John walked about 900 km, climbed about 60,000 m, walking from Switzerland to the Mediterranean, through the Italian alps.  Unfortunately, Jenny could not join on this hike.

  • Grande Traversata Delle Alpi, GTA (7/11/2019)

    Day 1

    I had a late start from Cruina.

    Leaving Geneva at 35° I was surprised by how much snow there is on the passes. Finding your way is harder, and slower.

    We had hiked the Griespass a few years ago and were surprised by the aeolian. Now there are 4.

    Just beyond the pass is a tiny chapel / shelter. In the early 50’s 9 scouts went hiking in perfect weather; 6 came back.

    As adults, those 6 built the chapel in memory of their friends. Now it is well maintained.

    I had expected to make it to the next refuge, but was behind schedule. Alpe Nefelgiù was a welcome sight. A stone hut with an elevated wooden platform to sleep on, shelter from the weather; luxury can take on different meanings.

    I slept well.

  • GTA – Alpe Nefelgiu to Rifugio Margaroli (7/12/2019)

    Day 2

    The hut was dark, so I slept in and had a late start.

    The day started with sunshine, but became overcast.

    Hiking up the pass was hard, so I was glad I had stopped the previous day.

    With the snow, the descent was a challenge.

    Arriving at the refuge it was good to have a simple lunch.


  • GTA – Rifugio Margaroli to Alpe Devero (7/15/2019)

    Day 3

    The refuge Margaroli, where I stayed, was very friendly. The food was good and I met a few people hiking the same route.

    The path starts along a lake where many spring flowers are in bloom. I never tire of their beauty.

    Maybe the long flat stretch allowed me to warm up, but the climb was easier, and I felt I hit my stride.

    At the “Scatta Minoia” pass I met a group sheltering in a big hut, “Bivacco Ettore”. I have not seen many shelters at the top of a pass. Painted bright red and white it must be easy to see in fog.

    We all started the long descent together but quickly spread. Snow still covers a lot of the pass.

    The trail goes the length of lake Devero before reaching Crampionlo. The village has been renovated, renewing the stone_roofed buildings.

    Alpe Devero is the end of today’s walk. It is larger and more spread out, with many beautiful stone buildings.


  • GTA – Alpe Devero to Alpe Veglia (7/16/2019)

    Day 4

    Leaving Alpe Devero I passed through a group of stone buildings and up a forest path. I came upon a flock of sheep with some goats mixed in. I watched the shepard lead his sheep to a spur; he whistled and they all followed.

    The path goes through a wide bassin that is soggy due to the late snow.

    The first pass, Scatta d’ Orogna, had the tamest goats I have met: I turned for a photo but had to swing around and pull away a goat that wanted to eat my backpack.

    After the descent, walking along the side of a lake in snow, I came to a critical point; I was with a couple of other hikers.

    The original pass around the cliff face had been damaged by an avalanche in spring. A detour had been built, which meant a long climb down then back up over snow. Six Italians went along the original path and assured us it was safe enough.

    We decided to follow them.

    Parts of the path are not even; shards of rock bigger than me are scattered across it.

    At the second pass, Passo Di Valtendra, we were hit by the wind. We retreated below the pass to take off our backpacks. A couple of minutes at the top for photos were enough.

    Then I put on my wind jacket, gloves and beanie for the walk down the snow on the other side.

    Beyond the snow it warmed up as I descended through a forest.

    Alpe Veglia was the end-point, with a friendly refuge.


  • GTA – Encounters (7/16/2019)

    Day 5

    Today I walked alone yet had some interesting encounters.

    The terrain was more agricultural.

    Philippe took one look at me and recognised a like-minded hiker: light shoes and pack, equipped to be independent.

    He had not got the memo and was walking south to north; most of us are going the other way.

    His aim is performance and he has walked in 30 days what my book suggests takes 60 days.

    We exchanged information about good bivouacs and restaurants, then got onto hard-core equipment issues. He even put up his super-light tent, one I have considered many times. Am I going to buy it …..

    I do not know how long we talked, but it was fun.

    On the other side of the pass I came to a road. Although it looked like nobody drove it, I decided to follow it and hitch-hike.

    Angela gave me lift. We chatted between French and Italian. When we arrived at Varzo, I appreciated the ride all the more because it was a long way.

    I went to Varzo only to get cash. Leaving was a challenge: no bus, no train, and no easy walk. Nobody offered me a lift either.

    I walked along the road until it joined the main road. Suddenly I was in a bad place. This road was very narrow with barriers on both sides, lots of fast two-way traffic, and a tunnel ahead; walking it was not an option. Going backwards was not easy either.

    A speeding small blue car pulled out of the stream and braked hard in front of me.

    “I saw you were in a bad place and decided to give you a lift”, she said. We chatted easily and she drove me all the way to the Hospice de Simplon.

    Where I ended up having a glass of wine and sharing stories with a senior Swiss politician (whom I had not recognised).

    A good day for meeting people.


  • GTA Hospice du Simplon (7/17/2019)

    Day 6

    This is a planned rest day at the Hospice de Simplon.

    I awoke to find it had snowed.


  • GTA – Gondo to Bivacco Marigonda (7/23/2019)

    Day 7, 16 July 2019

    My stay at the Hospice was pleasant and restful, but I was already restless to be back on the trail.

    The postal bus took me to Gondo. There another bus was waiting to go to Zwischbergen. So I took that and saved myself 2.5 hours that I anticipated being dull.

    From Zwischbergen the hiking was through forest, not yet alpine terrain. Once I reached Tschawiner See it was more alpine.

    If John skinny-dips in an alpine lake and he does not take a selfie, did he make a splash?

    It was cold; I must be out of practise.

    At Rifugio Gattascosa a simple lunch of cheese and cold meats was good.

    Yet it was too early to stop, though the next stage is “easy” and 5 hours. So I decided to keep on; there are other places to stop.

    Philippe had mentioned a great bivouac. When I reached it I could not believe my eyes. It has all comforts, including a fire stove.

    I made a fire which took the edge off the chill. Lucas and I chatted to the small hours, meaning 10 pm.

    The moon tonight is full, beautiful and low over the alps.


  • GTA – Bivacco Marigonda to Refugio Colma (7/24/2019)

    Day 8: 17 July 2019

    Luxury: there was some coffee in the bivouac. So Lucas and I chatted and shared a light breakfast. Which made for a late start.

    I arrived at the end-point, Refugio Cheggio, too early to stay. Reading the guide book, the next refuge was described as having good food.

    So I stuck out my thumb and got a lift down the valley road to the foot of the 1,000 m climb.

    I arrived just in time for dinner and received a warm welcome.

    The setting is great.


  • GTA – Refugio Colma (7/24/2019)

    Day 9: 18 July 2019

    The food is good and Patricia and Olindo welcoming.

    Today I stay here.

    A short walk to a hill top to admire Monta Rosa, but she hides under cloud.

    We were 10 for dinner. One person plays guitar, so we had a singalong. Olindo is a music teacher so he kept adding instruments. His harmonica playing on Dylan was superb.


  • GTA: Special request (7/24/2019)

    Andi asked me to publish this photo.

    We had passed a fun night at Rifugio Alpe della Colma.

    Olindo has taught music, so when someone picked up a guitar, he joined in with his guitar and harmonica. All the hikers sang.

  • GTA – 2 days (7/25/2019)

    Days 10 and 11: 19 to 20 July 2019

    The descent from Alpe della Colma included walks on terraces built for chestnut trees.

    After lunch in Molini, I had a steep climb to the unmanned Rifugio Alpe del Lago. Michel arrived late so we chatted over breakfast.

    It was foggy most of the day. Bivacco Alpe Pian Lago was better situated than where I had stayed: water and a stunning view, although all I saw was fog.

    Campello Monti is surprisingly pretty. This is my first “Posto tappa”, an old school converted to dormitories for hikers.


  • GTA – Campello Monti to Alpe Baranca (7/25/2019)

    Day 12, Sunday 21 July 2019

    Everyone speaks about a great restaurant at Rimella, and I was looking forward to trying the antipasti.

    Yet Sunday lunch, was a family gathering likely?

    All they would serve me was pasta. Oh well, keep moving.

    I hiked through deserted villages and villages that are renewing themselves.

    Alpe Baranca is reputed for a warm welcome and good food. After compleyeing two days hiking in one, I arrived just in time to enjoy both.


  • GTA – Alpe Baranco to Rima (7/26/2019)

    Day 13: 22 July 2019

    A climb to Colle d’Egua before a long descent to Carcoforo.

    Carcoforo appears as a dense network of stone roofs. Once in the town it is pretty, with some Walser buildings.

    Lunch was cold meats and cheese.

    The next stage is described as long and challenging. Rather than spend the afternoon in Carcoforo, I decided to start the next stage. Two water points along the way offered potential places to stop and camp.

    There was nowhere to camp. The second water point was at a goat farm with a guard dog. He merely growled as I passed, but made it clear stopping was not welcome.

    As I was making good time I continued to Rima.

    Rima is pretty and prosperous. It is higher than many villages which gives it a good view.


  • GTA – Rima to Sant’ Antonio di Val Vogna (7/26/2019)

    Day 14: 23 July 2019

    Just before Alagna is Pedemont, with many beautiful barns that remind me of Valais.

    Alagna Valsesia looks like a ski resort. One shop was open selling ripe fruit. I bought apricots, prunes and a small dark purple prune I have never seen. Then I sat and ate them all.

    To finish this stage was walking along a road. I was offered a lift all the way.

    The refuge here is attractive, so I decided to end early and stay the night.


  • GTA – Surprises (7/27/2019)

    Day 15: 24 July 2019

    Hiking is experiencing nature.

    And surprising encounters.

    Many trails are old trading routes, often for smugglers.

    Three horses, two men and a few dogs came round a bend. I had time to get out of their way.

    A photo of eight bottoms did not seem interesting.


  • GTA – Refugio Rivetto to Santuario San Giovanni (7/27/2019)

    Day 16: 25 July 2019

    Last night we had the spectacle of local trail runners climbing 1,100 m in 45 minutes, drinking beer and wine, having dinner, then running back down using headlamps. They laughed on the way down.

    My descent took two hours.

    Rosazza is surprisingly big with grandiose buildings.

    It was a pleasant stroll through forests to Santuario San Giovanni.


  • GTA – Decisions, decisions (7/28/2019)

    Day 17: 26 July 2019

    “Celui qui regarde trop la méteo, reste au bistrot.”, is a French saying among sailors that roughly translates as: if you watch the weather forecast closely you will not get out and play.

    Those of you who have sailed with me might remember some exhilarating moments.

    For two days the talk amongst hikers has been about the forecast violent storms for Saturday and Sunday. Where to stay?

    Some decided to stay at Oropa. Arriving there, I decided to keep on for the next stage; there were a few options to stop on the way.

    The gondola up to the start of the hike disappeared into clouds. Did this make sense?

    As I walked the air switched between cold cloud and warm sun.

    I arrived at Rifugio Coda at about 15:00. Staying was possible, but if it meant spending two nights, it would have been long. It was already lost in clouds.

    The next stretch was really tough: climbing along the crest and an ever receding hilltop. To the left a cold wind blew clouds upwards, to the right it was warm and dry.

    “Bushwhacked” is a great Australian word which conveys somewhat more than being lost.

    Off the crest I was bushwhacked. I wasted an hour looking for the trail. Now I was going to arrive late without knowing if there was a bed and whether I could get food.

    The agriturismo welcomed me and prepared food even though I arrived at about 21:00. It has been one of the best meals I have had so far.


  • GTA – Rest day (8/2/2019)

    Day 18: 27 July 2019

    Good food, forecast bad weather, it was easy to stay a day here.

    The weather forecast was accurate; we had a violent hail-storm. It was good to be sheltered.

    Yesterday’s decisions were good.


  • GTA – Trovinasse to Rifugio Chiaromonte (8/3/2019)

    Day 19: 28 July 2019

    Much of the walk down was on old mule trails. So much work to build, and now mostly used by hikers.

    Closer to the valley bottom are terrassed vinyards. The feet of the vines are planted back against the wall, trained up 2 m and spread on trellaces to get maximum sun.

    In the valley all the private gardens were rich with fruit and vegetables.

    Quincinetto is tiny with only one bar open. Gelato and coffee were welcome.

    Then began the steep climb to La Capanne. The track emerged at a hair-pin bend. Cars coming, I stuck my thumb out and got a ride all the way up.

    Sunday, there was a big fiesta, organised the last Sunday of every July.

    Happy to have been given a ride, still I wanted to hike more. So I started the next stage.

    I arrived later than I expected at a closed refuge, so decided to camp there.


  • GTA – Rifugio Chiaromonte to Fondo (8/4/2019)

    Day 20: 29 July 2019

    The air was clearer in the morning giving good views over the busy plain.

    Hiking down was straight forward, leading through Succinto, a village which announces when it got electricity and a road.

    Fondo is deep at the end of the valley, with a beautiful bridge built in the middle ages.

    The next stage is described as long and difficult, so I stay here.


  • GTA – Fondo to Piamprato (8/5/2019)

    Day 21: 30 July 2019

    The air was clear today.

    Walking up a gentle valley beside a pretty stream. The pools were hard to resist for a swim, but I was worried I would lose my momentum.

    At a small family farm I asked if I could buy cheese. One of the young sons disappeared into a cellar in the rocks and came back with a small round of cheese; “it is a bit young”. Both sons were shy. I bought half of the cheese. It made a good lunch.

    It was a steep climb to Bocchetta delle Oche, 2,417 m.

    On the way I met the men clearing the path. It is good to be able to thank those who make this possible and exchange a few words.


  • GTA – Piamprato to Talosio (8/6/2019)

    Day 22: 31 July 2019

    A long bus ride took us to Ronco. All the hikers and backpacks filled the small bus.

    The bus dropped me in front of the post office. My tent and some other kit are now in the post, lightening my backpack a lot.

    White cows with black tails watched me pass.

    I went through a pass and asked two men the way. They pointed lazily. When I came to a cliff, one came after me and told to come back, then showed me the correct path.

    At Colle Crest, the day’s highest point at 2,040 m, the sign was decked with drying clothes of two people sleeping beside it.

    At Talosio the Posto Tappa is again an old school.


  • GTA – Walking in the Clouds (8/12/2019)

    Day 27: 5 August 2019

    Leaving Balme was a long climb in mostly clear weather. Over the Colle Costa Fiorita, 2,465 m, the cloud rolled in.

    Sometimes, when hiking, a song goes through your mind in repeat. “Walking in the rain”, Grace Jones cover, became walking in the clouds.

    The landscape became eery, fading in and out of view.

    Someone had recommended staying at the Albergo Rocciamelone in Usseglio.

    It has an old-world charm and home made gelato. So I had coffee and gelato as I considered my options.

    Staying was tempting, but they were full.

    Reading my guide book I learnt I can hike Rocciamelone, the mountain: 3,538 m.

    So I headed to Refugio Vulpot for the night. Here they explained my options to get there.

  • GTA – Rocciamelone, looking down on the world (8/13/2019)

    Ten minutes into my hike, it started raining and the clouds were dark and low. I went and did something else.

    Two days later, 8 August, I was back to hike the 1,700 m ascent in clear weather.

    The climb to Rifugio Tazzetti was straight forward; I had lunch.

    From there it was a climb up a crest with views to Rocciamelone.

    Above the crest it started to get hard. There was climbing, and I was having trouble finding the path.

    After a while I stopped counting the grave stones and concentrated on climbing.

    Two younger men caught up with me and we started hiking together. It became easier, being with other hikers.

    Next we came to the glacier. It is wider than I had been told. My friends had crampons; I did not.

    There is no marked path, but we found our way. Getting off it was tricky.

    The final ascent is up an exposed crest, buffetted by strong winds.

    It was an exciting hike, but there were moments I was scared.

    It was worth it.

    One of the young men said to me: “Respect. That was a hard hike.”

    I was touched.


  • GTA – Rocciamelone, Brocken Spectre (8/14/2019)

    Hands up anyone who has heard of a Brocken Spectre. Nor had I.

    An English-speaking man asked if I had seen my Brocken Spectre? See yourself in a rainbow that circles you. The conditions are right, and rare.

    I could not understand what he was saying.

    So he took me to the top of the cliff, the sun low behind us, clouds rising from the valley.

    There was my shadow on the cloud with a rainbow around it.


  • GTA – Strange stones (8/20/2019)

    15 August 2019

    It was a beautiful alpine hike over a couple of passes, starting at the beginning of the river Po.

    I came to a field of stones pointing to the sky. At first I thought it was natural, and some were.

    Hundreds were man-made.

    Next was a small brown cliff-face that people had inserted grey stones into.

    All a mystery to me.

    The day ended with fireworks in the village where I stayed


  • GTA – Two firsts (8/21/2019)

    20 August 2019

    I love hearing the marmots calling out to each in the alps. I always try to spot them.

    Today was the first day I was close enough to photograph one.

    Two mountain-bikers I had dinner with last night were kind enough to wait for me to show me a surprise.


    I have never seen one before.


  • GTA – Onsen in Italy (8/22/2019)

    21 August 2019

    After a pleasant 6 hour hike I arrived in Strepeis.

    Just down the road is a closed thermal centre, Bagni de Vinadio.

    On the other side of the road are a few improvised thermal pools by a stream.

    Soaking in the hot water released my tight muscles.

    Then a quick rince in the cold stream.


  • GTA – Accordeon (8/25/2019)

    25 August 2019

    In my early years in Geneva I saw a film, “La Trace”, which I enjoyed.

    It tells the adventures of a man who travels from France to Italy, before they were countries, selling ribbons and buttons and sewing materials.

    Somewhere in the plain in Italy he meets a German selling accordeons, and buys one.

    The accordeon becomes a character in the film.

    Today I stopped at Rifugio Morelli for a coffee. There on the table stood a beautiful, small accordeon.

    Paolo Giraudo told me he is a carver and started making accordeons. He has made about 40.

    The one I admired is not for sale; he made it for his daughter from old chestnut wood he recovered from furniture.

    Today I had my Italian accordeon moment.

  • GTA: The end (9/16/2019)

    31 August 2019

    On the hike to Colla Mosse I decided to stop. I got a lift to Sanremo.

    After a few days I went to Ventimiglia and walked a couple of kilometres back up the trail. Then I walked into Ventimiglia and to the sea.

    I finished my hike, my way.

    My phone had stopped working, so sadly I have no photos of my arrival.

    It was a great hike, and I met many good people.


  • GTA – Mountains of Piemonte (9/16/2019)

    This post is for Jenny, who found I had not posted enough photos of mountains.

  • Sicily: My Etna experience (9/17/2019)

    14 September 2019

    In Sicily we had planned to do some hiking. Waiting for Jenny I went to hike Mt Etna.

    As we neared the mountain, we were told the rim has been closed for 4 days.

    Avoiding the crowds I hiked along an old mule track, up to a ridge.

    The views over the lava fields and to the summit were good.