA route however remains the inspiration for this trip, and from what we have heard from people we have met it is a fine route in its own right. It also has the advantage, for those who don't wish to camp, of having lodgings at the end of each day, and it has well marked paths that are easy to follow.

Notchy (hope you are ok and saving up news for us - eg who won Wimbledon, etc?) - you would have died for the view of yesterday's first mountain pass from the path ascending the second one!

Paul, from UHSM, our dietary consultant, thanks for the advice re 'carbs'. 'It's working', says Sue!

Today started well. The small alimentari that had no bread last night turned up trumps when Sue arrived with a huge bag of bread - for 5 days - whilst I was washing clothes in cold water. No clothes washing facilities here, but we managed.

Then back to the shop where we cobbled together a menu for the next 4 days. They have no GORP, so we are forced to buy chocolate. Whoopee! No muesli either, so it's local fruit cake for breakfasts. We also have at least 5 tins of fish, some of which have gravitated to my rucksack...

We decided on a night of luxury in Terme di Valdieri before embarking on our next section of the walk, which will take four days to the next provisioning point.

Sue didn't get a lift by hitching this time. She requisitioned a camper van. The nice young couple from Rome and their pet gerbil had simply stopped to look at the map. Sue strode up and the couple obliged. The only condition was that we take our shoes off. It was a smart van. Italians have driving stereotypes, and driving habits. This youth was in the latter genre. We kept stopping to let following traffic past; courtesy was King. Sometimes stereotypes just don't apply!

They delivered us safely to the Information Centre in Terme. In the stone wall of the building two coal tits were busy feeding their chirping young. Inside, Enio provided details of the range of accommodation on offer.

We went next door to the imaginatively named 'Albergo Turismo' where we have a large and comfy room. It has power, so all camera and phone batteries have been topped up, and the Freeloader's solar collection of energy has been drained into Sue's ipod. The latter is a Big Deal, as we have no charger for the ipod.

The afternoon was spent recharging our own batteries. The botanic garden was great. It helped us to identify some of the flowers we have puzzled over, and had a good woodland nature trail.

Enio was very helpful re the bearded vulture - he knew there was one in the area we had been in, but apparently we were very lucky to see it. He kindly set a film about the ibex going, with a commentary in English. Very interesting. There are not many of them - we must have seen 5-10% of the entire population!

Leaving the Information Centre, little birds started to whizz about in a somewhat bemused fashion. It was the coal tits fledging in their own inimitable chaotic way.
'Not the best timing' Enio agreed, as the hordes of Sunday picnickers returned to their nearby cars. But the birds were still fluttering about later when most people had gone.

By then we were watching from the comfort of glasses of beer on the hotel's veranda, anticipating the meal to come - lasagne, then braised beef in red wine + potato, and cheese or peaches etc to follow. It was, as predicted by Enio, very good.

Kit check:
Rohan Goa Convertibles (my only trousers) - washed, on impulse, for the second time today - about an hour before dinner. Amazingly they could be worn immediately and were dry within the hour.

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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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Saturday 5 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 11 - Under a Vermillion Sky

The view to Rif Genova Figari

Plan: Rif Soria Ellena to Terme di Valdieri - 14 km, 1200 metres ascent, 8 hours

Actual: As planned, then a lift to camp site at Sant' Anna
14 km, 1300 metres ascent, 9.3 hours including 1.7 hours breaks.

Best bit: The views from Colle di Fenestrelle.

Earlier this year in New Zealand we had enjoyed deep blue skies said to be unmatched by anything in Europe.

Wrong.

All morning we laboured under as deep a blue as anything we had seen in NZ, and absolutely cloudless.

It was a warm start through a meadow of dewy dock leaves below the excellent Rifugio. Then a fine well-graded ascent on a lovely path to Colle di Fenestrelle - 2463 metres - and its fine views, particularly of the giant mountain Argentera to the NW.

We had seen just one person - not our normal expectation for a Saturday morning, but as we negotiated some snow fields to find the path down (I fell waist deep into a bergshrund at one point) a few folk appeared. By the end of the day we had probably seen more people out walking than we had seen on the whole of the rest of the trip.

Having a surfeit of luncheon provisions, we stopped for 2 lunches today. The first at 11, by a burbling stream near Rif Genova, the second at 2.30 below Rif Morelli-Buzzi as we began our final descent to Terme di Valdieri.

Meanwhile we had crossed a much rockier pass, Colle del Chiapous, at 2526 metres our high point of the day. With us, admiring the wonderful views (the morning's col with its mountain backdrop looked fairly insignificant) were Tarzan and Jane, a French couple spreadeagled near the col with their bronzed torsos on display as if it were a St Tropez beach. They passed us later, having found some clothes.

All day we were in chamois country. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate their whistling from that of the ever present marmots.
Here the chamois are much tamer than I have seen them before; they tend to stroll along the footpath ahead of you, moving away only when you get to within 5-10 metres of them. Even then, they just move a short way from the path and scowl disdainfully at the human nuisance.

Unthreatening cotton wool clouds added some contrast to our afternoon photos as we ambled gently down the gently graded (albeit a 1200 metre descent) path to Terme by 5pm.

There being no sign of any bus, we hitched a lift to Sant' Anna and were happily installing ourselves at the rather basic camp site a few minutes later.

Sant' Anna is a not particularly attractive hamlet; it has a very basic shop, no buses tomorrow, and a nicely painted church. A backwater that people flash past on the way to Terme di Valdieri.

The 3 day section to this point had however been outstanding, and we dined alfresco style in the knowledge that our 9 days in the hills to date have been a lovely experience, worthy of an entire holiday in its own right.

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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