The ultimate StairMaster.

From the comfortable flatness of London, Alpine trekking evokes images of paths meandering towards isolated peaks and a soft mattress of pine needles covering a path running through the woods. Not in the mountains surrounding my hometown, though.
Boulders make a natural staircase through the beech wood, ascending parallel to the rumbling torrent. A road has been dug through the valley that opens at the end of the treeline, but “road” is too much of a word. It’s a river of syenite, a stationary rock avalanche that somebody has half-heartedly arranged into something resembling a flat surface. The path, when I eventually got to it, turns out to be made exclusively of slabs of stone. There’s no bouncy padding of pine needles and leaves, here: only rocks, boulders and blocks of stone.
My brother and his other half, when unencumbered by their posse of Labradors, cover the 8 km and 1200 metres of elevation gain to Monte Camino in about two hours. Normal people, a sign said at the trail head, would cover the same distance in three. My aim, triggered by deluded self-respect, is to get there in under three. As I eat the peach that I’d promised myself as a halfway treat, I begin to question my optimism.
I press on, climbing up and down the boulders. From somewhere come the only words I know from an Irish song and my brain repeats them nonstop in a Paddy rendition of Auṃ maṇi padme hūṃ.
One two three four five
Hunt the Hare and turn her down the rocky road
And all the way to Dublin, Whack fol lol le rah!
And so it is that, repeating whack fol le rah like a possessed man, I scramble past the refuge, say hello to the early morning skyrunners – already on their way back and bouncing like goats from boulder to boulder – and land on top of Monte Camino. The time is 09.55 and I started two-and-a-half hours before.
I stand on the dichotomy between two worlds. Here are the lowlands, flat as a pizza and Vietnamese in their sequence of green rice paddies, humidity and clouds of mosquitoes.
There, instead, is the crystal-clear air of the mountains and a parade of icy peaks: the Monte Rosa massif. Mount Cervino, Matterhorn for the non-Italians, stands on its own with a cloud as a hat.
A Buddhist prayer flag flaps near the Catholic chapel. A Bernese shepherd dog is more interested in my bresaola sandwich than in my cuddles. Time to descend.
Hikers come in two types: those who find the way down a lot harder than the way up and those who are wrong. The ultimate StairMaster becomes trickier and more taxing as I negotiate it downwards, but there’s a constant stream of dogs to pat, of trekkers to say hello to and of things to photograph. A herd of cows is moving across a minuscule plateau with bovine placidity, guided by dogs commanded in dialect by the young shepherd.
A bee and a wanna-bee (I’ve been dying to write this for ages) pollinate some field flowers.
A cable car soars overhead.
Then I’m back in Oropa, where teenagers play violins and, somewhere, there’s a bar with Menabrea on tap and the Black Madonna smiles benevolently.

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28 Responses to The ultimate StairMaster.

  1. Oh what a great hike I would love it, but would probably take the three hours. Wanna-bee – brilliant! I’m with you – down is way harder than up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bama says:

    It looks like more and more people write about their hiking trips these days, which make me jealous because even though I have always wanted to do it since the beginning of the pandemic, I haven’t found the time to go. However, I’m thinking of visiting some lesser-known ancient temples to the east of Jakarta sometime soon — actually anywhere with not so many people will do. For a long time I believed I was better at going down. But after my last hike in Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, I realized now I like going up better.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lexklein says:

    We’d do this one just for the Menebrea! My husband and I love that beer. You are the second blogger recently to mention the Om Mani Padme Hum chant that takes us repetitive-pattern-happy hikers slowly uphill (no other bloggers have listed the Irish whack fol le rah lyrics, strangely). Looks like a great hike! For the record, I might still be one of those wrong-headed hikers who still skips and laughs downhill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • awtytravels says:

      Hey, you know Menabrea in the US? That’s weird, it’s actually made IN my hometown. I used to walk the dog past the factory…

      I find it useful, when hiking/running, to have a sort of a mantra, or something to kind of run in my mind, as you do a repetitive activity. Takes your mind off it and makes time fly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lexklein says:

        It’s very hard to find Menabrea here, but yes, we can find it in some Italian restaurants. Can’t believe it’s made in your hometown! Totally agree on the mantra/repetition; when things get really tough, sometimes I resort to simple counting, 1-2-3-4-5, over and over again.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. J.D. Riso says:

    I always find the descent more difficult than the ascent. So hard on the knees! Now I’m craving a hike in the mountains.

    I finally finished your book. Fantastic work, Fabrizio. I hope it receives the audience that it deserves.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good to see you traveling again. I love these paths, especially the part where you have to nimbly dodge feral cows.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave Ply says:

    I don’t know that I find the going down part of a hike harder than the going up part, but the parts of my body that are sore post hike disagree with that observation.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yip, I defintely also belong to the “going up is easier” club. I’m impressed at the time it took you to hike up, especially after being in lockdown for so long. Not bad at all! It was such a lovely glimpse of where you hail from, Fabrizio. And yes, I had a good chuckle about the “wanna-bee”, so you clearly have an appreciative audience for your jokes. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Going down is way harder on my old body. Where possible, I hike up and take the gondola back down. The bee and wanna-bee line and photos are great!
    You’ve got my dreaming of Central Asia… loving your journey on the Pamir Highway. I want to be like that retired German lady you met.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Colin Bisset says:

    Such a beautiful area, and great photos. I love hiking and although upwards is hard it’s always coming down that I’ve injured myself, twisting an ankle, straining a muscle – there’s quite an art to walking down!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lignum Draco says:

    It sounds like you survived the descent. Great photos.
    I suspect the climb would have taken me a bit longer, ahem, because I like to stop and take photos along the way. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. equinoxio21 says:

    The mountain is always a unique experience. Try Mont-Blanc (with guides).
    Tout va bien?

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You’re so good at mixing facts and feelings, particular and general, peculiar and mundane. I’d need 4 hours and pat all the dogs too.

    Liked by 1 person

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