3 MONTHS HIKING ACROSS THE ITALIAN ALPS
When we say that we have hiked more than 1,000 km (650 miles) from West to East in Italy, people immediately think of gondolas, leaning towers, pizzas, pasta and laundry drying on the windows.We will not lie, yes we ate pizzas and pasta :)
But believe us if you tell you that the rest did not happen like this at all!
Crossing Europe was our project. Crossing the Alps was our dream. And the weather window to realize it was relatively short: before June it was too early, after October it would have been too late and we had to count 3 or 4 months to do it. Our departure date on February 5th in Sagres was fixed in anticipation of this epic section of our trip.
Of course, even now, our vision of Italy is very partial. But it's the same for all the countries we crossed and the one we will cross during this thru-hike in Europe. Even though we are progressing slowly, spending a lot of time in some countries, we only discover a narrow line across a whole country.
For almost 3 months hiking in Italy, we discovered the Italian Alps, crossed 6 regions, climbed 69,500 meters (230,000 feet) of elevation gain, stayed 30% of the time at the inhabitant and spent twice our planned budget, an average of 20 € per day and per person.
People are surprised when we say that we have not managed to keep our budget in Italy. It's not so much about the country itself, but about the mountains in general. The products are difficult to transport and therefore more expensive, the shops are rare so we are content with what we find and at the price we find it, difficult weather conditions can quickly become dangerous and sometimes it pushed us to sleep in a refuge where else we could have camped, the villages and therefore the meetings were also rarer and so the help we received.
The encounters were less frequent, but they were still there! We cannot thank enough all those people who welcomed us or helped us in one way or another!
The bivouacs (bivacco in Italian) were really helpful too, these cabins, of any size, any form and any level of comfort, usually built, maintained and made available by the Italian Alpine Club. The most comfortable take the form of a large one-room cottage with a dozen beds with sheets and blankets, gas, electricity and a large table for meals. The more basic ones looked like giant cans with between 2 and 8 berths where sometimes we could not stand up.
You are never really ready
These bivouacs have often been beneficial. Yes, crossing the Alps is without doubt one of the most difficult things we have done. Physically and mentally. We arrived at the foot of the Alps after 6 months of walking. A good training yes, but in fact, nothing could have prepared us for what was coming: an average of 1,000 m (3,280 ft) of positive elevation daily over such a long period of time. One might think that after 2 or 3 weeks of this diet, we get used to it. Actually no. At least, we are not all equal on the subject.
If there is one thing that has helped us to get to the end of this alpine crossing, it is the "wow", "pfff", "hey, that's really beautiful" that we let out dozens of times per day. Neither Nil nor me had ever experienced such daily, systematic wonder. We have discovered sublime places in all the countries we have crossed but never at such a high level of concentration!
The best of the best
This article could be 30 pages long without exhausting the subject of the fantastic sites that will mark our spirit forever. Still, we will try to give you an overview.
The largest protected natural area in Piedmont
We entered Italy by the Parco delle Alpi Marittime. For us one of the wildest and richest places in the Italian Alps. Everywhere ibex, chamois, marmots, sharp peaks and mountain lakes where sometimes we had the courage to bathe, to be honest, especially when we needed to have a wash!
Best of all, we went again to the Rifugio Emilio Questa that we had discovered a year before, during the preparation of our hiking trip. There we found Flavio, guardian of the shelter for 31 years. Besides, he speaks of it better than us:
Gettin closer from the stars
Seeing Mount Viso from really close has got us a little teased. The weather was not really on our side, we chose to go around and did not regret it for two reasons. The first is that we ended this day caught in a storm of wind and rain. The second is that after sleeping in the lovely bivacco Punta Venezia, we woke up with a breathtaking view of the Viso.
Anyway, the temptation to discover the high mountain, even on a small scale, followed us. When Jesse, our first guest in Italy joined us and he told us that it excited him a lot too, we decided to go. There we were, on our way to the Gran Paradiso.Our itinerary led us at its feet and the Gran Paradiso (4061m) is known as one of the 4000+ most accessible of the Alps.
Obviously, before going, we spent a lot of time researching, we met and consulted several guides, repeated our security procedures, etc.
A few things we learnt on the way:
- A proper ascent must begin early, like really early. We are talking about 4am there. Why? Because you do not want to find yourself crossing a glacier full of crevasses during a sunny afternoon.
- “No arms, no chocolate” (French saying). Here, no sun, no heat. Are we stating the obvious? Yes, but cold down in the valley and cold beyond 3000m, does not mean the same. So cover yourself!
- When the sun finally showed, we saw one of the most beautiful things of our whole life and we quickly forgot the difficult hours to get up there.
Shortly after, it was in the Monte Rosa massif that the euphoria of the peaks took us back. Finally, especially Nil and Jesse. I felt too tired to follow them, so I stayed in the valley to rest and work. We had been crossing the Alps for 3 weeks and, far from getting used to the effort, I felt more and more tired.
The boys stayed in the beautiful Capanna Gnifetti and climbed the Pointe Parrot (4432), the Ludwigshöhe (4341), the Balmenhorn (4167) and Vincent Pyramid (4215). Yes, all this!Seeing the incredible photos they brought back, I was almost jealous…
Ich spreche kein deutsch
After crossing Switzerland, we went back to Italy through the Trentino-Alto Adige region. We were terribly impatient to find a warmer culture and a more familiar language. Fail. We must believe that our history books had failed to tell us about this detail. For centuries, the situation in this German-speaking region has been complex, changing sides with conflicts. Until the First World War, it belonged to Austria, which finally ceded it to Italy in exchange for its commitment alongside the Allies. Crossing Europe on foot is also discovering its history!
So here we are in an German-speaking Italy where the culture is definitely more Germanic than Latin.
The Val di Non, in Trentino did not mark us by its breathtaking landscapes but rather by its intensive monoculture of the apple. Indeed, for over 2,000 years, apples have been grown in Val di Non. Its altitude between 500 and 1000m and its microclimate make it a particularly favorable environment for this crop. Until the end of the 1980s, this production was essentially the result of many family activities. Anxious to protect their product and its name and streamline their sales process, they have formed a cooperative under the Melinda brand. Today Melinda represents a significant share of apples sold in Europe and imposes strict standards on farmers to standardize production…
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