Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mount Manzol

I’ve been compiling a set of walks for the guests at the B&B and have done quite a few low and medium level walks This year I decided to tackle the high level walks starting with 4 of the 5 peaks I can see from the balcony which everyone asks me about. But, due to the bad weather this year we only managed to do the first of these on Monday: Mount Manzol (2933m). The fifth one is a sharply ridged crib gochy sort of affair with a 400m drop on each side  but it’s at 2800m and not a particularly attractive peak and this season I really can’t be bothered to do the hike needed to get there.
Anyway, I met up with Baldrick and Mrs. Baldrick in the square here in Santa Margherita at 6 am. This always a point of contention between Baldrick and myself because I would always start early, about  4 am preferably. The stress of getting out of bed early is far outweighed imo by the benefits of not climbing in blazing sunshine with the 30°C+ temperatures you get as soon as the sun pops it’s unseeable head over the mountains. As if to prove the point we all got sunburnt on the backs of our legs because of course the walk started off westwards to turn north just as the sun edged south; a more or less synchronised effort ensuring the sun was always behind us.
We drove the 9 km up the Carbonieri valley to the Barbara refuge which is a lovely drive. The day started off cloudy but  despite initial pessimism in some quarters the clouds soon lifted leaving a beautiful blue sky draped with a few wispy clouds.
Balders supports the meteorological guru Mercalli who I think is a charlatan. I follow Meteo.it for my weather advice so there’s always a bit of rivalry as to the evolution of the weather because invariable the forcasts are differnt. But today the evolution was evident. Good weather with a fair amount of sun.
The walk starts off from the humerously named Pis Farmstead (presumably named after the nearby Pis waterfall) and climbs 950m in just over  4 km up to the Manzol Pass. It’s quite a strenuous climb I found (but then I usually do) not so much for the distance or the height but how it’s structured. Right from the start before you’ve even digested your breakfast you gain 300m in height climbing a steep zigzagging crumbly path until you cross a stream and come out on a rocky spur, a sort of dividing point between the difficult and the easy, from where it’s a long gradually climbing trudge to the boulder field at the base of the gully which takes you  up to the Manzol Pass. The approach is truly stunning through cool larch woodland out into a wide magnificently pretty verdant valley complete with raging torrent at its base and the steep sides of the various 2,700m plus mountains to your right and some intriguing rounded rock slabs on your left. 
Everything here is large. The boulder field from a distance and from below looks tiddly but when you see someone in it it is huge and you can really get a feel for how puny we actually are.
By the time we got to the boulder field personally I was ready for my supper and then bed but the ‘you what?!’ type surprise for those that don’t know is that you still have the gully to get up. OK, sure, fine, it’s only a hundred metre climb but it’s an almost vertical 100m in full Italian sun and I can’t help feeling it would have been wiser if they’d put it at the beginning of the walk. There’s always the fear that one of you might dislodge a boulder to crash down onto someone else or worse that the dog will dislodge several crashing down on all of us. But once you get to the top (and you do get to the top) the view makes the climb well worth it.
Just over the other side of the pass there is another, starkly contrasting stony valley with two beautiful blue lakes one aptly named Icy Lake which was full of ice and another not so aptly named lake called Black Lake which was a beautiful turquoise blue. And all around jagged peaks and all types of rocky somethings and thingumybobs that the welsh surely have names for and just above you the jutting form of Mount Manzol bursting skywards which is what we came to climb.
Annoyingly some other walkers came up behind us,  fortunately going in the a different direction, and expressed surprise that we were going to climb Manzol without ropes (just why it is that people spout knowledge they haven’t got?). Looking at it from the bottom it looks pretty daunting admittedly but I always do my homework thoroughly and as it turns out it was as predicted,  a simple slippy-slidey scramble (200m height gain in 480 m)  to a narrow flat part on the top decorated with the ubiquitous bloody cross. I’m definitely not in favour of the bloody Christians putting crosses on the tops of mountains. I mean, the highest point for miles around and  you put a huge metal lightening conducting cross on the top. Just what is that all about? I can’t see the logic. Does god reside on mountain tops? Does he or she really approve of you littering his or her beautiful mountain tops in this way? Bah! People!
But the views banished all thoughts of madness and despite the cloud on the southern side were amazing.
Most of the higher mountains have a log book on the top which you sign, and reading the log we were surprised at the number of people who come up here, usually of course on Saturday or Sunday, mind you the proximity of a refuge you can drive up to may well have something to do with this.
Baldrick doesn’t see the point of hanging about on summits so quickly left me to finish my filming and photographing on my own doubtless incurring the disapproval of Hillary for leaving a companion on a mountain. After he had gone total silence descended. There’s nothing quite like the silence when you’re up high. No wind, no breeze, no birds, people, traffic, nothing. You can be truly alone. If you could fly like a crow it’s only 5 km to the nearest village but on foot the quickest way is still  at least a 12 k walk which also makes you feel alone.
Baldrick went down by another route which I followed. But at about half way down a football sized rock came bouncing down the gully. So I presumed, somehow, that he was behind me envious of my exceptional good looks and athletic physique but then I realised he couldn’t have been behind me so I presumed it was  a revenge attack by the dog but as neither answered my shouts I then presumed it was some other critter I had wronged. As it turns out both Baldrick and my dog were both sitting with Mrs Baldrick down on the pass. So much for man’s best friend. Traitorous beast.
There was a moment on the way down I wished I’d had a rope as I found myself having to come down somewhere I would never have gone up in the first place. Nothing dramatic for sure (I’m a confirmed wuss) but I did have to hook the strap of my rucksack over a bit of rock and climb down using the rucksack as a rope. I suppose I could have jumped down but jumping onto scree with a (knowing my luck) 300m descent to the Black Lake below I felt it to be the wrong option. Problem then was how to get my rucksack back. I climbed up as far as I could again and hooked and levered it off with my trekking pole. Balders being about eight foot tall and a climber to boot couldn’t of course figure out where the problem had been.
The sun on the pass was really hot and Mrs. Baldrick had been there for a couple of hours roasting. After we started down from the pass three ravens came to inspect where we had been sitting and boy were they big. Though I’m lucky enough to see ravens on a daily basis I’ve never seen them as large as these, they were absolutely enormous and though they kept their distance from me were quite unperturbed. They obviously live here and not down in the valleys and they just seem to suit their environment perfectly .
The descent back to the cars is quite tiring too mainly because starting off higher you can see where you have to go. But was uneventful except for Balders occasionally jumping off the track to pounce on huge giant puffball mushrooms amongst the wild flowers. So dinner at Baldrick Manor featured pasta with puffballs which though not my favourite mushroom allowed themselves to be eaten.
I did see one of the funniest sights in ages crossing the bridge across the Pellice on the way down. There is quite a high ridge of asphalt at the start of the bridge and  as I bounced over it (rear wheel drive) I glance in the rearview mirror to see the dog catapulted two feet in the air with an almost human look of wtf-ness. It is the reoccurrence of this type of thing that make me wonder if it’s not the dog hurtling rocks in the mountains.


Athena said...

Pmsl! Poor dog.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading that.Makes me want to take up walking but I enjoy lazy days too much.
I've never understood why there are so many crosses all over the mountains either.

Anonymous said...

Hello, im going to Bobbio Pellice in two weeks and I´am wondering if there is any tourist map of local mountains paths - do you know about something, that i can download? Thanx, David

Woozle said...

Nothing that you can download but when you get here there's a new map just published this year that you can find in the 'cartolerie' (stationers) or maybe tobacconists too which has all the main paths on it!!!
It's the 'Carta dei sentieri e stradale' published by Fraternali Editori.
Try looking at 'Gulliver.it' which might give you an idea. Write Pellice in the search box. Only in Italian though I'm afraid.

Anonymous said...

Great, I´m looking forward, thanks a lot! Gracia! :)Dados