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….
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.
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.
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.
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!