Dwight Peck's personal website

A walk to Italy and back, 2002 (2)


We're on Day Three of a walk from Switzerland into Italy, and then back farther along to the east, and you've just caught us having left the Italian Rifugio di Prarayer (2005m) on the lake of Place Moulin, at about 10 a.m., and heading up towards the beneficial rays of the sun. Somewhere above all that rain.

Michael leads the way up into the Combe de Valcournera (2300m) -- I say "leads", actually Prof Berman is out there somewhere in the distance living his own dream, so Michael is leading the 'Local Group', confident that we'll come upon Prof Berman somewhere ahead, waiting for his lunch.

Just after lunch, Thomas and Jeremy can be seen leaving the Combe and starting up into the cliffs towards the Col de Valcournera.

Having lived for several hours in dread of what the guide book described as a "relentlessly unpleasant" scree climb, the hikers were pleased to find that, since the guide book was written, the helpful authorities had laid on a lot of relentlessly unpleasant iron hand- and foot-holds directly up through the cliffs, with very little awkward scree at all so far.

THAT all changed, up in the little hanging valley beneath the Col, with only scree about in every direction. The Col is up there somewhere. So is Prof Berman, probably hopelessly lost by this time.

The clouds clear out briefly and Dr Michael sprints for the Col de Valcournera (3066m), before the curtains come down again.

Michael briefly experiencing resentful thoughts.

Stragglers Dwight and Jeremy approaching the moist Col de Valcournera (3066m) at about 3 p.m.

To be greeted by Prof Berman, who'd been airlifted in by helicopter.

It's time for a wet rest -- from left, Jeremy, Michael, Dwight (seated), Thomas thinking of London.

Jeremy (right) digging out his altimeter for a doublecheck, and Thomas (left) thinking of London.

General agreement on the wonderfulness of the experience and some doubt about what's next.

Michael checks his altimeter, Charlie secures his trousers, and we're off down the other side.

Whooaa. Nice little lakes there. Pretty far down though.

That's the Lago del Dragone. I hope that doesn't mean what it sounds like it means.


Bring your parachute if you have one.

Well, here we are, on the Col de Valcournera in Italy (3066m), wondering how we're going to get down the other side, with the Dragon Lakes looking like they're about to ice over.

Well, it's got to be done.

Various fellows have got off the vertical mud and are picking their ungainly way down the icy mush.

Barrister Jeremy smiles at his companions' discomfort.

Prof Berman prepares to take the plunge, so to speak, down the track that Barrister Jeremy has just swept clean of snow over the ice.

The straggler, D. Peck, leaves the comfort of the mud and heads pell-mell for the pubs in the village of Valtournanche.

Mr Peck decided that this icy thing has not been going well so far, so he rode his poles down in a controlled fall and bent a decent pair of 80 Swiss franc telescoping poles right out of shape.

It's funny that the guide book didn't mention that an ice axe would have been a real asset here. Well, not funny "ha ha", but peculiar.

Hikers travel in an orderly fashion down from the Col de Valcournera, headed for the Rifugio and maybe some soup.

Forget the soup. The Rifugio's locked up tight. Here a gaggle of cultured gentlemen (2878m, 4 p.m. in the rain) reflect upon their options and preferences, each in his own way.

Even the outhouse was locked up tight.

Down we go, things getting greener, little lakes appearing here and there. Simply wonderful.

Various combinations posing affably near waterfalls on the way down. A rather painful way down, be it said, for those of us with only knee-débris between ankle and hip. Scenically worth it, however.

A look back up -- that's the same waterfall, by the way, the higher one in the center.

The village of Valtournanche (1550m or so), sunny and fine the next day, 22 July 2002. The hikers hit town the preceding night ONLY JUST before the chefs went home at 9 p.m., 11 hours from their start at the Place Moulin dam [the hikers, not the chefs], and just in time for a fantastic and murderous dinner of local specialties, all of which consisted of other people's specialties (like wienerschnitzel, etc.) with layers of local Fontine cheese melted on top. In far northern Italy, when the locals offer the local dishes, telephone your family doctor before ordering.

Here we are in Italy on Sunday. How do we get back to work in Switzerland by Tuesday? Here's how.

You're in Italy on a Sunday. You need to be back editing silly documents for nature conservation treaties by Tuesday morning, and you've only got your own ski poles and failing knees (and, luckily, a skilift) to get you there. What would YOU do?

The Italian village of Valtournanche (ca.1530m) on a sunny Monday, 22 July 2002, Prof Berman a blot upon the landscape.

Valtournanche. Ignore the photo date -- the batteries ran out and reset without consulting.

Parting of the ways. Barrister Jeremy and Sir Michael Scholar were bound for the next two weeks over a lot more mountain passes, making a complete circuit of the Monte Rosa chain -- and, as we subsequently learned, they made it all the way round, too. Dwight was intending to take the short cut, up over the glaciers to Zermatt, and thence back to work.

A quick bus ride from Valtournanche up to Cervina under the Matterhorn on the Italian side . . .

. . . this by the way is the Matterhorn from the Italian side . . .

and by skilift up to Testa Grigia ski station at 3480m on the Plateau Rosa. Let's fill up our water bottles and head for Switzerland now.

"Okay, let's. Which way is Switzerland?"

"Switzerland's over there, I think."
"Are you sure? I mean really sure?"
"Well, anyway, pretty sure, eh. Where else could it be?"
"Well okay."

Passing by the Zermatt suburbs, the hikers gain confidence in their decision.

"Okay, okay. Switzerland's got to be right round here somewhere, it's a COUNTRY -- a member of the UN!! What else is there? Austria, France, Germany? I think we're on the right track, we just need a LANDMARK."

Wait, I've seen THAT one before. On chocolate wrappers.

Hikers find Switzerland in the end, thanks Bog, by reaching the top of the Zermatt lifts, right under the famous mountain Matterfeld. Matsonforth . . . Movenhorn. Mövenpick. Something ... the famous one!

Trudging through slush on the Theodul, then crowds in Zermatt, reading their twin International Herald Tribunes on the train down to Visp, along the main rail line to Martigny, and Prof Berman preparing lesson plans in the pub whilst Mr Peck went up to Le Châble to retrieve the car, and so to Aigle for dinner with Lisa.

Another excellent weekend all the way round. 


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 22 October 2002, revised 25 January 2008, 2 May 2013.


Recent Events