Dwight Peck's personal website
walk to Italy and back, 2002 (1)
are many ways to go from Switzerland to Italy
the airplane, or at least there was before 9/11 made the airport security personnel
all uppity and then Swissair went bankrupt.
the rail line, superb service on the Swiss side, sometimes a little tardy to the
south, and crowded, not crime-free, and pretty smelly.
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.
then there's walking.
balance, walking sounds like the way to go. We'll try it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
impressive neighborhood. The eastern side of the massif of the Grand Combin looms.
Peck, a bit overfreighted from a generous lunch, plods towards the Col de Tsofeiret.
the col, and Mr Berman waving down genially. Awaiting his lunch. Not much left,
Berman and Peck on the Col du Tsofeiret (2635m).
Berman from the col, looking back down upon alpine wetlands.
Peck descending the far side of the Col de Tsofeiret bound for the Chanrion hut.
Berman, aesthetically overcome for the moment, gazes towards the Grand Combin
on the left, with the Col de Tsofeiret up there in the center.
Peck crosses a bridge thoughtfully provided by the Tourist Board.
Means cabane. Bolt forward, thinking of chilled beer. Tomorrow's route, the Fenêtre
de Durand, can be seen off there in the distance.
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.
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
The cabane! With a fine-looking guardian's wife, and one of the most unpleasant
and ornery guardians in the entire Swiss hut system.
for a warm brew, 19 July 2002.
Berman and Peck outside the Cabane de Chanrion, 19 July 2002.
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.
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.
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 . . .
the Cabane de Chanrion behind, en route for Italy!
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.
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.
then, of course, there's Berlusconi.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
temporary residents of the Fenêtre de Durand prepare next to journey on
here we come!
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. |
Fenêtre de Durand on the Swiss/Italian frontier, Mr Peck takes leave of
Jeremy and Michael who are just tucking into an ample lunch.
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
splendid glance back up at Durand from the lake.
still another, to celebrate this peaceful place.
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.
farm, or half-a-farm, at Cheval Blanc (2009m) on the way down from Durand into
the Val d'Ollomont.
upper suburbs of Ollomont, i.e., Vaud, nestled in the Val d'Ollomont.
worries. In tiny Vaud, 1km up the road from Ollomont, Mr Berman surveys the facilities
and pronounces them worthy.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
Rifugio of Prarayer in the rain.
Refuge from closer up.
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
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.
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.