Dwight Peck's personal website

A walk to Italy and back, 2002 (1)

There are many ways to go from Switzerland to Italy

There's the airplane, or at least there was before 9/11 made the airport security personnel all uppity and then Swissair went bankrupt.

There's the rail line, superb service on the Swiss side, sometimes a little tardy to the south, and crowded, not crime-free, and pretty smelly.

There's the automobile, over the Grand St. Bernard, the Simplon, lots of passes, lots of tunnels, some of them kind of pricey and carbon monoxidy, and then there's the occasional horrifying tunnel fire to be borne in mind. And there could sometimes be some falling-asleep-at-the-wheel issues.

And then there's walking.

On balance, walking sounds like the way to go. We'll try it!

In July 2002, Prof. Charles Berman came to Switzerland for a month's visit, at the worst possible time for his colleague Peck, i.e. 2002. Work-related issues which don't need tedious explanations here prevented Mr Peck from accompanying His Lordship on all of his adventures -- like riding his cute little bicycle, wearing his unfashionable blue helmet, over the Simplon Pass from the convent in Italy into Switzerland, to start it all off, to name only one.

And so it was concluded that, if Mr Peck could extort a four-day weekend from the Bosses, over the mountains we'd go in a hectic forced march into Italy and back, and back to work on the Tuesday with no one having missed him.

Well, here we are (above), on 19 July 2002, at the Hotel of Mauvoisin (left), 1841m, by bus up the valley from Verbier, with the Mauvoisin dam looming up there on the right.

Now we're on the dam, with the Lac de Mauvoisin stretching ahead there quite a ways. Two paths lead to the Cabane de Chanrion -- one carries on level on the right side of the lake and then climbs steeply to the Cabane at the end of it. The other passes through galleries in the cliffs on the left, then winds up through the cliffs and passes over the upper left horizon.

Having passed through the galleries, Mr Berman looks back upon the dam of Mauvoisin fondly, and Mr Peck tries on a coy smile for a change. The lake water's white because of all the glacial stuff.

Mr Peck heads for the Cabane de Chanrion, a staging for the first night before passing over into Italy the next day Saturday, 20 July 2002.

There on the right, above the tarn, or gour, or little mountain lake, is the Col de Tsofeiret (2635m), with the Cabane de Chanrion down over the far side. Exuberant Mr Berman is up there somewhere ahead, so we'll stop for lunch here and he can chew on his belt.

An impressive neighborhood. The eastern side of the massif of the Grand Combin looms.

Mr Peck, a bit overfreighted from a generous lunch, plods towards the Col de Tsofeiret.

There's the col, and Mr Berman waving down genially. Awaiting his lunch. Not much left, unfortunately.

Hikers Berman and Peck on the Col du Tsofeiret (2635m).

Prof. Berman from the col, looking back down upon alpine wetlands.

Mr Peck descending the far side of the Col de Tsofeiret bound for the Chanrion hut.

Mr Berman, aesthetically overcome for the moment, gazes towards the Grand Combin on the left, with the Col de Tsofeiret up there in the center.

Mr Peck crosses a bridge thoughtfully provided by the Tourist Board.

Flag. Means cabane. Bolt forward, thinking of chilled beer. Tomorrow's route, the Fenêtre de Durand, can be seen off there in the distance.

Hello. We're walking from near Verbier in Switzerland over into Italy, and now we're in the second half of Day One (19 July 2002), trying to get back into condition hastily, and belatedly, having passed over the Col de Tsofeiret (2635m) and approaching the Cabane de Chanrion (2461m) for an uneasy night in the dortoir listening to other people's digestive processes.

Glorious flag. The cabane cannot be far off.

(I'll speak frankly for once: whenever I see the Swiss flag whipping in the wind, I think "how wonderful!! how folklorique!!", but whenever I see the USA flag drooping outside a pharmacy or gunshop or franchise fast food restaurant in the States, I cannot help but think "you bloody fascist hegemonists". That seems unfair, but there you are, it's just the way it is.)

Youpee! The cabane! With a fine-looking guardian's wife, and one of the most unpleasant and ornery guardians in the entire Swiss hut system.

Time for a warm brew, 19 July 2002.

Hikers Berman and Peck outside the Cabane de Chanrion, 19 July 2002.

Narrator schmoozing with Michael from St John's College, Oxford, himself bound for a much longer expedition all the way round the Monta Rosa Alps. This was for him, as for us, Day One.

Dr Michael [Sir Michael, as it turns out] and Dr Dwight, both former majors in philosophy, convene in the Alps to discuss dietary tips for hikers.

Typist Dwight, Barrister Jeremy, and Oxford college president Michael muse upon the ontological possibilities for dinner in the cabane. Generous helpings of something, as it turns out, but no one can remember what (or was epistemologically sure even then). A pleasant evening of Day One passed thus, with speculations upon karma, if memory serves, but teleologically, the next day it was off again . . .

Leaving the Cabane de Chanrion behind, en route for Italy!

Which means back down to cross the Drance (2180m) at the end of the Mauvoisin lake, then up along the side of Mont Gelé (left) to the Fenêtre de Durand on the Italian frontier two hours later, with Mont Avril, part of the Grand Combin massif, up to the right.

The Fenêtre ("window") de Durand (2797m) ahead, and then . . .


Birthplace of Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Giotto, Leonardo, Ignazio Silone or whatever his real name was, Galileo, Tiberius, Moravia, Dante (and Beatrice), Ariosto and his nuns, Mussolini, both Cicero and Cato, Romulus and Remus and Romano Prodi, and, of course, Giordano Bruno. The anticipation is almost unbearable.

But then, of course, there's Berlusconi.

Mr Berman can be seen darting up ahead en route for the Fenêtre, 20 July 2002. Don't become stressed looking for him. If you don't see Mr Berman at first, let it go and move on. You won't be the first.

The thing about Prof Berman is, if at first you lose him up ahead, there's a better than even chance that he'll be waiting for you at the end. But you can't presume upon that. Unless you make a point of carrying the map and the lunch.

This time, here he is on the Fenêtre de Durand (2797m) under Mont Gelé (much higher), awaiting his colleague who has in fact brought along the lunch bag.

One of the views off the Durand, a humongous glacier (probably the Glacier du Brenay), likely gone in the next few years if the US gets its way.

Another view from Durand, 90 degrees to the left (north). In Kansas we had a local peak south of the university in Lawrence, called "Mont Bleu", with rudimentary ski facilities built onto it. Its original name was Blue Mound, and it was not like this sort of Mound.

Two temporary residents of the Fenêtre de Durand prepare next to journey on to Italy.

Italy, here we come!

You're still in Switzerland at this point. Stick with us, and we'll get us down to Italy in a while. The old knees are not what they once were.

At the Fenêtre de Durand on the Swiss/Italian frontier, Mr Peck takes leave of Jeremy and Michael who are just tucking into an ample lunch.

Prof Berman plummets -- that's the only word -- down from the Fenêtre de Durand (2797m) towards the Lago Fenêtre (2708m) on the way to the pubs in the valley of Ollomont.

A splendid glance back up at Durand from the lake.

And still another, to celebrate this peaceful place.

Having been easily overtaken by Michael and his party because of a luxurious second lunch near the Alpe Thoules (2378m), Mr Peck urges Mr Berman to hurry up lest the best benches in the pub all be taken.

The farm, or half-a-farm, at Cheval Blanc (2009m) on the way down from Durand into the Val d'Ollomont.

The upper suburbs of Ollomont, i.e., Vaud, nestled in the Val d'Ollomont.

No worries. In tiny Vaud, 1km up the road from Ollomont, Mr Berman surveys the facilities and pronounces them worthy.

"Vaud", "Ollomont" -- sound French? Mr Peck lives in French-speaking Switzerland in the large canton of Vaud, what a coincidence. In fact, it's probably not a coincidence, it's just an accident of history. More of the Italian locals seem happier to speak French than to speak Italian, though amongst themselves they jabber at one another in the Valpelline variant of the frenchy Italian dialect of the Val d'Aosta.

Vaud and Ollomont are stunningly beautiful little villages, plenty of money roundabout evidently, a fairly elegant tourist trade it would seem from the restored farm buildings -- Dutch and Belgian automobiles in the parking lots, etc. The mixed stone and wood rural architecture of the Valpelline and Val d'Ollomont is so beautiful that you want to sit and gaze at it and never move away.

The single hotel in Ollomont being fully booked, the Foyer des Guides presented a pleasant alternative. Here Mr Peck is reading his Scientific American, Day Two - 20 July 2002, psyching up for dinner and a night in the guides' dortoir, or dormitory, with Mr Berman pacing up and down amongst the bunkbeds in his underwear all night trying to correct the snorers' bad habits.

Day Three, 21 July, two hiking parties joined up for a public bus down to the village of Valpelline and a taxi-of-sorts past the last village of the Valpelline, Bionaz, to the dam at Place Moulin (1960m). In a bucketing rain. Here they are, the silly hikers -- Dwight, Michael, Thomas, and Jeremy -- preparing to walk for an hour along the dammed lake of Place Moulin to the Rifugio Prarayer (2005m) and then decide whether to go up into the mountains . . . in a bucketing rain.

The Rifugio of Prarayer in the rain.

And the Refuge from closer up.

Michael and Jeremy gaze at a map whilst Thomas thinks of London. The two small parties decided to band together into a larger small party and head up into the rainy heights, rather than languish a full day with only a day-old Guardian newspaper for diversion.

Leaving the Rifugio Prarayer (2005m) at 10 a.m. the hikers go to see what the wet and dripping peaks have to offer the devoted nature enthusiast.

Don't quit now, this is where it all gets scenically majestic and awesome, and foggy (Go to file 2.)

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 22 October 2002, rescanned 25 January 2008, revised 29 April 2013.

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