A bit late getting this one up on the blog but hey ho….
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.
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).
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.
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.
Following 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,
marmots 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.
The 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.