Viozene, Carnino, Punta Marguareis and the Via Del Sale

A bit late getting this one up on the blog but hey ho….

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Traversing the high meadows between Carnino and Colle Dei Signori

Seeing as we have one of the offspring staying, I decided we need an adventure into the mountains.  We had been planning on walking from Limone to Upega along the Via Del Sale but the threat of thunderstorms and a bit of a logistical faff to get to the start (which would also lose us at least half a days walking) meant we decided to stay a bit more local – mooching around on the high level border between Italy and France.

Ted and Zed dropped us off at Viozene and we made the steep trudge up the hill to Rifugio Mongoie, where luckily a big cold beer was waiting for us.  We enjoyed the refreshment overlooking the impressive valley and towering peaks above us before heading along the footpath to Carnino.  It was tempting to check out the caves that are just by the wobbly bridge that Zed hates but we realised we were already risking being late for dinner and decided to leave them for another day.

Rifugio Foresteria in the middle of Carnino is a great place to stay.  We were served a lovely meal by the patron, who was a bit flustered as his wife was away but the food was delicious all the same.  We had the dorm to ourselves so got a pretty good nights sleep.

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High Altitude Car Park and Punta Marguareis
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The French Side

We got an early(ish) start the next day as we wanted to avoid the heat if possible and so were on the trail at 8am, winding up through some very pretty woods before heading up the side of the gorge which in turn gave way to high pastures, nestled in a bowl almost surrounded by high peaks and the sound of cow bells.  The first marmots could be heard at this point, and the geology started to get really interesting.

Taking note of a very loud bark up ahead which we assumed to be coming from a gigantic cane da pastore (a herd guarding dog – we’d met one the night before and assumed our most humble body posture to be allowed to pass) we proceeded with caution.  A few hundred yards up the track and we came across a small pocket sized dog using the echo from the surrounding mountains to amplify his stature.

Another climb up and we reached Rifugio Don Barbera, who – after a worrying pause – assured us we could stay the night and eat there.  After some lunch (the most meagre of snacks according to Joe) we headed up towards Punta Marguareis, which was looming impressively above us, with some pretty scary looking scree.  With the mist descending rapidly and worried about thunderstorms we opted for the ‘easier’ path to the summit.  It was still a bit of a haul and the odd gap in the mist revealed some exposure close to the path so we picked our way up carefully.  On reaching the summit we were greeted by two very cheerful 78 years olds so we stopped for a bit of a chat, gleefully establishing that we’d all brought our own sandwiches rather than lunching at the rifugio because the Genovese are just as tight as the Scottish (something they delight in).

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We couldn’t see much up here at all, so we used the cloaking mist to be brave and get very close to the edges which were all that stood between us and yawning chasms on three sides.  Joe was actually holding on to my ponytail at one point having coaxed me out onto the precipice.

We scampered down again, with Joe taking advantage of the late snow fields to do some impressive skidding, and then we had a quick explore under the edges, because we could.  Annoyingly coming down to the first Col I realised the top I’d tied round my waist had fallen off so I had to retrace my steps up the hill but apart from that the descent was relatively uneventful, other than a ‘quick’ short cut across a boulder field.

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The day was still young so I persuaded Joe out for another donder around the plateau and we were rewarded by spotting a large lone wolf, not very far away and making full eye contact.  Sitting ourselves down on the rock we managed to watch it patter it’s way up the steep hillside for a full five minutes, a real treat.

Another nice meal and we were ready to hit the hay, a bit less sleep as we were sharing the dorm with another three guys who were doing impressive amounts of cycling.

IMG_1440aFollowing what can only be called a meagre breakfast we struck out south along the Via Del Sale heading for Monte Saccarello.  The first bit was the scariest, with overhanging rock and a big drop to the side but I’ve been making inroads into tackling vertigo and got up there without too much trauma.  The road was open to motorised traffic now (it’s shut on Mondays and Tuesdays except to pedestrians and cyclists) and we were pretty surprised by how much traffic there was.  The scenery was spectacular but we soon dropped down to about 2000m and it wasn’t long before we hit the high tree line.  Walking on a track can be dull in some ways but it does afford the opportunity to take in the surroundings a bit more thoroughly and we saw some interesting sights, including a guys washing out his huge milk churns in the river before presumably milking his herd of goats in the nearby field.  The wildflowers were spectacular as ever, other wildlife including butterflies, possible eagle and vulture sightings,

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Rifugio Don Barbera

IMG_1430IMG_1465IMG_1469IMG_1483IMG_1508IMG_1510IMG_1514IMG_1522marmots and a (sadly) squashed fire salamander.

With our only possible short cuts down behind us, a full five hours later we spotted our goal – the top of Monte Saccarello, not far above us as we were already on the high track above the ski lifts of Monesi.  Unfortunately the sight was accompanied by some pretty hefty thunder so we made a quick decision to hot foot it down to Monesi, getting a serious drenching in the progress.

Monesi was hit very badly by the extreme weather in November 2016 and it was interesting to see the level of damage to the roads, both above and below the resort.  We decided to do our bit for the local economy and stopped for a pint and some food, before pressing on into the rain.  A quick phone call to Ted and we arranged a pick up much further down the hill at Mendatica, I think as we approached the 8 hour mark and passed 30km Joe’s patience might have been wearing a bit thin and we were glad of a lift.

IMG_1525The trip ended as many seem to: in Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia tucking into some excellent pasta (pizza for the boys) and rehydrating ourselves liberally with the local grape juice.

You can see some of the routes by following these two links, we didn’t record the first section and the second section cut out on the mountain top.

https://www.relive.cc/view/1724694696

https://www.relive.cc/view/1726950404

Monte Monega (with a quick jaunt to Cascata D’Arroscia for dessert)

After far too long away from the mountains cabin fever was starting to set in so, having dropped the menfolk off to help out on a friends new roof, Zed and I set our sights on Monte Monega, a hilltop we’d skirted on a couple of occasions but never summited.

Our starting point was Case Fascei, high above Montegrosso Pian Latte, by way of a road we hadn’t travelled before.  The weather was looking a bit patchy with possible cloud covered tops but we were really desperate for some altitude so pushed on anyway.

The path starts of as a track at the end of the tarmac road from the village of Casa Fascei – which looks to have been completely renovated and using the original materials making it very cute.

We pass a very impressive potato field, being tended manually by a local guy who no doubt keeps very fit hoeing his vegetables.  From here we turn right and wend our way up steeply through the trees on a fairly well signposted path which we only lose on one occasion due to daydreaming and soon pick up again.  We make heavy work of this but eventually pop out into the open, a very well kept rustico with an impressive solar array and cow herd on our left and grassy banks to our front and right, covered in wildflowers giving off a heavenly scent.

Afraid the cloud was about to engulf us we quickly scampered up to have a peep over the edge and were rewarded with beautiful clouds and Monte Guardia peeing out intermittently.

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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 1
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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 2
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Glimpses of Monte Guardia 3

We’d reached another track by now – the Via Marenca – and we followed this for a short time until we got to the signpost which pointed us in the direction of Monte Monega.  It was an easy hike up a grassy slope from here and aside from a strange dizzy spell (maybe from having a big dslr with a 100-400mm lens slung around my neck) we were quickly up at the top.  There were remains of what were probably old fortifications and a metal cross, typical of many peaks in the region, and what has to be one of the best views we’ve come across so far, and let’s face it, the bar was already set pretty high.  (It was so good in fact that we went up again two days later to show Ted and Joe and were rewarded with very clear views of the mountains, giving us some great ideas of where to go next).

 

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Looking across to Mezzaluna and Triora
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Back the way we had come, clouds rapidly encroaching the Passo Pian Latte.
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Beautiful clouds 1
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Beautiful clouds 2
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Beautiful clouds 3
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Monte Fronte making an appearance
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Gorgeous wildflowers
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A bit of macro action
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More wildflowers
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More clouds and a great view of Via Marenca

Although we would have loved to linger longer the clouds were building fast and we didn’t want to get risked getting caught in a storm (which we did manage to do two days later, thankfully just after we’d dropped off the summit ridge).  We headed back along to the Passo Pian Latte where the mist came up and surrounded us briefly, nothing to concern us given the size and quality of the track.  The occasional fleeting flash of light lit up the landscape in verdant green.

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From here we took the track down as opposed to retracing our steps through the trees, it made for a longer circular walk and took us through some very beautiful flower meadows before arriving back at the car.  A thoroughly rewarding and uplifting hike, and one I would recommend to anyone who’s good for an hour and a half slog up.

We hadn’t completely run out of energy though and on the road down we passed a sign saying the Cascata d’Arroscia was only half an hour away, and although we were a little pushed for time it was far too tempting to ignore, having heard about these legendary waterfalls.  We fast walked/ran the route and managed to get there and back in about 35 minutes give or take the odd stop for a quick iphone snap – there were some fantastic trees besides the path.  The waterfall had it’s charms, and reminded me of being in the jungle in Sri Lanka, but compared to the waterfalls we’ve got used to in Scotland, Iceland and the Faroes it was a bit of a whippersnapper in truth.

It was definitely time to call it a day after this so we headed home, just pausing for a refreshing dip much lower down this same river, in Borghetto D’Arroscia.

You can see both the routes by clicking on the links below:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1682294471

https://www.relive.cc/view/1682374135 (excuse the typo)

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Awesome tree 1
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Awesome tree 2
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Cute wee bridge.
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The Cascade, it’s taller in reality than this photograph suggests.

Pisso Di Ormea (not) part 2

14.7km    1245m ascent   4h 16mins

Who could resist the thought of a lunch date with a wild clematis? Not me, that’s for sure.

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Chionea (bottom right)

Zed and I got packed up and headed up the road through Nava and Ormea before climbing up to Chionea to start the walk. The first section unravelled pretty much the same as last time we were in these parts, a steep burst through the top village, flower meadows and vegetable gardens. The path forms a kind of small gully between two walls here, which seemed like the designated meet up spot for all the butterflies in the area.

We turn up onto the rocky and tree covered ridge and see the vibrant orange lilies are out in force. I’m sure this is where they belong but it’s still startling to see such a showy flower out in the high mountains.

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Lilies

A little further up as we come across the first pasture I’m chuffed to bits to find some arnica, for someone who manages to hurt themselves as much as I do it’s a brilliant ally. I leave this in the ground though as it’s not abundant.

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Arnica Montana

The roses are just starting to appear too, in numbers, although they are no match for the azaleas (yet).

(A lizard has just scampered up to the window to watch me while I write, tapped his foot a few times and then buggered off. No, me neither).

Legs are a bit tired today and its slow going, the top of the hill looks ominously cloudy though, although it’s a bit brighter when I take my shades off so we push on.

This time we manage to find the ridge top path straight away which leads along a spectacular rocky stretch and I’m immediately on the look out for more clematis patches. I’m certain I’ll find the one I saw last time  (how difficult can it be to find one particular plant on a whole mountain top?) but I’m curious to know if there will be more. Also I’ve decided I’m having lunch with the first clematis I find, and I’m bloody starving.

A flash of blueish purple catches my eye from under a rock and we’ve stumbled upon our first clematis of the day. Not having learned any lessons from the last time, I take a crappy iphone picture of it, knowing that I’ll find the larger specimen further up the track. Or not, as it turns out.

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Clematis Alpina

We stop for a clematis-less lunch with fine views over Liguria, we can even see down to Albenga which is our nearest coastal town. With the cloud lifting we decide to push on up to the mountain lake, it’s a steep grassy path with an impressive drop off to the right. As is often the way, as we reach the signpost to stop climbing and turn to the right, the cloud makes a swift and fulsome descent. I decide it’s best not to tangle with the next phase of the path and we turn and retrace our steps.

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We’re overtaken by a mountain biker not long after and Zedboy gets his hopes up that he’s still a trail dog, we both miss our biking days.

We make a brief stop at the unmanned rifugio, which is open today as there’s a family with a couple of kids staying there – what a wonderful way to spend the weekend. We fill up with water and have a general nosy inside – no dogs allowed inside unfortunately, so Zedboy frowns at me from the porch while I inspect the accommodation.

The views from here are spectacular, last time we passed the visibility was about 10 metres and we could only guess at the surroundings.

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Striking out along the high track we extend the walk by another 5km or so, returning by way of the lower track.
(At this point Ted phones me and says he’s about to take off from Milan and I’m truly boggled to receive a text from him as I arrive back at the car saying he’s landed – the time passed for me so differently than had I been on that flight.)

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iphone pano 1
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..2
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…3.

There are a couple of interesting abandoned buildings, one of which has a stream running right out of the front door, I’m assuming it won’t be standing for too much longer.  We linger for a while to enjoy the birdsong.

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My favourite signpost “hunting forbidden”

We’re also very taken with a couple of little grotto type spaces that have formed around the banks of a burn by the track.

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Heading down at what can only be described as a dawdle, stopping to photograph flowers and insects on the way we descend towards Chionea and a promise of a gig (The Fantastic Blue) and unlimited pizza for 8 euros at the Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia.

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Check out the animation of the walk here: https://www.relive.cc/view/1642424123

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Up Next?

Bocchino Del Aseo (well, nearly)

Bocchino Del Aseo_00378.3 miles 3650ft ascent 4h 05min

Having been out for a gentle stroll from Carnino to the Rifugio above Viozene on Sunday with Ted, Zed and I decided to tackle the route high up into the craggy peaks today.

Climbing out of Viozene on the steep path amongst the trees it wasn’t long before we had to navigate our way through a free ranging herd of cattle, with their usual jangly bells. Not much further and the path crosses the edge of the high pasture before climbing steeply through more mixed deciduous and pine woods, plenty of funghi and wildflowers here.

Walking steadily up and out of here we found ourselves on a detour (ahem), what is it about mushrooms that mesmerise you right off the path you’re following. We traversed around the hill for a while, through lots of lovely stingy nettles and ended up at a dead end snow shoot. Good excuse for a spot of lunch, and thanks to Mapout and a gander at the compass we could see we needed to retrace our steps before turning back up the hill again.

The landscape became increasingly wild and we stopped briefly to watch a herd of deer make their way up an impossibly steep snow field before heading back on up the sharp ascent.

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The Deer, braver than me

Finally reaching what I thought might be the top, only to find it was a plateau we soldiered on thinking there couldn’t be much between us and the summit. Except – as it turned out – a craggy high altitude landscape made up of scree and snow packs. Initially we thought it would be impossible to path but the path navigated the hazards surprisingly well for half an hour or so. Gingerly crossing some snow, glad of the walking poles we made progress. Not for long, we eventually came across snow lying on a 45° gradient and I decided my trail running shoes weren’t exactly the right footwear choice for continuing on.

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Erm, no.

Zed and I did make a half hearted attempt at scrambling over the top of the snow but several cuts later decided it probably wasn’t our best course of action given how remote we were and the pack I was carrying. The top of the pass and the lake beyond will have to wait for another day. Perhaps an excursion right across to the Rifugio at Mondovi on the other side of the mountains would be a good excuse for a second attempt.

Bailing half an hour earlier than our designated turn around time did give us plenty of opportunity for dawdling on the way back, and stopping to appreciate our surroundings.

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Start of the route down.

We startled a very large marmot but he got away before I could whip the camera out, and we were accompanied by the noise of what I think were young crows learning to fly for a while.

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Any ideas what this is? I’ve never seen it before.
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Lots of landscape views today, I suddenly developed a wide angle obsession.

Bocchino Del Aseo_0080Still plenty of wildflowers, including the gentian, which today the sky was giving a run for it’s money, one of the first really hot and sunny walks so far this year. As we reached the trees again the flora changed a little and the welcome smell of thyme underfoot became strong again.

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Looking back up the trail.
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And down…..
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Nice crags.
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Another deer, just chilling.
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More unidentified flowers.
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A great view of the crags above the scary Viozene to Upega road.
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The big peaks, looking strangely small.

We took a look at the Rifugio on the way back – it had been packed at the weekend but was quiet now with some renovations going on so instead of stopping for a drink we followed the track down to the road. Happily instead of turning onto the tarmac at the bottom we found a small path running parallel just a few metres higher up. The path meandered down and eventually reached the town, we passed through an area of really lovely looking summer cabins, most of which were still unoccupied. One last bit of road to do and we were back at the car. Happy and hungry.

If you’d like to see the animated map on Relive, click here:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1638268375

 

 

 

 

Pizzo Di Ormea

16km 1100m ascent

Climbing out of Chionea and Tetti Soprani we are almost immediately stopped in our tracks by an outstanding flower meadow, progress is halted for a while as we attempt to get some shots but mindful of the weather that might come in later and wanting to avoid any possible storms on the high open tops we tear ourselves away, vowing to return and do it justice on another occasion.

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Flower Meadow 1
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Flower Meadow 2

The track turns up and along a ridge, and is quite rocky in places, the sun and gradient making for sweaty work. Before long we catch sight of a porcini patch in our peripheral vision, some makeshift bags are prepared from coats and waterproof camera covers and we’re back on our hike with an few extra pounds of weight in the bag (Ted’s not mine by some stroke of luck).

After following a track for a while we realised the path we’d been trying to join was now above us, we must have been so excited by the ‘shrooms that we lost concentration, nothing a quick cut up the hill couldn’t fix so we traverse across the vegetation until we’re back up on the ridge. It’s here I spot the first wild clematis I’ve seen in the mountains, a real treat and I wish I’d stopped to photograph but thinking there would be more ahead of us, and with the cloud coming down we kept moving.   Not for long it turned out: not a hundred metres further along we looked down to our right and saw a sweeping expanse of wild azaleas – bright pink and impressively puncturing the mist swirling in the valley.

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A Gentian and Three Violas to make up for the missed Clematis

After a happy interlude with the flowers we stopped for a snack lunch, jackets on now the sun had disappeared for good. A quick review of the path forward and we opted not to go to the highest summit with visibility being less than ideal.

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Traversing around the hill we came across the Rifugio Valcaira (an unmanned site) and immediately decide we need to go and stay there for a week, we could only guess at the view but it was bound to spectacular. From here the route started to follow a track and flattened out across a plateau before we came to a crossroads where we began our descent in the direction of Quarzina.

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Rifugio Valcaira
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Ted and Zed disappearing into

Zed had the first of two run-ins with a husky here, luckily it’s owners were on the case and they called him back before any swords were drawn. All of this while we’ve stopped to photograph two old enamel baths up on the hillside, presumably at one time there as water troughs, although their current placement – one wedged end on in an impossibly small gap in the rocks and the other upside down suggested those days were past. More spectacular azaleas up here amongst a boulder strewn Tolkienesque landscape before we round another small peak – Monte Castello di Quarzina – and turn east again to head back to Chionea along the lower track.

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Azaleas and Boulders
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Bath Number 1

Not far along and we happen across a bizarre boulder and barbed wire combo – it wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Tate and we could only ponder it’s reason for existence as there were no old fences around suggesting it was abandoned materials from an old field boundary. We took some photos anyway, it was an interesting juxtaposition, especially surrounded by wildflowers.

 

The signposts were soon promising a lake, which was getting me quite excited, it was easily warm enough for a dip. We arrived to find it very small by Scottish standards but it was tempting enough for me to strip off and dip the feet in, before deciding to beat a retreat having found it occupied by hundreds of very fierce looking newts (or were they baby crocodiles?).

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A Brief View of our Path
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Baby Crocs?

The husky owners had also advised us to steer clear of the pastoral dog further down the hill (at least I think that’s what they said, my Italian not being quite what it could be).   On hearing the jangle of cow bells lower down we decide to make a detour to avoid their pasture, missing out on a church en route, but it’s always good to leave something for another day.

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Lofty stuff for a vertigo sufferer
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A few more flowers, because why not…

More mushrooms and an set of abandoned farm buildings peaked up out of the mist, grabbing Ted’s attention for a while, Zed and I pondered where the twenty or so horse riders had arrived from, their ranks being swelled by a steady trickle coming up the track to meet them, at a canter.

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A Lesser Spotted Ted

We were well out of high mountain territory by now and seeing more signs of civilisation, the path lit up by dozens of laburnum trees in flower. There were also some gigantic chestnut trees, they must have been hundreds of years old and very impressive.

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A handful of laburnums
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Two chestnut trees, can you tell we’d moved onto iphone pics by now?

Passing through another couple of remote villages with little or no car access and in various states of abandonment, and our weary legs were glad to see the rooftops of Chionea come back into view. We were both buzzing from the day, agreeing wholeheartedly it was one of the finest walks yet.

 

Stopping off to verify the mushrooms with Antonio who runs our local bar (Bar Centro in Borghetto D’Arroscia – highly recommended by the way) meant we were easily lured into staying for a primo – gnocchi with trombette and pancetta washed down with some delicious rosé. A fitting end to a truly grand day out.

If you would like to see an animation of the walk on a map, click on this link:

https://www.relive.cc/view/1627442895

Trekking the Alta Ia Dei Monti Liguri – Afterthoughts…

Sometimes I sit and think. Other times I just sit. Mostly the latter in the last day or so as my body begins to recover. I pick mulberries, cherries and strawberries from our garden – eating half as I go. That’s when I’m not in the hammock. I have an awesome welcome back evening with some 25-30 friends at the amazing Bar Centro. Slowly I ponder and reflect on the past few weeks and wonder if I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

FIRST A FEW STATS

Total days – 21 (of which 3 were either rest days or storm bound)

Distance – 447.3km

Ascent – 19,762m (v approx as Strava did not record for 2 days- felt like you could add a “0”)

My weight at beginning – 71.7kg

My weight at end – 67.5kg (hope I can stay at this weight!)

Kit weight – 17.5-19kg (added extra water, bigger battery, walking poles during trip)

Days off – one to rest and 2 to avoid storms

Most expensive item – blister pads (over €100 – Compeed not cheap in Italy!)

Nights camping – 9

Nights under Shelter (barn or similar) – 4

Nights under a roof – 7 (inc 2 on day off and 3 when storm bound)

Other people met walking the Alta Via in its entirety – 2!!! Yes, really.

Other people met whilst walking – but a few hands full plus a posse of mountain bikers or 2

What I will miss most – just being out there. The adventure. Intoxicating.

What I will miss least – instant noodles. Sore feet and shoulders. Packing and unpacking a wet tent. Sweaty, damp clothes.

Most essential item – Compeed blister patches, lavender & Olbas oil – all for my feet! Oh, and tweezers on Swiss Army knife to remove ticks! Above all Mog on resupply.

What didn’t I use? – sewing kit. Camp mat repair kit. The onion. First aid kit other than blisters. That’s it. (Quite proud of my packing efficiency).

What I didn’t miss – seeing a wild boar (though heard one or two), snakes or scorpions.

So what of my various objectives for the trip….

LEARNING ITALIAN

I have failed miserably. Pathetic even. Didn’t even make it to the end of the beginners course. Does that mean I have to go start again??? (Someone please say yes 😉

LEARNING THE LANDSCAPE OF LIGURIA

What a fascinating, varied and utterly stunning region this is. From Mediterranean to mountain border (mostly 1000-2200m high) with either Piemonte or France always less than 20km away. If the weather had been clear I would actually have seen one or other most of the way, though the magnificent forests of beech, pines, chestnuts, hazel and many others I am yet to name cloak you for significant stretches, particularly to the east and on lower slopes.

Wild flowers in abundant spring growth everywhere. Birds, butterflies, the odd lizard & salamander. A snake (dead), deer and free roaming cows and horses.

I have been part of the landscape. Within it not just passing through. It has spoken to me as I have never experienced. For that I am ever grateful. Hopefully some of this I can retain and now take forward as I go out. But many of its charms remain hidden to be discovered on future adventures – I like that. I lifetime of exploring on our doorstep.

But in addition to the abundance of nature has been the signs of man’s interactions with it. Abandoned houses, Napoleonic forts, hostelries and official buildings. Villages perched precariously on hilltops and valley sides, towns industry and the odd road seen from high as remote playthings far distant in the valley floor and on the coast. Pastures and terraces reverting back to their natural state. Medieval and Roman roads literally crumbling underfoot. Or not with some.

This was of equal fascination. I experienced a profound sense of loss and change from “the old ways” as consumerism and urbanisation have led to depopulation of this hinterland. As the Mayan and Inca engineering masterpieces reverted to nature I sense the same happening here. I find it sad that traditional ways of life are being lost so quickly as we forge ahead with our modern convenience lives. Sure, it was never an easy life up here, but I met a schoolteacher and a class of kids out from Imperia to “experience” the hills, something she said they never do. And yet it is their backyard, their culture, their history. They are foreign and yet such a short time ago that was not so. They remain closer to it than we in the UK but you can see the same direction of travel. (This theme will be explored once again in future blogs and portfolios of work, watch this space.)

The best bits? Not to diminish any element or section, if I had to choose I would have to say that the amazing beech forests in eastern third were truly spectacular shrouded in the clouds and mist. Of equal stature though so very different were the towering peaks valleys and crags of the western end. I am so glad I left them til last. It was culmination of the trip to walk into these cathedrals of rock. These hills are our back garden and I cannot believe we live somewhere so uttering stunning. Had I seen the geological formations around Genova I fear these too would have been breathtaking had it not been for whiteout conditions.

PHOTOGRAPHY

Photographically its not been as expected. My preconception was that I would be spending every night on a ridge top, shooting the spectacular dawn and dusk light. This only happened on the first and last nights. Every other day pretty much I was hunkered down in the lower passes seeking any form of shelter I could from the inclement weather. But this does not mean I was disappointed in the photographic experience, it was simply different from that which I expected. It required me to think and adjust. Instead the low contrast light was perfect amongst the trees.

This, and the trek itself, meant I could not adopt my “normal” style of shooting. My preferred approach is to spend several hours (or days) exploring a single venue and developing a creative bond with the location. That simply was not possible, as I was always aware of the need to keep moving if ever to reach the end. As such my strategy quickly morphed to being more responsive to the moment, handheld and reactive. I will discuss this further in a future blog but won’t bore non photographers for now. Safe to say I have learned so much from the experience.

ZEROFOOTPRINT

The fact the trip has been completed on foot (aside from a lift either end which will be offset) makes it a latest “Zero Footprint” project (see our WEBSITE for more) which makes me very happy. I will be thinking on the next one in due course. The experience, as has the move to Italy, has already got me (and Morag) thinking of our carbon footprint. We are already using less and reusing far more than ever back home where the convenience world and more intense work schedules has such a grip. Less is more we are learning and it feels good.

PLEASE REMEMBER THE REASON

If you have enjoyed this blog please remember the entire walk was also done to raise awareness of our initiative Zero Footprints and to directly raise money for my chosen charity Solaraid. If you have enjoyed what you have read please go and have a look at the website and any donation will go directly to lighting up peoples lives as well as helping to offset carbon emissions. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE give just a little if you can afford to, you can see the good it does below.

To those who have already donated what can I say but thank you. We have achieved so much. I am, as will many people in Africa, be ever grateful.

SIGNING OFF…

The reality is that it is the experience combined that makes it whole. I’ve been scared, wet, miserable, deliriously happy, cold, excited, utterly fatigued (as I am currently as I wind down), unbelieving, humbled and lucky. I have seen through different eyes. I have been intoxicatingly alone. I have been alive. Truly alive, with all it’s emotions. The high peaks and the troughs that naturally accompany them. I feel privileged, though am sure many might think otherwise. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Would I start all over again tomorrow. In truth no. But I said that last time…

More blogs will follow on things like photography, kit, the region and others as Morag and I continue our wandering so please keep tuning in!

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 21

Feeling good. By good read knackered/elated/unbelieving/knackered (again).

My camp spot dawn showing the day ahead

Woke for dawn (0530) and headed out early with very mixed and odd feelings. Was a jumble in truth. But the fact I still had a days hike to complete soon kicked in. I’m heading down down down. I can see the sea. And the sun is out. Easy.

Then came the last section. JEEZ. I think the idea behind this section is simple if just starting out. Basically it goes like this…

…if you don’t like this section head back to your hotel, rent a towel, and go lie in the beach for your holidays! Or maybe it’s just the sun, the fact I am exhausted and I can see the finish but it seems to keep receding into the distance.

Last view back to my hills

I drop down out of the big forests and different senses kick in. The smells and vegetation. Heavy pollen fills one sense. Intense and delicious. The sounds. Bees. Dogs. Traffic. The sights. Houses. Vineyards. Olive groves. Butterflies play. Fields of spring flowers. Brambles and thorns scratch. I’m back in a Mediterranean climate.

BIG dandelions

Madonna Del Neve (though I don’t think she sees much snow at this altitude!

Sign of civilisation – Dolce Aqua below

The sun pours down and my factor 30 is like moisturiser. I redden to rouge brunette! I don’t see a drop of water (save the Med) all morning and ration supplies. This is baking compared to my hills. I am in a different world.

signs of civilisation

Mog and I try to meet up en route but now I am down and she is up! How did that go so wrong. I finish and have to do a selfie as she and Zed walk back down. We meet. Zed ignores me. Mog gives me a hug.

Ventimiglia, Med & sky

The cellubrious views that greet the finisher

We’re done here. Let’s go swim the Med to relieve aching limbs. A beer. Shop and home for prosecco food and bed. Job done.

Elated? For now relieved is just fine. The rest can wait for tomorrow.

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 20

Exquisitiamous!!! The only word I can think of to describe today.

Ascent 600m – Distance – 17.2km

it’s also my brother”s birthday. Happy Birthday bro!

Early morning ascent

What a truly epic section. Maybe it’s the weather. Yes, blue skies. Maybe the fact I have The Crux behind me. Or maybe just the jaw dropping splendour of the place I am in.

Interesting little traverse!!!

Eagles circle above as the panorama unfolds into the forever. I am above it all on a monstrous crag, traversing a momentous track cut into a near sheer rock face. I sit, not wanting it to ever end.

This is trekking!

Ventimiglia appears for the first time. A distant haze with many miles (and descent) still to go. It will be later tomorrow before I arrive.

The end in sight!

I continue on and become vaguely aware I am swaying rather. Focus lapsing slightly. As I ponder this as if looking at myself from outside for some 10 minutes, it dawns on me my stomach is an empty cavern, I am probably dehydrated and maybe this sun thing has slightly got to me.

I open my bag to retrieve a chocolate bar, it’s contents melted. I devour instantly, licking the wrapper clean. Before I have my rucksack back on I feel totally normal again. Ahhhh for chocolate! My new health food.

Did I mention the view?

all my dondering and it’s farting late. Still 12km to go today so pack and go again. Legs think this a stupid idea.

Went in and out of France today. I love crossing border less borders with no need for a passport.

I power on. Nordic style. Every part of me helping the pace. The peanut butter tortilla. Path earthen. Gradient slackened. Feet say nothing. shoulders only wince occasionally. Even the sun dapples under the trees and behind light cloud to temper reddened forearms.

suddenly I’m in the midst of a herd of wild (?) horses wandering up the track. That’s normal right! But they can’t keep up for long and I press ahead.

Horses!

I will pay this tomorrow probably but for now the pace just feels good.

Oops. Looks like I might have strayed across the border into France. A little off track but the path rejoins. But the AV signs are still here so a bit confused. Maybe the routes changed a little.

But I’m at the top of the last hill save the odd mound here and the. Downhill all the way to Ventimiglia. Can’t be bad

Flies come by as I rest but soon move on there’s not much left to pick on after 21 days

Tent pitched with a view and a sunset for the first time since the first night. Says something of the weather. Spectacular setting looking down to the Med with all it’s people, buildings and infrastructure. Behind me the magnificence of Monte Toraggio where I was just this morning. I think we will quickly head back to our house in the hills.

As the sun dips into the ridge line trees I finish my last instant noodle supper – gourmet oriental it says though I don’t think I will be having them again any time soon.

The moon is high above looking down. The birds sing. There is not a breath of wind. I sit a while then crawl into my tent. All is good.

The gargantuan Monte Toraggio. I was just under that top crag only this morning (see “this is trekking” images above)

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 19

The crux! We’re back on track. And this is the big one. Monte Sacarello is the biggest hill on the trek at 2,200m

Ascent – Distance – 27.5km

Up at 5:30am as a big day ahead. Headed out with Mog & Zed who joined me for the first pitch which quickly became brutal and relentless. It didn’t take too long to hit snow but managed to avoid. A marmot shrieks at us before diving for his burrow. Crocuses bloom as soon as the snow recedes. Blue skies. Who could complain.

Mog bravely circumvents packed snow on the ridge to the top before turning for home. I watch her disappear into the mist down the exposed ridge then turn to traverse the ridge facing my own direction. And guess what. The mist descends again. Though it breaks frequently today and no rain either. Sacarello takes an age to arrive but a break to sun extends a welcome and I sit a few moments. Stunning views from here to even bigger hills to north.

Then came the crux! Every trip has one. The drop off the back down from the top was phenomenally steep but the path was also covered in 45 degree plus snow drifts in several sections, dropping hundreds of feet. Not favourite! Glad I had the poles with me – right on my limit. Only one set of footprints preceded me this year. Someone else mad!

But got through, including a short but intense scramble (don’t let Mum read this) and then a long walk down, then up, then down again.

Now relief that I’m through and so happy I left this section to last. It is amazing (also, I simply wouldn’t have got over even days earlier!!!)

Sorry folks. Photos will have to follow. Have pressed the wrong button on the camera and only have raw images which phone can’t read 😦