Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The View From Path 13

Here is The Matterhorn again. It won't go away!

Path 13 is not on our planned AV1 route, but looked a better route for views, and has provided a superb lunch spot.

Now we have to traverse across fresh snow back to AV1

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Friday, 15 August 2008

Friday 15 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 52 - Cunning Plans

Early morning at the wild camp in Val Courtod

Plan: Day 53 - Lago Goillet to Rifugio Vieux Crest - 18 km, 800 metres ascent, 7 hours.

Actual: Wild camp at 2700 metres in Val di Courtod to B+B Alta Via in St. Jacques:
7 km, 0 metres ascent, 2 hours including 0.2 hours breaks.
Best bit: The plan worked!

Yesterday the Matterhorn came and went. All in one day. Quite a surprise to us as we had spent about a week getting past Mont Blanc, which was still in view from Colle di Valcornera a couple of days ago.

But wait, flinging the curtains open this morning as the sun beat down on our lie in, what was that rocky cone on the horizon? The Matterhorn, of course, taunting us from its distant perch high above yesterday's broad col.

Cunning plan number 1:
The forecast was 'rain', so we expected that to happen. The plan was simple. Hole up at our lovely camping spot for the day and enjoy a long day in the sun tomorrow to reach the B+B in Gressoney booked by Nick. We had plenty of provisions. Eating them would lighten our loads.
Observing the blue sky above, we quickly realised the utter failure of this cunning plan.

Despite the failure of cunning plan number 1, that had at least given us a lie in and a dry tent, and rain was still expected. Whilst we were going through our daily daubing of sun tan cream ritual (we haven't missed a day on the entire trip), dark clouds were building all around.

Leaving camp after 9 am we descended into emerald green meadows, meeting a group of seven French people struggling slowly up the well graded path.

It was a lovely path that led into the Ayas valley, past farmsteads and goats, one of them a massive male with huge winged horns.

We had originally planned to wild camp beyond Rif Vieux Crest, which was fully booked.

The clouds grew darker. We felt the occasional spot of rain.

The path led down past huge puff balls to a former guides house at Fiery, then on to Blanchard and the small village of St Jacques. We noticed the 'rascard' type of construction - timber buildings supported by mushroom shaped pillars in stone and wood.

Cunning plan number 2:
Clearly a wet afternoon was in prospect. It would be easy to reach Gressoney in a day from here. B+B Alta Via beamed at us enticingly. It was 11 am. We booked in.

The plan worked. The rain soon started. It would have been a fairly dismal afternoon's walk. A coffee in a café and a stroll around the village were enjoyed whilst the sun lasted. We reported home - Sue, relaxing with her coffee in this nice little village.

'Holed up' is not the right description for our sojourn in this lovely wood-panelled farmhouse built in 1682. The bedrooms are bijou but warm and comfy, and there's a spacious living room for us to spend the afternoon in comfort.

Hopefully we can find a restaurant for dinner. My chef is tired after two days of cooking!

Yesterday I announced the Tour of Monte Rosa (TMR) as our last 'named' footpath. I was wrong, we have now joined the Grande Sentiero Walser (GSW), that retraces the steps taken by the Vallesi people between the 12th and 14th centuries as they migrated in search of new lands to colonise. We are also close to the TMR, having left it in favour of our old friend, AV1, which we consider to be a superb route. We will follow it tomorrow until we turn along the GSW to Gressoney la Trinité.

I've taken the liberty today of checking messages:

Thank you, Gillian, for informing Cicerone of our existence, and thank you, the team at Cicerone for your nice message. We are indeed having a fantastic time and will be in touch via Gillian when we return home. We look forward to seeing you at the Kendal Mountain Festival in November, and in the meantime will let you have some comments on one of your other (more flawed than Gillian's) guides.

Hello Helen - thanks for your message. We aren't really feeling neglected as we know we have around 50 regular readers, very few of whom make comments.

One of those who does make comments is the inimitable Mr Sloman, himself a perambulant of long-distance walks and inveterate blogger and womaniser. He knows that the receipt of comments whilst 'on the road' adds to the pleasure. Interactive blogging, I suppose.

Alan - (touché!) before we left on this trip I took Sue to a Shop (yes!) to buy a new Thermarest. She looked at the Cascade Designs 6.5 cm sleeping mat and took advice. All that glistens is not gold. It has defects, that's all I'm saying, and her purchase of the pretty pink Prolite womens mat is not regretted. It is a star of the trip, along with her ('stonking pillow') RAB vapour rise fleece (an expensive pillow, if you ask me!). But thank you for your comments Alan; we enjoy them nearly as much as Notchy's News Bulletins. (I would publish these if I could afford to buy the copyright.)

Tomorrow the sun will shine.

Next Day
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A Cunning Plan

St Jacques - elevenses - before it starts to rain.

A fine day's walk!

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Thursday, 14 August 2008

Thursday 14 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 51 - The Matterhorn: Hello and Goodbye

Roadworks on the Tour of Monte Rosa at Colle Sup. delle Cima Bianche, 2982 metres

Plan: Day 52 - Lago del Piano sup to Lago Goillet - 14 km, 600 metres ascent, 6 hours.

Actual: Wild camp near Bivouac Manenti to wild camp at 2700 metres, beyond Colle superior delle Cime Bianche:
18 km, 1300 metres ascent, 8.1 hours including 2.3 hours breaks.

Best bit: At last, The Matterhorn, close up.

The prediction of UK weather spreading south dictated a crack of dawn start, so we were away by 7.45 and in the warming sunshine by 8 o'clock.

We passed the Very Small bivouac hut. Two people were using it. It was hardly bigger than our tent, and they were having to cook outside. Glad we didn't stop there!

The descent was through an area of rock scenery and fine waterfalls. Goats scrabbled amongst tussocks in the rocks - we had heard the gentle tinkle of their bells last night. We passed a smelly overhang where they must shelter when it rains.

Pipits and a dipper hunted for food around a good spot for camping at 2570 metres.

The phone crackled into life after we'd spent the night 'out of range'. Notchy's News came bounding in. It seems that Georgia is trying to get revenge over Russia via a beach volleyball contest. But are they playing fair?

As you can see, we have both hands on the carotid artery when it comes to world news!

The marmots were of course fully conversant with this news. They had been listening carefully, but as we strolled on they resumed their happy play in an area at 2500 metres just made for people with big tents, or field kitchens.

At the Cignana col, 2441 metres, we'd expected a view of the Matterhorn. A panoply of peaks and glaciers was revealed, but no Matterhorn. Just an eagle floating in the distance, and black vanilla orchids at our feet.

Two fishermen passed by - the first of many people that we would encounter on our paths today.

Over a rise - this had to be a view of the Matterhorn. A bank of cloud and some rude Italians blocking the path was all that greeted us.

Frequent boot stops were needed for Sue, who removed some more leather from the troublesome clog, and resolved to go on a shopping expedition with Alan Sloman next time I escape to the hills.

Suddenly the mist dissolved and the big mountain appeared.

It was magnificent.

The tip of one of Sue's walking poles broke in surprise.

We duly reported the big mountain's presence.

Path 107 to Breuil-Cervinia is for 'Expert Excursionists'. We strolled along very professionally, as we are indeed 'EE's, vying for position on the path with push chairs and gents in smart slacks, and joining those users in dodging the flying mountain bikes.

The Italian signposting of paths can be bizarre, as in this instance. We have encountered no small degree of interference from the Health and Safety police, and it's hard to judge whether the warnings are justified. Was yesterday's path 16 really impassable, for example - someone had torn down the tape intended to deny entry...

We took no photos of Breuil-Cervinia. It's basically a ski resort, and looks like any other ski resort. Though not as bad as the awful place in Andorra that we passed through on our HRP trip.

Our new path 16 was however very well signposted from the town centre - very commendable as this is where we most commonly get lost. It even took us past a sports shop. They shook their heads gloomily when presented with Sue's broken walking pole.
'I'll go shopping with Alan next time' pronounced Sue, 'he'd let me explore all the shops', she paused, 'and he'd buy me a beer!'
Some counselling was then necessary, and a reminder that as 'banker' on this trip she can buy a beer whenever she likes!

Shopping done, we sought a post box and some water. We found neither. So I am still carrying the final batch of unposted cards, and a bar in the town is still looking at its cloudy tap water, regretting that it can't even be given away.

At least we had enough for our lunchtime brew. We drank it whilst admiring the Matterhorn from a grassy meadow that we decided had very recently been vacated by a herd of cows.

The cheese and ham and ciabatta were all delicious.

Path 16 to Colle superior delle Cime Bianche basically ascended an ugly ski piste. This was the sort of terrain we had dodged around Sestriere by taking the GTA route. We could have dodged this by continuing along AV1, but that would have deprived us of the excellent Valcornera area, and of our spectacular views of the Matterhorn.

The 2982 metre Colle is a wide one, and the ugliest by far that we have seen. A traffic sign and warnings of explosives directed us around earthworks so extensive that the JCBs looked like Matchbox toys. Ho hum. At least the alpine toadflax seemed to like it!

At the col we joined our final 'named route' of the trip - the Tour of Monte Rosa. We could follow this all the way to Saas Fee. But we won't - it doesn't seem to us to be an entirely attractive route.

The other side of the giant colle was different. A well trod path led gently down to an azure coloured lake - Gran Lago in Vallone di Courtod. Wooded hillsides graced distant slopes. Glaciers lurked above us to the north east. Grass gradually took over from the rocky landscape as we descended to a fine choice of camping spots. We chose this one, at 2700 metres, close to a mountain stream, but not too noisy.

We are enjoying a lazy evening in the tent. At 5pm, an hour after we'd arrived, the first evidence of that 'low pressure centred over Britain' arrived, since when we have gradually been enveloped in cloud, with intermittent rain.

More is forecast for tomorrow - a wet day - so will we finally have a day in the rain? Probably.

A cunning plan is called for!

Next Day
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The Matterhorn

Not a masterpiece, I know.

A bout of bad weather created by 'Low over Britain' is fast approaching, so we may not see much of it!

This is our first view of the big mountain since we were in the Monte Viso area.

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Wednesday 13 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 50 - Another Day, Another 3000 Metre Col

A staircase on the way to Col di Valcornera

Plan: Day 51 - Dzovenno to Lago del Piano sup - 22 km, 1700 metres ascent, 8.5 hours.

Actual: http://www.campinglaclexert.it/ in Dzovenno to wild camp at 2800 metres near Biv Manenti, very close to planned stop:
25 km, 1800 metres ascent, 9.3 hours including 2 hours breaks.
Best bit: The stunning turquoise of Lago di Place Moulin under a deep blue sky, and the brilliantly clear mountain views.

Whilst it 'chucked it down' outside last night, we enjoyed an excellent meal in the Lac Lexert restaurant. It was almost full both nights we were there. It is the only restaurant in the vicinity, so it has no competition. But it has a good chef. We couldn't help comparing it with the very average place in Rhêmes St Georges. Lac Lexert's restaurant won on all counts, including price. We admired Patrick Favre's display of trophies, and his Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic equipment. His camp site, apart from the hard core deterrent to campers, is a very good place. We commend it.

The rain bounced off the Nallo tent for most of the night, but the morning dawned fine and clear, so after breakfast in the tent, followed by breakfast in the bar, we set off in t-shirts and shorts, under a blue sky, in search of path number 16. Here's the message we sent at the time. This was the path that according to a board outside the camp site would take us all the way to the Place Moulin barrage (dam).

We found the path, back down the road. It led down into a gorge with a huge mare's tail waterfall across the valley. A minor navigational error had us briefly in the wrong direction, but that was remedied and we enjoyed a descent into pleasant woodland along a path marked for snow shoeing. Lots of snow making equipment remained silent as we passed by. We weren't concerned, we had no snow shoes. We would have welcomed some frost though - the dew/rain from last night on the grass soon had our feet wet.

Why do Asolo manufacture their (still comfy!) boots from blotting paper?

After an hour and a half on this path (not marked on our map - but a good one) we had just about got back to the height at which we had set off. Now we joined the path that Was marked on our map.

A large sign confronted us. The path was closed due to a landslide caused by the bad weather in May.

The road was fairly quiet and got us past lots of tall thistles, etc to the barrage, despite an elderly Italian trying to persuade Sue to take another route.

Lots of cars were parked here. We joined the throngs to enjoy the stroll alongside the shining turquoise Lac di Place Moulin, with the freshly snow covered peak of Dent d'Herens lording the head of the valley under a blue sky.

Shortly before Rifugio Prarayer we enjoyed our usual alfresco lunch, supplemented today by a hunk of fontina cheese from a kiosk at the barrage. This lunch stop had one of the finest of our many fine lunchtime views. There was a drying breeze for our tent and socks. And this change has been gradual but was very noticeable today - no flies. Flies have blighted some of our lunch spots and our wild camps; today they have been absent from duty at both venues.

We were a bit concerned about the time it was taking to make progress - we hadn't expected path 16 to descend so far, or then to be closed (the road took us a long way round). The sign to our col suggested another three and a half hours as we passed Rif Prarayer at 2.15. And it was marked 'EE'. I sometimes have trouble with vertigo on these 'experts only' paths. But we continued on our merry way.

The views were immaculate. Crystal clear snowy peaks dribbling glaciers down rocky coires under a deep blue sky. Here's a message with a picture, saved at the time for a cloudy day.
Black redstarts chattered at us beside the well constructed old path.

This is an unnamed route on our map - just path no 12, so we didn't really expect to see anyone. But it turns out to be Alta Via No 3, and that has some customers - we met about a dozen descending. There were no vertigo inducing difficulties, just a few steps, an easy chain and some steep scree, so we easily beat the signposted time and were perched up on Col di Valcornera (3066 metres) by 5.15.

More stunning views, but the 4000 metre summits to the north were either obscured by closer peaks or engulfed in cloud. The Matterhorn remains elusive.

Less than 30 minutes from the col a rifugio (Rif Vuitiermoz-Perucca) stood enticingly in a landscape of rocks. Not a patch of grass to be seen. We went down steep scree and across snow patches to reach this haven, quite a busy looking place. Now the view down did reveal a few patches of green, so we took the risk and continued. A wild camp beckoned, we hadn't had one for a while.

This patch of grass next to a spring at 2800 metres soon appeared, just before we reached a bivouac hut. It's flat, and in a secluded little basin, though a 5 metre stroll brings us into sight of the Rifugio.

My chef hasn't done much cheffing for a while, so is eagerly concocting some fine camp grub, to round off an excellent day, during which we seem to have flown across a fair section of our penultimate map.

There's no phone signal though, so both our readers will have to wait.

Next Day
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Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Leaving Lac Lexert

Low pressure centred over Britain threatens to wreck our 'walking in the rain' statistics.

Meanwhile our final 8 day section to Saas Fee starts on this sunny morning from the Lac Lexert camp site - where we spent much of yesterday holed up in this building.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Tuesday 12 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 49 - First Wet Day

Lac Lexert campsite building in the rain

Plan: (Day 50) Rest Day based at Dzovenno (Lac Lexert)

Actual: Sheltering from the rain.

Best bit: Being very lazy. Just for a change, you have to understand. This is our final rest day, after all!

Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
721 km (679), 51700 metres ascent (51000), 258 hours (roughly!) walking (275).
No of summits visited: 11
No of cols or passes visited: 79
Highest point: Rocciamelone - 3528 metres
Hours waterproofs worn: 3
No of English encountered whilst walking: 0 (12 not walking)

Messages:

We've had very few messages since Courmayeur, so assume everyone is bored, on holiday themselves, or just has nothing to say.

But wait, I've logged on again to find a lovely message from Enrico, one of the kind motorists who have helped us out in time of need, and also a mountaineer. We hope you are enjoying your holiday, Enrico, and many more happy days in the mountains this summer.

And our mothers are listening, so the blog goes on.

We also have a message from Gillian, intended for when we get home but available to us now thanks to this little gadget. Thank you Gillian, we'll be in touch in a couple of weeks if we survive the final 8 days to Saas Fee.

It's a short walk across the grassy hard core to the café, restaurant, alimentari, shower, washing and drying machines, etc building. The shop is well stocked so we enjoyed an excellent lunch in the tent, but we will re-test the restaurant tonight, from its proper menu. Though having walked about 100 metres all day, I doubt we will be as hungry as yesterday.

It's raining, by the way. Has been most of the day.

Our first wet day!

We tried to keep our readers awake with this message about Field Gentians.

Anyone wishing to view our summary and detailed itineraries, or our kit lists, should use the link to the Phreerunner blog - An Italian Border Route (GTA) from the home page of http://www.topwalks.com/

You can also contact us directly by email using the 'Contact us' button on that home page. It would be great to hear from you.

Next Day
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Gentians (2)

This is a clump of field gentians (Gentianella campestris).

Strictly 'Gentianella' rather than 'Gentiana', to which the spring gentian belongs.

They were strangely absent from the early part of our trip but have made up for that recently.

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Monday 11 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 48 - French Friends

Lunch at the unexpected table on the way to Col Breuson, with the Bogniers - the only walkers seen today

Plan: Day 49 - Rif Champillon to Dzovenno - 16 km, 1400 metres ascent, 8 hours.

Actual: Exactly as planned to http://www.campinglaclexert.it/ at 1600 metres in Dzovenno:
17 km, 1400 metres ascent, 8 hours including 1.6 hours breaks.
Best bit: This afternoon's balcony path above Valpelline.

We enjoyed last night's dinner with Paul and Stephanie from Paris and Elisabeth from The Netherlands. The pasta, soup, polenta and sausages, followed by tiramisu, all went down very well, as we chatted about our route and about the TDC (Tour des Combins). They are doing the TDC in opposite directions, and enjoying the experience.

It was an enjoyable, convivial evening, during which the two German cyclists, for whom dinner had been delayed, eventually arrived. The rifugio staff showed concern rather than annoyance, fed them well, then the shattered pair went to bed.

Last night Luigina and her daughter Marina had been distracted by five surprise diners who they knew, and by the late arrivals. This morning they were more attentive, serving us excellent coffee, with plenty in the jug for second and third cups. The Parisians, Paul and Stephanie had tea. Shouldn't that be the other way around?

Sue was chattering incoherently about her dreams/nightmares, in one of which she married a woman with a felt hat.

Marina and Luigina showed interest in our route, which we could trace almost to its conclusion on the wall map in the rifugio.

It's a fairly new rifugio, having opened on 18 July 2005. It has had only a handful of English visitors, according to the hut book. A new book was started a couple of days ago, so we were pleased to be some of the first entries. It's an excellent place, and €30 cheaper than Bonatti, for the two of us. Surprisingly, it's on our 1:50000 map, unlike this camp site.

We left at 8 am, under a blue sky, armed with a postcard for M and L's friends at our planned destination. Red and yellow balloons hung lazily over the mountains across the Aosta valley.

As we regained reception and Notchy's News poured in, the bleeping phone was imitated by chattering tits in the pines below the tree line. These had dark helmets and were bigger than blue tits but smaller than great tits; willow tits?

The easy path led down to a watercourse at Champillon. Following it would take you to the car park that we found anyway, having missed the path down. It was a minor error with a bonus. Sue had been about to use the trowel, but she now spotted a thunder box surrounded by broken planks - straight out of a wild west movie. Amazingly it had some loo paper in it!

Then through dew laden meadows before a steep, slippery section with nettles led to the welcome security of the pine needles of a deserted woodland path that took us down past a single AV3 sign (who knows where that path goes?) to the small village of Rey.

Many of the buildings here have the traditional roofs we have observed throughout the trip, but they are more 'chalet style' in construction than further south. We walked down the road to Ollomont along a pavement lined with freshly planted shrubs. There was an air of affluence to the place. A small alimentari next to a bar was literally overflowing with people - we had not expected one here so had no need to stop, but others following in our steps could include it on their 'shop crawl'!

Following the AV1 signs we headed steeply up from our low point at 1350 metres, along a gravel track through meadows littered with snow making machines, then into shady woods for the rest of the ascent to Alp Berrio at around 1930 metres. Fountains around here meant that we needn't have carted water all the way up.

I lazed in the sun under our patch of blue sky whilst Sue removed more leather from her troublesome boot. Rif Champillon had disappeared into the cloud, and 'weather' was building up all around us.

A contouring path past copious clumps of eyebright, yellow rattle and lady's mantle led to a wide shelf with fine views across the valley. Old foundations indicated a former use. Wartime defences perhaps?

We'd planned to lunch on the col at 2500 metres, but at noon, 300 metres below that, we came upon a superb picnic bench constructed from huge logs. It halted our upward progress. As we set up the stove the Bognier family, husband and wife, from Chambery, appeared, the only other walkers we saw all day. We chatted at length with this jolly couple - on a seven day trip along AV1 - not far from their home. We recalled our visit to Chambery, with its huge elephant fountain, last year after a hutting trip to the Vanoise. They told us of the polenta and jam for breakfast at their excellent 'agriturismo' (farmhouse B+B) accommodation at La Renardiere in Bionaz.

Continuing upwards, zigzagging up the ancient narrow terraces built into the hillside (erosion control? - they seemed too narrow for any agricultural use) the warm cloud billowed around us at around 2400 metres. As Showell Styles said 'It's for the heat!'

So, the view from Col Breuson? We thought the elusive shape of The Matterhorn might reveal itself here, but whilst the sun beat down from the blue sky above, we were engulfed in a muggy cloud.

Down past more huge clumps of eyebright, and the rarely seen large-flowered (yellow) houseleeks, the closer mountains soon came back into view. So did big black clouds from the south.

We sent a message with a picture of Spring Gentians, to keep those back at home entertained.

We passed a small barn. It was full of cows. Sheltering. Ominous!

Steaming on to the safety of the valley, we slithered down steep sections of the woodland path, teeming with bird life. But most of this path comprised a superb belvedere above the Valpelline valley, the highlight of today's itinerary.

It went very calm and quiet. The grasshoppers must have been sheltering with the cows. The black cloud moved slowly towards us up the affluent looking valley, a sheen of rain at its vanguard.

We reached a lane. 3.30, only a mile or two to camp. Spots of rain.

We lost the race.

It was just a short walk along the main road up the valley to reach the new Lac Lexert camp site, set up by biathlon champion Patrick Favre and his family.

The bar/café was full of refugees from the rain. A screen quietly revealed the dramas of olympic swimming races to those with any interest. Most people just dripped into their cappuccinos.

It's worthy of mention that we have not yet indulged in hot chocolate on this trip - thanks to the hot weather - last night we recalled with Paul and Stephanie how different it was from August in the Alps three years ago!

Eventually we braved the rain and got the tent up. Once we were installed - not so easy, as Mr Favre, in his wisdom, decided to sow his nice grass directly onto hard core, rather than provide his camping customers with any topsoil - the rain of course stopped.

Then we showered - Sue did anyway, I pushed my shower token irretrievably down the wrong orifice.

Then we ate at the restaurant. Sue had seen the menu and was dribbling with expectancy as we entered. But somehow she contrived to inform them that we were staying half board at a nearby hotel to whom the restaurant provides a set meal.

It was fine, but not quite what Sue had in mind in her dribbles....

Next Day
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Monday, 11 August 2008

Gentians (1)

We have encountered all manner of gentians on this trip. These spring gentians are some of the commonest.

(They are white. The colour is the reflection from the sky. They always appear like this!)

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Sunday, 10 August 2008

Sunday 10 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 47 - No 22, A Path With a View

Rifugio Champillon with Grand Combin behind

Plan: Day 48 - Etroubles to Rif Champillon - 10 km, 900 metres ascent (way out - I think I got today and tomorrow mixed up!), 4.5 hours.

Actual: Almost exactly as planned:
12 km, 1500 metres ascent, 6.3 hours including 2 hours breaks and 30 minutes on the wrong path.

Best bit: The (now) traditional Sunday Lunch.

Having skirmished with Alta Via della Valle d'Aosta No 2 (AV2 - a fine route previously unknown to us) for a number of days, yesterday we joined Alta Via della Valle d'Aosta No 1 (AV1) from Rif W Bonatti, leaving it in the narrow streets of Cuchepache in favour of the excitement of the Valle del Gran San Bernardo.

Today we continued along AV1 to another private rifugio after reaching that path via an excellent route from Etroubles, along path number 22.

We started slowly. There was no hurry. Last night's celebrations in town had slightly affected our sleep. And today was always going to be a short one.

But back to last night. We enjoyed another lovely alfresco camp site meal, thanks to Etroubles' well stocked 'market' (supermarket) - lots of salad, ham and cheese goes down well, before returning to the narrow cobbled streets where the festival of traditional crafts and farming techniques was just getting going. Something seemed to be happening on every corner, down every alley, and through most doorways.
A sheep was being shorn with what appeared to be a large pair of scissors; the wool was being 'carded' by a woman using a couple of large hair brushes, then another lady was nonchalantly spinning the wool onto a reel whilst chatting to passers by.
A brass quartet played in the street; a pharmacist in a bow tie dispensed peculiar potions from a set of glassware that would have made any chemistry teacher proud (lots of coloured boiling liquids emitting coloured vapours).
A duo with peculiar wind up instruments played as a wood carver chiselled his work.
Huge intricate traditional dresses hung from balconies.
Tubs of polenta bubbled lazily (here is one doing just that) (€1.50 a bowl), whilst huge slabs of steak fizzed on hot plates nearby.
Home made jams, honey, jewellery, and other crafty items adorned numerous stalls.
There were lumberjacks with big muscles and felt hats, lumberjacking.
I dragged Sue, kicking and screaming, away from this ugly spectacle to where a whole building seemed to be full of 'pan ner' (€4), piled high on wooden frames like the ones we saw in the bread kitchen at Fenestrelle Fort.
The car parks were full in this, the last small town before the Swiss border on a main artery.
People milled around in increasing numbers. We returned to camp after a while - 10 pm was a late night for us.

The sound from the revellers died away sometime after 2 am.

So we earned a slow start today. But 9 am isn't too bad!

Goodbyes to the friendly camp site lady were followed by a visit to the bakery, 50 metres away - and rated by my chef as one of the best. A convenient Bancomat (cash dispenser) put us back in funds. All in all Etroubles was an excellent place to visit.

We left along marked paths but made only our second navigation error of the trip, mistaking an arrow slanting downwards for a turn we shouldn't have made. By the time we realised our (my) error we'd risen 70 metres and Sue had consumed several handfuls of raspberries and strawberries whilst I had obtained some good images of the valley and listened to some squawking jays. The valley view all the way back to Mont Blanc was recorded in this message.

We enjoyed the bed of pine needles on rarely walked path 22. It was deserted apart from the flying insects dancing in the shafts of light filtering through the trees. Or was it?

We were soon beyond the ruined buildings that had featured along the path, and the traffic noise had long gone. A red deer, oblivious to our presence until very close, leapt off, barking in surprise.

Stopping for a second breakfast of tea and cake, I dumped my rucksack on some wet grass. We enjoyed the brew; Mont Blanc had just appeared on the western horizon.

Picking up the rucksack, I discovered we were not alone. Another family lived here. Their children were all over my rucksack. They had many children. They were a family of slugs.

Rain is forecast for tomorrow. I'm sure that will make me less slimy!

I disturbed a grouse. Instead of the familiar 'habayler habayler' this bird went 'whichoo whichoo'. I wonder what type it was? [Red-legged partridge]

Lovely path 22 rounded a couple of gullies, then thrutched up past field gentians and fat grasshoppers to negotiate another gully, before contouring lazily up to join the AV1 path at around 2300 metres. The views across to Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses, under a deep blue sky, were wonderful.

We enjoyed a luxurious Sunday lunch at 2350 metres, with this view, undisturbed by flies or slugs. Departure was delayed by the spectacle of two fighting hawks, and an urgent need to utilise part of our washing line to replace one of my boot laces.

Col de Champillon, 2708 metres, revealed a new view - the mass of Grand Combin, and Mont Gele both being prominent in that view. We are on three routes here:
Path 22
AV1
TDC - we'd wondered what this was. Now we know - Tour des Combins - an easy walk around the Grand Combin massif.

The col is easily accessible from the east, and a short walk past sunbathers and other afternoon strollers soon found us outside Rifugio Champillon (3.20) where we spent a pleasant afternoon.
A golden eagle appeared for a while. We watched this whilst others outside the refuge found the marmots more interesting.

There's hardly anyone staying here. Just as well as they say they have no record of the phone call Nick made on 30 July, booking us in tonight. Dinner at 6.30 has been delayed due to late arrivals. 'That must be us' we keep telling them!

Roman may be right about the power of Bonatti's name. This place should be as good, but.....
It's cheaper!

That's all for now, socialising must not be subrogated to blogging.

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Another Sunday Lunch

Looking back to yesterday's route, with Mont Blanc and Grandes Jorasses behind.

Where would you prefer to be?

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Saturday 9 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 46 - Turning The Corner

Sue and Guilia at 'OMG' Base Camp

Plan: Day 47 - Rif W Bonatti to Etroubles - 20 km, 1000 metres ascent, 6.5 hours.

Actual: As planned, to Camping Tunnel in Etroubles:
21 km, 1000 metres ascent, 8 hours including 2 hours breaks.

Best bit: The traditional craft festival in Etroubles.

Chris, Beverley, Sean and Rebecca were doing the TMB clockwise - against the grain, so to speak. They hadn't met anyone on consecutive nights, and their paths hadn't been too crowded. Nor had the refuges - they were not booking ahead by more than a day, and they were also using camp sites. They had a few issues with Kev Reynolds' guide book, which has replaced the one we used in 2000. That surprised us.

They were having a good holiday, and we enjoyed their company last night. Hello folks! We have now encountered 12 English people on the entire trip.

The clear dawn brought fine views of Grandes Jorasses. The buffet style breakfast was the best we've had in a rifugio. Roman infers that anything to do with Walter Bonatti is bound to be top class. Perhaps so, but this is a smart purpose built private refuge with a good guardian. Its name is irrelevant. Here's the message I sent from the breakfast table.

We got away into the crisp (5C) mountain air by 8 am. There was a bit of ground frost, so walking conditions were excellent. This led to a quick 900 metre ascent past purple gentians and black vanilla orchids up to the distinct notch of Col Malatrà. Notchy would love this spot, so we sent him this message.

Two French athletes joined us for our last close view of Mont Blanc, gleaming white under the blue sky.

Then came our long descent to Etroubles, with more big mountains gleaming to the east, and with the Swiss border to the north, confirming that we had well and truly turned the corner and were heading away from France.

The narrow path down steep scree on the initial descent into Comba di Merdeux wasn't the best place to meet about 50 Italian children, some carting huge rucksacks, others nothing. We stepped aside to let the ascending horde pass, as did the friendly French athletes. We were glad to have left the col before they arrived - there was barely room for a handful of people up there.

Down we went, slowly, through yellow and blue meadows, Monte Rosa in the distance, a bit of high cloud melting away.

More youngsters ascending! These had Himalayan style packs - metal frames with straps - and Himalayan style loads - building bricks. Small wooden signs directed them to 'OMG', a building site hidden to view.

We continued down past swooping martins to reach a large barn at the head of a track at around 2300 metres. Cows milled around outside, but part of this barn was occupied by the OMG 'base camp and field kitchen'.

Guilia, one of the students at 'base camp', plied us with tea and explained the €1.6 million project. A 60 bed posto tappa style rifugio is being built up by a small lake higher up the valley. It's being funded by the local community and any profits from its operations will go to help deprived people in South America. Every day about 15 to 20 students are giving up their time to haul loads from the road head to the building site. This will save a fortune in helicopter charges. But won't it cost a fortune to feed everyone? We were offered lunch - a massive (metre long!) pan of frying pork chops and another one of sausages made that very tempting. However, we had our own pantry and didn't want to linger for too long, so reluctantly bade a fond farewell to the philanthropic students and moved on down the grassy AV2 path that has replaced the deep earthy groove of the TMB.

An idyllic spot for lunch was followed by a pleasant stroll through small villages decked with red geraniums. There is clearly a Swiss influence here. There are also signs of affluence beside the narrow cobbled streets.

Beech woodland with poppies and huge pale bellflowers led us on this hot afternoon (30+C) past two camp sites to the relative suburbia of Etroubles and 'Camping Tunnel', which is very close to town. That was our plan today, as we wanted to visit the traditional craft festival here.

I'll write about that tomorrow.

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