Ghostly Solitude: Val Grande Part 3

Route: Cicogna –> Valley Val Grande

 IMG_2498-2We started the final part of our trek on a crisp and sunny morning. And I’m glad we did because in foggy conditions, I would have been really spoked out by the spider-webby ruins we encountered soon. Over the last few days, we had already seen quite a few of them but the old village of Montuzzo was by far the largest and most impressive sight of our trek.

Before going to Val Grande, Sebastian had told me that exploring some old, abandoned villages in the mountains had always been one of his childhood dreams. And here we were, carefully opening crooked doors on squeaking hinges, peeking through dirt-smeared windows, scrambling through collapsed stone huts. If you are into these kinds of treasure hunts you will have the time of your life in Val Grande, especially in that area. While Sebastian clearly enjoyed the exciting site, I was rather busy making myself think of anything EXCEPT vicious killers hiding in those ruins… Although these villages are long abandoned, there are still many signs of their former inhabitants: old pieces of furniture, broken tools, rusty crookery, … Sebastian’s #GoBackpack video really catches the scary atmosphere.

Due to these explorations, it was already past midday when we finally reached the junction into the wild heart of the National Park: The actual Val Grande. This valley truly lives up the reputation of the National Park. In fact, the path was blocked with this big sign:

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Mh…. bugger. We discussed for a bit and then decided to keep going to see just HOW difficult it was. After all, we both are quite experienced hikers and felt sure-footed and fit after our first week of hiking. So, off we went. Down the forbidden path.

And soon enough, we understood why the park management decided to block it for tourists as a precaution: It’s clearly not maintained. There are barely any markings and you walk on a small edge right next to a steep slope at most times. More often than sometimes, you need to climb up or down some slimy and rocky parts with the help of chains or ropes (which you cannot fully trust since no-one guarantees their maintenance). Sometimes, there are no ropes and we were glad about our Bouldering experience. Also, we encountered more than one brittle bridge that we did not dare to cross. Soon enough, my forehead was creased in concentration and cold sweat ran down my back. One false step and you would – in the best case – hurt yourself very much. This path is only recommended for experienced, sure-footed hikers but these among you will enjoy it very much!! And so did we!

We only had this one tiny moment of nervous paranoia when we started seeing foreign footsteps and then smelled a fire. Too long we had been walking on this “forbidden” path without any trace of other hikers and too fresh was the memory of the spooky ruins we explored earlier – we couldn’t help but think of some criminal hiding away in this wilderness. Which is why we were extremely relieved to finally spot a couple of fishermen wildcamping by the river. They did not reply to our greeting and looked kinda caught in the act so we assume that they were fishing there illegally and expected us to be park rangers…

After this demanding and exciting afternoon, we arrived at a shelter (Alpe Orfalecchio) and were surprised to actually find its doors open. After all, the path was officially closed so we had not expected any refuge to be open. Leafing through the log book we found out that it had been three full weeks since the last hikers slept there! What a treat to enjoy this natural gem in perfect solitude. We enjoyed the most luxurious dinner that night, enriched with wild plants and left-over treats from the last hikers as well. Pesto! Cookies! Chocolate!

We loved this place so much that we decided to rest a full day here and just relax and swim in the clear-blue pools. And so we did. It was the most perfect day and especially Sebastian just couldn’t get enough of (screamingly) wiggling his way through the ice-cold water. Personally, I was lazing on the hot stones for most of the day. I mean, when the hell did you truly spend a full day outside doing nothing!? If your answer is “oh, not that long ago…”, then bet you cannot answer positively to my next question: When was the last time you did that NAKED? 😉

It was a truly magic day. In our experience, the best moments are often the simplest ones. I’ve always wondered why “simple” is usually connotated with something boring or dull. That’s just not true when it comes to the outdoors. Here, less is often more.

We spend two nights in the refuge Alpe Orfalecchio and against all bloody odds (remember, we were the first people here since almost a full month) we had to share the hut on our last night in the park with a weirdo. Let’s call him Frank. He already awaited us when we came back from our bath and kept annoying us the whole evening. I could repeat the whole list of little weird activities and annoying habits of him but don’t worry, I’ll spare you the details. But trust me: That fella was…the Trump of the forest and kinda ruined our – until then – perfectly romantic day in the wilderness. That’s why we were not entirely sad to discover him gone by the time we got up the next morning….

 

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