Saturday, 2 August 2008
Friday, 1 August 2008
Actual: Camping Piccolo Paradiso to Camping Pont Breuil (1960 metres):
20 km, 1200 metres ascent, 7.3 hours including 1.7 hours breaks.
Best bit: Strolling along the Sentiero del Re belvedere in the sun.
Here at Pont the English are not a novelty. We are camped next to Mark and Richard. Mark works in the same field as I used to. They have been up Gran Paradiso, 4061 metres, today. They started at 4 am but look remarkably fresh. Your colleague in Manchester, Mark, by the name of Richard Evans, would be most jealous of your achievement today. Call him and pass on best wishes from Sue and Martin!
Our own walk was puny in comparison.
Gran Paradiso National Park is a mecca for tourists. Roads wind up the hillsides. Giant electricity pylons march across the mountains. Powerful motor bikes and middle aged French people with mountain guides lurk outside the Rifugios barred to us because we couldn't book months in advance.
The flowers are sparser here, more Lake District than Alps, with cotton grass and rosebay willowherb featuring strongly.
It rained today. I got one leg into its waterproof sleeve before realising it was the usual hoax and reverting to t-shirt and shorts. All the people in ponchos smiled ruefully as we passed them, knowing that they looked silly.
Lisa waved us off this morning, then we were alone on the excellent Sentiero Videsott for a three hour ascent to 2500 metres. This lovely thin well graded path over open ground - well, it had about 20 metres of alder bushes just to remind us! - led to Sentiero del Re, a well built contouring path where we met the first of today's many day walkers.
Up here field gentians made a welcome prolific appearance, joining houseleeks, clovers, rock roses, buttercups, harebells, leopardsbane, saxifrage, stonecrop, yarrow and more (comparing well with the Lake District, actually).
We remarked on two nearby chamois looking like fine specimens, then came across a dead youngster.
Well supplied today, we could afford stops for cake and stops for GORP (chocolate - double lait müesli crisp - scrumptious).
'Through the Italian Alps' by Gillian Price.
Earmark a week or so next July for your trip to Italy.
When the book arrives, have a look and see which section appeals to you most. The book divides a version of the GTA route into 47 stages that can be further divided or adapted in many ways.
Contact us for advice if necessary. We will be delighted to help, albeit our own route has covered only about a quarter of the GTA.
Stanfords will sell you the relevant map(s), though if you live within reach of Manchester you are welcome to view ours.
Once you've established a plan, preferably with a few friends, book flights to Nice or Turin.
You may want to book some Posto Tappas or Rifugios as well, but that can wait until next June when they open.
Don't forget to pack a pair of binoculars and an Alpine flower book!
It's a wonderful part of the world. Have a great time, and say hello if you bump into us - possibly in the Maritime Alps.
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Thursday, 31 July 2008
Thursday 31 July 2008 - An Italian Border Route (IBR) - Day 37 - Arrivederci GTA, Hello Lisa and Joshua
Actual: Fonti-Minerali to Camping Piccolo Paradiso (1650 metres):
6 km, 100 metres ascent, 3.3 hours including 1.8 hours breaks.
Best bit: Excellent camp site - good pitch by a lazy river.
Full rifugios have dictated a change of plan for the next few days. We will have to use official camp sites and rejoin our planned route on the day to Planaval. This means we will see less of the HRG (glacier route) and more of AV2 (alta via route). It also means a short day today, which is no bad thing after yesterday's adventures with alder bushes.
We have said goodbye to the GTA route until next year. Apart from the Usseglio to Pialpetta section, with all its steep shrubbery and wet rocks, we have enjoyed our days on this undoubtedly fine route. There is hardly any evidence of the English on the route, and after over 5 weeks we still haven't encountered anyone English since getting on the bus to Menton from Nice airport.
We aren't complaining. But those at home are missing out. Be inspired, give the GTA a try! We think you'll enjoy it. No need to camp like we are - a Posto Tappa route would be excellent - you could do it with a day sac.
Anyway, more of that in the next entry.
We are resupplied and ready for the Gran Paradiso phase of the trip. From now on we have no guide book, just a few notes from 'Walking in the Alps' by Kev Reynolds, and a handful of maps. And some help from Nick re accommodation bookings, as it's now high season in a popular holiday area.
We even expect to encounter some English people!
Today we passed a cash point at Ceresole Reale. Not mentioned in the GTA guide albeit only 2 km off that route. Had we known about it we could have lazed in Usseglio rather than getting stuck in Viu. But then we wouldn't have had the pleasure of meeting Silvano and his clan. Silvano protests 'it was nothing', but it was to us.
The camp site is lovely, so we really are relaxing today. It's not a 'Rest Day' but is turning out to be more restful than most of our 'Rest Days'.
Perhaps we are getting soft.
No, we are on holiday!
And tonight, as we were draining the beer that primes my chef into action, we met our first English for over five weeks, Lisa and Joshua. Lisa's dad is from Piemonte - that's her excuse for being here. Hello, we hope you enjoyed the rest of your holiday.
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Actual: Laghi di Trione to Fonti-Minerali (1500 metres):
20 km, 1600 metres ascent / 2300 metres descent!, 10.6 hours including 2.2 hours breaks.
Best bit: The flying descent to Fonti, and the reward of beer.
We were going to call today 'Jungle Again' or 'The Alder Bush Challenge', but some wag came up with a better title.
The alimentari at Pialpetta was indeed a welcome sight. Here's the message we sent from there. Today was a Long Day, despite the modest mileage, with a guide book time of 9.5 hours excluding stops.
The sun would have reached the tent at 6.45, had it been standing. It would have been lovely to luxuriate inside whilst everything dried. But we had 1600 metres to ascend and 2300 to descend.
So we set off, soon passing another tent astride the path, wet ponchos laid outside it. That explains the laughing woman Sue swore she heard last night!
The descent to Pialpetta should have been straightforward. The guide book enthuses about 'teeming with raspberries' and 'a divine orchard of bilberries'. We found none of these. Tall alder bushes concealed slimy rocks as we slithered down the steep slopes, views concealed by the thicket. Cows delayed our progress, chewing up the path as we drove them down the hill, there being no escape routes for them. Sue now has an honorary diploma in Alpine Cow Herding. Awarded by Leki.
Jungle on the GTA. Luckily the leaves were dry, otherwise full waterproofs would have been needed.
I don't really want to say more, but please do not choose this section as a taster for the GTA - it is not a good representation of the overall route.
Strangely, we encountered more people coming up this dreadful path - about a dozen - than we had met in total over the previous few days!
Pialpetta was delightful. The alimentari - another key venue on this alpine Shop Crawl - provided welcome sustenance as already described.
(I don't know - give Alan Sloman a picture, as requested, to provide a flavour of our experiences, and all he can do is make fun of it!)
We didn't imbibe any nectar coloured liquid, as we were about to embark on a 1600 metre ascent.
But we did, thanks to Nick, dally a while to sort out our hotel in Courmayeur - great!
The day improved. The path to Fonti-Minerali was largely excellent, and well graded. Even the lunchtime flies were reasonably well behaved - we put Sue's socks a few metres away as a decoy. It worked. Sue says it's the smell of leather that attracts them. I'm not so sure.
It was hot again - 30C - as we plodded past a lazy nutcracker looking for pine cones, and fast slow worm that made a quick escape from Sue's clumping boot.
Past old shepherds huts where cow bells jangled and manure stenched.
Hazy, cloudy, then clear blue sky above the col, then we were engulfed in cloud, then good views towards Gran Paradiso - partly in cloud - from Colle della Crocetta - 2641 metres. The weather was better to the north, and today the rain monitor stayed at zero. Though we walked with wet feet all day, with regular wringing out of socks.
Lago di Ceresole Reale beckoned, and the well graded descent over open ground was a delight. We (tired by now) beat the guide book time by 45 minutes, whereas this morning (when fresh) we had been 30 minutes slower. The guide book timings have been generally reliable, but these two descent timings were both way out.
The Posto Tappa at Fonti-Minerali was a welcome sight at 5.30. We have a nice double room and two large beers. The pizzas look huge, so we will recover nicely now from today's Long, Hard, Shop Crawl....
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Wednesday, 30 July 2008
It provided a good second breakfast of a toma (cheese) and tomato panini this morning and was one of the best stocked shops we have seen; sadly of little benefit as today's destination also has a shop.
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Tuesday, 29 July 2008
Actual: Stopped early to wild camp by Laghi di Trione - 2170 metres (again):
14 km, 1200 metres ascent, 8.2 hours including 2 hours breaks.
Best bit: A cosy evening in the tent.
The weather cleared overnight, creating much condensation. But we were up and away, full of cake of course, by 7.15.
Ominous clouds to the north cleared as we descended past the dark green lakes in welcome shade towards Balme. Fine views eluded capture due to monochromatic lighting conditions.
Back in the land of Orange, the phone crackled as Notchy's News Bulletins homed in on us.
Gordon had not resigned.
Some new flowers greeted us on the descent - common monkshood and large-flowered houseleek, to name just two.
Care was needed as overnight rain had left the path wet and slippery. At Balme we entered the sunshine and luxuriated outside a café. I'm not sure what they thought about me wringing my socks out, but the coffee was good.
The flies had given us a break until now, but ascending slowly on a humid day at around 30C they returned with a vengeance. After 700 of our 1200 metre climb, lunch called. We were soon engulfed. Then spots of rain - the flies treated our waterproofs as if we'd covered ourselves with jam.
Two Germans on the GTA arrived - the only walkers we saw all day.
'Why are you wearing waterproofs, it's not raining?'
'No, putting the waterproofs on makes the rain stop. We've done you a favour!'
'Thanks' said the couple 'we don't really care anyway, as it's our last day.'
Hello, you two - we hope you got home safely.
Lunch comprised stale polenta bread and oily sardines - not the best - given the added fly attack.
The butter and chocolate were of faultless quality, though.
Shortly before we reached Colle Trione - 2485 metres - the flies started to be picked off, one by one, and they became less of a nuisance. The antidote - rain - quite heavy - for the final hour of today's stroll.
"It's for the heat."
Today it was 'for the flies' as well.
And it made my pillow soggy!
We slithered down over wet rock through body high undergrowth to the lovely (apart from flies and mossies) Laghi di Trione.
Cows had been here so we decided to filter the pure looking water. That took a while. But the rain had stopped and it was our last chance to wild camp for nearly two weeks, so we just had to spend the night in this beautiful spot.
Plan: Day 35 - Usseglio to Laghi Verdi - 8 km, 1400 metres ascent, 5 hours.
Actual: As planned to a wild camp at 2170 metres:
8 km, 1400 metres ascent, 5.3 hours including 1.3 hours breaks.
Best bit: An early finish to relax in the tent.
The sunny morning gave way early on to cloud that still persists. But its base is not far below 3000 metres, so apart from a bit of swirling cloud we have had views all day, and continue to do so from the tent. It's a landscape of chaotic rocks and boulders below dramatic slabs of rock and scree.
We are a five minute walk from Gandolfo Bivouac, a large tin that accommodates six people. Deserted when we passed it. The sort of place you might find Ian Mitchell. We like our cosy tent, though. (Here's the message we sent from the Bivouac.)
Breakfast was laid out for us at 8 am as promised. The 'oldies' soon started to join us. Jorg had already left. (Incidentally, he had met the two Aussies we saw evidence of near our start, and had seen two people from London on the GTA. We are not alone!)
A wander up to the village shop produced some ballast for the rucksacks, featuring a very heavy cake - 'specialita tipica artigianale' from the Cottian Alps.
My porter carries that item.
Handshakes all round with the boss of the Grand Hotel. The room rate was €50 per person for half board. Very reasonable, we thought. But it seems GTA walkers each get a €10 discount. Excellent! The wine, coffee and fanta added very little to this cost.
So we set off up the 1200 metre hill at 9.30 - very late for us.
It was steep.
But, slowly though we seemed to be going, a glance down to the figure at the top right hand corner of the altimeter reassuringly showed '7'. This is our rate of ascent in metres per minute. It's invariably 7, rarely less - sometimes a bit more. Today seemed slower than usual simply because it was steeper than usual.
The vegetation was annoying. Nettles and long grass and buzzing flies. Everything was soaking wet from the overnight rain, including our feet.
Summer is moving on. The autumn crocuses that brighten the days of late summer in the Mersey valley at home are sprouting here as well, and will no doubt accompany us to the end of the trip.
Gillian Price mentions martagon lilies and delicate orchids. They are here, yes, but fading, with rosebay willowherb, bearded bellflowers, meadow cranesbill and St John's wort now showing their dominance.
In amongst the wet undergrowth, wriggling furiously, a tiny snake - 15 cm long but less than a millimetre wide. What else could it be?
We reached Colle di Costa Fiorita in under 3 hours, so we'd actually been moving well. Time then to nip up the nearby summit at 2465 metres. Good views down to sunny Usseglio, where we could easily identify the umbrella under which we lunched yesterday.
A Swiss couple arrived at the pass as we returned to it for lunch. 'Steep!' they said, looking down at Usseglio. 'Oui' we replied 'mais hotel trés bon'.
They are the only people we have seen since leaving Usseglio. We walked for less than an hour from that pass through a zone of houseleeks, leopardsbane and marmots to reach this nice patch of grass before 3 pm, so we are having a 'semi rest day'.
We have no signal in this remote spot, so who knows what might have happened by the time this reaches you.
Gordon Brown may have resigned...
We expected rain, and as I write, soon after 5 pm, it has arrived. The washing line has been dismantled and we are listening to the soothing patter of rain drops on the tent. The only other sound is the click of knitting needles as Sue hastens to manufacture a woolly jumper for Jacob before winter sets in. Soon the hiss of the stove will replace the clicking as she has a hungry customer...
'Is that the kettle whistling?'
Monday, 28 July 2008
Actual: Walk from Rif Vulpot to the Grand Hotel, Usseglio - 8 km, 100 metres ascent, 2 hours. Plus an excursion by thumb to Viu.
Best bit: The generosity of Silvano and his family and friends.
Cumulative to date (planned in brackets):
503 km (482), 35300 metres ascent (35200), 182 hours (roughly!) walking (188).
No of summits visited: 9
No of cols or passes visited: 64
Highest point: Rocciamelone - 3528 metres
No of native English speakers met/seen from a distance: an American coach party, and an English Landrover in the Susa valley.
Hours waterproofs worn: 1.5
Roman - thanks again for your kind words - we had fine views to France from Rocciamelone, but the Susa valley was filling with cloud and obscured the view towards Monte Viso. It was indeed a most satisfying summit to reach, and a great traverse from Rif Stellina. We agree with you, this really is a beautiful part of the world. Just Italians and a few French hereabouts. Even the Germans have (temporarily!) disappeared.
Alan, it appears you have selected yourself (and friends, we hope) as a victim for our picture show. We are burning through the memory cards and will have a difficult editing job when home. We've been booked by the Stockport Walking Group so we'll have to try to live up to Andy Howell's professional standards. Some dry runs will be welcome. Tim and Kate have already volunteered as victims. All we need is a power point and a patch of grass for the Nallo.
Arlene - are you one of those slim Americans from Torre Pellice?
Andrew - we are pleased to hear that even a complete stranger to us can enjoy these ramblings. It's a shame we can't post more pictures (I know Alan would like more) but there's a cost issue, they are poor quality images, and a strong signal is needed to send them.
We hope the few images we are managing to post give a flavour of what we are experiencing. More will be added on our return.
Stay at Home Hazel - you need to change your name - we hope your trip to the Alps is as sunny as ours, but it does seem you've brought a slight change with you! Anyway, we hope that by the time you read this you will have had a great holiday and that Alastair's shins will have recovered. We were wondering how the Sandstone Trail Challenge went, I meant to wish him well in an earlier entry...
Jorg(?) from Hanover - hello, it was a pleasure to meet you tonight. We hope you enjoyed the rest of your GTA trip.
Finally to Massimilliano and Cinzia (Max and Cindy - please let us know the correct spellings) and especially to Silvano and family - thank you for your kindness today in a time of need. We can't repay you directly but will do so in kind to others.
It dawned sunny again, despite last night's rain. The guardian at Rif Vulpot understood our needs and established that there was room for us at the Posto Tappa in Usseglio proper. Glancing at our GTA book, she was able to reveal some critically important information about page 126 - the goats are called Brigella and Noisetta. She was thrilled to see them!
We then had a gentle two hour stroll in the sun to yesterday's planned resting point - a nice village with a bustling Sunday market and lots of Italian day trippers. Our apprehension about the Grand Hotel - not Gillian Price's most rave review - dissolved when we were greeted in Italian by a smartly uniformed man.
'You must be the two Ingleses from Vulpot.'
We affirmed, and were shown efficiently to a good en suite double room. My rucksack was carried up by a young lady who treated it like a feather!
A trip to the market produced a delicious lunch - polenta bread, local goats cheese, olives, small sweet onions pickled in white wine, etc. Lovely, but expensive.
Lunch in the sun outside the hotel was followed by more important business. Sue had noticed she had only €15 left - she is the banker on this trip, and my small reserve fund wouldn't get us to Courmeyeur.
Options were assessed. We decided to go to Viu - 15 km down the road. Thumbs went out and a cyclist apologetically declined. 'Max and Cindy' were in the car behind and we very much enjoyed their company, talking about our route, and the mountains, for a half hour that passed very quickly.
So we got our money, then sat in a bar for an hour and a half after a wander around the nice little town, waiting for the alimentari to open, the one in Usseglio being poorly stocked for our needs. The one in Viu was little better, so with just a few tins of fish in our bag we extracted our thumbs again. There's a road junction near Viu so it was a good walk to get to a 'hitching spot'. Quite a few people around - that didn't help.
Some men and their families wandered up the road. One of them had a camera with a very long lens. A moronic trail biker tried to cover us with mud as he rode up the muddy verge where we were standing. There were long gaps of up to 10 minutes between cars. A van driver stopped - not going our way. Two old ladies - ditto. After an hour and a half we were about to give up and look for a taxi.
The man with the big camera and his entourage reappeared, returning from their walk.
'No taxis, probably no bus.'. We would have to call our hotel and try to get them to pick us up.
'Come with us' said Silvano. And so, this true gentleman and his family took us back to their apartment, gave us coffee and biscuits, then Silvano and his friend drove us back up to Usseglio in a very comfortable Fiat Panda.
Thank you, Silvano, you were so kind and helpful, we really appreciated the lift that you gave us, and we enjoyed talking about photography, etc.
The evening produced a very efficiently served and cleared (and tasty) meal - it was all over in 45 minutes. Then we chatted to Jorg, from Hanover. He is doing some of the GTA and is heading off early tomorrow in the direction from which we have come.
That's enough from this particular 'rest day'. We hope the next one will be a little more 'restful'.
It's raining tonight, but we are very comfy in this cosy hotel.
Sunday, 27 July 2008
Actual: Rif Stellina to Rif Vulpot at Lago di Malciaussia - 1805 metres, about 8 km before Usseglio:
17 km, 1400 metres ascent, 9.4 hours including 1.8 hours breaks.
Best bit: Small red dots, a fine summit, and the Alta Via path.
The landslide had foiled our plans. It happened a while ago but from Stellina you could see rocks plunging down its course from time to time. It could be years before they settle sufficiently for the path to be rebuilt.
We had two options. Down or Up. I had thought it had to be down to the valley until Ezio suggested an 'Up' alternative. Careful scrutiny of the map revealed some very small red dots in that direction. We are nervous about red dashes, let alone small dots. These appeared to lead up near vertical rock and scree. Meanwhile (this is last night) the cloud had rolled in and we were busy watching ibex and Brocken spectres.
Franco agreed to point out the route at 7.15. The cloud magically cleared at that precise time and the binoculars revealed a wavering route marked by flashes of red and white paint. Sandro had been that way, 'so it should be ok'.
After overnight rain, it dawned fine, so soon after 7 we set off along the small red dots. The path was thin but well marked. It was unrelentingly steep, if not in a vertical way in a vertiginous way. It crossed a lot of very thin loose scree over huge drops, and we had to tiptoe over rocky bulges to make progress up to where the path crossed some snow. 'Don't go on the snow' Franco had warned. So we fumbled our way around it and after an hour and forty minutes of careful ascent we found ourselves up at 3238 metres on Passo Novalesa.
A wave back to Stellina and a break to catch our breath were both in order. The view was indeed breathless, with the glacier stretching down into France to the north west and leading up to the pointy summit of Rocciamelone in the other direction (see above).
We went down into France, briefly, before heading up the rim of the glacier next to a huge drop where there used to be a lake. The French drained it because they thought it could make the glacier unstable. Now there's a big hole there.
Reaching another high point (here's the message we sent at the time from here), we turned right over mixed ground of snow and rock before reaching steep snow leading to the final 300 metre ascent to the summit. We'd just seen 45 people descend the snow, and it was easy enough to reverse their route and haul ourselves up the steep final section to the relatively spacious summit with the huge 104 year old Madonna.
There were many people up there as today the Madonna was celebrating her birthday. Every year, they told us at Stellina, people go to the summit from all directions to celebrate this day. It must have been quite a feat to get the Madonna into its position all those years ago.
Today, we were the only people ascending the 3528 metre peak from Stellina.
We hadn't expected to come this way, but Roman had waxed lyrical about it, so our next message - a picture of the Madonna was for him. Happily, he recognised it immediately.
There were many people in the vicinity of the summit, many breathless as this may be a rare day out in the mountains for them. We were well acclimatised and didn't notice the height. We enjoyed the views (and sent yet another message), with cloud building up, for half an hour before taking the easy 'tourist route' down to Rifugio Cà d'Asti (2854 metres) to complete our traverse of Rocciamelone.
We had by now seen 200 to 300 people ascending or descending or lingering on the summit, but now we took a left turn along a thin path that dropped to around 2500 metres before holding its line beautifully across the steep hillside. Here was more of the Mt Cenis bellflower, not to mention the black vanilla orchids and milk vetches, etc, but concentration on where the feet were going was important as tricky gullies were negotiated.
This was the Alta Via Val di Susa again, beautifully contoured as before.
Cloud swirled around as we walked along here to rejoin the GTA path, rising again after its excursion to Susa. This led us uneventfully over Colle Croce di Ferro (an old iron cross lingers nearby) to a lovely old mule track for a long descent.
By now we realised we wouldn't reach Usseglio until 6.30, so we would stop at the rifugio at the bottom of the hill to phone ahead and warn of our lateness. So we stopped at Rif Vulpot to phone ahead, only to discover that this was the rifugio 'in Usseglio' that we were booked into. It was 4.30 and had been raining for half an hour.
The rain continued whilst we showered and washed and rested. The 8 km to Usseglio could wait until another day! We are booked in here for two nights. With no phone reception, so unable to file this report. It's quite cool - a rare rainy evening in the Alps.