Thursday, 21 August 2008
Actual: And so it was, with sunny views over hillsides planted with vines, past snow capped mountains, a large looking moon peeking over a rocky summit, the train sped along beside airports and motorways on its way past Lake Geneva to the airport.
Here's a message we sent from the train.
So, here are the final statistics:
Cumulative distance (planned in brackets):
860 km (802), 61000 metres ascent (60300), 300 hours (roughly!) walking (327).
No of summits visited: 11
No of cols or passes visited: 86
Highest point: Rocciamelone - 3528 metres
Hours waterproofs worn: 4
No of English encountered whilst walking: 11 from Ramblers Holidays doing the Tour of Monte Rosa (15 not walking)
All our memory cards are full (hence the lack of a 'postcard image' today, Sue's boots have been binned, we are satiated with mountain air and acclimatised to 3000 metres.
So painting the house should be a breeze.
We are home....
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Wednesday 20 August 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 57 - Arriverderci Italie, Guten Tag Helvetia
Actual: Rif G Oberto to Camping am Kapellenweg, Saas Grund:
19 km, 200 metres ascent, 6.9 hours including 2.3 hours breaks.
Best bit: Bright blue skies and cloud inversions at 2900 metres.
And we found an excellent restaurant - Tenne - in which to celebrate.
We were in no rush. It dawned fine, apart from some swirling cloud, and we had plenty of time to chat to the four pipe-laying workmen, and to Fabio, the guardian, before easing our aching limbs up the final 100 metres to our final col.
Passo di M Moro is also home to the Madonna delle Nevi, a 6 metre statue painted gold. Today she was radiant under a gleaming sun and a deep blue sky. The sun was on her back, so photos were tricky. We spent 30 minutes with her - here's the message we sent at the time, leaving just before the arrival of the first passengers disgorged from the nearby cablecar.
We missed the path down so had a bit of fun in a boulder field before locating the security of the red and white stripes of the alpine path markings.
Cloud lay below us, so we thought we would have to pass through it to a dull day in the valley, but it evaporated as we went down. It was lovely to be able to enjoy a final sunny day, despite cloud obscuring some of the high peaks.
Ibex scampered in front of us. Rock pipits, redstarts, choughs and ravens joined the marmots in admiring the splendid inversions.
We stood aside on a steep rock to allow some fat men past. Just as the last one was below them, Sue's ailing boots finally died. They lost all sense of friction and propelled her into a heap at this man's feet.
It was hilarious. I'd been suggesting she change to trainers for some weeks - she later finally accepted that advice!
A ferret dashed across the path looking for mice.
We met lots of people on their way from the car park at the Mattmark reservoir - around 2200 metres - along the well graded path to the col. We noticed a dramatic change in their appearance. Most of them, men and women, were fat; the people we met in Italy were very rarely unnaturally bulky.
I could make a rude comment here, but I won't. I don't know the nationality of all these fat people, but they seemed to speak German or English. Yes, we started to meet English, so the 'encounter count' will end on the last col, as we are now well into territory frequented by the English.
We took the quieter (rougher) track to the east of the lake, noticing the abundance of flowers hereabouts. Willowherbs and bellflowers, daisies and fleabanes, bistorts and stonecrops, eyebrights and spurges, houseleeks, gentians and orchids, and many more to feast our eyes. These have accompanied us daily during the trip. We will miss them greatly.
Waterfalls cascaded gracefully from melting glaciers into the well supplied lake.
We'd been told, perhaps by the German I was rude to a couple of days ago, that it was best to get a bus down from the dam, rather than walk along the road. We hadn't been looking forward to this road and it was unclear from the map as to whether there was a path. So we were delighted to find a most excellent path, all the way to Saas Fee, with only about a kilometre beside the quiet road.
Lunch was perfect. Good bread, tuna with porcini - we hadn't had that for ages, no flies, good tea, bright sunshine, fabulous views, and a lovely waterfall. No worries, just contentment with this 'simple life'.
But it's all about to end!
Saas Fee was duly reached - past a massive 'Go Ape' type of facility with wires stretching high and long above the gorge, bus and train tickets for tomorrow were purchased, Swiss francs were obtained, and the walk was unexpectedly but enthusiastically continued, off the top of our last map, down 'the path of chapels' to Saas Grund, Saas Fee being a tent free zone.
Here we are in Saas Fee - mission accomplished - very satisfying
It being Switzerland, the camp site has plentiful topsoil; we have washed some smell off our clothes for travelling purposes, and I have broken one of the Nallo's poles trying to set up a washing line (my fault entirely - but not a problem - this happened at the start of the HRP trip and the Nallo's spare sleeve held up for the whole trip, we haven't even had to use that today).
We even found a photographer to record our 'compleation' for the purpose of this message home.
Lounging on the sunny site with alpine views and mugs of tea was followed by beers and our excellent celebratory meal at Restaurant Tenne.
And that's about it - day 58 is a rest/travelling day, so I may find time to produce some final statistics. Then there will be photos to add, many messages to send, epilogues to write, etc, etc,
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
But there's nowhere for tents there.
We didn't mind carrying on to Saas Grund. It was a lovely day for a walk after all.
And when will we be out like this again?
The end of a wonderful two months. We hope you have enjoyed these transmissions.
Today's blog will follow in due course when we've drowned our sorrows...
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Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Plan: Day 57 (first half) - Macugnaga to Rifugio G Oberto - 6 km, 1500 metres ascent, 3.5 hours.
Actual: Camping Sporting in Macugnaga to Rif G Oberto:
7 km, 1500 metres ascent, 4.7 hours including 1.2 hours breaks.
Best bit: A lovely alfresco lunch with fresh bread, tomato, toma di formezza and mortadella con oliva.
The Exit Route. That's what I thought until I looked at the map. Now I think the continuation of the route may well be from Saas Fee - heading back into Italy over Passo di Saas.
We have picked up a version of the GTA today, marked both on our map and on the ground. It follows a high route along red dots, briefly entering Switzerland before returning to the haven of Antronapiana in Italy.
The only reason to hasten today was to avoid the rain forecast for this afternoon. So we didn't hasten. The cloud was down at 2500 to 3000 metres so views were limited. It was cool. Good walking weather.
As seems to be the norm for the TMR, we started off up the road, provisioning for a couple of lunches at Staffa, one of the villages that makes up the district of Macugnaga. It's a reasonably sized town, with a variety of shops and bars. Alan Sloman would love it here.
I eventually dragged Sue away from these and we followed TMR signs to reach another lovely old mule track that wound gently up through woods, emerging after an hour or so at the Alpe Bill cable car station.
Then it was a rather thrutchy ascent on a rough rocky path below the cable car. Excavators were working on one section of the hill - perhaps something to do with skiing, or perhaps inserting walls to lessen the risk of landslides.
I grumbled about the mess whilst Sue feasted on berries. I could understand why we were the only people on the path. Sue waved to the cable car passengers. I vowed never to return to this path.
The flowers are more sparse now, after two months of summer since we set off, but harebells and biting stonecrop were still abundant on this rocky path. We also noted a different type of 'harebell' that turns out to be perforate bellflower - very common here.
We enjoyed an early lunch - our last above 2500 metres for the time being. It was excellent, with occasional glimpses of Monte Rosa's huge glaciers, gleaming in the sun under what must have been gaps in the cloud cover to our south west.
Then easily up, chatting on the way to an Italian couple we recognised from yesterday (the broken arm was a bit of a giveaway!), to the spacious rifugio (reached at 1.30), where we have a room to ourselves.
Day visitors from the cable car come and go. There appear to be just five other Italians staying. Italy's olympic channel emits images which we don't find particularly interesting. None of team GB's successes are shown. Notchy remains as our window on the outside world, despite the TV. A female ibex and two young linger outside - looking for scraps? (Of news?)
We turn out to be sharing the rifugio with a lone Italian who is walking - probably the TMR - and four others who exude an air of workmen on expenses on a day off. They have polished off two bottles of champagne and are half way through a two litre bottle of wine. Their room is next to the toilet. So is ours, the other side.
The rifugio is very jolly. Prayer flags and christmas decorations vie for prominence with a huge array of sunglasses and assorted loaves of bread for sale. A German calls to make a booking for tomorrow. Sue is enrolled as translator as the guardian and the other five occupants speak only Italian.
Water is scarce - not surprising as we are just a few metres below a 2888 metre pass on the Swiss border - so washing up is not really on the agenda. Dinner is eaten using plastic spoons and cups, and balsa wood knives and forks. Luckily the gnocchi was scoopable and the beef was tender.
It has finally started to rain at around 8 pm, so we could have made it down to Saas Fee for a night on the town. It would have been wonderful up here in good weather (there are lots of deck chairs outside), but in today's cold cloud we have remained inside and had a leisurely afternoon with the yatzy dice, etc.
There are three mattresses at the back and on each side. They can be folded out of the way when not in use. There is also a table and chairs, so not much room for anyone to sleep on the floor! I expect the gear would go there.
Cosy but safe!
I'm sure that fans of British bothies would love to try some of these Alpine bivouacs.
We prefer our tent.
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We prefer our tent.
They could be useful in an emergency, though and they are well used.
This is Bivacco Lanti (they are often named after or in memory of someone).
Bivouacs can be old shepherds' huts or custom built metal boxes.
This one is both.
The shepherds' hut, converted in 1980, sleeps two people, plus two on the stone floor in an emergency.
The green metal box, approx 6 feet by 9 feet, sleeps nine people!
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Plan: Day 56 - Alagna Valsesia to Macugnaga - 20 km, 1800 metres ascent, 8.5 hours.
Actual: Camping Alagna at Alagna Valsesia to Camping Sporting in Macugnaga:
24 km, 1600 metres ascent, 9.5 hours including 1.9 hours breaks.
Best bit: The wonderful path over Col di Turlo.
I was rude to a German man yesterday. I'm sorry about that. It was just that he was insisting we get the free bus up the valley to start today's walk.
'You must get the bus.' He said.
'But we've walked all the way from the Mediterranean' I replied, 'getting the bus is not on our agenda.'
'You must get the bus.' He replied.
I apologise for being rude to this obstinate opinionated man (that makes two of us!).
Sue told the camp site lady where we were going.
'It's a long way, you must get the bus' she said.
Sue replied as I had done to the German.
'It's still a long way, you should get the bus' the lady asserted.
Sue wasn't rude to her.
Today the Last Map - I think we started with 11 - was carefully inserted into the map case. A sad moment really, but care was needed because this map will have the honour of returning with us, perhaps for a couple of weeks next year, when we continue our quest to reach Trieste via 'An Italian Border Route'.
It has been a brilliant route, even today's stroll along the Tour of Monte Rosa (TMR) that I have been so maligning was excellent - one of the best paths we have encountered.
Knowing it would be a longish day, we were up and away from our grassy hard core pitch by 8 am. This, like Lac Lexert, was an excellent site, but would be improved for campers like us by a layer of topsoil. Tonight's site is similar. Bob and Rose's titanium spikes are very useful in such places, though their 'heavy duty' titanium vee shaped pegs are of little use. Luckily, we have just the right combination and can keep the 'vees' in reserve for stormy wild camps (just one this trip).
It's worth noting that Alagna Valsesia could be an excellent venue for a rest day. It's also worth noting that camp sites such as the one there often have cabins available for rent, for those who prefer not to camp.
So, we have two days to go but only one (long) day on our planned itinerary. What shall we do tomorrow? Rain is forecast for the afternoon. We shall try a avoiding tactic, we have a cunning plan up our sleeves. One that Nick knows about and that I may already have disclosed in these pages.
This morning's TMR road walk was a lot nicer than the ski pistes the TMR follows. Especially as the free buses are the only vehicles allowed up the road. A sort of mini version of the system used in Zion National Park. (Been there? No? Go!)
Had we been day walkers we would have used the bus and saved an hour. But anyway, after passing the site of some old gold mines our path left the road under a buzzing helicopter and headed up to Rif Pastore, where the coffees were almost up to the expected standard.
Entering the Alta Valsesia National Park along path 7a, we were not short of the company of chattering Italian families for the first part of the Col di Turlo crossing on a lovely mule track reminiscent of those old hunters' paths we had so enjoyed in the Maritime Alps.
Sue commented on the large number of bare-chested men out on the hill this morning, but my t-shirt remained firmly in place.
Red campion, meadow cranesbill and bladder campion returned to join the more alpine species alongside the path. We also saw heather (ling) in flower for the first time. Autumn must be on the way.
Sadly the early morning sun and the brilliant blue skies over peaks capped by glaciers was short lived. Cloud cover slowly increased and settled at around the height of our pass (2738 metres).
Our memory cards breathed a sigh of relief, as mountain views - even sunny ones like today's - aren't quite the same without summits. We have room left for about 20 more images between us (phew!).
Lunch was taken early - we had learnt from yesterday that the cloud would be lower on the other (north) side. Harebells and bumblebees kept us company whilst all my porter's supplies were consumed. Here's the message I sent whilst waiting for my lunch to be prepared.
Hmmm, perhaps I have a raw deal here. On days when copious provisions aren't needed, my porter just has the tent, and a few items for lunch, for which I carry the butter and milk, whilst I'm trailing along carrying the cooking equipment, library, first aid kit, spare batteries and chargers for cameras and 'phones, solar panels, toilet digging kit, washing line and pegs, a full wardrobe, binoculars, etc, etc, not to mention tent pegs and poles.
No wonder my back hurts!
The path from the plaque adorned pass had been empty for the first couple of hours, but then occasional encounters beside a river washing over smooth white rocks and down small falls signified a return to civilisation.
We encountered red and white path markers for the first time in ages as we passed through a scenic hamlet and approached the final descent through sunlit beech woods to another friendly camp site (the warden is telling all the other residents where we have walked from - we are famous!).
Macugnaga, which is a conglomeration of several small villages, does indeed seem very civilised. The Walser influence is less here, with houses more of the 'Swiss chalet' sort of style. But there is still lots of interest to us, and we wish we had more time here.
As it was, a 2 km round trip to the local alimentari, and possibly the last meal in the tent for a while, was just about all we could manage.
Finally, a few messages.
Hello to Alberto and Alessandra from Le Rêve, the B+B where the front door opens into the dining area, from which most of Hermes' rooms with their murals radiate. You should have joined us for a chat - the wine was flowing nicely, as was Hermes's genepy.
Notchy, we last heard from you somewhere near Southport Boating Lake, then the line went dead. Hope you are ok and the Dinosaur passed its MOT.
Gayle, Alan, we are sorry to be finishing this walk (for the time being) as well, but we will try to keep you entertained as best we can. Actually, we could do with someone else setting off on a month's blogging trip for our own entertainment - it's so much more fun when in 'real time' isn't it?
Monday, 18 August 2008
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Plan: Day 55 - Gressoney-La-Trinité to Alagna Valsesia - 15 km, 1300 metres ascent, 7.5 hours.
Actual: B+B Le Rêve in Gressoney-La-Trinité to Camping Alagna at Alagna Valsesia:
17 km, 1300 metres ascent, 8 hours including 1.4 hours breaks.
Best bit: Escaping from the Gondolas.
The forecast today was for fine but cloudy weather. A little disappointing then that after lunch the clouds leaked a bit. To call it rain would be an insult to that word, but a few cold drips did warrant waterproofs for a short while.
As expected, Hermes provided a fine breakfast, and we set off from our B+B with murals in all the rooms, up path number 4 at 8.30.
Not my original plan, but a better route.
We were soon overtaken by a man in wellies with a rod and a big white dog. They were found shortly afterwards beside a succulent looking pool.
The path was otherwise deserted. Past banks of alpine willowherb we entered a lovely coire with splashing waterfalls and rampant eyebright.
Behind its barrage, Lac Gabiet lay despondently grey and half empty.
Just beyond it, Rifugio Gabiet looked resplendent in its red and white livery.
There were a few people about, having been disgorged from the nearby gondolas, but these melted away as we moved on towards the Tour of Monte Rosa path.
We arrived at another ski piste, and earthworks for more paraphernalia. This seems to be a feature of the TMR.
So we left the TMR and the gondolas strung up above it and headed along a nicely cairned path over Passo Zube. Nowhere did we find a sign for this route or pass, perhaps because there were no paint marks.
Not my original plan, but a better route.
Presumably the TMR is designed to give business to Rifugios. In this area those hostelries appear to be positioned to serve skiers. They are therefore accessed by piste, and surrounded by ski detritus.
I'm sure they are very nice in winter.
Passo Zube (2874 metres) had prayer flags and a wooden sculpture, and was backed by a bank of cloud.
Goodbye view (which had been good), hello cloud. We soon stopped for our Sunday lunch - which is usually in bright sunshine. Not today. Fleeces and gloves were employed. It was 8C. The lunch - tea, fresh bread with ham, cheese and tomato, was excellent as always. Notchy's News of invincible Brits poured in, adding to the ambiance of our cold cloud.
A chamois lurked nearby with her baby.
The descent down path 3b, which the TMR adopts after Passo Foric, was pleasant enough apart from the pesky droplets and the limited views.
Below 2000 metres the sun came out and we passed through some high hamlets that retain faithfully the Walser heritage. The buildings have a very distinctive construction - slatted wooden frames, with internal rooms inside the veranda created by the frame.
Here we met just about the only person seen today - a young girl who cheerily greeted us 'buongiorno' in what I swear was a Scottish accent! Local dialect?
A light brown hawk flew off from a barn ahead of us. A goshawk?
Down through pleasant woods to the affluent pedestrianised streets (well, street) of Alagna Valsesia and our camp site, which we were relieved to discover does actually exist.
Dinner was in the tent due to more droplets and the fact that we'd been carrying it since Cervinia! Why go to a restaurant when you can reduce the weight of the porter's pack?
The sky is clearing. The sun will shine tomorrow for our last full day's walk.
All is well with the world - and especially with my mother, who has just worked out how to contact us whilst on the trip.
Plan: Day 54 - Rifugio Vieux Crest to Gressoney-La-Trinité via Testa Grigia - 14 km, 1500 metres ascent, 8.5 hours.
Actual: B+B Alta Via in St. Jacques to B+B Le Rêve in Gressoney-La-Trinité, omitting Testa Grigia, but visiting Lago Perrin:
20 km, 1500 metres ascent, 8.7 hours including 2 hours breaks.
Best bit: The sun shone. All day.
Hot chocolate. Cioccolada calde.
Three years ago, in the Dolomites in August, we enjoyed hot chocolate every day. The fridge in the car - to cool the beer - was never needed. What a contrast this year. It has taken until today for us to feel a need to buy hot chocolate. Driven by the fear of spending two months in Italy without one, we finally succumbed at Bar Edelweiss at the top of the Champoluc gondola. Alright, it had been a cool (8C) walk through the shady woods, and in the absence of any wind our usual garb of t-shirts and shorts was fine, but we felt entitled to this indulgence. Here's a report.
There was another 'first' this morning. After leaving B+B Alta Via full of their superb breakfast, we headed up the AV1 path to be greeted by a very English sounding 'bonjorno'. This was Michael, leading a party of 11 Ramblers Holidayers around the Tour of Monte Rosa. They had just set off from Rifugio Ferraro so weren't in a mood for a long chat. But they were the first English we had encountered whilst walking for over 7 weeks. Hello Michael and the gang! I didn't pursue the fact that they appeared to have strayed from the TMR route! Perhaps they were rambling into St Jacques for provisions.
What a momentous day! Hot choc, and English walkers.
It was Saturday in the middle of the Italian holiday season. Blue skies beamed down. A gondola transported folk up to 2000 metres. I would feel very sorry for anyone in the Italian tourist business if we had seen fewer people today. It was good to see people enjoying their day out in the mountains.
After our hot chocolate stop we passed through the village of Cuneaz, one of the highest places in Europe that is inhabited all year round. Its narrow streets gave it a Himalayan feel.
Soon the Matterhorn, like a bad penny, reappeared. It was garnished today with a fresh crust of snow. In fact, looking back to our last wild camp at 2700 metres, that was above the snow line. Perhaps we should have stayed put yesterday!
We chose to leave AV1 in favour of path 13. This gave better views, lots of German gentians, a fabulous lunch stop by Lago Perrin (from where we sent this message), and a wonderful, if slightly tricky, contouring path back to Lago di Pinter to rejoin AV1.
Lago di Pinter provided excellent reflections of the Matterhorn. Even my incompetence with the camera couldn't stop something of the 'essence' being captured.
Then it was up to Col Pinter for a new view (and one back to Mont Blanc and Gran Paradiso), and down the other side to find this excellent B+B. The building is modern, but Hermes is most welcoming. The village is a small town, bustling with holiday makers. There seems to me to be a Swiss influence, but the heritage of the place is 'an open window on the Walsers' world'.
A helpful man in tourist information discovered that tomorrow night's camp site (as per our map) doesn't exist. But he also discovered - for himself as well, as we are the first to make such a bizarre enquiry - that there is in fact a much more conveniently placed site that escaped our map maker's observations. Three English lads were having trouble finding accommodation. Thanks to Nick, our booking was secure.
In one the village people were milling around a refurbished statue of Christ, on display here before being returned in a few days time to its home on top of the Balmenhorn (4167 metres), where it was originally placed in 1955 in memory of the fallen of all wars, without distinction of nationality or political creed. A big Holy Mass service will be held up there on 31 August - televised live.
The B+B is full. We are half board. Two places are set in the dining area. Everyone else is using restaurants. We wonder what we have let ourselves in for....
Don't worry, Nick - thanks for sorting the half board and choosing Pierrade for us. It was wonderful after many nights of pasta and polenta, often both. I don't know whether you fixed that or whether Hermes was just taunting the other guests. We just couldn't help thinking, as they passed on their way out, that they were all wishing they had opted for half board. The food - meat, cheese and vegetables to cook directly on a hot plate - was great, and Hermes proved to be an excellent host. It was brilliant.
We have a TV for the first time on the trip. So we could watch Paula Radcliffe trying to impersonate Sue's pained expression every time she takes her boots off, her anguished stretches to remove cramp, and, if we are very unlucky, unmentionables that Sue has perfected. Sue, of course, does it all without removing her rucksack.
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