Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Saturday 19 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 25 - Inversion

Cloud inversion from Colle Giulian, with Monte Viso

Plan: Day 26 - Bobbio Pellice to Ghigo di Prali - 18 km, 1900 metres ascent, 7 hours.

Actual: Bus from Torre Pellice to Bobbio Pellice, then a lift to Villanova for GTA stage 19 to Ghigo di Prali, 1455 metres:
14 km, 1300 metres ascent, 6.8 hours including 1.2 hours breaks.

Best bit: Views to Monte Viso at lunch time, over a sea of cloud.

The highlight of the day was the magnificent view towards Monte Viso from our lunch spot at Colle Giulian, 2451 metres. Here's the message we sent at the time. We had spent nearly 3 hours in fairly thick cloud, so it had been a great relief to find the sun beaming down from a blue sky shortly before we reached the col.

Saturday morning: we expected to see a rush of people to the hills on this first day of the Italian holidays. But it took 30 minutes to get a lift out of Bobbio Pellice, then we saw nobody until we were approaching the col. It was a silent ascent past huge mulleins - no birds, cattle, humans or water - just the click of our sticks and the gentle thud of our boots in the 20 metres of world that was visible to us.

We had met a few people descending into the mist, and we joined two Italians and a shepherd on the col with the view. It really was superb.

Notchy's News Service joined us at lunch time, so we now know all about the City supporters' failed attempt to get their trawler to the Faroes, and the terrible twins of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac.

Notchy is almost as up to date with world events as the cockatoo at Rif Jervis!

Nick's 'Courmayeur Hotel Information Service' also joined us at lunch time, so we had a very bleepy time. Thanks for this service, Nick, we didn't realise that you were about to go to Shanghai, but you know what they say about busy people. (Seems like you are trying to compensate for our current lack of carbon footprint.)

The descent to Ghigo was steep but uneventful albeit back to the usual array of floral colour, with an increase in activity as we approached the village confirming that the Italian holidays have indeed started.

After our experience with the full refuge at Rif Baillif-Viso the other day, we thought the Posto Tappa here may be full. So we got Sara to book us in. On arrival we were immediately recognised and led to our dormitory. The beds are good and the water hot. We are the only people staying in the Posto Tappa, and the first English people they can recall having visited them. Here's our message about the Posta Tappa.

Any other sales of Gillian Price's GTA book appear to have been to armchair readers!

We've heard about the excellence of Posto Tappa meals. We were not disappointed.

We started with two types of pasta - pasta with artichokes, and penne with mushrooms. Then part-cured pork with relish, accompanied by salad and chips and a dish of turkey in a creamy sauce. For dessert, pannacotta/chocolate mousse. Behind us was a shelf of Barolo wines dating back to 1971, and another with a huge selection of grappa.

PS Our 'Year of Constant Summer' continues - but for how long?

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Inversion

Here's Sue preparing lunch earlier today at Colle Giulian - 2451 metres. Monte Viso is above the cloud in this view south.

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Friday, 18 July 2008

Friday 18 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 24 - The Wonderful Sara

Two chefs commune

Plan: (Day 25) Rest Day

Actual: A busy day of planning and provisioning - in the sun, of course.

Best bit: Sara's smile after all her efforts on our behalf.

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
354 km (341), 25550 metres ascent (25100), 133 hours (roughly!) walking (141).
No of summits visited: 7 (that may stay the same for a while)
No of cols or passes visited: 52
Highest point: Point Joanne - 3054 metres
No of native English speakers met/seen from a distance: an American coach party.
Serious applications of waterproofs: 0

Messages:

Nothing much to say, you'll probably be delighted to hear - we've received only very few comments over the past few days, but thanks AS and Roman for continuing to show an interest, and the visitor numbers seem to indicate a few other victims for my ramblings.

Today we sought to resolve a couple of problems whilst in this pleasant town - Torre Pellice. We were woken early, as the weekly market was setting up outside our window, so that helped to get us under way.

Breakfast was excellent and set us up well for an arduous day.

Camping gas is a rare commodity hereabouts, even in quite large towns like this one. Another train journey looked on the cards when the hardware shop could only produce canisters of the piercing type. Eventually Sara was able to point us to a sports shop (usually a waste of time) where a man shook his head glumly. But on production of our stove....'Ah, maybe' (in Italian of course). He led us to a locked garage.
Wow!
We now have three and a half canisters of Coleman Fuel. The weight is off our minds and onto our backs! Given the necessary increase in the use of refuges and hotels, they may last the whole trip. They'll certainly see us to Courmayeur, where we know gas is available.

The above-mentioned Sara is the lady in Tourist Information who has worked for over two hours on our behalf today. She has been exceedingly helpful, making about a dozen forward bookings for us.

The problem is that whilst we have a tent, wild camping, even outside Rifugios, is strictly illegal - and rigorously enforced - in the Gran Paradiso National Park. We now have selected bookings up to that point, which we can mix with camp sites and wild camps. But in Gran Paradiso the Rifugios we wanted were fully booked. This has obliged us to change our route rather than force the issue and, as Alpine Club members, demand (floor) space in the already full Rifugios (not a pleasant experience anyway).

So, we have a pretty clear idea of where we will be up to day 47, after when wild camping returns as an option. Instead of Rifugios in Gran Paradiso we will be using mainly the sparse camp sites, meaning a significant route adjustment. One of these camp sites has even had to be pre-booked - Sara telephoned every one in the district.

But it's still a fine route, and all we need now is a nice place to stay in Courmayeur on 6 and 7 August. Any offers? Nick, any chance of a bit of research on our behalf?

I little more forward booking will be desirable, but that's for another day.

All this, of course, commits us to our 'day ahead' timetable, so we will have to walk in the rain when it finally arrives.

Torre Pellice is a lovely town, and we've really enjoyed our stay here, albeit much of the day has been spent dealing with 'admin' tasks.

Tonight the bar across the road is vibrant, a brass band can be heard up the road, and opera singers (who we watched for a while) are in full flow down the road in Via Repubblica.

We are in Beckwith House, named after a British General born in Nova Scotia, John Charles Beckwith (1789-1862), a benefactor of the Valdesi area. His tomb is just up the road. The area is also known for having taken a stand against Nazi/Fascism. An interesting place. We are very rare English visitors, likewise the American party, who are cheese hating vegetarians, and mostly quite thin, as you might expect from such a diet. The chef has been challenged by this, but the good man gave us lots more cheese tonight, and managed to force down us five helpings of his excellent pizza before we finally refused more.

We are bloated.

Star of the evening was the aged Italian lady who sat next to us at dinner. She must be about 85. On hearing us talking about Gran Paradiso she started to relate tales from her youth. Her first glacier experience was on holiday with her father. He had borrowed some rope used for tethering cows from their hotelier. There were no ice axes or crampons. She held up her white handkerchief to illustrate the steepness of the snow (vertical, it seems). 'I was very scared' she said.

A grand old lady.

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 17 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 23 - Some Good Decisions

Here we are, on Colle Seilliere

Plan: Day 24 - Refuge Baillif-Viso to Bobbio Pellice - 23 km, 600 metres ascent, 6.5 hours.

Actual: As planned, then bus to Torre Pellice, and the hotel Foresteria Valdese di Torre Pellice, 545 metres:
21 km, 500 metres ascent / 2300 metres descent, 8 hours including 1.7 hours breaks.

Best bit: View of Mont Blanc / the selection of cheeses at dinner.

It was, as predicted, a gloriously quiet night. We woke to blue sky with high cloud, and cloud in the valley.

After an efficient breakfast in the refuge we waved off our mountain biking friends and set off up the path to Colle Seilliere - 2854 metres. A backpacking Dutch couple had set up camp at a path junction. As we chatted with them others passed on their way to Passo delle Traversette as they circumnavigated Monte Viso. We had already pointed some people this way after they had stumbled upon our tent. They had left the refuge in completely the wrong direction. Perhaps they hadn't noticed the signs.

We headed on up to our col, completely alone. It is not on the Tour of Monte Viso.

From the col, stretched across the horizon in a line about 100 miles away were the distinctive bulge of Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn (looking like Schiehallion on an inconsequential day) and Monte Rosa. They will surely get closer in days to come whilst Monte Viso will slide into history.
We had 'phone reception, and sent this message home; we were ready to gloat!

Border Stone 46/1 - erected in 1992 - graced Colle Seilliere. This is perhaps the last border stone we will see for a while, or even on this trip, as our route now heads north well inside Italy, by-passing Sestriere and the vast areas of ski pistes that serve the needs of nearby Turin.

Two Germans arrived on the col from the north, as we studied the lovely purple saxifrage that graces such places.

As we descended we noticed from the Nature Reserve signs that we have moved from Cuneo Province to Turin Province. Both cities enjoy wide views of the mountains that top valleys that flow towards the cities like the spokes of a wheel. They must be brilliant homes for outdoors enthusiasts.

Alpenrose returned with a vengeance as we strolled into the cloud filled Pellice valley.

Lago Lungo housed small trout, swimming alongside which were 'black fish with legs' - about 9-12 inches long. These were rare salamanders, Salamandra Lanzai. What a treat!

At 2100 metres we entered the pink world of the mountain houseleek, and passed the wreckage and memorial to a USAF plane crash in 1957.

On we went by campers (rising very late in a lovely meadow) and past busy ants and nodding harebells, to reach a wide plateau at 1800 metres. Huge beds and massive chutes of rubble indicated that it is not always so benign just here. (Perhaps there is a huge pipe, and the water is being stolen by the residents of Turin.)

Hamlets accessible only by 4WD advertised local cheese and honey (miele) and showed off proudly their roofing skills using massive chunks of local slate.

Big dogs are used to protect the sheep around here, as in the Vanoise and elsewhere. They lazed next to the dozy flocks today, not a wolf in sight. Cuckoos and skylarks flitted away when they saw us.

The wide plateau was overlooked by a large Tyrolean house with a sundial. This turned out to be Rifugio Jervis, doing a good lunch time trade with walkers from the valley for whom this was their high point, albeit 400 metres below the ceiling of today's thin veil of cloud, and over 1000 metres below the wonderful views to Mont Blanc.

We passed by, pausing briefly to chat to a caged cockatoo (in Notchy's silence he passed on some world news - 'no change' he said) before heading down into a steep sided valley with huge waterfalls for our own luxurious alfresco lunch.

From Rif Jervis we were back on the GTA route for the hour or so down a lovely old mule track, full of small blue butterflies, to Villanova. On the opposite side of the valley were huge caves under massive overhanging boulders.

Villanova has just a Posto Tappa and a few ruined buildings and we prefer more interesting places for our rest days. So we continued on down the Pellice valley. We missed a path, but it was probably an unsigned jungle traverse that we escaped from, and as compensation we had a huge raspberry tree all to ourselves along the quiet lane.

A path eventually arrived, contouring stubbornly above Bobbio Pellice before suddenly dropping into the town. All the way down the valley information boards had punctuated our progress, giving graphic details of the flora and fauna, as well as roof building, cheese and honey making, and lots more. They were great.

A quick look around Bobbio revealed - well, not a great deal - and almost certainly no supplier of camping gas.

A bus stood in the square.

Decision time.

We hopped on for the 10 km ride to Torre Pellice down the valley.

A Good Decision.

Tourist Information, closed in Bobbio, was open and helpful.

Next decision - camp site or hotel.

We opted for the Foresteria Valdese, a Hotel recommended by Tourist Info.

Another Good Decision.

We have a nice room and enjoyed dinner with an elderly French couple and an Italian lady. The local red wine went down very well, and as we are on holiday tomorrow there is no pressure to write this.

There is a coach party from the US, on a 'Reformation Tour' staying here. The first native English speakers we have seen for over three weeks. Hello Beverley, hello Cindy, hello All!

Highlight of the evening was the cheese course, with local cheeses not even available in Turin on the platter, which was trolleyed around by an enthusiastic rotund chef who wanted everyone to try everything. He likes people like us with good appetites. We will eat here again tomorrow!

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Mont Blanc

It may be 100 miles away but you should be able to see Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa. This was from Colle Seilliere, 2854 metres, on Thursday morning.

Where would you prefer to be!?

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Thursday, 17 July 2008

Wednesday 16 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 22 - A 3000 Metre Day

At Point Joanne - 3054 metres

Plan: Day 23 - Val di Fiutrusa to Refuge Baillif-Viso - 24 km, 1600 metres ascent, 9 hours.

Actual: Colletto della Battagliola to Camp by Ref Baillif-Viso, 2507 metres, via Pontechianale and Vallone Soustra:
22 km, 1700 metres ascent, 9.8 hours including 2.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: Views from a 3000 metre summit.
New high points: Passo della Losetta - 2872 metres, then Point Joanne - 3054 metres.

Another lovely sunny morning, with cloud coming this afternoon when the cool air blown in from the north met the hot air from the Italian plains.

We have just enjoyed a good meal in this French refuge that has 65 places. We are camped outside as the refuge is full!

After three weeks in empty hills and near empty refuges, this is a bit of a shock. But there is a walk called 'Tour of Monte Viso'. People like to be guided round it in large groups. To be fair, though, there is a mixture of people here (no other native English speakers of course), including a number of adventurous mountain bikers. We met one this afternoon. He was carrying his bike over a rock field on the way to a 2800 metre pass.

I'm sure the tent will be quieter than the refuge, it is actually our preference tonight.

At the meal, we sat next to Marie-Claire, an English teacher, and her husband Jean-Paul, He is the chief National Park warden at Cauterets, near Lourdes. He knows all the isards in that area by the names he has given them. His work is his passion. It was lovely to meet and enjoy the evening with them.

After crossing the highest point on the entire GTA route yesterday, we reverted to our IBR today and finally broke the 3000 metre mark on Point Joanne which, fittingly, is on the border - though we couldn't find a border stone.
On a bearing of 20 degrees, far to the north, were the snow clad mountains of our final destination in the Monte Rosa area. It'll take us 5 more weeks to reach them.

This morning the sun was on the tent by 7am, after the cuckoos and the barking deer had already roused us, and we were up and away soon afterwards. Our tent was after all straddling a footpath. We need not have worried. Pontechianale was still asleep when we arrived there from a pleasant woodland descent, accompanied by birds in urgent conversation. But a café provided coffee and ablutions, and provisions were easily obtained.

The walk up to Chianale, another lovely old picture postcard village, was a delight. We met two nuns carefully picking things from the undergrowth. 'Infusions' they said. Could it be camomile they were collecting?

The Tour de France comes this way on Saturday or Sunday, so the short stretch of road we walked up, after rejoining our planned route, was freshly tarmaced.

Then it was a long 1000 metre ascent up the lovely Vallone Soustra. We were going well, and after a picnic in the sunshine reached the high col - Passo della Losetta - that briefly gained the 'high point of trip' accolade.

Monte Viso, rather shy until now, reappeared in all its glory, but came and went in the cloud as we ascended Point Joanne. A lone young ibex was on the summit looking for its mother. From there, this refuge looked very close.

Back on the col, after a false start to the edge of a cliff (the map shows the path that way), we headed briefly down the Vallanta valley before turning along a vertiginous belvedere path to reach the Passo di Vallanta, today's gateway to France.

There were quite a few folk around, including a couple with a fit and nimble mongrel, and a good path over rocks and through snow fields led us slowly down to the refuge after another long but fulfilling day.

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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Tuesday 15 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 21 - Medieval Italian Villages

There were many sundials - this one in Chiazale, at 2.47 pm, perhaps requires re-calibration!

Plan: Day 22 - Rif Campo Base to Val di Fiutrusa - 18 km, 1800 metres ascent, 8.5 hours.

Actual: Alternative route based on GTA, via Rif Melezé to promontory 200 metres beyond Colletto della Battagliola, 2230 metres:
25 km, 1900 metres ascent, 11 hours including 2.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: Colle di Bellino/Medieval Village/Wild Camp.

New high point: Colle di Bellino - 2804 metres.

As it happens, our planned route to Val di Fiutrusa was well signed and would have presented no difficulties.

But due to the failure of Campo Base to provide suitable provisions, we were obliged to take the scenic route via the fine col, just beyond which we are camping. The nearby spring mentioned in our GTA guide is just about dribbling, so it did take 20 minutes with a grooved tent peg and a mug to collect tonight's water supply.

Campo Base, last night, provided perhaps our poorest meal yet, though adequate. The chef was fine, but one of his helpers was particularly dim, allowing food to go cold before she got round to serving it. This morose young lady, defined by her 'builder's bum' just didn't want to be there.

But Stephanie and Ulrike, both from Germany, made up for any defects with the food. We enjoyed a most pleasant evening with them. Ulrike has a phobia for large parties of Germans. She has a method of avoiding them; she starts on a Sunday evening and goes in the opposite direction to the German guide books. Good thinking Ulrike, and thank you for so generously providing the chocolate, muesli bars and croissant that the grocery department of Campo Base failed so miserably on. We are most grateful to you. None of said items made it to Colle di Bellino.
On Colle di Bellino

Stephanie, we hope you had a more relaxing day after your energetic day out on Colle dell'Infernetto.
Could you let us have the name of your guide book, please - we know a few people that the gourmet tour would really appeal to (ourselves included).

As you may gather from the photos, it has been another cloudless day here. We got to a new high point with wonderful clear views.

Then we descended to ancient villages which resembled in some ways the villages in the Kali Gandaki valley on the Annapurna Circuit. They had many sundials - though we didn't count all 32 of them - there being an obsession with the sun around here.

One of the villages, Pleyne, had a small shop. Once we had managed to retrieve the lady of the shop from her other job - collecting hay - she was able to sell us from her minute store the excellent soup, risotto, tuna, mushrooms, chocolate and tea that we have just enjoyed and that Campo Base was so unable to provide. It was almost worth using this alternative route (which I have to admit is probably better than my original plan) just to meet this lovely old lady and her 'one tooth' husband. [Here they are.]

And after a final, well graded ascent to a col with 'the finest' views of Monte Viso, we found the little spring and the small promontory on which to spent the night. [Here it is.] Cuckoos are still awake, and a deer with a baby has spent 30 minutes staring at us and barking, but seems to have gone away now. We can see the small village of Castello, 700 metres below, and we've watched the sun's rays slowly slide up to the far horizon - the plains of Italy to the east, above which there is now a glorious pink glow.

It has been warm and windless here, so cooking outside was most enjoyable, especially as a swarm of flies took temporary possession of the tent!

Today also featured:
• The usual plethora of flowers, including field gentians for the first time.
• An amusing exchange of texts with Dave Oliver, during which he claimed to have caught an 11 pound carp.
• Another idyllic location for lunch.
• Very few people out walking, as usual.

All in all, another Brilliant Day.

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Monte Viso (2)

As you can see, we are now much closer.

'We worked hard for this' says Sue...

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Monte Viso

It has reappeared at last. Here is Sue at our highest point yet - Colle di Bellino - 2804 metres. Fabulous panoramic views.

11 am - we haven't seen anyone else yet today (Tuesday).

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Monday, 14 July 2008

Monday 14 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 20 - The Chef's Cupboard

Chiappera and Rocca Provenzale

Plan: (Day 21) Rest Day

Actual: Rest Day

Best bit: Wandering around the pretty village of Chiappera, five minutes down the road.

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
286 km (276), 21450 metres ascent (21100), 111 hours (roughly!) walking (117).
No of summits visited: still 6 (they are harder now!)
No of cols or passes visited: 47
Highest point: Colle del Sautron - 2687 metres
No of native English speakers met/seen from a distance: still 0 - apart from the Welsh car in the Monti Liguri area.
Serious applications of waterproofs: 0

Messages:

To Merlijn in Amsterdam:
Congratulations, you are the first person encountered en route to have commented on the blog. We did enjoy our brief time with you and Milka at Malinvern and we hope you appreciated the wonderful weather we brought with us!

To Gayle and Mick:
Congratulations on getting to John O'Groats and commiserations on your having to return to the 'day jobs'.
We're sure you'll enjoy the C2C in September.
How about applying for next year's TGO Challenge?
And Gayle, you must be a glutton for punishment trying to catch up with these ramblings!

To Notchy:
Thank you for the updates on world affairs. Will you still be able to send them from the trawler you have hired to watch City, or was that someone else and you will be watching City's European debut from the sidelines of the Field Kitchen?

To Roman (Lighthiker)
Thanks for your messages. My own Alpine experiences regarding Italians largely echo your own. I would add that they have a penchant for travelling, and walking, in coach loads, which can be a little tedious for others when their route is of the Via Ferrata nature. Also, the coach loads sometimes meld into groups of huge numbers. Some of our readers will recall an episode on Piz Boë when we lost track of each other in the crowd (who were all singing) and had difficulty negotiating our way to the summit.
But, as you say, the huts are full of other nations (I hesitate to say 'Germans'!).
We will soon have to make some advance bookings, I fear, but we do have the lovely green tent as back-up, and we are Alpine Club members...
We are using the Italian IGC 1:50000 maps, which actually show the paths surprisingly accurately. Even with our 'Jungle Experience' I'm sure there was a path, it was just so overgrown and infested with animal tracks that we missed the correct route.
But our ongoing route over Passo di Fiutrusa raises concern on two counts:
• The 2858 metre pass has a steep 700 metre drop to the north.
• Our catering arrangements for the crossing/possible retreat are logistically flawed.
So we may well instead follow the GTA route, which I did plan as a valid alternative.

Actually all alternatives are valid!

The GTA book by Gillian Price says 'groceries' are available here. It fails to mention that those groceries are basically items from the chef's store cupboard. So we could set off with a few catering packs suitable for a major expedition such as this, but as there is no sign of the mule whose droppings we followed over the Colle del Sautron yesterday, my food porter may object. And as the GTA route has a shop, supposedly, in Pleyne, and passes through the fleshpots of Pontechianale, we may choose that option.

The chef is a delightful chap, and quite happy to sell groceries from his cupboards. The flaw in Gillian Price's assertion that groceries are available here is her failure to mention that your menu should exclude muesli, chocolate, GORP, packet soup, etc (ie backpacking food).

Anyway, that's not really a problem, we've had a nice day here in lovely sunny weather. The pretty village down the road, Chiappera, has lots of children and chickens, and a lovely little church with a bulbous Tyrolean tower and outside frescos. Also a bar that sells very acceptable ice cream.

We have been very lazy ('recovering', says Sue) today, but we hope the chef has been busy, as we will be testing his skills tonight.

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 13 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 19 - First Edelweiss

One of many Border Posts that we have passed - this one is particularly elaborate

Plan: Day 19 - Col di Puriac to Lac de l'Orrenaye - 15 km, 1000 metres ascent, 5.5 hours; Day 20 - Lac de l'Orrenaye to Rif Campo Base - 14 km, 800 metres ascent, 6 hours.

Actual: Route as planned to camping ground at Rif Campo Base, 1680 metres:
28 km, 1500 metres ascent, 11 hours including 2.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: The Wonderfully Clear Views.

As you might have guessed, we have enjoyed the multitude of wild flowers on this trip. But until today that icon of alpine flowers, the edelweiss, was missing from our list. Today it appeared - small blooms were sprouting as we passed through France, then larger specimens as we re-entered Italy. I'm sure they will now keep us company to the end of the trip.

We seem to have lost the ibex and chamois for the time being, but the noisy marmots are ever present.
So we didn't mind, last night, when the heavens opened and doused the shrieks that infested our otherwise excellent camping place. The tent needed a good wash. The soup - a consommé made from stock cubes, dried veg and chopped frankfurters, was excellent. Added butter (we have lots) improved the tortellini as the rain battered the tent.

Today dawned bright and fresh. My trouser legs were employed for the first time, and we set off at 8am in fleeces.

The 700 metre descent down a lovely valley then past the ruined village of Le Grange to Argentera was very much like the descent from a Lake District fell, except that there you don't get chirruping choughs and shrieking marmots.

We spent a while in the sleepy village. There was cake and chocolate to be eaten, cyclists on a time trial to watch, and a village square next to the church dedicated to someone who had lived for just 14 years in the mid C19. I even cleaned my new boots here since the morning's wet grass had nicely prepared them for the cleaning fluid for the first time.

This morning's good paths were not waymarked with paint. This means they are ignored by the modern signs that have been erected that seem to deny the existence of routes unless they have been 'painted'. So we often rely on old wooden signs to start us off on these little used paths. Such a sign pointed us up past La Tinetta towards the Roburent Lakes. We had plenty of time - it was planned to be a short day.

Up steeply through random terracing we went, rounding the rocky outcrop of Le Tinetta as a man far below got bored with the cyclists and trained his camera on us.

A Cameron in the Alps?

It was a lovely route through a mass of rock roses and cypress spurge, into superb rock scenery. A large 'tooth' towered above us.

After seeing just one person all morning, it came as something of a surprise to find hordes of people up at the lakes, picnicking in the sun. So that's what we did, for a leisurely hour, whilst Notchy's News Service (we had only turned the phone on to take a photo) brought us news of doom and gloom and Mark Cavendish.

Sunday Lunch in the Alps.

It was just a short way up to Border Post number 65 and our entry into France over Colle di Roburent - 2496 metres.

Just below, our planned wild camp, Lac de l'Orrenaye, littered with picnickers, glittered in the sunshine. It was 2pm.

Plan A - camp now.
Plan B - go flower hunting then camp.
Plan C - it's a lovely day for a walk.

It was indeed a lovely day for a walk. The westerly breeze would soon have cooled us had we stopped.

We left the picnicking hordes as we passed the path down to their French car park and headed on up to Col de la Gipière. The path was now on a French GR route, and therefore waymarked. We passed a couple, puzzling over their map.

Three people approached us as we passed snow finches and wheatears. They doffed their caps. Sue was impressed!

Then we short-cut the Rochouse gully and turned up the well graded path to Col de Sautron. A lone woman descending just about managed a greeting, then we were on our own for the rest of the walk to Rif Campo Base.

Col de Sautron, with border stone number 60, erected in 1823 (so apparently not part of the 1947 border change), is marked as 2687 metres on our map, another landmark, our highest point yet.

From there it was a gentle 1000 metre descent to camp, through 'Dolomitic' limestone scenery with little water or flat ground to camp on. Any wild camping here should be planned for the French side of the col.

Some spots of rain induced the donning of our pillows (waterproofs). That did the trick! The rain ceased immediately.

A short stretch of tarmac led finally to Campo Base at 7pm. The beers were welcome, before we adjourned to the tent to cook the food we'd carried all the way from Pietraporzio.

So, after this magnificent day's walk in perfect conditions we are a day ahead of schedule. I'm sure we'll find that handy in the days to come.

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Sunday, 13 July 2008

Sunday Lunch in the Alps

At Lago di Roburent, looking back into Italy, and listening to the phone bleeping as Notchy's News Service provides bulletins. We like the ones about Mark Cavendish best.

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Saturday 12 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 18 - A Jungle Adventure

The Path to Col di Puriac

Plan: Pietraporzio to Col di Puriac - 14 km, 1400 metres ascent, 5.5 hours

Actual: Route sort of as planned to wild camp in meadow at 2350 metres on the Italian side of Col di Puriac:
15 km, 1500 metres ascent, 7.7 hours including 1.3 hours breaks.

Best bit: Lunch on a bench in the charming village of Ferrere.

We had no idea how much our stay at Camping Centrosentieri was going to cost. Everything since our arrival had gone on a tab. (I've stopped noting costs on these pages as it was pretty meaningless.) The important thing was they took credit cards - cash is low and it's a week before we can get any more. In the event €70 for 2 night's camping, 2 night's meals, and lots of beer and coffee seemed pretty good value.

This really was a friendly place. As we left a lady walking her dog engaged us in conversation. This gave Sue the chance to practise some phrases that Christina had taught her last night.

This section of our journey takes us to Rif Campo Base. Gillian Price's GTA route does this in two days, but our philosophy of following the border will take three days. First we had to double back up to Ferrere. We passed close by this high village two days ago. We could retrace Thursday's 1000 metre descent (hard), we could walk up the road then a track (easy), or we could retrace up to Murenz and take a contouring path marked by a dashed line on our map (adventurous).

Today we were adventurous. We are shying away from dotted paths for safety reasons. Dashed paths should be ok though, or so we thought. We should have been alerted by the lack of signposts, but we carried on anyway along a lane to the start of our contouring path. Encouraged by a splash of yellow paint on a tree we continued enthusiastically into a jungle of nettles, rose bushes and pine trees. There was a sort of path so we continued, vigorously setting aside the thorny trees that blocked our way. The further we got the harder it became.

Animal tracks.

That was what we were on. Our freshly laundered clothes were soon thick with sweat and vegetation. Our throats were parched. We found a river bed. It was empty. So, in a move of genius, we walked (well, sort of stumbled) down the steep gully. After a while we were able to peer out from the confines of this gully to see that the thicket was not quite as thick here, so we exited the gully and floundered through more forest to the safe haven of an alpine meadow and the hamlet of Prinardo.

It had taken two and a half hours; it would have been an easy hour along the road.

There was a fountain, so we washed ourselves down and lubricated our throats. 'Buongiorno' we said to a man in the house next to the fountain; but there was no acknowledgement of our presence from this, the first grumpy person we have seen.

It was back to normal in the bar just up the road in Primavera, where the service was great and we decided we didn't smell too bad after all.

That was our Jungle Experience.

'It'll take you two hours to get to Ferrere' they said, but we were quicker. The nun would probably have taken just one hour! On the way we were joined by another victim for Sue's linguistic skills - an old chap with an old dog. He couldn't help us identify the soaring birds, light brown with a very light coloured underside, osprey size. Could they have been ospreys? They were a pleasure to watch, both on the wing and perched in the tops of trees.

The path to Ferrere was another unsigned one, but it was obvious enough until the cow zone, just below the village. We battled muddily through this to reach the isolated but vibrant little settlement that, being on a 'contraband route' probably has a rich history.
In front of the small church was a bench, with nearby fountain and waste bin to serve all our modest needs.

So we enjoyed lunch here whilst the church congregation sung. A man outside the next door house offered us chairs and a table, but we were comfy on our bench - he understood that, he was just being friendly.

Then it was an easy ascent up to Col di Puriac (2506 metres) and the view into the Mercantour region of France, from where a brisk westerly wind was emanating.

So we went back into Italy and descended past fighting marmots to this lovely meadow, with fine views north to the 3000 metre mountains we will pass by tomorrow.

It was a 3.30 finish, so we have a very leisurely evening ahead, in our home from home.

Cloudy with sunny spells today. T-shirts and shorts again, but some massive claps of thunder as dinner is prepared. Showers are forecast tomorrow. Will we actually get a chance to wear our pillows?

Despite it being Saturday we saw just two other walkers today (not on the jungle path!) and some birds that I think were yellowhammers, and some like large robins, flocking like snow finches - redpolls?

Next Day
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