Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Friday, 25 July 2008

Friday 25 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 31 - A Day out in France

Brocken spectre outside Rif Stellina

Plan: Day 32 - Rif Vaccarone to Rif Stellina - 30 km, 900 metres ascent, 9.5 hours. (Estimates per Via Alpina web site before I realised its shortcomings.)

Actual: Clapier Lakes (an hour on from Vaccarone) to Rif Stellina - 2610 metres:
29 km, 1100 metres ascent, 9.5 hours including 2.2 hours breaks.

Best bit: A fabulous walk and most sociable rifugio.

Up early to paddle across freezing river and ascend a few metres to Colle Clapier and our excursion into France.

It was pleasantly cool walking down the Savine valley. Gloves were even used (I would not say they were 'tested').

The sky was blue and it rose to 30C+ later, so the cool morning was welcome.

Passing over the Col du Petit Mont Cenis, old border stones were testament to the history of this spot, now several km into France.

The Refuge du Petit Mont Cenis was most welcoming, providing excellent coffee and crêpes, and a guardian who showed interest in the Free Loader solar charger.

We soon got views over lovely flower laden meadows to the 'blue lake', Lago del Moncenisio, and sent this message.

Back on the border after another lovely lunch, we stopped for a while to watch a golden eagle.

Our short cut and planned wild camp beyond Alpe Tour was sadly 'missing'. So we were obliged to make the 500 metre climb to Rifugio Stellina. On the way we passed Sonia and Fausto, plodding slowly up to join friends at the rifugio. It is run by volunteers from Novalesa. The boss is Franco (Rif Director), Ezio is this week's guardian, today Sandro reccied our new route for tomorrow, Claudio is fluent in English and an excellent translator, and his wife Piera is an archery enthusiast.

The nine of us have enjoyed an excellent meal, followed by a sing song in local dialect.

This is a wonderful place to be tonight.

Tomorrow's planned route is abandoned due to a landslide - fortunate then that our planned short cut was 'missing' and that we came here to learn of the landslide (we can see it - massive). Even more fortunate that Sandro has today reccied an alternative, and that Franco was here to show us where to go through binoculars.

There are isards (small deer) outside, mountains in view across the valley (over a cloud inversion). Earlier we enjoyed Brocken spectres from outside the rifugio.

10pm and the sing song is still going strong....

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The Blue Lake

Lac Mont Cenis appeared before us this morning, competing with the sky for blueness (and failing due to a green tinge), beyond a glittering meadow.

The low resolution camera on the phone doesn't really do justice to this view...

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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Thursday 24 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 30 - A Fine Route across the Susa Valley

Looking ahead from Vaccarone to Col Clapier and Vallon de Savine

Plan: Day 31 - Rif D Arlaud to Rif Vaccarone - 17 km, 2100 metres ascent, 6.5 hours.

Actual: As planned, then a 300 metre descent from Rif Vaccarone to below the Clapier Lakes, about 200 metres from the French border - wild camp at 2450 metres :
23 km, 1800 metres ascent, 9.7 hours including 2.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: Superb panoramic views.

A down and up and across day.

Stephane served up a good breakfast at 7am. He and Elisa run Rifugio Daniele Arlaud very efficiently, so far as we could see, catering mainly for day walkers. They are on the GTA route but don't get many customers from that source. Perhaps the refuge was renovated after the German guide books were written. It has indeed been most tastefully renovated and was a lovely place to stay.
http://www.rifugioarlaud.it/
Thanks for the cooking, Stephane, and for your scary skiing tales.
Also, you may be interested to know that after over four weeks of walking you are the first person to have shown any interest in our kit. The Free Loader solar charger has been living unnoticed in my map case, until you spotted it!

The descent to the Susa valley through shady woodland was lovely.

The alimentari provided sustenance for a couple of nights and three lunches.

An English landrover with three people in it passed us. It didn't stop.

Stephane was right about the Sentiero Balcone (SB). Many paths are so marked. Apparently there is consternation about paths leading to and from the SB being so marked, especially from people who inadvertently find themselves at the tops of mountains or the bottoms of valleys having mistaken the link paths for the real thing.

And as for the Via Alpina - luckily we ignored it today. It would have sent us on an arduous roundabout route to a refuge that has been closed for some years. The maps do not indicate that the refuge is closed, so nor does the Via Alpina information. The route descriptions are brief - they read as if they have been written by someone who has casually perused the relevant map. You or I could probably write as good a description!

Forget the Via Alpina. It seems to have been devised from maps to keep people in 8 alpine countries happy. It's an ill conceived mess. Buy the maps and devise your own routes. That's my humble opinion.

Anyway, we had Gillian Price's excellent GTA book. We have been impressed by its detail and accuracy. Today it led us unerringly to the attractive village of Eclause. It even warned of barking dogs there. They were indeed noisy.

Then we had map number 1 - Valli di Susa - and our own planned IBR. So no confusion about where we were going today.

A pleasant lane then an unpleasant excursion along an SB footpath (planned, but on reflection we should have stayed on the road) led us to a picnic bench in the shade (have I mentioned the sun beamed down on us all day again) for our first shot at weight reduction since the excesses of the alimentari.

Having transferred as much as we could from our packs to our stomachs we set off up a steep path signposted (3 signs, the SB one being new) towards Rifugio Vaccarone, which we knew from Stephane would be closed.

The path soon relaxed into a series of huge zigzags which at every turn revealed a wider panorama. Monte Viso popped up and grew huge on the southern horizon as we slowly got higher.

Two day walkers, the only walkers we saw walking all day, were coming down.

So the 1700 metre ascent to Passo Clopaca was a doddle.

The views from the pass were superb - distant peaks and long valleys.

Gliders soared and a black bird whistled past, its wings tucked back like a miniature olympic diver clad in black.

The belvedere path to Rif Vaccarone was lovely - it stuck rigidly around the 2750 metre contour for nearly 5 km, covering rocky, barren ground, with clumps of flowers where they could get a hold. The rare Mt Cenis bellflower appeared for the first time amongst prolific spring gentians, leopardsbane, glacier crowfoot, forgetmenots and moss campion.

A family with a dog were installed in the small metal bivouac shelter just before Rif Vaccarone. They must have been relieved when we continued past them.

Rif Vaccarone held a big surprise. A gang of men. Machinery. It was being rebuilt and will no doubt reopen for business next year. It's in a great position and should do well with the right guardian.

We filled all our water bottles and continued for an hour to this fine camping spot, accessed by wading a river, just below the French border. It's not far from Rif Vaccarone, just 300 metres down a cliff, aided by fixed ropes.

Dinner, prepared by my resident chef, was delicious.

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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Wednesday 23 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 29 - Half Way!

Outside the Posto Tappa in Usseaux - with bright sun and deep shadow

Plan: Day 30 - Fenestrelle to Rif D Arlaud - 18 km, 1400 metres ascent, 6 hours.

Actual: As planned (we soon joined GTA stage 22):
20 km, 1500 metres ascent, 8 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: An excellent balcony path along a wide ridge with magnificent panoramic views.

It's the Italian Holiday Season.

Today we saw more people than usual.

In Laux two couples with packs passed in the other direction - probably Germans on the GTA having just set off from Usseaux.

Also in Laux we chatted about our route with an Italian couple out for a 'constitutional'.

Usseaux and Balboutet were lovely villages with attractive murals. Deserted as we passed through.

Some mountain bikers zoomed past us just beyond Balboutet. We spotted some signs - they were on a mountain bike marathon event. We watched. Five more passed. That was it.

In Cerogne an immaculate little house (nobody around) was having its view blocked by a renovation just below it - nobody was working there today.

But there was life in Cerogne, and it needed us. Time for our good deed of the day! Six Italian scouts. No map. Nothing in fact, other than their smart uniforms. They clearly hadn't come far. They were Lost. Now it wasn't really a big deal for us, as a signpost clearly confirmed our advice. But it took them a while to pluck up the courage to ask for directions from these two foreigners with big bags. They plodded of happily towards the fleshpots of Balboutet.

We lunched (alone as usual) in the sun at around 2150 metres in the Cerogne valley. The rock gardens were wonderful. The path was deserted. Birds of prey (we have a shortlist of 3 possible species) circled above us. We sent this message in an attempt to give our readers a glimpse of the wonderful flowers.

Up at Colle dell'Assietta there were mountain bikers, some day walkers, and a Park Ranger in a Fiat Panda with a blue light aloft. He seemed to be carrying a gun. (We didn't know we were in a Park. Are we?) A spaniel was running in front of the car.

Lots of memorials to the fallen were passed. This has been a war zone. The presence of the Fort at Fenestrelle deterred conflict down there, and battles were fought on this high ground, out of range of the Fort. More recently the two World Wars claimed many lives around here, and remnants of wartime fortifications and barracks remain.

The views were splendid, with the Ecrins appearing quite close by, and long views back to the Fort and the valley that leads to Turin. Tomorrow's hills stood out to the north, beyond the deep trench of the Susa valley.

The GTA route off the track along the crest wasn't marked as such. It was easily found though - scantily signed 'Sentiero Balcone' with a warning that only expert cyclists should attempt it. There was no sign at all for our destination. A few GTA signs did appear, but we lost them a couple of times. There was nobody around other than a farmer shouting at his cows.

Then at 4.20 we reached the sleepy little hamlet of Montagna Seu. It sits about 700 metres above the Susa valley and is home to a small mountain refuge - Rifugio D Arlaud. A few day walkers were lazing in the sun. Sara had booked us in here from Torre Pellice, so we were expected. We had been told that the Susa valley gets very busy, and there are even lots of English visitors.

We have the place to ourselves tonight.

Waiting for dinner, we have a view from our balcony. This is special. Not all mountain refuges provide rooms with balconies. The view extends to the snowy peaks of the 4000 metre Ecrins, over 50km away. Himalayan music seems to chant from a clear blue sky (from the Rif, actually).

Half Way.

Well, we've made it this far with no crises (apart from the time I thought I'd fried Sue's ipod), no injuries, no illnesses, no kit failures. A few things have yet to be used - spare socks, gloves, first aid kit, etc.

So we haven't had tales of doom and despair, and exciting episodes of extreme endurance to relate, not even any bad weather yet (today the great yellow orb has beamed constantly from a deep blue sky again).

It's just the routine of the 'up and down' life of the IBR....

And the day concludes after an excellent meal provided by Stephan - a Breton - our personal chef for tonight (Hello Stephan!), with tales of 'derring-do' all round.

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Alpine Flowers

It's hard to portray the amount and diversity of the alpine flowers we are walking through. It really is like a continuous rock garden. Here's just a little snippet - a bellflower (Rainer's or Large-flowered perhaps) and an unidentified but very common white flower - taken at 2300 metres just below Coll dell'Albergian.

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Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Tuesday 22 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 28 - Sunny Fenestrelle and a Fort Visit

The Fenestrelle Fort from Tre Denti

Plan: (Day 29) Rest Day and Fort Visit

Actual: Admiring the brilliant blue sky, strewn with vapour trails, and visiting the magnificent Forte di Fenestrelle.

Best bit: A truly magnificent Fort.
http://www.fortedifenestrelle.com/

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
402 km (390), 29100 metres ascent (29300), 150 hours (roughly!) walking (159).
No of summits visited: 7
No of cols or passes visited: 57
Highest point: Point Joanne - 3054 metres
No of native English speakers met/seen from a distance: an American coach party.
Hours waterproofs worn: 1

Messages:

I've tried to send a few emails from our webmail facility during the past month. I know that works from internet cafés (we haven't found any), but I don't think it's working using the Blackberry phone. I tried! So apologies to those people whom courtesy deserved a response or contact. We will be in touch in a month's time. Meanwhile, text messaging to us should work fine.

Notchy, of course, knows the number and is continuing to entertain us with his World News Service. Thank you, Notchy, and we hope the Field Kitchen continues to function.
(Notchy is our good friend at home whose kitchen has been relocated to his garden during house renovations.)

Stephanie, who together with Ulrike came to our salvation for an evening at Campo Base, - Hello - we did enjoy that evening, and we hope Ulrike got over her temporary lack of practice with the Italian language. Thanks for your message Stephanie, and keep in touch.

Roman (Lighthiker) - thanks also for your messages. We don't mind the ups and downs, the GTA is indeed a fine route. But we will be leaving it after tomorrow to follow our own IBR to Usseglio. Then we follow the GTA to Fonti Minerale before finally deserting it in favour of Gran Paradiso and the Alta Vias of the Aosta valley. So we won't be visiting Susa, or Rocciamelone. The GTA beyond Fonti Minerale will remain a treat for another day.

Hello Volker and Eva-Maria. We enjoyed our time with you in the quaint Posto Tappa at Balsiglia. And the strawberries were lovely. The German weather forecasting station you put me on to is excellent. I'm not going to disable the images as I like to look at the page full of yellow circles!

Hello Rodney and Christine in Shropshire. Rest assured, I will return with vigour to the little problem with B-T on my return in August.

The camp site is very quiet, mostly occupied by fixed caravans and cabins whose owners aren't here. Apart from the extortionate pricing, it's very pleasant. It has three very big long buildings (each 60 x 10 metres), partly used for the site facilities, but curiously out of place on a camp site. Strange.
Military antiquities perhaps.

The fort offers only guided visits - 7 hours, 3 hours, or 1 hour. We chose the 3 hour version, with an Italian guide, Michel.
The fort is big and complex. We went about a third of the way up it, rising 200+ metres in the process. There are 4000 steps to the top. It fell into disuse in 1920, except as an ammunition dump, and crumbled significantly until 1990 when renovations started. We soon realised why only guided tours are allowed - there are lots of crumbling bits of building, numerous mysterious tunnels, etc. It would be a wonderful place to explore, but maybe a bit dangerous!
Michel did his best to educate us, but to get a guide who speaks English you need to pre-book at least 10 people. This afternoon the fort had just us and 20 Italians as customers for the guided tour of this remarkable place.

We thought the fort would be a major tourist attraction. Wrong! No French, no Germans. Just some rather solemn Italians and us.

Then it was back to a delicious 7 course alfresco dinner outside the tent, on what would be a perfect evening for an outdoor concert.

It has been another lovely day - not even any high cloud.

Kit check:
What will expire first?
Pot cosy (looking battered), my Tilley hat (developing holes) or Sue's boots?

My own Asolo Fugitive boots were new for the trip, so I brought some Nikwax proofer for them. I left that at Balsiglia after the boots had seen their first rain since 18 June in the Peak District when they were brand new. There seems no point in proofing the uppers when water seems to flow freely into the boots through a space between the uppers and the soles! I shouldn't complain though, they really are very comfy.

That's all. Another 'rest day' has just flashed past!

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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Monday 21 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 27 - The Lonely Alp

On Colle dell'Albergian

Plan: Day 28 - Berg del Lauson to Fenestrelle - 14 km, 600 metres ascent, 4 hours.

Actual: Balsiglia to Camping Serre Marie at Fenestrelle, 1100 metres, - based on GTA stage 21:
19 km, 1400 metres ascent, 7.8 hours including 1.3 hours breaks.

Best bit: The cascades on the ascent from Balsiglia.

It's the Italian Holiday Season.

We spent today walking in the sunshine over a fine mountain pass - Colle dell'Albergian, 2713 metres - totally alone apart from the presence of a shepherd and his dog for a few minutes.

Fenestrelle is the home of the most extensive military fort in Europe. It occupies 1.3 million square metres. We decided to eat out here, together with any other tourists. It took us 30 minutes to find a restaurant that was open. We were the only diners. Nobody else arrived.

And we have been walking on a named route - the GTA, but it seems that this particular route attracts just a thin trickle of Germans - there were none on today's section. Nor anybody seen out walking yesterday, for that matter.

We are less than an hour away from Turin.

I don't quite know what this all means, but we did have Notchy's News Service to confirm that the English are useless at cricket.

One thing we know has affected tourism in this area is the bad weather they had shortly before we arrived. It seems that whilst we were cavorting across Scotland in the sun on the TGO Challenge, parts of the Alps had severe weather. We know a landslide at Villar Pellice washed away a house, killing 4 people, and today we have seen evidence of the destruction caused by that weather. For example there is a nice stroll up to the picture postcard village of Laux from here, but a bridge has been washed away, leaving a river crossing that some may find awkward.

Romina, at Ghigo, put the fact that the area is having a bad year for tourism down to this bad weather.

Anyway, today is summarised below:

• Tea and cake for breakfast.
• 'Goodbye Volker'. 'Goodbye Eva-Maria'.
• Leave Balsiglia at 7.45 on a shady, cool morning.
• Soon hit the sun. Fleeces off.
• Waterfalls cascade down from all sides as we ascend the ancient paved path.
• It's a long ascent - around 1350 metres.
• We pass shepherds' huts below an area where the huge local roofing slates were quarried.
• A shepherd is encountered on his way to a sleeping spot above his lazy cows.
• Tiny grasshoppers and wheatears hop alongside us.
• High cloud and a SE breeze keep us cool.
• Plenty of camping spots - we would have been ok yesterday despite the cows.
• Pass derelict military buildings to reach the high col at 11.30.
• Fine views to Monte Rosa, closer now.
• Descend to an excellent lunch spot through floods of yellow, pink and blue flowers.
• Huge fort comes into view across the valley, blighted by ugly new hotel complex beside it.
• A view through binoculars - reveals the fort site to be completely deserted.
• It must be siesta time.
• Much evidence of May's severe weather - boulder strewn gullies, etc.
• Lots of heads carved into trees by a local artisan.
• Large yellow foxgloves and great yellow gentians dominate the lower slopes.
• Nutcrackers flit over deserted woods.
• Reach pretty village of Laux at 3pm.
• Leave GTA route to descend by pleasant ancient paved path past recently destroyed bridge and other debris, to the small town of Fenestrelle.
• Finish walking at 3.30.
• Book in to camp site. Extortionate at €30 a night for the two of us!
• Explore, catch up with Notchy's News, eventually find a restaurant that's open...

A typical day on the GTA really - up and down over a lonely alp in fine weather with lovely flowers and good views.

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Monday, 21 July 2008

Posto Tappa

This is the Posto Tappa at Ghigo di Prali. The building is the Hotel delle Alpi. They provide the food and the accommodation - for up to 12 people - is in a separate building at the back. You could of course use the hotel, but as nobody else was staying in the Posto Tappa we effectively had a huge en suite room to ourselves for €40 each, half board.

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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Sunday 20 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 26 - Sunshine and Showers

Mural on the wall of a house in Didiero

Plan: Day 27 - Ghigo di Prali to Berg del Lauson - 19 km, 1700 metres ascent, 7 hours.

Actual: Ghigo di Prali to Balsiglia, 1370 metres, - GTA stage 20:
15 km, 850 metres ascent, 6.5 hours including 1.5 hours breaks.

Best bit: The lovingly laid out museum.

Messages first:

If Tobias, who we met yesterday descending to Villanova, reads this - if you left your head torch at Ghigo - Romina, at the Posto Tappa, is keeping it safe for you.

Romina, it was a pleasure to meet you, and thank you for looking after us so well.

Notchy - thank you for the continuing news updates - their entertainment value is increasing!...

Perhaps yesterday's 'PS' was misplaced! Today dawned bright and sunny, but by 11.30 there was minor leakage. Further 'leakages' occurred whilst we strolled along, and in between bursts of strong sunshine we did actually wear our pillows (aka waterproofs) for about an hour.

That would have been longer if we had continued to our planned camping spot some 800 metres above our current position.

As it is, we are happily installed in the Posto Tappa at Balsiglia, together with a couple from Hamburg, Volker and Eva-Maria. Hello both, we enjoyed your company.

This remote Posto Tappa has no restaurant, but good facilities for cooking the meal we would have enjoyed in the tent, and groceries that we can use if we want. Everything is on an honesty basis, and it is indeed a privilege to have this house to ourselves in the cosy hamlet whilst stair rods plummet from the sky outside.

Tomorrow it will be sunny again. As Showell Styles used to say about the rain in the Alps:

'It's for the heat.'

It was a pastoral morning through gently undulating woods with small yellow foxgloves, bearded bellflowers and common spotted orchids. The path was lined with strawberries, so progress was slow.

Coffee was taken after a couple of hours in the excellent Osteria in Rodoretto. This delightful little hamlet proved difficult to escape from, until we ignored all the (many) paths and - per guide book instructions - headed 'uphill' from behind the church, through a steep pathless field to reach the desired track. A '15 minute break' had become nearly an hour by then!

After lunch at a picnic bench above Didiero, sadly curtailed by said 'leakage', a stroll down a pleasant track led to that tidy village which is decorated with artistic murals on the walls of the houses.

Then it was a stroll up a leafy lane to our home for tonight, which is above a historical museum about the exile of Waldensians from this area, their return three years later (1689) and the subsequent siege in 1690 from which most of them accomplished an audacious escape on a foggy night. The museum is a little gem, and the building is a schoolhouse built in 1889 to mark the 200th anniversary of 'The Return'.

Tomorrow we will do the 800 metre climb planned for today. And more. The sun will shine.

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