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 😦

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 15

Ascent – 151. Distance – 25.1km (felt like double!)

I vaguely hear a bell way down in the valley calling people to mass. It’s 10:30 and I’ve already climbed Monte Galero which I think is my highest peak yet at 1708m. The track quickly gave way to a brutally steep incline for the next 3 hours. I’m back in the mist and a little disappointed to miss what I know must be a magnificent view.

Image – proof I was there, despite no view – again!

But this is not the day to hang about on a summit so I descend immediately to a mote accommodating climate!

The morning assault has Left me bereft of energy. Muscles burn and become stubborn. I stop frequently. Eventually, after coaxing with dubious amounts of sugared treats, they react once more. Good job too as not even half way through the day!

The next few hours are glorious. This is “home turf” and it never disappoints. Even the sun makes an entrance. I love this ridge.

Obviously I have to get some rain / which duly arrives as I watch it dump on Pieve before heading my way. I look across the valley at what is to come. The biggest hill in Liguria – Monte Sacarello. Some big days to come, though a bail needed tomorrow pm for a day as big storm heading our way for Tuesday.

Eventually to Nava for delicious pizza with Mog, Zed, j&j before pitching tent by fort. Lots of height today. Was tough but…

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 14

Ascent – 1,235m. Distance – 31.3km

And so a whole new phase begins. As I climb steeply to the summit of monte Camro a whole new view expands before me – the next few days of truly mountainous peaks and ridges disappear into a blue haze. To my left the Mediterranean merged into a huge skyline. Behind at least two days of most recent travels in what now seems relatively benign rolling hills. I can even almost see our house save for the 1200m ridge it’s sits behind which itself is dwarfed by higher peaks. I am truly excited and in awe.

Image – a view at last!

Dry rocks and crags now give grip instead of scudding over the slippery terrain of previous days. Leaves crisp under foot instead of oozing over my boots. I dawdle but must get on, though will be back soon. For a sunset and sunrise.

Image – what is this blue stuff in the sky?

As I descend a wall of forest rise up in front of me. Guess where I’m headed next! A zip wire between the peaks would have been a great idea!

I eat an amazing sandwich made by Jas. What a chef. Thank you.

I should never have mentioned the SUN word. Within an hour clouds. Then rain. Now hunkered down as thundered cracks all around.

Emoji time🚰💦⛈🌩

Desperate for shelter I end up at this place – officially the worst place I have ever stayed!!! But prices are reasonable.

In truth I get lucky after a last minute cancellation so move next door for a little more luxury. And same reasonable rates.

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 13j

Ascent – 1,413m. Distance – 31.4km

I drop down from my peaceful hilltop meadow into a ‘zona industiale’ (which visits of about 3 factories and some fairly average house) but there is a pretty big road here – two lanes – so I scurry on back to my hills.

But I am plagued!!! No mist. No rain. No wet feet. How can my creative juices continue their lament. But wait a minute. Oh yes.

The blistering sun beats down relentlessly on my parched back. Sweat pours from every vein. I wonder if water exists anywhere in these hills or will I have to resort to sucking the sap from trees (I think I saw Bear Grills do this once). I fear if I stop I might never get up again Survival is key now.

Truth is it’s just gorgeous with the light breeze tickling my legs (yes, I’m in shorts for the first time since day 2). For the first time I sea the Med glistening far below, toy boats mulling around The port of Savona.

A mountain biker glides by and I wonder if I’m jealous? I certainly am of the luck of weight he has on his back compared to me. But from my own experience on a bike you travel through the location, rarely absorbed within. So to solve my problem I decide I need a donkey!

The carnage of the winter storm remains, slowing progress drastically as I try to weave a route between the branches. I fear for snakes in the undergrowth but brambles and scratches are more the norm. At least it breaks the monotony of a long climb! I hear a chainsaw far below and begrudgingly wonder why he isn’t up here. I guess clearing the path doesn’t put food on the table.

I Am spat out onto a forest track, a welcome for once after the tangle and wander through a sensitively managed area of commercial beech.

Later in the day – course I want his bloody bike!!! He”ll be in the bar right now and where am I…

Later still – lovely evening with Mog, Jas & Jase. So no photos for now!

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 12

Dry boots & socks. Porcelain. A shower. A cup of Coffee. Ahhh. Sometimes the little things.

Ascent – 1033m. Distance – 28.7km

Refreshed after a night indoors. The morning resonates with birdsong and tranquility. Vicious storms over the winter leave the trees a tangle of fallen branches. Makes for slow progress as your scramble up, over, through, round. Miles of it. Very glad I wasn’t around that day! I weave a path as I ascend once more into a friendly mist – warmer and more comforting than of late.

Wind turbines keyholes into the forest canopy amongst some great napoleonic battle in times forgotten. Were the trees here then?

Down through woods into a delicious valley of wild flowers. Decide to stay here. Then a swarm (or whatever it is for them) decide this was a stupid idea so onwards and upwards once more to a gorgeous meadow higher up. IN THE SUN. Yes, I even got down to tee shirt only (well, I still had my trousers on) for a few minutes. But actually relaxing outside for the first time Duce day one. Lovely.

A few snaps below on the Panasonic G9

Trekking the Alta Via Dei Monti Liguri – Day 11

Back with a Vengence. Ok, a bit strong maybe, but I’m over half way!!! Thanks to everyone for the ongoing amazing support.

Ascent – 1106. Distance – 27.6km

Days with rain in a row – 10!

Image – don’t knock the buff!

Does anyone like packing wet camping gear away? Me either. Especially when already wet when set up! At least it meant I was on my way by 7:30am. Short of water I did need to refill…

Am afraid there was little to show for the early start though, as a lack of solar meant the camera stayed in the bag. Oh, and the mist so thick it left you hair drenched. But to show you just what a day it was I Add below the photo of the view on a billboard – and then what I saw.

Apparently the views to the Med are amazing!!! But even without the big views the atmosphere out on the open hill was exhilarating . I could wish for no more. UNESCO protected geology – with my word for the day…

…cryoclastism. Something to do with freeze thaw rock fracturing but who cares with a word like that!

Oh yes. It’s everywhere. Along with other pretty cool exposed rocks stuff too. I’ve got Wuthering Heights & “beware the moon, stick to the road” going on in my head.

Storm damage had felled trees across the path as I headed down the hill – big drop form well over 1000m to 400m – which led to a confusion of routes but eventually I am down. (Feet acing badly.) The storm must have been immense.

As I seek refuge in an auberge to dry my kit and regather my senses after a few mind draining days. I meet Andrew, a Scottish eco-builder and cellist (what a combo) from London! Thank you for the blether and sharing some of your time/thoughts/ideas. “Be eco – don’t buy it or build it!” What a lovely guy. Isn’t this what it’s all about! (And far more comfortable than the tent;-)m

Image – Chair

Image – Bath