This weekend we widen our borders. We are always searching for new places and new spaces to explore and we are amazed about how many thrilling places are so close from home.
Our destination is the Maira Valley this time, the Bonelli Hut, in the province of Cuneo: we pick up a couple friends, pack our backpacks and here we go, two hours by car on the highway and some other narrower roads, our classic grocery stop included.
Right on time on our schedule, we easily arrive at the wide parking lot near the river, put on our boots, divide the food and the liquids and here we go, immediately walking after a quick stop a little bit more up on the hill to refill the bottles with fresh cold water.
We get into the woods right away, it is never too thick, dressed in the fall colours, under a clear blue sky, way different from the greyish sky, coloured from the smoke and pollution.
The path immediately starts quite uphill and our legs warm up easily; we have a good pace and stop just enough to admire the nature and its most amazing dress change, the fall.
Once we are more or less half of the way of this 700 meters heightdrop, we walk near the Visaisa Lake, a wonder coloured in all the shade of emerald green, pointing to a light coloured rock valley, dotted with yellow, red and green trees.
We overcome the lake and begin to walk on the rocky cliff over the lake, always easy enough, but totally beautiful. The Maira Valley closes downhill, with the Visaisa Lake. Over our heads, crows and other birds are flying, happy them too about this amazing late October day.
It is pretty hot, even if the cold winter winds are beginning to blow and remind us every time we walk in the shade, that it will not be a warm summer night, that’s for sure.
At the end of the cliff, the last fatigue of the day is in front of us: some switchbacks are going uphill directly in the hollow land above where we think the hut is. It is now late afternoon and the shadows are beginning to get longer, the mountains’ bases already dark and, little by little, also the first peaks are saying goodbye to the last rays of sun.
Once we get to the top, just a few steps on the ridge and finally we can spot our goal: the Bonelli Hut is there, watching the Apzoi Lake and enjoying this endless show of colours, sounds and scents that Nature is.
We are not tired at all, the ascent has been demanding, but not too much. We leave our backpacks at the hut, smiling at the red checked blankets which so much fits the place and then we walk down to the Apzoi Lake.
It is clarly visible how much water has dryied over the long hot summer, the black rocks abruptly end some meters from the shore, leaving space to that scarce plant life growing up here, in this cold valley just inside the italian border – yes, the ridge on our right is the border line with our french cousins.
We go back to the hut, pretty much in the darkness – the long june days are so far away from these short dark autumn days – we switch the light on and get ready for dinner: a long line of vegetable soups, spaghetti and risotto, so unusual for a altitude dinner, but our downtown friends are really hungry.
Well fed and with no more lights on – the solar panel doesn’t work for too long, luckly we have brought some tea lights – nobody is really willing to dip the hands in the freezing cold water of the lake, to wash the dished, so it is postponed to tomorrow.
We enjoy a starred night and an amazingly clear Via Lattea until a chilling wind begins to blow stronger and stronger and we got to run inside, warm in our sleeping bags. And goodnight folks!
The morning herald itself with a nice ray of sun over our faces. The Apzoi Lake is still in the shade, as it will be for a while more, so willing or not, we mentally prepare to freeze our hands and switching turns, we do succeed in our task. One way or the other, the dishes are clean, the hut cleared, our backpacks ligher, so we are ready to conquer some peak!
We leave and we are not sure about our destination yet. We begin to walk towards the Munie Col and the Manse Peak – in french it is called Monges Col, since it is in french land 🙂 – and they should lead us to a ring road which should go back to the Bonelli Hut in the end. But we are still not sure, we will see along the way.
In the meanwhile, we cheer two friends running away from us, while we slowly go uphill in the snow and among rocks.
Step after step, we get to the Col and the landscape already is incredible. We can’t wait to reach the peak and discover the wonders we will see from up there. The last part of the trail is a steep field, sometimes muddy sometimes rocky and it really go hard on our loyal boots, but one after the other, everybody get to the ridge. A few steps more and we are all on the summit, we are on the Manse Peak.
Down to our feet, some hundreds meters below, the Munie Lake is just a little more than a puddle, all around us just pointy snowy peaks. And the silence. That’s what amaze me most, the silence. The air is thinner up here and sounds differently to our ears, it’s just a feeling so hard to be described, but it is what make these places so special and unforgettable.
We immediately understand that we will come back from where we have come since the ring road we saw on the map would need some rope and skills we don’t have. It is better not to risk to jump down in the gap.
We begin our road back and once we are at the col, we decide it’s enough we walk, why not to slide down to half the way back?
We should patent this new activity, squat-slide: some hard snow with no rocks, a pair of sturd boots and that’s it. The walking sticks give you the necessary propulsion to go and once the tracks are done, it is so easy to slide down. The only problem is the halt, the game is to dodge the rocks standing at the last second!
Survived to our crazy inventions – against all the odd, with no accidents at all! – we are shortly back to the hot, where bread, ham and cheese are waiting. Then we will go back on the path, back from where we came.
While we go back to our car, over the Visaisa Lake, we spot the ruins of what seem to be and ancient and glorious building. We then discover that at the beginning of the last century, these valley where really famous and lots of people went visiting. One of those, an important and wealthy local, sponsored a posh refuge, which has sadly gone into flames after.
In the end, we only wish these almost deserted valley, as long as a lot of amazing others, can go back to the old majesty, they do really deserve it!