Saturday, 5 September 2015
The Alps - Day 17 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 5 - Rifugio Lago Palù (1947 metres) to Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri (2813 metres)
13 km, 1350 metres ascent, in 6.5 hours including breaks.
Weather: sunny periods; cooler above 2600 metres.
Number one, Maria Louisa, and her able assistant (son) Bepe, ensured we didn't leave the comfort of Rifugio Lago Palù either hungry or thirsty. As today was deemed to be a short day we enjoyed a lie in, breakfasted at 8, and left soon after 9.
The proliferation of mushrooms, the careful negotiation of paths streaming with water from overnight rain, and the admiration of plentiful Eyebright, Grass of Parnassus and a multitude of thistles, all distracted us from the steep ascent to Bocchel del Torno on a day the coolness of which reflected the recent wet weather. However, we enjoyed a fair amount of sunshine even if our fleeces were worn above 2600 metres.
Descending a ski piste, we passed a couple of chaps who were servicing the snow making gadgets. Maria had told us that snow could be expected as low as Lago Palù any time now, and the first significant falls in October or November would last all winter.
We soon turned left onto what Gillian describes as 'an atmospheric old mule track'. Since then it has lost its 'atmosphere' having been resurfaced as part of a network of mountain bike tracks. I'm sure the asphalt will bed in and the mountain bikers will discover the excellent path, which today bore no sign of the passage of any tyres.
We soon crossed a river and climbed easily to Rifugios Musella and Mitta. Musella comes first, and Daniele was keen to take our order for cappacinos. We admired the array of mushrooms he had on trays outside the rifugio, all drying in the sunshine. We got the impression that both Rifugios are owned by the same family and that his grandfather built Mitta.
A little further on, Alpe Musella housed a herd of happy cattle, with cows whose noses could be stroked without scaring them. Tails weren't swishing; there were no flies. A lone martin was struggling to harvest any prey.
At the top of the meadow, we passed the time with two friendly shepherds who were curious as to our destination. They had a big woolly sheepdog and a bouncy puppy that enjoyed a fight with Sue once they got to know each other. It wanted to follow us up the hill.
Compared with some of the paths on the AVV the ascent up well graded zigzags to Rifugio Carate Brianza was very easy, and we had time to admire some great views, albeit the high summits remained in cloud all day.
Amanzio greeted us in the usual welcoming manner. He had no visitors yesterday and we were the first today. He doesn't expect any more. All this on an excellent route that is easily accessed, when there will be large numbers of folk trailing around the Tour of Mont Blanc and other higher profile but no more scenic trails.
One portion of tagliatelle between the two of us was more than enough for lunch!
That set us up for the final high level stroll through wonderful rock and ice scenery, to our 2813 metre home for the night. En route many varieties of flowers were spotted, so with Sue wanting to photograph each one, progress was slow. But there was no hurry and we reached the rifugio, perched high on a rocky outcrop, by 3.30pm.
The rifugio can accommodate 210 visitors. Tonight it's just the two of us, so we are hugely outnumbered by staff and effectively have our own personal chef for the pasta with mushrooms and the goulash that we've been promised.
Whilst I write this (5pm) Sue has ventured out along the path that leads eventually (EAO) [experienced alpinistes only] to Rifugio Marco e Rosa a Rocca (3600 metres). Meanwhile the hut dog, a wolf, is being restrained from trying to eat a nearby herd of goats.
Sue returned having got a view of the higher rifugio, which we understand has no visitors tonight, from a path junction at around 3000 metres.
Dinner was delicious.
Fresh supplies arrived by helicopter.
No goats, even the babies, were eaten.
We enjoyed an early night.
As expected, there is no wifi or phone signal here, though the staff make a great effort to keep the place warm for visitors. That's much appreciated by these particular visitors.
Looking back to Alpe Roggione
Below Alpe Campascio
Daniele and his mushrooms at Rifugio Musella
Looking back to Rifugio Carate Brianza
Looking up to Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri
Arriving at Rifugio Marinelli Bombardieri
Friday, 4 September 2015
The Alps - Day 16 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 4 - Albergo Chiareggio in Chiareggio (1612 metres) to Rifugio Lago Palù (1947 metres)
15 km, 1050 metres ascent, in 7.3 hours including breaks.
Weather: overcast with very occasional sunshine.
Breakfast comprised the usual cereal and yoghurt, bread and butter and jams, and huge jugs of tea and coffee, served cheerfully by Flavia, the matriarch of this family concern.
The bill was a surprise, as usual. Just €109 for half board and various drinks. I think we are relieved to have chosen the Italian Valmalenco route rather than the Swiss Bernina one!
It was wet outside but not raining, looking as if we were setting off in just a brief pause from the rain, which was forecast to fall on and off all day. A bit of a potential problem for Sue, who has left her shiny new waterproofs at home and has brought a version that can be likened to blotting fabric. Luckily the rain held off all day and we even received some rays of sun in what was mainly t-shirt and shorts weather.
The rain started again after 5 pm, an hour or so after we arrived at Lago Palù.
Easy paths, initially through fungi rich pine woods, led up to Rifugio Longoni, where Elia was in residence. We passed on Gillian's best wishes and chatted with him over coffee for a pleasurable half hour. He was the only person we encountered on today's walk, and we may have been the only people he encountered all day after waving off two English couples who stayed there last night. They must have continued beyond Lago Palù as they aren't here.
Elia also confirmed that the bright blue 'spring' gentians we've been seeing are Bavarian gentians and not short-leaved gentians. There are some very near his rifugio.
Looking back, we could see yesterday's lunchtime venue - we gave Piero a wave. Looking down, we watched a nearby kestrel hovering then diving, with success.
We could have taken a path directly east from the rifugio but we followed Gillian's instructions to the letter and retraced our steps to a flagpole before descending to a track. This track led towards a large building on the horizon. It used to be the access road to Rifugio Scerscen, which was a base for summer skiing on the glacier beyond it. Nowadays the glacier has receded and the building has been abandoned.
We followed the good track for a while and enjoyed some goats cheese and tomatoes from the shop across the road from last night's hotel.
Then the hard part started. A traverse with little climbing - apart from the giant boulders that litter the route. Slow going, but we beat the signposted time by 30 minutes or so. Sue and I have done quite a bit of boulder hopping. It's quite fun! But very slow going as care is needed.
There were good views down the valley to Sondrio and the mountains to the south. Lots of tempting places to visit.
The weather was slowly closing in, with high mountains gone for the day, but we were pleased to find Willow-leaved gentians on the path through pine trees to Lago Palù, where the Rifugio is of the 'extremely comfortable' variety as opposed to the merely 'comfortable'. We were expected, as Flavia had phoned ahead for us. Our policy on this trip is a 'day by day' one, as there is no likelihood of anywhere being fully booked. It's courteous though to phone ahead on a daily basis for catering purposes. So far, the guardians/hoteliers have been happy to do that for us.
There are just two other guests tonight, Hans and Danielle, a French Swiss couple from near Lausanne. We spent a very pleasant evening with them whilst 'Number One' served up an excellent six course meal and Number Two entertained himself by opening bottles of fizz and distributing them to anyone in the room, handing out antipasta, and throwing logs onto the fire. This trip is becoming a culinary challenge and for the second day running we failed to finish our main course.
Ascending above Chiareggio
The view down the valley towards Sondrio
On the boulders
Outside Rifugio Lago Palù
On the boulders
Outside Rifugio Lago Palù
Thursday, 3 September 2015
The Alps - Day 15 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 3 - Rifugio Ventina (1965 metres) to Chiareggio (1612 metres)
15 km, 950 metres ascent, in 8.0 hours including breaks.
Weather: intermittent heavy rain all morning followed by an afternoon of vaguely sunny periods.
Oreste and Coline saw that our request for a 7.30 breakfast was met, whilst everyone else enjoyed a lie in on a rainy morning. The Germans had already walked the Via Roma - it sounds excellent - and were winding down on the AVV, so they decided to head for the valley and try to find somewhere less rainy to end their holiday.
So Sue and I were alone on the Alta Via today, the other Germans also having bottled out. We saw no other walkers all day.
After an easy descent to Forbesina we turned sharp left up the Valle Sissone. Whilst easy at first, the going became steadily rougher. We were following the yellow triangles as usual. Today they had a number '3' painted inside, when there was space, so I've now worked out that it's the stage number that's in the triangle.
(As confirmed later by Gillian and page 125 of her book - see yesterday's comments. Duh!)
After a relatively easy 300 metres of ascent the path left the rising valley and headed off to the right, gradually steepening before reaching a lip below a long waterfall. The route ('path' being an optimistic description) then took us up very steeply beside the waterfall before heading over easier ground to a distinctive notch on the horizon.
Just as we reached the notch, a loud rumble of thunder warned us not to remain there for long. Considering the rain the views were quite good, with only the very top of nearby 3678 metre Monte Disgrazia being in cloud. The mountain and its glaciers dominate the views hereabouts. It was first climbed in 1862 by some English tourists.
From the notch, our lunchtime objective, Rifugio Del Grande-Camerini, could be seen on the horizon. We made our way across a steep meadow full of Alpine Willow-herb before climbing sharply up to the Rifugio. There were cold chains to negotiate to get us to a rocky crest leading up to the Rifugio. It was about 5C and snowing just above us.
Oreste had told us the hut may be closed because it's manned by volunteers and the season is virtually over, but we received a friendly welcome from Piero, who set about preparing a risotto lunch for us whilst we wrung out our sodden socks. His friend, Fransisco?, was also there and we spent a happy hour and a half with the pair of them, during which the rain stopped and the sun tried to break through.
The views were magnificent. Piero told us the sunsets could be superb, and they had enjoyed the same wonderful moonrise that we had admired a few days earlier from above Dornbirn.
After an hour and a half we finally moved on down the easy path to Chiareggio, but not before being shown the excellent four bunk winter room where another English couple, Sue and Greg, had recently spent the night in preference to descending to the valley.
We took our time in the better weather, and luckily the forecast heavy rain at four o'clock didn't arrive. I think we got that in the morning,
Piero had recommended a locanda on the outskirts of Chiareggio, but we took a lower track to the centre of the village and missed it. However, the Hotel Chiareggio made us very welcome. I think we are the only people staying here, though they were also catering for a ten strong birthday party.
The food was superb - air dried meats to start, tagliatelle con funghi - we had listened earlier to the pasta being made and we had been shown the basket of mushrooms, a platter of venison, wild boar, chicken, beef and lamb with sauté potatoes, carrots cooked in butter, and salad, followed by a selection of cheeses and fruit salad and ice cream.
We felt a little bloated after all that...
The party of ten were served a banquet of tasty looking dishes, most of which we didn't recognise.
It was good to hear from Gillian (the author of our guide book) and Nick today. We hope they will continue to monitor our progress...
Looking back to Ventina in the rain
At Rifugio Del Grande-Camerini (2)
Cloud above Chiareggio
A typical waterfall - water streamed off the mountains all day - we had numerous easy river crossi
Funghi for dinner
Wednesday, 2 September 2015
The Alps - Day 14 - Alta Via di Valmalenco - Day 2 - Rifugio Bosio (2086 metres) to Rifugio Ventina (1965 metres)
13 km, 1050 metres ascent, in 7.7 hours including breaks.
Weather: clouding over during the morning, then steadily heavier rain.
After a good hut breakfast we left along a mainly contouring path at 8.30. All eleven who stayed overnight set off in the same direction - along the clockwise AVV path. The party of three left first and were ahead all day. They provided a welcoming party at our destination. We overtook the party of four on the ascent to Passo Ventina and didn't see them again. We presume they are staying nearby at Rifugio Gerli-Porro. The tall man and his 6ft 3in daughter caught us up at Alpe Mastabbia, from where they descended to Chiesa.
After early sunshine it rapidly clouded over, and by the time we reached the long ascent to Passo Ventina it was spotting with rain. Waterproofs were needed for the final descent.
The statistics indicate a fairly easy day. That's far from the truth. After superb balcony paths for the first few kilometres, with fine views towards sunnier climes to the south, passing the remains of talc mines that were operating as recently as the 1990s, the path entered a landscape of fractured rocks. Gillian accurately describes the terrain as 'bare and desolate'.
It was enjoyable but slow going, with care needed to negotiate the slabby landscape. The route was easy to follow as it was marked with the traditional red and white mountain path signs, and also with a proliferation of yellow AVV marks and arrows. The man with the yellow paint actually went a bit over the top. There seemed to be yellow triangles with a '2' inside all over the place. I'm not sure what the 2 signifies, perhaps there is another Alta Via route nearby.
Other than the folk from Bosio, we saw nobody today, apart from one chap at a summer farm, until arriving in the rain at Rifugio Ventina. It was welcoming, as predicted by Gillian, and we were soon showered, washing done, and installed in a comfortable private room. There's just us, the threesome from Hamburg, and an Italian family with two noisy children. The two girls, 3 and 7, are Lightning McQueen fans so they got on well with Sue.
Whilst wandering around the balcony path and trying to post yesterday's entry (re-booting and re-composing being necessary) I had the pleasure of receiving an email from an old 'walking pal' Pete Skirving. Pete emigrated to Canada in the 1970s and we hadn't been in touch since then. It was great to hear from him. Isn't the Internet wonderful...
Dinner started with pizzocheri - short strands of buckwheat pasta tossed with potato and greens and a rich sauce of melted cheese. Delicious. It continued with pork cutlets, salad and veg, before moving on to slabs of cheese then slabs of cake then a bucket of coffee to wash down what remained of the wine.
No wifi or phone signal again, so deletion of some spam comments will have to wait. Please don't click on the links.
Today's pictures: (click on them for the 'full screen' experience)
Outside Rifugio Bosio this morning
Views from the balcony path (2)
The balcony path in the area of the talc mine
Ascending to Passo Ventina
Looking down towards Rifugio Ventina from Passo Ventina
Tuesday, 1 September 2015
16 km, 1300 metres ascent, in 6.4 hours including breaks.
Weather: sunny, hot and humid lower down; sunny periods and warm higher up (afternoon).
A leisurely start was to set the tone for the day, and perhaps for the entire Alta Via.
Our good friend Gillian Price recommended the Valmalenco area to us some time ago. Then she wrote a guide book covering a 9-day tour of the Bernina Alps and an 8-day tour of the Valmalenco. The Bernina area is mainly in Switzerland, as viewed yesterday as we wound our way over the Bernina Pass. On the other side of the snow clad summits pictured yesterday as we made our way to Toblino is the Italian side of the range, the Valmalenco. Sue and I paid a brief visit to the area last July and found it to be both scenic and very friendly. And that was in bad weather. So we decided on a longer exploration of the area.
Hotel la Betulla gave us a superb room with a lovely view from the balcony. They have let us store the luggage we don't need for the walk, and our car will be safe in their car park.
We said our goodbyes and set off at 9.30 through Chiesa, collecting luncheon provisions en route. The route described by Gillian starts 5 km down the valley at Torre di Santa Maria. We could have caught a bus, but we chose to start our walk gently by way of a 200 metre descent along the Sentiero Rusca.
We easily picked up the Alta Via di Valmalenco (AVV) route at 11 o'clock at the foot of a set of hairpins up to Ciappanico. The path soon set the tone for the day, an old mule track ascending through light woodland with fairly frequent views. Hamlets dead and alive were passed through as we rose steadily to Son, and then past huge anthills to the meadows of Piasci. We lazed here in the shade of a children's play house whilst enjoying our lunch.
Then a short further ascent took us past summer farms up to Rifugio Cometti Grande. Here the official AVV route appears to head over Sasso Bianco (2489 metres), taking four hours to reach Rifugio Bosio. We were happy to take the route described by Gillian - path number 313 direct to Bosio. That took well under two hours, the path rising gently beside cascading streams and past copious amounts of raspberries together with a few micro-bilberries.
On this last section we met the only walkers seen all day, a few folk and one mountain biker coming down the hill.
Rifugio Bosio, reached by 4 pm, was a relative hive of activity. We received the friendly welcome that seems to be a hallmark of these parts. Sue was very quickly provided with a deck chair and a mug of tea when she commented that she was tired. Some folk wandered off down the hill, a mountain biker's hard tail mean machine was admired before he set off. "Don't break your collar bone" I advised...
Others are staying here but we have a six bed room to ourselves. It's a lovely spot, with good views to the mountains, if not down the valley.
The guardian wandered off wearing washing up gloves and carrying a plastic bowl. "Ortica for the rice" he told us.
There's no phone signal or wifi at Bosio, which is actually quite nice. People are playing cards, chatting, or reading.
Cesare is the guardian here. He served up a delicious meal tonight. We can see very few entries in the hut book from the English speaking world. Cesare says that until this year there were "zero" visits from that source. Gillian's book was published in March 2015, since when there have been a number of UK and US visitors, into double figures even. He hopes the trend will continue and that next year he will be able to go out and buy a new car.
All I would say is "well done Gillian" and "come to Rifugio Bosio, say hello to Cesare and his team, and if possible include Sasso Bianco and Lago d'Arcoglio on your itinerary. It's highly recommended by Cesare".
Our guide book and map
Getting ready to collect water at a fountain in Chiesa
Ascending the mule track to the hamlet of Son
Passing an ant hill on the way to Piasci
The view to the Bernina massif from our shady lunchtime perch
Sue relaxes outside Rifugio Bosio
Monday, 31 August 2015
Weather: blue sky sunny, and hot - 34C in Sondrio.
We slept well in our silk liners on Markus's double bed whilst he rustled on a Thermarest.
Coffee and linzertorte set us up for the leisurely drive to Chiesa.
It's just 170 miles. Scenic miles. Swiss motorway, then the Julienpas, with a pause at Hotel Edelweiss to allow further depleting of our dwindling reserves of Swiss Francs, took us to St Moritz. After that the Bernina Pass to Tirano is accompanied by a wonderful scenic narrow gauge railway line, and Tirano itself warrants a longer visit than our lunchtime excursion to 'Bar Tourist'.
Outside the bar a 16th century church, Basilica Madonna di Tirano, sported as many reliefs and paintings as any church we can recall. A wonderful place with the most amazing sculpted wood embracing the organ and the pulpit.
A short drive under a clear blue sky took us onwards to Chiesa by 4 pm, and Hotel la Betulla. Our car, my bike, and our excess baggage will live here for over a week whilst Sue and I tramp the paths of the Alta Via of the Valmalenco.
Sorting gear, a wander around town, pizzas and a bottle of earthy Rosso di Valtellina at Bar Dunvegan, was all we had time for before crashing out.
Sue near the summit of Julienpas
A view towards Piz Bernina from the Bernina Pass road
Basilica Madonna di Tirano
Reliefs etc inside the incredibly ornate Basilica
The view from our balcony in Chiesa