Friday, January 22, 2010


Baldrick had the bright idea to climb to the top of Castelluzzo. Of course it might conceivably have been me to have the idea but either way I’m laying the blame at Baldrick’s feet. I think without doubt that was the most gruelling hike so far. The start at 700 meters asl and the arrival 1,400 meters doesn’t sound very much at all, not exactly expedition material but it still took us 9 hours with half an hour for lunch and return in the dark. I say took ‘us’ but Baldrick of course would have been up it in half that. Good job he’s patient bless him. Mind you I saw him in a little difficulty for the first time. The problem was the snow and the fact that we had to pass round behind castelluzzo because the usual way up would have been too risky given the avalanche warnings. Initially there were only a few inches but after half an hour or so up the steep hillside on went the snowshoes up to a place called Ciampas where we ran into people going to the house at Giabaudin. This was good because it meant for 30 minutes at least the track was trodden so the going was easy.

After though the snow got deeper and the hazel trees were laden with snow and bowed over too so of course Baldrick being a tall fellow, got a lot of it down his neck. It was like waking through a fairy grotto right up to bars d’la taiola were we stopped for a cuppa. This place is where the Waldensian partisans hid out in the 17th century and it would have been nice to have seen it in the snow but the chimney which you have to climb down to get there was chock full of snow.

The path from Bars leads down through some pine woods and across the basal slopes of casteluzzo. It was a bit tough going on the narrow path crossing gullies and clambering up snowy buttresses but then almost suddenly after a huge boulder you come out onto a well-marked path that zig-zags up and up and up (seemingly) to the ridge between Vandalino and Castelluzzo. It was a nightmare. Crispy crusty snow where you sank down only a couple of inches then suddenly soft, wet powder snow, how ever that comes about because it sure as hell seemed to defy the laws of physics, that you sink up to your thighs in. It really was a case of 10 paces, stop for a rest alternating taking the lead every hundred paces or so. It was a nightmare. But when we eventually got to the ridge below the summit things got worse. The snow was crust over wet over powder which meant that once you were in, getting out again was impossible without either stamping the snow

down a few times or lifting your leg right up to waist height hoping for a bit of firm crust (there’s a lesson in life there somewhere I think). Standing still any movement from Baldrick shook the whole weight of snow, a horrible sensation of instability. Perfect avalanhche snow I would imagine. Good job it was on the flat. Anyway it took us three quarters of an hour to climb 44 metres in height and about 80 linear the snow was about waist height and full of dips and hummocks and drifts of deeper snow that beat even Baldrick (despite having longer legs than mine). In a couple of points we walked along buried tree trunks to gain some height. Then of course, when we eventually did get to the top it was three o’clock with only an hour and a half of daylight left so lunch was rather hurried. We ate sitting on a log but because of the time and the weather closing in we shot off straight after.

I had had visions of gaily bounding my way down the steep hill we had climbed up but was not to be. the snow was too deep and the slope too steep and the descent was as tiring, though much faster , than the ascent.

But as soon as we got round in front of Casteluzzo again the going got easier and it was just a matter of covering ground enabling you to drink in the surroundings without having to think about where to put your feet. It really is something else to be out and about as night is closing in; a sort of meditation. Everything gets quieter and quieter until the temperature drops enough to freeze the snow and then you are just left with the crunch swish of the snowshoes to keep you company. With the snow on the ground darkness is never a problem and it is perhaps the only time you can walk confidently in the woods despite the lack of stars or a moon.

And the prince married the princess and they all lived happily….

If you can stand 20 minutes of Baldrick and I walking in the snow here's a video. The most boring to date.

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