Plan: Lac della Vacca to Rif Soria Ellena - 15 km, 1100 metres ascent, 7 hours
Actual: River Camp in Val del Sabbione to Rif Soria Ellena - 1840 metres
20 km, 1600 metres ascent, 9.4 hours including 1.6 hours breaks.
Best bit: Herds of ibex and chamois
New high point: Colle dei Vei del Bouc - 2620 metres
The hills today were alive with herds of ibex and chamois. Marmots scuttled everywhere and snow finches and stonechats busily protected their nests.
Even here at the Rifugio, whilst we are dining a fox is sitting expectantly on a picnic table outside.
(Later...said fox tries to seek refuge in the Rifugio whilst a stone eagle hovers hungrily above.)
The Swiss identified it as a 'stone eagle'. It looked much like a golden eagle to me, perhaps even bigger! [It was actually a bearded vulture.]
It was one of those days we will remember fondly when the going gets tough.
It was great.
Having crossed the river last night we were soon at the top of a thrutchy bank strewn with bistort and Nottingham catchfly and strolling along the M5, dodging mosquitos that luckily hadn't found our excellent camp site. Up at Lac della Vacca it was wonderful. A wild camp site for connoisseurs. It was a shame we had missed out, but yesterday's decision to stop early made sense at the time.
The boundary with France was nearby, so we nipped up to visit it. Gentle slopes led to alpine pastures much less rugged than on our Italian side.
And so we headed up the ancient donkey track to our highest point of the trip, at 2620 metres, where we found another herd of ibex. The clear air held wonderful mountain views.
A 1200 metre descent on well graded paths followed. Our paths today were old trade or war routes, so are 'donkey friendly'. This makes them much gentler in gradient than many alpine paths, and a pleasure to be on.
Having seen nobody in the morning's remote valley (since leaving the GTA route nearly 24 hours earlier, actually), it came as a surprise to meet a day hiker below the col. Several more were met as we descended to the security (and welcome lavatory) of the bar in San Giacomo.
From there it was an easy stroll on the GTA (rejoined here at the start of stage 6, after we left it yesterday half way through stage 3 - our border route took a big short cut!) up a broad path to this fine establishment, run by a Philippino lady and her sister. We have the company of 3 Italians and 13 Swiss/Germans. The common language is English. The menu for tonight reads:
• Pasta w/gorgonzola sauce
• Baked meat w/pizza sauce + flowered polenta w/cheese
• Catalana cream
And delicious it was too, in between watching the eagle.
Strange that English is the common language when according to the hut book the only native English speakers to pass through here within the last two years are Geoff Bailey and Kate Malfroy (firstname.lastname@example.org) who passed through on 20 June on day 5 of their 35 day GTA trip. We knew of their existence from yesterday's Germans, and it will be good to swap stories at some point.
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/