Italian Alps
August 2007
We spent our first week in Champoluc, about 1575 meters above sea level, northwest of Milan, and very near the Swiss border. This is the view from my little hotel room.
Our first hike stayed below the tree line, to give us a chance to adjust to the altitude. The weather showed signs that it wasn't going to cooperate, clouds almost obscuring a distant glacier.
Near Crest, about 400 meters above Champoluc, and the storm clouds are gathering. The little villages in the Valle d'Ayas can be seen in the distance.
As we descended from our lunch at the Rifugio Belvedere, about 500 meters above the town, the clouds opened up, giving us thunder, lightning, cold rain, and hail. We beat a hasty retreat.
The view from my hotel room the next morning. Virtually everything above the tree line had a fresh coating of snow, which threatened to interfere with our hiking plans. We were equipped for rain, but not for snow.
The opposite side of the valley. No hiking today!
Things improved dramatically the next day. The high peaks were still in the clouds, but it was fine hiking weather. We took a local bus to Antagnod, climbed to Barmasc, and did a long traverse along the Rue de Cortot.
The little village of Antagnod, in the Valle d'Ayas.
The graveyard by the church in Antagnod.
Along the Rue de Cortot, with the Monte Rosa range in the clouds.
The high peaks offered only glimpses of themselves this day.
The clouds continued to tantalize us with the potential views.
More and more of the Monte Rosa range revealed itself.
Along the Rue de Cortot.
Along the Rue de Cortot.
Along the Rue de Cortot.
Lunch in the clouds.
A house in Mandriou.
A house in Mandriou.
Day four, and the weather continued to improve. We took a bus to St. Jacques, at the head of the valley, climbed about 300 meters to the Rifugio Ferraro at Resy, traversed to the main trail up the center of the valley, and climbed to Lago Blue, at about 2200 meters.
On the trail to the Rifugio Ferraro.
Looking back down the Valle d'Ayas from the Rifugio Ferraro.
A high pasture just below Lago Blue.
The terrain in this area looks more like the Rockies than the Alps.
At Lago Blue, Kathleen decides that she's not going any further.
Below Lago Blue.
The upper reaches of the Torrente Evançon, in St. Jacques.
Unlike the Swiss Alps, the Italian Alps are not dotted with convenient cafés, so picnic lunches are usually the order of the day. Once back into a village, however, there are always places for refreshments. Here, in St. Jacques, Fred, Kathleen, and Mary Beth wait for their beer and ice cream.
On day five, the clouds finally gave way to blue skies, just in time for our first serious climb of the trip. After days of ascents in the 500-meter range, we took the bus to St. Jacques, at just over 1700 meters, and spent the morning climbing to the Colle di Nana, at 2773 meters. Here, the view from the lower part of the trail.
Along the trail to the Colle di Nana.
Along the trail to the Colle di Nana.
Along the trail to the Colle di Nana.
Along the trail to the Colle di Nana.
Along the trail to the Colle di Nana.
The stone pyramid marks the pass, at 2773 meters. Mary Beth and Kathleen pose against the backdrop of the Monte Rosa range. There had been just enough sun to melt off the recent snow, and dry out the trails.
Coming through the pass, we descended into the neighboring valley, through the Col des Fontaines, at 2683 meters, and down to the village of Cheneil.
At first, I didn't recognize the high, snow-capped peak just poking out of the clouds to the right of center, having never seen it from the Italian side before. It's the Matterhorn, in Switzerland.
A closer look at the Matterhorn (to the Italians, Monte Cervino).
Along the trail down to Cheneil.
A high pasture along the trail to Cheneil.
Almost down to Cheneil, at about 2000 meters, and we're below the tree line again.
Clouds often obscure the summit of the Matterhorn.
Just above Cheneil, another worthy refreshment stop magically appeared.
Day six proved to be even more cloud-free than day five, and we set out on another calf-burner, a 950-meter climb to the summit of Monte Zerbion, at 2777 meters. Here, Kathleen begins the climb from Barmasc.
Approaching the Colle di Portala, at 2471 meters, we started getting expansive views of the Valle d'Ayas. At the far end of the valley is Champoluc, our base.
Guide Fred, Kathleen, Cyndi, Mary Beth, and me, at the Colle di Portala. (Photo courtesy Mary Beth Scheffel.)
Once we got above 2500 meters, the Matterhorn once again made its appearance, just left of center.
Along the trail to the summit of Monte Zerbion.
Along the trail to the summit of Monte Zerbion.
Along the trail to the summit of Monte Zerbion.
The view from the top of Monte Zerbion, looking down into the neighboring Valle d'Aosta.
The view from the top of Monte Zerbion, looking back towards the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa range, and the Valle d'Ayas.
On the descent from Monte Zerbion, we arrived in Antagnod.
The second week of the trip took us to Cogne, southwest of Champoluc, a village that abuts the Gran Paradiso National Park, whose peaks can be seen in the distance.
On our first day in Cogne, we took a bus to Valnontey, at the head of the valley, and started a 900-meter climb, the steepest we had encountered so far.
My route-finding skills are put to the test, and I find the trailhead for the Rifugio Vittoria Sella. (Photo courtesy Mary Beth Scheffel.)
A waterfall (one of many) along the steep trail above Valnontey.
The trail to the Rifugio Vittorio Sella, above Valnontey.
The Rifugio Vittorio Sella, at 2584 meters, and the promise of lunch.
A border collie attempts to herd water.
A lonely farm along the trail back down to Valnontey.
In the trees again.
The village of Valnontey, at the base of the valley.
Our second day in Cogne, the weather turned ominous, but that didn't stop us from taking a bus to Gimillan, at 1787 meters, and climbing to the Tsa Pian-na, an exposed ridge at 2677 meters. Below, Cogne. In the clouds, Gran Paradiso.
A glance to the west told us what was coming. Within minutes, we were in thunder, lightning, rain, and hail. We quickly scrambled off the ridge, and found a grubby little stone hut for shelter until the storm passed.
The next day was rainy, as this view of the eastern end of Cogne can attest.
The weather quickly turned again, so the next day we took a bus to Lillaz, and headed up the Valle de Valeille, which parallels the Valle de Valnontey. We used buses to get to nearby villages to avoid 3-kilometer relatively flat walks, and get directly to the trailheads.
Mary Beth and Cyndi on the trail up the Valle de Valeille, a narrow valley marked by large rock falls.
The next morning, we once again headed to Lillaz, and the weather cleared enough to provide this view of massive Mont Blanc, about 50 km to the west.
Now in peak condition, we climbed 600 meters out of Lillaz in under 90 minutes. Below, Lillaz. At the far end of the valley, Cogne. In the distance, Mont Blanc.
A view of Mont Blanc through the pass above the Lago delle Loie.
Fred, Cyndi, and Mary Beth above the Lago delle Loie, at about 2400 meters, and a good spot for our picnic lunch.
A view of Cogne in the valley and Mont Blanc in the distance, spoiled by the presence of a grubby hiker. (Photo courtesy Mary Beth Scheffel.)
Crossing the ridge, we entered the Bardoney Valley, a much gentler spot, and started a long, gradual descent back to Lillaz (as opposed to the unbelievably steep route we had taken up).
A waterfall in the Bardoney Valley that seems to come from nowhere.
Rock climbers above Lillaz.
Lillaz is known for its triple falls, the Cascate de Lillaz. Here, the uppermost cataract.
The lower cataract of the Cascate de Lillaz.
On our last hiking day, we took a relatively easy trail from Gimillan, and headed up to Grauson-Desot, a collection of stone huts at 2283 meters. Our picnic lunch was followed by a lot of napping on the warm meadow, and a leisurely descent.
Along the trail back to Gimillan, the Gran Paradiso on the horizon.
Having packed the boots away, and having said farewell to my hiking companions, I headed for Milan to while away a day or two while waiting for the flight home. Here, a tram passes in front of La Scala.
Across from La Scala, an iron and glass-roofed shopping galleria leads towards the cathedral.
The entrance to the galleria, dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, from the cathedral plaza.
The plaza in front of the Milan Cathedral.
The plaza in front of the Milan Cathedral.
The Milan Cathedral, in the midst of a multi-year renovation, much of its façade wrapped in scaffolding.
There's an ugly rumor that he's still on a dial-up connection.
Despite the renovations, the winding stone staircase to the roof of the cathedral is still open to the public, affording close-up views of the flying buttresses and elaborate stonework along the roofline.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.
Flying buttresses.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.
The roof of the Milan Cathedral.