Le Dolce Vita

Hi all. This is a guest post from the visiting Alex R (my very own dad). Not only did we get him to pay for food and accommodation, but to write the blog too!! The week was a lovely respite for us, not having to cook, and a shower that is both warm and indoors, truly living “Le Dolce Vita”. Take it away dad:

Come to the Alps they said it’ll be fun. So, dear reader, I did and it was.

I arrived a day late as British Airways decided they were not so bothered about flying to Milan on the appointed Saturday “Would I like to fly a day later to a more inconvenient airport or not fly at all…?” was the choice offered.

Selecting the former, I was collected efficiently by Sam and Remy and whisked up to my mountain retreat in the stunning and balmy Val Di Mello. My Airbnb was in fact a converted cattle stall below a stone farmhouse, perfectly comfortable but with only one small window and being rather dimly lit I christened it the Cave. I cheered up the itinerants with pizza at a local trattoria. They spied up other climbers in the restaurant looking for tell-tale signs of their competence and experience. I learnt that one can recognise a climber by his or her trousers.

Day one was a gentle orientation day and a chance for me to catch up with the travellers, buy some food and for us to consider expedition plans.

Orientation day

Day two dawned and we packed up ready for the ascent up the Val Cameraccio. We left the day trippers behind in the valley and we ascended through the dappled sunshine of the pine forest and out on to the Alpine pastures. The views were extraordinary. (NB. This paragraph encapsulates six hours of walking up a bloody steep slope.)

On the way up on day 1

Sam assured me that once we reached the requisite altitude that the remainder of the path to the refuge was a “contour path” i.e. flat. We walked up from 1100m to 2700m and were greeted with a sign to Bivacco Kima (2750m) our first night’s stop. The contour path was indeed flat in the sense that it didn’t go up or down very much. However, it was very much across a boulder field. Some of the boulders were the size of small cars, and others were the size of medium and large cars. Sam showed the way and after I picked myself up off the floor and recited some Anglo-Saxon phrases I followed and ladies and gentlemen, what a treat I was in for.

There’s sheep over there!

Bivacco Kima was spacious, with six double beds with blankets, a large table, tinned and dried food aplenty, a wood burner, gas hob, a view to die for and none of the modern fussiness that comes with running water or a loo. A veritable Claridges of the mountains and all to ourselves. Sam prepared a lovely meal of pasta à la ratatouille and we retired early. Despite the comfortable environment I slept fitfully and was visited in a dream by the ghost of George Mallory. He told me I was a bloody fool for setting out without tweeds and some decent bottles of Champagne. I was inclined to agree.

Bivacco Kima
It’s chilly near 3000m

Day three dawned somewhat misty. Occasional breaks on the cloud gave a mystical Lord of the Rings feel to the surroundings, albeit very much towards the Mordor end of the trilogy. We ascended to the pass (Paseo Cameraccio 2950m) in cool and damp conditions. We didn’t stay long at the apex and a chain path on the far side helpfully guided me along the next section. It was all quite pleasant to start with as I skipped along. Then it became a little steeper and a little steeper still. Following a slight zig-zag the chain crossed a precipitous rock face with the vertiginous mountainside tumbling hundreds of metres into the void. I’m not great with this level of exposure and immediately reverted to my normal strategy of stopping, then alternately weeping quietly and swearing loudly. This I did for some time with no positive results. With a largish pack and descending backwards the only barrier between me and oblivion was my nervous footwork and my tenuous grip on the cold damp chain. Sam and Bethan naturally skipped down like the human Ibexes they are. Somehow and with much encouragement I scraped down. We rested at the top of a glacier and I was able to compose myself, dab my eyes, readjust my waistcoat and fortify myself with some Percy Pigs.

The cairn graveyard at Passo Cameraccio

We descended through the scree fields and arrived at our second night’s accommodation, Bivacco Manzi (2550m). Not quite so salubrious this one, think of a horse box containing six bunks, a tiny table and quite a lot of sheep droppings. We dined on pasta with vegetable soup. But the refuge was dry and warm enough and we played Rummy.

Not quite the Ritz

Day seventeen arrived and we were to descend to the valley. We all looked forward to a good meal. The rock-strewn landscape yielded to pastures and at a comfortable spot by a stream, we relaxed and consumed the remainder of our provisions. Eventually, when we arrived back at the village we were greeted as heroes. Crowds of villagers lined the path. Women threw flowers, and men with deep baritone voices sang folk songs about our bravery. Children climbed onto their parents’ shoulders to get a better look at us. There was dancing and wine. Soon afterwards a child took my hand and led me through the crowd to a group of the village elders. A dignified older man in an embroidered Fez-like hat explained in broken English that they wanted to rename the village square Piazza della Remy in honour of the brave British expedition. “How wonderful!” I exclaimed at which point Sam tapped me repeatedly on the shoulder, “not now Sam!” I cried “not now!”, “Dad, Dad, Dad!” he insisted “C’mon wake up! we’ve still got three hours’ walk to go…”

Meeting the locals

At my favourite hostelry, the Gatto Rosso (the Red Cat) we feasted on delicious Pizzoccheri Valtellinesi (buckwheat pasta, potatoes, mushrooms and cheese), beer, chips, soft drinks and gelato. Heavenly. We then retreated back to the Cave and rested.

The following day I thought that I would wander down to the village for a look round. Unfortunately, my legs had other ideas and refused to cooperate in any useful way. As my arms were still working I was eventually able to pull myself onto a garden chair. Reader, imagine early sea creatures that might have flipped onto the muddy shoreline to start their evolutionary journey on land. I stayed put for the day and read (the energetic and amusing “Lessons in Chemistry” by Bonnie Garmus).

A cold and windy day followed with a howling gale coming down the valley. Sam and I escaped in Remy to the village of Varenna on the banks of Lake Como. We marvelled at the Italianate beauty of the architecture, the narrow medieval streets and the lakeside location. The impossibly romantic castle gave views that have probably not changed radically since Roman times. We ate gelato and watched stylish Milanese couples at a wedding and felt superior to the brash American tourists who were no doubt “doing Europe”. Bethan was not feeling too good so stayed back at the Cave.

That evening I was treated to the shock and awe that is Bananagrams. For those that don’t know it’s an aggressive, pressurised kind of scrabble where you steal other players’ words. The longer the words you create the higher your score. Bethan gleefully wiped the floor with Sam and me creating eight and nine-letter words. In comparison, my final list of words would have not been out of place in a year one spelling test. I suspect (but cannot prove (and would not directly accuse)) Bethan had spent the day practising or somehow marking the back of the word tiles.

A meditative stroll through the Foresta dei Bagni di Masino followed by some cocktails wound up the final day of my lovely week and I am now back in Blighty wondering what other incredible places are in store for the Remy crew. Thank you to Sam and Bethan for sharing such a lovely and memorable part of your trip.


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