After several months of troubles finally out the Lizard Backpack‘s commercial with all the features explained (more or less).
Directed by Claudia Decaro
Music: Alessio Miceli
After several months of troubles finally out the Lizard Backpack‘s commercial with all the features explained (more or less).
Directed by Claudia Decaro
Music: Alessio Miceli
In the past few days we stayed up all night to record some answers to the questions we were asked by C41 magazine. In case you too find talking to a computer quite hard, covering the screen with your notes and turning the brightness down to zero does the trick pretty well, thank you Andrea Cippo Rosso for the good tip. You can find the video here or on C41’s website with the full transcript of the interview.
If you have any ideas about what we’re talking about do leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you.
In response to the COVID – 19 Pandemic, in collaboration with Elliss we have designed and open sourced a set of instructions to make scrubs at home and send them into hospital where they are most needed. The process can be carried out by anyone, novices or professionals and you won’t need to print them out, the files contain instructions to draw the pattern and assemble the scrubs.
It doesn’t matter whether you make one pair or a hundred, healthcare services are under serious strain and need all the help they can get.
The Scrub Up project is based in the UK and we are currently aiming our help towards the NHS but we are keen for it to travel if there is a need in other parts of the world. If you have information regarding your health care services abroad please get in touch with us and we will do everything in our power to extend the reach of the project.
These can also be found at our Facebook page which is continuously updated with live information: Scrub Up!
List of fabric suppliers
List of hospitals accepting donations
You can find the patterns and instructions at this link, they are free:
Stay at home, unless you’re posting scrubs to hospital, in which case go but be really quick and wear a mask and keep your distance C:
Davide “Dicor” sewing for the first time his own Lizard backpack.
Between the late 1700s and early 1800s clothing production started moving from cottage industry to large-scale industrial production. By the late 1800s it had reached a level that, system wise, was relatively similar to the one we rely on today, however for many reasons still distant from fast fashion or other less harmful modes of production employed at present. As a result people’s perception of clothes, their manufacture and their value have since changed greatly.
Our main workhorse the “Old Bessie”
It would seem that the bigger the retailer, the greater one’s detachment with the item of clothing becomes, consequently shortening its life span. It has become cheaper and more convenient to dispose of an item of clothing than it is to repair it, furthermore, the know-how to repair clothes, which in many cultures was passed down from generation to generation, is slowly disappearing.
In addition to this, it is not only a question of price, the growing pace of the clothing industry has inevitably affected the quality. While well made garments are still produced worldwide, the unprecedented speed with which new trends are set has made even these items obsolete as they are subjected to a system based on quick turnover, therefore not allowing them to serve their purpose.
The result of these circumstances raises the question of why one would want to repair an item of clothing that has been designed to last as little as possible, be it due to bad quality or passing trend. To do so would be pointless and the effect of this is clearly visible in the slow decline in popularity of alteration and repair shops. These businesses are manned by workers whose expertise is often widely under appreciated, despite having skills that reach far beyond their job title.
In recent years, whilst this has been happening, developments in technology have made procedures and processes which were previously unapproachable, available to nearly anyone. This happens in Fabrication Labs, often referred to as FabLabs.
FabLabs are becoming increasingly popular in cities around the world. For a reasonable monthly fee they provide services such as 3D printing, CNC routing and laser cutting, in addition to having other machines employed in various fields of production, all of which are available for anyone to use. These places are populated not only by technicians who are familiar with the machines, but also by armies of nerds willing to help and school beginners on the wonders of personal production. Chances are that if you search FabLab and the place where you live, one won’t be too far from you.
It follows that newly available technologies, aided by local businesses (FabLabs and repair shops), can allow the user to perform the same tasks the manufacturer would but at a fraction of the cost, learning new skills, with the added bonus of being able to tweak and adapt garments to personal needs.
As a result of these developments we would like to suggest a shift in the way gear and clothing are supplied, to cut out the middleman and avoid having an unnecessary production line, starting from material suppliers, through our designs, in order to deliver a final product that is completely adaptable and fully satisfies the needs of different users, reaching them directly.
To do this we intend to offer two different options to manufacture each of our products.
We will provide a package containing all the pre-cut fabrics and components to put together the item, this will contain the instructions to assemble it as well as the details of all the necessary tools and machines.
Fabrics and components would vary on the basis of specific needs and conditions, advice as to which one to choose will be available in the product description.
It will work as follows:
-Choose item, fabric and components.
-Order the item.
-Receive the package.
-Take it to a local seamster to be put together or assemble personally, at home or in a local FabLab.
The pattern for each item will be available for free download, as a vector file, to be used to cut personally sourced fabrics (this can happen by using the file to laser cut the fabrics at a local FabLab or by printing it and cutting the material by hand), choose parts and components and develop the garment based on specific needs.
In the case of further development of the garment (adding\removing pockets, adding zips, altering the fit) we advise the user does so with the help of a local seamster.
This option will also include instructions as well as tools and machine lists to assemble the item.
It will work as follows:
-Source fabrics and components
-Purchase and download pattern and instruction file
-Laser cut material at FabLab or print pattern and cut fabrics by hand.
-Take pre-cut fabric and components to local seamster or assemble personally, at home or in a local FabLab.
To facilitate this process a list of fabric suppliers will be made available on our website and all the products will be graded based on the skill required to assemble them.
In addition to this we plan on working directly with FabLabs and Repair Shops on a membership basis. We will provide FabLabs with a basic line of clothing to test our process, users will be able to follow and practice the process with the help of technicians and members of the FabLab therefore facilitating the procedure of personal fabrication. By doing so we intend to increase the attendance of FabLabs and bring the necessary attention to personal fabrication to a wider public.
If you are a staff member of a FabLab or Repair Shop and would like to participate in our initial testing phase get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org !
By adopting these methods we encourage repairs. It is much easier to repair an item that one has built or to establish a relationship with a local business that can take care of manufacture and maintenance.
While one may rightfully argue that the levels of detail and refinement reached by the highest end of the clothing market can’t be matched by self-production the outcomes are not far off, often even surpassing regular market standards and definitely the ones of fast-fashion. Therefore the production system we depend on is on the way to becoming obsolete, a good reason to not sleep on Open Manufacture, and as Italians we know a lot about sleep, we’re experts at it, so it must be a good idea to get even us out of bed.
Open Manufacture is coming soon,
The aim of the fair was to give an affordable place and time to the people they knew, and had researched; to exhibit, sell and trade their work as well as extending the reach of their work which would have otherwise been minimal. This was done by cutting the costs for the exhibitors to a point where the only things they had to take care of were reaching the location and eating. Lavish and free accommodation was provided by FFF, on friend’s sofas, floors and for some, even inside the location of the fair. No fee was demanded to participate.
During the fair and for the few days previous to it, exhibitors would gradually arrive, advice as to what to do in the evening, food and sightseeing was given by highly informed locals, the whole event was routinely topped off with a party hosted by carefully selected djs.
The outcome was pretty good, it seems like everyone had a good time.
Having been a vital part in the organization of and participation to this event we share its values and we see the importance of carrying them forward so, as it’s not unusual for independent projects to live in a box and get forgotten about, in an effort to support the work of the people around us, we are opening a platform to insure this does not happen.
Being very witty, we have decided to call it SocialFabric®.
SocialFabric® collects the work of the people around us who wish to sell it and expand its reach. We only stock some of these items to avoid unnecessary shipping, those that aren’t available for direct purchase will have a link to contact the maker who will take the payment and send it personally.
We do not take a cut of the profit from these sales.
We asked one of our closest friends and collaborator Andrea Cippo Rosso to be the first to list something on Social Fabric®. We also asked him to explain it himself because he is much better than us at it.
Andrea “Cippo” Rosso in London.
It was about travelling, but not on any path. It wasn’t about any breath-taking landscapes, but about the non-places we’ve been passing through together in the years.
So I collected some pics from my phone, the ones that physically and emotionally represented our landmarks from my past and my present, and put them on a t-shirt.
Looking at these places geographically located in Milan, my hometown Conegliano (a small city near Venice), London and Berlin now solely in the space of a t-shirt, the words to write next came to me spontaneously.
Those memories aren’t strictly related to the places where the photos were shot, but to the place I was in at that moment, and the people who were experiencing that by my side.
And the love I’ve received from them is the most valuable coin in the journey, the only thing I’ll bring back home.
Wherever my home is.
This is what I brought to the table for Social Fabric®, I’ll raise a glass for any of you.
Bring Back the Love,
On Friday the 29th of November 2019 we will show Teo Giovanni Poggi’s new zine.
For the occasion we have decided to inaugurate a series of itinerant markets called “Rayon Vert – Distro and Supply” where we will sell backpacks, accessories and other material related to Rayon Vert.
Here the video recap of the route, we apologize for the too many shots of our feet but this is the video recap of the route, and being the trail 95% rocks, feet is pretty much all we saw.
As we stumbled around Chamonix last year, holding greasy slices of focaccia, on our way back home after the TMB, we received a series of texts from a guy who was interested in what we’d done for the past week and the things we’d recently put out.
Pietro had lived in London for the better part of four years at that point and during that time had come across this guy a number of times, in Pietro’s own home as a part of a wider courier circuit, at some events and walking around town. Their relationship didn’t really extend beyond a polite hello.
Weeks after Pietro had returned to London after the TMB he met up with this guy at his house and they had long chats about travels and music, they then met up with another friend of his to start planning future trips more in detail and have become good friends since.
The guy’s name is Dan Stewart and he came with us on the GR-20 trip this summer, he is a vital part of Rayon Vert and lives every day with the same excitement he puts into all of his work. The account of the trip is his.
Thanks for everything Dan!
I started out on the bus from Paris to Milan, overnight, to meet the rest of the guys. Balanced equal parts with determination and excitement as with nerves. I knew Yuri beforehand, and Teo through word of mouth and the internet but I didn’t know what to expect from the trip, regardless of our research and preparation. It felt like as much a mission to get from Paris, to Milan and then to Genoa, Bastia and to Calenzana just to start the trail, as it did completing the GR20. I fractured my ankle two months before I got on the bus, it was a minor fracture but mild pain had resurfaced on and off in the prior weeks due to my want to get back into exercising. I thought I need to work through it a little in the leading weeks, trying to get back into running and doing mobility and strength exercises. I did what I could to feel prepared but naturally there’s something that eats away at your mindset when you sit on a bus for thirteen hours. I had just bought a beautiful second-hand pack from Z-Packs, that added to the equation. I was confident with the pack, but weighed by the saying ‘All the gear and no idea’ as this was going to be my first long-distance trail and not an easy one to start with.
After an egg sandwich, some chocolate and the last of my smokes I arrived in Milano and met with Yuri. We did some prep-chores and met with Teo and Endo in the evening to do our food shopping. We sat, had a beer, got to know each other a little bit and I bought some more smokes on Yuri’s suggestion that quitting wouldn’t be as rewarding as smoking at the end of a long day on the trail. When we roamed the aisles for dehydrated meals, nut butters and all the bits we needed I started to finally feel excited in the company of the team. The guys seemed confident and calm and that tipped the scale a bit further in the right direction. We spent the night at another friend’s place, Leo, drinking beer, organising our packs and drilling me a new supercat stove. We said our goodnight’s and met at Milano Centrale at 1215 the next day for the train down south to Genoa.
The plan from Genoa was to take the ferry overnight to arrive in Corsica and then make our way to the start of the trail to begin walking on the evening of the 15th and to get at least half a stage in before camp. We had a lazy afternoon eating and drinking in Genoa waiting for the ferry to leave at 21:00. Quick negroni as we pulled out of the port and put Italy behind us and we set our mats up on the floor and slept inside the ferry.
Endo is trying to sleep on the ferry to Bastia.
We arrived early in Bastia moving straight for the train station to work out how much time we had before the next train to Calvi (where we could get a bus to Calenzana), which turned out to be eight minutes. Three hours later we were in Calvi, having some lunch, buying some capri’s and getting a short bus ride over to Calanzana where you begin the trail.
The GR20 and its 15 stages.
We were walking from 1500 in the afternoon and sweating like piglets as some clouds rolled in and we started to gain altitude. The trail is famous for wild evening storms, isolated as the mountain ranges wave and dip through the centre of the island. 17:30 we are watching a gnarly storm start to brew and crackle to one side of us, crawling along and getting gradually larger. As we walk the next hour of uphill dredging, thick, dense clouds start covering the trail all around us. Not far from the skyline we knew we would level out sooner or later, but visibility was very low and we were fearing the tales of Corsica’s mountain storms would prove to get the better of us on our first day. We top out onto a ridge, flat and grassy. Patches of thick dark clouds cover the mountain in all directions, with visibility being short and jagged through gaps in the clouds we could see what looked like a perfect spot to set up camp. The storm rolled through quickly and we started to set our tarps up in a grassy area established by free-campers with a small rock wall. We all fit in perfectly, counted our blessings and cooked our first night’s dinner. Around sleep-o’clock however the wind picked up and the rain started again, this time substantially worse than before. For half an hour we lay there, waiting for it to pass, until the wind collapsed the tarp Endo and I were sharing and blew Teo’s almost completely off the mountain. There was frantic movement outside as Yuri and Endo tried to re-pitch our tarp (whilst I remained sprawled underneath holding a walking pole to stop the tarp from completely collapsing) and Teo was diving in to bunk with Ricky. Shouting over the wind and the rain at each other with frustration and panic. After fifteen minutes, we all lay under our tarps, getting pummelled by the rain, in soaking wet clothing and sleeping bags. We lay like this most of the night, unable to sleep due to discomfort and the fear of our tarps collapsing again. We remained cold and miserable until around 0200 when the storm decided to leave us, for which we then faded to what was a few hours sleep.
Waking to the fact that the storm was over was enough to push those thoughts of quitting to the back of our minds. The mountains just wanted to tell us on our first night not to fuck with it, it is in charge here and we are lucky to get through each day warm, dry and safe. We moved our wet stuff to the ridge-line to lie facing east and try to catch another hour of sleep. The first rays of sun hit our sleeping bags and started to thaw us out like frozen prawns in a plastic bag.
A late start and we begun the first full day on the trail. Enough hours of clear sky for us to bury the trauma of the night before and start to think about enjoying ourselves once again. This was the first day we were exposed to technical terrain; crossing some boulders, traversing some steep edges and moving, jumping, crawling over rocky terrain. We found an easy free-camp spot with the small built-up rock walls about a thirty minute walk before the refuge at the end of the first stage and decided to call it a night. We set up camp, we cooked, we smoked a little and looked at the stars on our first clear night and after our first full day.
Dan Stewart waiting for his cat stoved meal.
We started what would end up being a well respected tradition by the end of the trail, by beginning the day with an omelette and a coffee. Although we ate our space-rations at camp, after packing down and walking the thirty minutes to the refuge (Refuge de Carrozzu) we couldn’t resist the idea of getting our bowels moving from some eggs and coffee (and for me a cigarette, it is like clockwork) before the day’s walk ahead. The refuges are semi-glorified mountain huts that have a series of basic amenities like showers, toilets, places to cook and eat but also serve as a ‘shop’ for hikers on the trail. If ten euro’s for some cheese doesn’t sound too outrageous, consider burning more than 3000 calories a day and being on the trail for a week and a half. Every time you get to a refuge you have polished off the cheese from the last one and the bread, the chocolate, the meat and the snacks that you bought, plus you want your omelette if it’s the morning, an espresso regardless of what time of the day it is and definitely a coca cola if it’s too early for a beer in the evening. Expensive to say the least… but over the next week these refuges truly saved us from turning into primates.
The terrain was beautiful, we crossed rivers, winded along peaks and topped Col de Stagni (2010m) all with the ocean on the horizon, as we were still close enough to the northwest of the island. We slept that night in a beautiful wooded area by a river, just a long stone’s throw to the left of the trail before the end of the second stage. There was no line of sight to the trail, so we lit a big old fire and cooked our dinners on the coals, sitting around drinking some grappa and whiskey and chatting away. Avoiding camping at the refuges lead us to some beautiful spots and I was starting to feel the sheer isolated beauty of Corsica. By the third night Endo and I had graduated tarp-pitching-school and slept in nothing but the peace and quiet of each other’s company. Good-timing because the next day was supposed to be the most amount of ascent and descent in one stage.
The day started with a 1200 metre ascent up to the highest point of the day Col de Minuta (2218m) , followed by a half descent and re-ascent and then a final descent back down to finish the stage (Refuge de Tighjettu 1683m), shaping in altitude like an ‘M’. The climb was steady and hot, taking us just over an hour as opposed to the two and a half that the guidebook said. The terrain was the usual semi-scrambling ascent, walking both on loose and fixed rocks ranging from the size of peas, to watermelons, to small automobiles. A few large granite slabs had fixed chains for hauling oneself up, these are very awkward to use so we only used them when we couldn’t climb or traverse with our poles or hands. We sat at the top for an hour, snacking, rehydrating, smoking and enjoying the views and company of other trail-goers then we decided to do another stage till Refuge de Ciottulu di i Mori (1991m). The terrain continued for the half descent and re-ascent ranging from awkward crumbly rock sections to technical movements over large, smooth slabs of granite with drops on one or both sides. We maintained a good pace through the walking sections but quickly found the technical parts to require total concentration and physical and mental focus. Arriving at a refuge at 1900, we rested, snacked and drank some Colas. Motoring on for another half-stage into the valley before finding somewhere to camp in the evening.
This is one of those walking days I barely remember and of which I have few photographs from to which to recall our experiences. All I know is two things, firstly we took a slight morning detour and we walked for what seemed like forever throughout the day to arrive at Lac De Nino (1760 m) for a late lunch. The detour took us up to a different plateau in the mountains to a public café where we bought some bread and saucisson for breakfast and looked on a big map how far we had come in three days. Just when we thought we would never arrive at Lac De Nino, the heat taking it’s toll on our endurance and patience, we topped a ridge and saw the lake below us. Lac De Nino is a lake inside a valley basin, surrounded by wet grass and wild horses and cows. Interesting to see the Corsican horses (cavalli) roaming around and being friendly with people, but all in all a pretty underwhelming location compared to the rest of the stunning landscapes we walked through or had the chance to look out to. We ate lunch in the shade of some trees, topped up our water at a source guarded by horses and cows and motored on to the next refuge, something like another four hours walk away. We arrived at the Bergerries de Vaccaghja (1621 m), separately, and I found out over some beers that Ricky didn’t think he could go on, after re-initiating an old injury in his knee. There was some sad deliberation, another beer, and we asked for some (what turned out to be ineffective) instructions from the refuge owner as to how Ricky could get from this part, about a third of the trail length in, (now totally surrounded by mountains and with the coast not visible at all) by himself, back to Milano. We couldn’t wait too much longer at the refuge with the thought of everyone having to get enough distance from the refuge to camp. Ricky wouldn’t part ways until the morning, so he had a full day of light ahead of him. The refuge looked out over a valley and the trail continued from the refuge directly through the valley floor, so as remaining in the line of sight of the refuge for a few kilometres. We had to be somewhat cautious of this as the refuge owners aren’t allowed to let you free-camp, so if you’re going to do it nearby, it needs to be totally out of sight. We looked for a spot for camp as we moved along the valley floor for about an hour. We couldn’t find anything secluded enough and out of sight of the refuge, but as the light was starting to fade Endo found a miraculously flat and spacious area tucked in behind some trees. This was invisible to both the trail and the refuge. This was our first night of cowboy camping. Three days of perfect weather after the initial storm, a clear night’s sky and the fatigue starting to settle in, it was easier to risk cowboy-camping and save fifteen minutes putting tarps up in the evening and packing away in the morning. This was when I fell in love with cowboy-camping. A tarp can offer you protection under specific circumstances, but with low wind and warm weather we thought we would take the opportunity to fall asleep under the stars.
We woke to the sad reality that Ricky was parting ways and going to struggle his way on a series of alternate trails and roads back to the coast. We exchanged some hugs after breakfast, checked over Ricky’s navigation instructions and started to move in separate directions. Sleeping did us the favour of processing his departure a bit better. He knew he should go, and we knew he had to leave. So taking his spirit with us we set our sites on Vizzavona. The halfway point. 90km in, 90km to go. A town, with maybe a restaurant, a shop, more smokes. We knew we couldn’t make it today as we had two big stages to do, and a third one to get to Vizzavona. We woke up to heavy condensation on our sleeping systems, so hung them politely over nearby bushes to soak the sun while we ate breakfast and got ready for the day. The first section was more of the same, mixed sections of long and short ascents and descents over technical and semi technical terrain. Some more scrambling with hands and fixed chains, and some more beautiful mountain tops and cigarette rest-breaks. At 1400 we were most of the way through the first stage and midway through a slow ascent of two hours through increasingly high rock formations. We plateaued in a semi-grassy area, surrounded by big white and green boulders. Perfect for lunch. We rummaged through packet noodles, peanut butter, energy bars and chocolate, taking the opportunity to get our hands and feet on some boulders without our packs on for the first time.
We stopped abruptly. Teo asked us if we all heard that. We waited and heard nothing and conversation continued. The next time, we all heard it, some screaming of some description coming from a part of the trail we had passed already but not sounding far away. It stopped, and continued, and stopped and continued as we analysed whether it was a distressed scream, a joke, or someone enjoying themselves. We decided pretty quickly it didn’t sound like a joke or cries of joy and we leapt up to see what was going on. We found a young French boy, maybe nine or so. I asked him if he was okay and he looked at me like I had asked him the strangest question on earth, replying ‘oui’ and walking onwards. Our hearts sank with relief, but we walked back to our lunch spot confused as he continued up this daunting section of the trail alone and relatively content. Maybe ten minutes later as we were packing up from lunch a middle-aged man passed by who turned out to be the boy’s father. His family were all about ten minutes apart, communicating with a series of shrieks and shouts as they ascended slowly. Whoever thought that was a reasonable way of communicating on the trail with two children, is a stranger to me.
Teo and Dan before descending to refuge Pietra Piana.
A two hour push, summiting and descending to reach Refuge de Pietra Piana(1842m) for about 16:15. This was a big day, we were feeling it. We slumped off our packs and had a Coca Cola, some bread, and some cigarettes. Talking amongst ourselves about the next stage we had to complete today. Luckily, not as long and tedious as the stage we had just completed, but still with six hours of walking to reach the next refuge. Teo asked the refuge owner if there were any alternative trails to arrive at the next refuge, (looking to shave any time off of our day) having clocked seven hours of walk time already. He prompted us to a section of ridge lines that cut across the valley we had to walk through. Saying this section was more difficult, more beautiful and would take our walking time from six hours to four or so. The decision was easy and unanimous. We were going ridge walking. As we shouldered our packs again, and moved through the refuge grounds to reach the start of the trail, we struck up a conversation with a middle-aged man from South Africa. Through the process of a few minutes he had motored through two Mars Bars and a can of Coca Cola, telling us he had started the trail yesterday and was planning to finish in forty-eight hours from now. He was going to run this ridgeline route that we had been recommended by the refuge owner. We paid him our dues and started the trail.
By the time he ran passed us, we had gained a few hundred metres of altitude and were watching the landscape drop increasingly on both sides. Besides the trailrunner, we passed a few solemn cows and saw no one but ourselves until we reached Refuge de l’Onda (1430 m). This section was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of the trail. With the sun dropping towards our waists as we followed this elevated path through the valley. You could see in every direction except for behind us, where a mountain lay between us and the refuge we had come from. Dropping altitude for an hour it hit 2100 marking 13 hours on the trail that day, and we could see an assortment of tents below us about eight-hundred metres.
The arrival at Vizzavona was nothing but sweet. We had an easy six hour stage arriving in town around lunchtime. When I say town, it’s a train station, with two bar-restaurant-shop-cafe’s opposite one another. That was all we needed. Buying new packs of smokes, using our newly found phone-signal, eating pizza, drinking beer and knowing that the hardest half is over. This was the sixth day, little did we know we’d finish the remaining stages in the coming three days. Ricky was supposed to have made it to the coast by now and yet we hadn’t received any confirmation that he was okay. We sat in a dreamland for hours at Vizzavona. Slowly as the town cleared out we became the only hikers left at the bar, sitting outside, drinking, smoking and talking. We checked our phones every hour or so to see if something had come through from Ricky. Unlike all the other hikers that had populated the town during lunchtime and the early evening, we weren’t in a rush to set up camp because the Ragas had spotted an abandoned hotel on the road that leaves the trail and winds down to the Vizzavona. Less than five minutes walking, we knew we would have a roof over our heads and realistically the longer we sat and drank and relaxed for, the easier it would be to commandeer the neglected hotel without causing any ruckus amongst the townspeople (all be them very few).
Today was more of the same. We left Vizzavona, feeling ambitious and re-energised at the idea of starting the second half. In the evening we reached Bergeries de Capannelle (1586m) about two hours before the end of the stage. Same situation as the trail certified ones, except a bit more expensive and a little bit nicer. We had passed a very comfortable looking spot only a few hundred metres previously before the refuge, where we thought we would back-track to cowboy camp when the sun went down. We took the opportunity to have a few beers and recalibrate. Endo took the moment to freshly shave his face, using one of the twenty razors he brought with him. As the light was fading we tried to retrace our steps to get to our intended camp site, but the refuge owner was onto us. Technically you can’t sleep outside of the confines of a refuge. When you’re far enough away (or haven’t just been sitting and buying beers from the owner) you are likely to have no problems.. out of sight, out of mind. However he knew the direction we’d come from and we couldn’t find an excuse to why we might be walking in the wrong direction to the next refuge. We told him we intended to walk through the night for an hour or two to finish the stage, so he redirected us on course and watched us walk away. We climbed through the dark for an hour with our head torches on, getting further away from our glorious camp spot that we left behind and moving into super uneven and bushy terrain, based on an steep incline. We followed the trail slowly and irritated, looking with our torches for any sign of a clearing or plateau. Eventually, we found something, on the rounded section at the top of a hill, a few metres to the side of the trail. It would have to do. After Yuri and Teo scared off a family of boars that were in the neighbouring bushes, we tied our food up to some tree branches, scrawled out our mats and bags and fell asleep to the stars.
We woke early and ate and packed efficiently, knowing we had two big stages in front of us. We’d been walking less than twenty minutes before Yuri’s pack broke. It was a Ray Jardine Ray-Way pack that Yuri had sewn himself. It had seen Yuri through many expeditions and many days, it was just the Ray-Way’s time to retire. He rigged up a couple of small body bags and a belt and we portioned out the remainder of his gear. If we hadn’t come so far already, Yuri most likely would have had to pull out after unsuccessful attempts at repairs with needle and thread. We faced four stages left, ranging in difficulty. Looking at each other, we were growing tired of the trail and hoped to finish in two days of walking. That meant covering three or four days of walking in two, to finish the trail and arrive in Conca. I have no photographs on my phone of this day until 20:00. That tells me I was trying to save battery, or we did nothing but walk. I remember it being long, tedious, and repetitive. The taste of finishing the trail had entered our mouths early and seemed to curb the feelings of fatigue. It made putting one foot in front of the other surprisingly easy. We are now at day eight. Although we reached some sort of elevated efficiency from the accumulation of repetitive days walking and camping, we were letting the mental demands of the GR20 trail affect us after all this time. The trail requires almost total concentration, almost the entire time. Not only were our bodies getting battered by the repetitive climbing and descending, but as our minds fatigued it was harder to concentrate on foot placement. The path is a minefield mostly. It was this day we started to note how we were becoming more clumsy with our feet as the idea of finishing was only a day away.
Yuri’s Ray Way Backpack.
After more than twelve hours on the trail we summited an amazing section of rocky terrain that looked like a moonscape. It was 20:00 and we had panoramic views beneath a huge wooden cross, as the light started to diffuse. Teo and I slumped our packs off, rolled a smoke and fired up a coffee. We knew we had at least an hour to the refuge before we could sleep and Yuri and Endo were out of sight behind us. They summited, we relaxed and we set off just as the sun was dipping into the horizontal belt. This was one of the nicest landscapes and by far the greatest light we experienced in Corsica. One of those nice moments that symbolises why you’re there. Unfortunately short lived as we knew we had an hour’s descent ahead of us. It was a very difficult section of mountain. Dropping a lot of altitude in an hour whilst moving downwards over choppy granite blocks. This might not have been so tolling if we hadn’t walked twelve hours already that day and were attempting the descent in total darkness. We had our head torches on. Slipping on smooth surfaces or loose rocks, and scrambling down metre gaps between slabs. What should have taken us an hour, took us two in the dark. Now it was late, we were pretty exhausted and we passed the second last refuge to find somewhere to camp. We found no where for half an hour as the trail moved over large boulders and cut through dense bushes, so we agreed just to shack up on a boulder, in the middle of the trail. We didn’t care any longer, we were out of sight of the refuge and we were buggered, we cooked on the trail and lay down to get some sleep.
We woke just at first light, cooking and packing quickly so we could get off the trail and out of people’s way. Knowing we could be in Conca tonight, with this whole thing behind us. 180 kilometres of trail and 15 kilometres worth of altitude gain and loss. In order to finish we had two six hour stages to do, which early in the course of the trail would have been fine, but the fatigue had caught up with us pretty good and all of our bodies hurt from the descent the previous day. It was in some sense the hardest and easiest twelve hour day we did. We finished the first stage at around 14:00, arriving at the last refuge (Refuge de Paliri 1055 m).
We had our final Coca Cola of the GR20. We felt no more pain or fatigue either. We laughed a lot, smoked a lot, and cooked in the sun for an hour before deciding to get this thing over and done with. It’s bittersweet, those moments. That last six hour stage. No more refuges, no more camping, no more climbing, no more progress. The finish was upon us. We found a waterhole for a bath around 19:00 and around 20:45 we peaked through a natural rock gateway that signified the start of the descent into Conca, just as we rounded a bend and could see the town lying amongst the mountains in front of us. Less than an hour later, we put our hands out and touched the plaque that signifies the end of the GR20 trail and the arrival in Conca. After many hugs this overwhelming feeling of satisfaction started to build within us. The plaque is on a brick wall that is the side of a bar. This bar must hold so many significant celebrations, both personal and communal and it was the host of our celebration that evening. Endo went off down the road to book us a room in a hotel (fuck camping) and we sat until early in the morning drinking beer, eating mediocre panini and feeling like kings. I said it many times throughout the trip as it seems to have become an emblematic motto to my life, so I said it again as we sat there and did a cheers with our beers and congratulated each other. “What a time to be alive.” Albeit good or bad times, we are lucky to be alive and it’s just right to take any moment and appreciate it for what it is. We were to start the long and slow slog back to Milano the next day, but for the meantime we tried to live completely in the moment, nurturing the last parts of being away from work, our families, our friends and everything that makes up the day to day life of living in a city. These small trips symbolise the whole experience of life, compressed into a short, contained period. You travel every spectrum of emotion, and nature gives a sense of perspective on life as a human being. Mix this with a sense of community or companionship and overcoming physical and mental challenges and you’re left with a highly fulfilling experience. Something that gives you clear, defined and measurable purpose – something that the ‘real world’ doesn’t let you have so easily. Thank you to Yuri, Teo, Endo and Ricky for a great trip. What a pleasure to walk with you all for the first time and thank you for your guidance both in the lead up to and whilst on the trail. Rayon Vert GR20 Corsica, 2019 Report officially finished. What a time to be alive.
The team (without Riccardo) at the end of the trail.
In March 2014, Pietro, a few weeks after he had moved to London and started working as a push-bike courier, was sat at The Corner (between Lexington street and Broadwick street in Soho) silently enjoying his morning cup of tea, on his way to waking up, unaware that today wouldn’t be a day like any other.
As he absentmindedly stared into the the misty morning, the radio clattering away in the background, Leo pulled up having just finished his morning run. They’d met a few days earlier, Leo is a Brazilian courier\frame builder (Dmenor Bikes) based in London. Still in a haze Pietro handed him his cigarette accompanied by a welcoming morning grunt and as pleasantries led to conversation Leo started telling Pietro about this other Italian courier that had arrived in London not so long ago: “He wins every race he gets himself into, he’s a nice guy! Maybe you know him, maybe you’ve seen him!” Leo says in a cheeky grin. The stories about this guy seem to never finish, one minute it’s the way he rides, the next is the things he’s done and Leo shows no sign of stopping. It’s then when a loud rattling sound echoes from the East side of the street from behind a lorry, as if someone was pulling a dozen trollies across a gravel path. As both of them turn around a figure on a bike emerges from behind the lorry, the only visible part of him a few black curls coming down from his hood and two bloodshot eyes, bag full, arms spread open to the extremities of his handlebars, balancing three cardboard boxes between his hip, his stem and his chin, charging the loud cobblestones. In crossing his eyes with Leo his left hand leaves his bars and starts waving mid-air in a “What the hell is going on” kind of way, coupled with a stereotypical Italian “eeehhheee!!”, Pietro and Leo don’t have the time to start replying before he disappeares into the next street.
This is how Pietro met Teo Poggi, soon to be: avid travel partner and annoyingly-very-good-at-any-physical-activity-he-ever-tried, friend.
It was no surprise that when the idea came up to hike the TMB Teo became aware of it and joined in. More interestingly, aside from being faster, stronger and fitter than any of us, therefore giving us hours of distance on many sections, he is also a very good photographer. Rayon Vert collated a selection of the pictures that were taken by Teo on the trip into a small zine which will be presented on the 21st of December, in Milano, at the Birrificio Lambrate in Via Adelchi 5.
Come and meet our superhuman friend and have one last beer all together before we all retire to our obligatory family commitments on the Christmas Break.
Our publication is heavily supported by Nomoire, print and consulting agency based in Milano.
DAY 4, Vallorcine – Lac Blanc
With the confidence of the extra miles we had done the day before we got up quite late, simply to realize that we had no reason to celebrate, all we had done was catch up with where we should have been originally. In addition, we got easily discouraged by the cafes in town where we stopped more than once, firstly to try to say goodbye and thank you to Samuel because we hadn’t seen him at home in the morning and secondly to prepare some sandwiches and have a coffee with a croissant or a pain au chocolat. It was in one of these cafes, talking to an elderly couple that had travelled the TMB before us, that we understood that the deviation for Lac Blanc was close. Yuri had insisted multiple times on taking the detour and after showing us the pictures of the lake it didn’t take long for us to give in so, after a few miles on a semi busy road, we took a sharp right and, with the massif behind us, we counted the hairpins we could see before starting our uphill march, arms and legs in sync, facing the floor and eyes on the prize. Once again, we had no idea what was in store for us. The feeling we all experienced on our way up was simply that it was never going to end, every time we got to what we thought might be the end of the climb we got given more, the stone and sand steps that we were following upwards slowly got steeper, the water got warmer and then started finishing, the trees got scarcer and the sun stronger until after a few hours there were no trees left, the water was finished and we were sunburnt. I’m not sure what we would have done if at that stage we had known that we were only half way up to the lake, hope and inertia were the only things that kept us going at this point (A short video of us Walking near Lac Blanc). After another two hours of uphill ridge walking with the whole Mont Blanc massif in full view on our left and a series of small lakes dotting the mountainside on our right we turned a corner and arrived at Lac De Cheserys, Teo’s eyes glistened while he undressed until nothing was left and ran into the water. We washed our faces and had our cheese sandwiches, which during this whole time had been sweating in our bags and, after a short break, headed up to Lac Blanc which was only another forty five minutes away.
Lac Blanc (France) — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
We definitely weren’t ready for the scenic intensity of the place and trying to put it into words would only be a waste of time, all you need to know is that that evening we didn’t walk a single mile more, we followed the lake round to the back of the plateau where a little stream fed into it on a massive gravel delta estuary, we set up camp next to four curious ibex that inquisitively sniffed us out before strutting off into the sunset. Here we had our noodles and risottos, made a cup of tea and laid down under our tarp with menacing clouds clearing into a pitch black star lit sky.
Lac Blanc (France) — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
DAY 5, Lac Blanc – Bellevue (Col de Voza)
We gradually woke up to the sun rising behind Mont Blanc and its image reflected in the stone still lake in front of us, by far the most scenic awakening of the whole trip. We slowly crawled out of our tarps to sit on a rock, gradually undress as the sunlight warmed us up and start having breakfast until, without warning, a middle aged looking mountain man came down the hill and before we could even begin to understand what was happening he had already spouted: “Put your tents away” in a tight French accent. We were obviously too far from being awake to realize what was going on but it only took another three words from the man for us to exit our dream state: “I’m a Ranger” he said coldly. With our tarps packed, the ranger now in the distance and our water bottles refilled we headed for Chamonix where we would have an unplanned lunch with a friend of Teo’s and Pietro’s from Pescara, who happened to be spending the week in an AirBnb directly above the place we had chosen to get our sandwich. The remaining part of the day was majorly uneventful until we touched the feet of Col de Voza where we were stormed on, not in a dramatic way or at least not in hindsight, seeing as we had no idea what was coming. Two minutes hadn’t gone by since we’d got to the top of Col de Voza when, whilst catching our breath under a small train line on top of the mountain, a group of black clouds came in from north-west and swallowed the tip whole. For the following hour we sat on the terrace of the Villages Vacances Col de Voza (a place that serves bottled spritz and entertains its guests with Bingo Wednesdays and Kindergarden Disco) in the middle of a raging storm some of us sipping hot tea and some of us straight vodka. Glad that we hadn’t been obliged to spend the night in the hotel we set off as soon as the sky cleared only to walk another twenty minutes and camp right next to the train tracks, after all we are city boys.
Night walkers from Col de Voza to Bionassay — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
Day 6, Bellevue (Col de Voza) – Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme.
Waking up on the sixth day had a certain twist to it, it felt like we’d got into the right rhythm, we looked at the map and determined that we would need two days and a half, including that day, to get back to Courmayeur, have lunch and take the bus back to Milan. So, with the right attitude we waved goodbye to Bellevue and made our way to Les Contamines after which another great climb was waiting for us. After a quick resupply in town we headed for Refuge Nant Borrant, there we had a sandwich, we charged our phones, dried our sweat drenched clothes under the beating sun and as soon as Pietro had finished the last sip of his after-lunch ritual mint tea we headed towards the second half of the climb up to Col du Bonhomme, this, we were soon to discover, would not be an easy one. Soon the vegetation line was crossed and all that was left was us, again, minuscule on the mountain side, spread on rocky steps, across short grass paths, into snowy patches but, this time it seemed, part of a rhythm that would have taken us safely to the top of the pass. This conviction rung true between the three of us until Pietro turned around to look at Teo who, with a surprised tone, told him that he looked slightly paler than usual. Pietro isn’t one to control his fears well when they concern his body and in the feeling of faintness that had suddenly grabbed him he lost his speech, in broken grunts he told us to carry on and that he would meet us up top and so we did, in the meantime he slowly reached round the back of his pack and with worryingly trembling hands he picked out a scrunched up pack of black chocolate, broke a bit off, shoved it in his pocket and, rapt by nervous tics, he turtle paced up the last bit of the climb. He surfaced stone faced half an hour after the others had reached the Col du Bonhomme, chocolate wrap clenched between his hand and his walking pole, pupils dilated with terror and not much to say. It took him another half an hour of deep breathing and religious silence to come back from where he’d gone off to but it was soon after that the realization of where they were swept the remaining anxieties from his mind countless valleys opened up in front of them and the mountains on the west horizon looking into France cut sharp lines between rock and sky, the sun setting behind them.
Teo and Yuri near Col du Bonhomme’s very top.
It took us another hour to reach the Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme where, at nine pm, we were greeted by a common room full of hikers, a vegetable soup, a plate of polenta and some bollito misto. Eternally grateful to the refuge managers we walked a few minutes east and pitched our tarps, a more scenic goodnight could not have been asked for and a few hundred meters from the tallest point of the tour we slept undisturbed until the first lights of the morning after
Day 7, Refuge de la Croix du Bonhomme – Courmayeur.
As the sun shed first light on the surrounding valleys Pietro and Yuri cleared their swollen eyes with cold knuckles and slowly bent upwards to look at the view only to realize that Teo’s tarp, that was pitched just in front of them, had blown five or six meters to the right, his stuff distributed in the surrounding area but, most importantly, he was gone. Still stirring out of the night haze we half slipped-on our shoes and ungracefully stumbled across to the refuge to see if we could find him and, as we had hoped, as soon as the terrace was in sight we spotted him, wrapped up in his sleeping bag, sat on a pic-nic table. When we reached him there wasn’t a pretty sight waiting for us, Teo was gazing fixed into space, hair stuck to his forehead with morning dew, fire like eyes but without anger in his look, a half-smoked unlit cigarette in his hand, a cold cup of coffee in the other, veins pumping and forcefully deep breaths. After a few more minutes to pull himself back together Teo told us that around one am the wind had taken his tarp away, a few times he unsuccessfully tried to re-pitch it and then, blinded by the freezing gusts, decided he would go to the refuge to seek asylum in the dining room. Here, not happy with his already tiring performance, his fears compounded by the dark night, he convinced himself that the rest of us had gone into hypothermia in our sleep so he ventured out into the cliffs to come and check that we were still alive only to find us all in quiet peaceful sleep. By the time he had reached the refuge again it was around three am, this meant that flustered with the recent events Teo would only enjoy a few hours sleep on the hard tiled floor before management started setting up for breakfast when, full of resentment, he would retire to the terrace where we would have found him an hour or so later. After laughing about the whole ordeal and having breakfast we, once again, got our stuff together, filled up our water bottles and headed towards Col de Fours, the highest point of the tour at 2665m. An hour on: orange, unstable, rocky territory separated us from the peak but the feeling of touching the summit bore the efforts of the past six days and did them perfect justice in theory from here, it would be all downhill.
Col de Fours summit
After enjoying the view with a cigarette and a on top of Col de Fours we headed down for Refuge des Mottets where we faced the last big climb of the Tour, the climb up to Col de la Seigne that marks the border between France and Italy. At the feet of the Col we behaved according to the routine that we’d adopted in the past week: count the hairpins, decide where to rest, where to have a snack, squeeze walking poles, start walking (all apart from Teo that is, he just goes, even with two hours sleep). When we got to the top and saw home spreading out in front of us things changed, up to that point having lunch at Rifugio Elisabetta seemed an unreachable goal but from where we stood it was just at the bottom of a two hour downhill walk, we put our packs back on and privately played with the idea that we might even be able to be in Courmayeur by The end of the day, a whole night and half a day early. At Rifugio Elisabetta we ate and stared at the map, we knew it was possible, we just didn’t want to say it out loud. Pietro set off immediately because he was having trouble digesting his ham and cheese sandwich, he was reached by Yuri and Teo at the feet of the very last climb, here we received the confirmation we needed, on the right side of the path, hidden between some bushes, lay a sign pointing north-east, Courmayeur five hours, we looked at one another and with no further hesitation we stated that we would spend the following night in Courmayeur. At the top of the last climb Yuri and Teo waited for Pietro who still hadn’t completely recovered from lunch, as he surfaced, last of us, he asked with loud but firm voice: “Is this the last one?” and when a choral yes reached him from the other two it was collective excited bliss, Pietro’s poles flew forwards on the path and laughter echoed through the valley beneath, from here it really was all downhill. Things get a little blurry from this point onwards for all of us, it may have been how tired we all were or the fact that the prize was by now in plain sight but suddenly all inibitions were lost, we had let go to the folly we had been holding back for the past six days and now, all was allowed. We ran, fell, laughed, in a constant downwards direction towards the bottom of the valley, Yuri shouting at large crows telling them to shut up, as if we had happily and consciously regressed to three giggling six year olds. The last thing we hadn’t confronted was a small piece of path that connected the last bit of downhill to Courmayeur, on the altimetry it looked like a vertical wall, going down nearly 800m in the space of 200m horizontally. This was something else we hadn’t talked about collectively so it happened that Pietro came round a corner and fifty meters further he saw Yuri and Teo standing still as if they were looking down at something from the top of a wall or a cliff, when he reached them the scenario wasn’t so different from what they’d imagined, the path went down, sandy, half meter stepped hairpins, for an hour and a half, through a forest, straight into Courmayeur. From there we could see it, nearly touch it and definitely taste the drink we would have at the Baretto in the Piazza. This was undoubtedly the hardest part of the whole tour, the combination of hard sweat and orange dust created a gritty patina over our bodies, we didn’t speak a word unless it was to curse the path in a loud whisper and the only audible sound was Teo’s distant moaning and shouting.
As we emerged, orange and broken from the forest, Courmayeur laid spread out in front of us and we aimed straight for the Piazza to touch the yellow kilometer zero plaque. To crown the ending of the trip twenty meters from the Piazza a little girl stepped out of the family car and stared at us walking closely by, she then turned to her father with a perplexed look on her face, turned back to us and said:”Where did you come out of?”. We laughed hard and walked up the stairs, from here we could see it and the next thing we knew we all had our hands on it, we laughed more, kissed the floor and lay down, we had finished. In a semi conscious state we stumbled over to a bar and toasted with a drink, Yuri and Teo took it well, Pietro had one sip of his amaro and was drunk, in seconds Yuri had booked a hotel room for all of us catching a last minute offer, we headed there to realize that we could not have been more out of place, three dirty, smelly, now retarded hikers in a four star, ski resort hotel filled with pensioned white collar couples. Obviously we got assigned a room in the far depandance, in a basement two floors down but we were far from caring about the quality of the room, that night we ate out, washed off the orange dust in a real shower and slept on a hotel mattress, we hadn’t slept that well in years.
Exhausted at 0 Kilometer in Courmayeur
The way back to Milan.
The breakfast was included in the deal with the hotel and we weren’t about to let that slip so, still semi in the hiking routine, we woke up at half eight and headed down to the dining room where all sorts of delicacies were waiting for us, ham, cheese, all sorts but, most of all, a wide dish at the end of the room filled with croissants. When we approached the dish we were all slightly disappointed to find that they were all empty, we soon enquired with the staff that told us they were plain so that one could stuff them with their preferred filling, we quickly regained our high opinion of the hotel catering by having ours filled half with custard and half with chocolate (in one croissant that is). At eleven we parted ways to get back home, some by bus and some by train, both solutions turning out to be pretty hair-raising for various reasons.
That same evening we rejoined with our departed companions, all six of us (one had fled to the seaside) at Moscow Mule, a legendary bar in Milan. Here we recounted the stories and drank and laughed into the early hours of the next morning. Often at the end of a trip one expects a grand finale but like in most of the cases the greatness of the experience lies in the trip itself and our memories are in the huts, on the paths, by the lakes and under the rocks while we slowly head back to normal life.
Orange dust washed off of us for the following three showers, Thanks TMB, Thanks friends xxx.
Out of all the things we have underestimated in our lives the Tour de Mont Blanc is definitely the most recent and one of the most glorious. With the idea of testing out some gear as well as our selves on one of the most famous trails in the world we found ourselves sat in Pietro’s lounge, fitting noodles into plastic bags and mapping out the refuges on the course, unaware of the fact that we had no clue what was ahead of us.
The TMB was established in 1955 after a series of modifications and improvements to exhisting trails, 170 kilometers of paths with several variations and deviations and more that 10,000 meters of climbs and descents. The route crosses Italy, Switzerland and France ad can be walked clockwise as well as counter – clockwise. Kilometer Zero is placed in Les Houches, on the French side of the massif, but we’re Italian so we thought it would be more fitting to start from home and walk back home. We arrived one day before set-off in order to gather our last bits of gear, get a good night’s sleep and reconvene in front of a nice plate of food at Maison de Filippo, a traditional Aostan chalet restaurant tucked away in the backstreets of Entreves, a fraction of Courmayeur.
On the morning of the 27th of July at sunup while some of us were heading into their last half day at work and some of us were asleep, in Courmayeur you could already find Yuri and Riccardo, childhood friends, they’ve been travel partners for some time, raced alleycats and played Magic The Gathering. Riccardo is apparently calm and quiet but his power is unprecedented. Shortly after they were reached by Teo and Pietro the first of which, fresh back from Australia, Tasmania and Sri Lanka, had to run home for dear life to cure the Dengue Fever he’d caught on his travels. He is now in better shape than any of us. The last to reach us in Entreves while we were sipping an Alpine Liqueur were: Momo “The Architect”, our web designer, he is also a childhood friend of Yuri’s and Magic The Gathering avid player. Lapo, very talented sound engineer, producer and push-bike courier with constant Tinnitus, a recipe for success, and his friend Giovanni with the heaviest backpack but no fear in it whatsoever.
As we licked the remaining amaro off of our lips and finished greeting each other with the ominous Mont Blanc Massif staring at us we settled into our Air Bnb for our last night inside four walls, we found a nice restaurant to treat ourselves to a proper meal and ecstatic with the prospect of the following days we headed into the center where the celebrations for the town’s patron saint were waiting for us. An eclectic mix of music ranging from gabber to alpine folk accompanied us trough the windy streets of Courmayeur which had turned into a town-wide bloc party. Here, baffled by how surreal the place that we’d been dropped in was, we served ourselves to beers and silently marveled at the event unfolding before us. Of all the places we had visited in our life none of us thought that Courmayeur, known as the dainty and upper class Italian retreat and ski resort, now populated with sweaty drunks and teenage looking go-go dancers, was going to be the one that would have made us ask ourselves if we had seen it all. Shortly after a slow walk up to the house ended the difficult digestion of polenta and Courmayeurtense Soup we each retreated to our beds and, without too much fuss, fell into a deep peaceful sleep.
Around seven o’clock the undisturbed ringing of alarm clocks colored the rooms of the house where with our respectively slow rhythms we all pulled ourselves up to start our morning routines and it wasn’t long before the majority of the tasks had been absentmindedly completed leaving the most important one left, Get out. Around nine o’clock after having filled up our water bottles, a few croissants and a Bombardino (classic italian trail drink) we were ready to join the path that we would follow for the following seven days and so, laughing and joking, we all slapped the yellow kilometer one plaque that signals the beginning of the walk and we headed on into the woods.
DAY 1, Courmayeur – Gran Col Ferret.
The sun was high already and as we walked through patches of dense forest and no forest we could feel it beating on our untanned necks and ears and legs. The first section up to Rifugio Bertone was not forgiving and we soon realized, in the quiet of our own privacy, that as much as we may be able to reach our goal we certainly weren’ t ready for it. We didn’t have time to reach Rifugio Bertone that we were swallowed by a thunderstorm so we took the chance to have a cigarette and eat an energy bar while we waited for it to blow away and a few minutes later we set off, into the mist, towards Rifugio Bonatti. Aside from the breathtaking views the way up to the next rifugio was widely uneventful until a loud thud followed by a disappointed groan echoed across the mountainside but, because we were all well spread out along the walk, five of us continued on without stopping convinced that there was nothing to worry about. When we reconvened at Bonatti an hour or so later we realized how wrong we’d bene, Giovanni had twisted his ankle and it was now the size of a small melon. Half way through day one we had our first casualty and Giovanni went home, sad and in pain, but still noble enough to take some excess gear that a few of us had back home with him. That night we camped at the feet of Gran Col Ferret, with the range in front of us and Rifugio Elena beneath us, heavily aware of the fact that we were half a day behind on our original schedule.
After the first escalade, full of dreams and hope.
DAY 2, Gran Col Ferret – (Somewhere above) Som-La-Proz.
Summiting windy Gran Col Ferret with blue skies, decent temperatures and after a small rifugio breakfast was quite the treat for our second day and it lightened our hearts before we headed into what would be our first serious descent, up to that point we had cursed steep uphill climbs and wished for a cartoon like downhill run but things were changing before our eyes without us even noticing and apart from the odd snow slide the way down was hot sweaty and painful. We reached La Fouly for lunch and allowed ourselves an hour to pull ourselves back together, have a sandwich and refill our water bottles; the divide between Italy and Switzerland had at this point become sharply clear: mountain huts looked like they had been laser cut into shape, supplies had become uncommonly expensive and everything around us was postcard beautiful. After our short break we got back to the path and headed for Champex – Lac where we were looking forward to a quick cool down in the lake, however, it was this fairy like, seemingly unharmful stretch of path that took its toll on another one of us. Momo “The Architect” has nordic blood flowing through him and that day as well as not restoring his periodic sun cream supply he’d neglected his cap, this resulted in what at first looked like a common sunburn but which slowly developed, throughout the day and following night, into a full blown sunstroke. He could be heard muttering incomprehensible curses to himself through his teeth and and twitchingly look at his direct surroundings with mad, bloodshot eyes. That night we camped under a small crag, one hour away from Champex – Lac. There, when we took off our bags, Teo decided that after a good ten hour walk it would be the case for him to free solo a ten meter 5A sport climb, we sat and watched, silent, marveled and terrified.
Woods near Champex-Lac (Switzerland) — Picture by Teo Poggi 2018©
DAY 3, Som-La-Proz – Vallorcine.
In the morning the two things that had become apparent were that the lactic acid stagnating throughout our legs and backs and arms had reached its concentration peak, turning the following day into the most (in theory that is) physically demanding of the trip. The other, that Momo had reached a parallel dimension which, it seemed, he had no quick way of coming back from so, absorbed in the concern we collectively felt for him we packed our stuff, filled our water bottles and headed for Champex – Lac through a chilly, freshly lit, elf like pine wood. We were caught by surprise by the beauty of the scenario on arrival at the lake but we knew things were soon to change when we turned around to watch Momo enter the square making precious use of what looked like his last breaths. We hugged kissed and waved goodbye to our friend who gradually became smaller and smaller as we walked further until the last we saw of him was his figure reflected in the lake walking into the gap between the Mont Blanc Massif and the opposite mountain range which would have slowly led him home, later to find out that he was to spend three days in bed with a temperature. We still didn’t know but it wasn’t going to be a smooth path for us either, in front of us was Col de la Forclaz, one of the hardest climbs of the tour (the map said). We have seemed to identify two types of climbs on this walk: in the first scenario you can look at the face of the mountain, count the hairpins and plan it out in your head, this makes it a lot easier to deal with the workload. The other scenario is more disconcerting, you follow the path with your eyes and watch it disappear into the bends and cracks of the mountainside unaware of what waits for you round the next corner but, most importantly, without being able to see the end. It took us four hours to climb up to La Bovine, the refuge at the highest point of the ascent, across rocky stepped paths, across streams, across jungle like patches, on sand and water, through forests and high grass, over the vegetation line, under the beating sun, round the last corners and finally in sight of a cooked lunch. I won’t over bore you with the digestive difficulties which some of the components of our team were experiencing, but it is important to know that this was an integrating part of our routine for you to understand the terror that those same members experienced when they were told that the only available food at the refuge was the meal that the locals, somewhat over confidently, just called tranche. A tranche is a small piece of white or wholemeal bread under a slice of ham which is then placed into a deep plate filled up to the brim with cheese, the whole dish is then placed in the oven to melt. The result, as you will imagine, is interesting, reminiscent of those bucolic vignettes depicting a fisherman fishing for something in a very small pond and, no doubt, very very hard to process. After a mint tea we left the refuge headed for the descent that would lead us to Col de la Forclaz, needless to say that the gradient of the path was unforgiving and that once reached the next checkpoint we were in plain sight of the bottom of the barrel. It took Yuri and Pietro three hours to reach the bottom where Teo had been waiting for them for at least forty minutes, however, it was Lapo and Riccardo that we were wondering about because it took another hour before we saw the two of them emerge from the last patch of bush. Now, there had been signs to warn us, but it was still a shock when after a short sit down and a cigarette the debate started between the two of them as to whether they should abandon ship and go home. Despite our efforts to focus on the bright and beautiful sides of the trip we didn’t succeed and so, once again, we hugged and kissed our friends goodbye and walked off, decimated, into the woods towards the not so distant border with France. It was at the bottom of the valley facing the next bifurcation in the path that we looked at one another and, seeing as we were still half a days walk behind schedule, we decided to take the lower, quicker route, to secure some miles under our belts. Milking the last drops of fuel we had left we arrived in Le Châtelard-Frontière, the bordering town between Switzerland and France, where the feeling was a lot like walking through a village in the Far West: shops closing as we walked along the main (and only) road, very few people in sight who would look at us with enough vigor to burn holes in our t-shirts and only one place left open which was, of course, a pizzeria. Here we decided to treat ourselves to a cold drink and a cigarette and while doing so we started chatting to an italian truck driver sat directly next to us who insistently remarked the fact that we weren’t in the company of any girls and that a few kilometers on there were some huts on the side of the road where we could spend the night for free. Pietro, his mind clouded by the circumstances, convinced himself that the intentions of the italian truck driver weren’t clear and convinced the others that they should stay well away from the road side huts. It resulted so, purely by chance, that we headed up into Vallorcine, not long after the border, and read on one of the small village’s wooden doors a notice that said: “Free access, shower, hot meal, cold drinks”. Not entirely clear as to what was going on Pietro entered the front garden and, followed by the others, went round the back where Samuel, in his mid forties, and his son greeted us and invited us to pitch our tarps in their garden, have a shower and relax. We could not have been more grateful. After a long moonlit chat with Samuel we were reached by another small family of campers who pitched their tent right next to us, Samuel was clearly more of a celebrity than we had imagined.
First and only christian night with: “Free access, shower, hot meal, cold drinks” in Vallorcine