With over 2000 km of cycling clocked in the three weeks before, and a 2000 m climb the day before, I thought my legs deserved a rest. However, while they may have got a rest from cycling on Sunday there was a reasonably steep hike involved. When it was mentioned slightly after my arrival that a group was hiking up a peak on the other side of the valley the next day – I could hardly turn down the opportunity to be outside exploring new places with new friends. In fact, the whole situation reminded me of my arrival to live in the Bow Valley – a long valley surrounded by large peaks and then going to climb up one of the peaks almost immediately with many new faces.
What I initially understood to be a departure time of seven o’clock graciously turned into half past eight, so I did manage a good rest beforehand. Before long, five of us were squeezed in what can be most generously described as a classic early-nineties Fiat Panda careening around narrow Italian roads as we dropped to the valley floor, crossed it and then began the tortuous steep climb up to the trail-head through tiny hillside villages.
The walk started at around 1600 m while the morning was still misty and cool. The whole affair was pretty steep, but first followed double-track up through forest, passing small farm-holdings along the way. A cacophony of clanging cow-bells told us we were approaching a herd – accompanied by their herdsman they were slowly being driven down the hill eating as they went. While the herdsman sat mending a bell collar, it was funny to see the varying sizes of bells. The calves had tiny bells, the yearlings slightly bigger and the cows the normal full-size bells.
We stopped to snack, look across the valley and refill bottles from the mountain sourced water fountain.
As we left the double-track and then the trees heading into the alpine the trail became less well defined and quite challenging to find and then negotiate. There were plenty of small wild flowers about, at times the wild thyme filled the mountain air with its distinctive smell. We passed ruined mountain shacks, their slate roofs collapsed while the walls still stand. With two hours of walking behind us we ascended the last and were on the summit plateau – about 2500 m. While it had gotten a little warmer, a lot of the surrounding area was still covered in cloud.
Settling down to picnic lunch of grand amounts of proscuitto and fontina (a cheese of the Aosta Valley – quite famous, protected and delicious), the clouds thwarting our views at various times dispersed so that we could see quite a bit.
The Aosta Valley running centre to bottom left, and the valley I rode down off GSB Pass the day before, above that just right of centre. Mont Blanc is left most peak.
The village nearest to where I’m staying, Nus, down on the valley floor.
Admiring the view (Jose’s photo).
With an hour of eating and then lazing in the sun done, we headed down – which is never as enjoyable for me as walking up; but my legs and knees didn’t scream too much. Hiking downhill always seems anti-climatic – I don’t remember much of note of the return to the car. Oh, there were a few stops to pick flowers and leaves – which quite possibly has been what I’ve had in my tea each morning.
Over a slate roof to the Aosta Valley.
Also one of Jose’s photos.
Dinner attendance that night got a big bigger with a cousin and neighbour also around – ten in total. My distinct memory will be of the cousin, Francesco, continually pulling more and more dried meats from a bag and proceeding to cut them all up. First there a big piece of beef hind-quarters – the air-cured type that you see hanging by the dozen at various shops and bars (also Bologna Airport, if I recall correctly). And then scores of sausages of dried meat – although one variety had a fair bit of blood and potato in the mix, so wasn’t quite as dry. With another huge piece of fontina cheese also present, we didn’t lack for food that night (it must be said, the whole time I’ve been here we’ve not lacked for delicious locally-produced food). Also sampled were a couple of bottles of the vineyard’s efforts – very good. After being forced some-what, my protestations weren’t that loud, to have a third piece of walnut cake the locally made spirits came out – mostly grappa with various plants and flavours (liquorice, wild flowers etc.) infused, some liquorice & mint spirit (quite tasty) and some green concoction of horribleness. Thankfully I don’t remember much of that last one.