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To the Top of the Pass

gerardcarey

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CFx2, CPx1
I note many members extending their efforts in continuing to contribute to the health of the forum during these somewhat quiet, dark times.
I congratulate and thank them for their efforts.
What follows is my limited contribution.

To the Top of the Pass

Today is to be the day of my final push to the top of the pass.
I am about to leave this gas station come Hotel Restaurant du Cret. I've been tucked up in their dorm, here in the last of the Swiss villages....Bourg-St-Pierre.
But on my way to the door the manageress calls me back.
"Would you like M'sieur to take your pack up to the Hospice at the top of the Grand-St-Bernard-Pass?"
Would I what!
"Yes please," I answer eagerly, "That would be most kind of him."
From my main pack I pull out everything I figure I will not possibly need today and stuff it into my flimsy 20 litre day pack.
In answer to my query as to how long he thought it would take me to get to the top he offers "12 kilometers….between five and six hours".
That's like about 2 ks an hour then.
It's another confirmation of the difficulty of this stage.
I'll plan on six to seven hours, me being no great hiker, with my tin hips making me pretty wobbly even with the help of my pacer poles.
Folks coming the other way had described the trail as narrow, very rough, steep and rocky. So, a goat track then, ascending the ever steepening mountainside.
This’ll be fun. Yeah right.

I stop in the chill as I walk out of the village, raise myself to my full height and look up at the mountain towering ahead.
It has been there for four or five days now, an ever growing menace that loomed towards me, inviting my puny challenge.
"I'm coming for you cobber," I call to it.
Shouldn't talk to mountains really.
People will think you're crackers.
But I'm deadly serious.
I call again.
"Gimme your best shot mate. Let's see how bloody tough you really are."

A little way out of Bourg-St-Pierre, beside the road leading up the left side of the valley, I come upon the start of the avalanche shelter. Its concrete roof projects out from the valley's rock wall and encloses the two lane highway alongside which I'm now walking.
I’d best check the track of the Via Francigena on its specialised app.
It's dropped down into the valley and gone up the other side. It’s proceeding along about parallel with me now.
Over the last few days it’s been leading me upsy-downsy, sometimes unnecessarily. I'm no fan of tracks that lead me up hill and down dale for no good reason, specially in mountain country.
I decide to stay over this side of the valley, alongside the road, even if it has got itself enclosed.

Surprise surprise!
A steel ladder, leading up to the roof of the avalanche shelter.
After spending a few moments reading the explicitly deterrent signage, I ignore it and clamber up the ladder and out onto the roof. What stretches way ahead, up the side of the valley, is a wide flat concrete surface, covered with a few centimeters of level soft spongy moss.
HooRoo! Score one for Gerard the trail finder!

After probably an hour of delightful walking, whilst keeping close to the valley wall to avoid being seen, an extensive dam wall appears in the distance.
It traverses the valley at the same point at which my avalanche shelter comes to an abrupt halt against a protruding rock wall. The highway has decided to become a tunnel and disappears into the mountain.
Faced with this rock wall I've no option but to retrace my steps until I find another steel ladder. Down I go.
Well, that walking was just wonderful while it lasted.
However, it now appears that with a little ingenuity (ignoring the signage and climbing over a fence) I can continue by walking across the top of the dam to the other side of the valley. That’ll plonk me right on the GPS track.
But being on top of the dam I'll be wide open to view and possibly attract unwanted authoritarian attention. I’ve been lucky so far. I’d better not push it. Instead, I clamber my way down along the face of the dam wall, to the valley floor, then up the other side. Time for a breather.

Off again, looking down onto the reservoir lake, from a higher elevation now. Below, in grassy patches, I see movement. Rabbit sized, but longer, low to the ground, a deep reddish-brown, admirably fluffy as a mountain dweller should be. Marmots. Large ground-dwelling squirrels, feeding, lovely they are.
They dart into burrows after perceiving my movement, re-emerging carefully after I stop to observe them.
I’d been told to keep an eye out for them. They live at up to 3200 m/10,500 ft here in the Alps. That's some squirrel.

I’m resting every 15 minutes or so now. I note my GPS signal has me right on track, but, as I am watching, it up and moves across the valley to now position me on the other side of the reservoir.
“That’s not right!” I yell at the screen, “come back here immediately you swine of a thing.”
I'm not yet aware that in deep valleys GPS can be unreliable. Your position is determined by its being triangulated utilising several satellites.
Guess what? If you’re in a deep mountain valley, not all the relevant satellites can see you at the same time! We live and learn.

Behind, in the distance, I note three blond heads following me up the valley. Ladies.
They catch me up at my next rest stop.
At a little wooden bridge, where a mountain stream sloshes across the rocks, I have sat and am bathing my feet in the painfully cold, healing water.
They join me.

Friends from work, they chatter away about their lives.
Without exception I have found that every traveller has an interesting story to tell. I have learnt to always take a little time to eek it out. It is probably the greatest joy I find in travelling. Here is a font of knowledge that continually displays the great diversity of human experience.
Estonians.
Never met anyone from Estonia before so I am full of questions, specially regarding the historical closeness with Russia, and the problems that has created since Estonia gained its independence.

I move off before the ladies. This clambering is getting very serious. Large boulders to be circumvented whilst climbing. Dinner plate sized rocks on the path. I find it best to rest a few seconds at the top of each rough climb, then on with the upwards plod.

My left knee has gone but I haven’t realised it yet and the world is turning over. I fall sideways, over the edge of the path.
I crash ungainly, then roll and flail down the steep rocky slope.
Eventually, probably due to my pack acting as a brake, I come to a halt.
No moving Gerard. You know the rules. If in no immediate danger, remain absolutely still. At least for 30 seconds. Count em out. I find I need this time to gather my thoughts, for the Adrenalin flow to slow.
I am only then capable of rational thought.

Now to check the body for damage. Not too much of a problem by the feel and look of it. A bit battered maybe, like everywhere. I unhitch my pack, roll and push it uphill a way.
Hoist yourself upright you hopeless pilgrim.
I make it to my knees and crawl uphill to the pack. I roll it, slowly and painfully, up to the trail. Time now for a decent rest.

I look about on the path. Here it is. The wobbly, flat rock. I’m up on my knees again and I roll it bounding away down the mountainside.
“I’ll be the last dumb pilgrim you’ll ever trip up cobber.”
Now I’m talking to rocks.
I extract a drink, a banana and some Werthers Original Candy from my pack.
Why….I wouldn't know, maybe my brain got battered too, Joost comes to mind.
“For energy,” he explains to Tom as he bites into the bread.

Up on your feet again lazybones and on with the pack. Away we go again. Extra carefully now I’m stepping uphill.
The road reappears, to start its long zigzag up the steep mountain valley. Sometimes it comes in so close to the trail it makes me consider walking the tarmac from here to the top.
But it never comes close enough at the right time.

Another rest and tucker stop and the ladies catch up.
They are looking at me, surreptitiously. The most forward decides, that, as the other two won’t, then it is up to her to broach a subject that has been troubling them.
“We wish,” she says shyly, “to know how old you are?”
“Oh....right.”
It’s now I make perhaps my biggest mistake of the day.
Obviously the ladies are about to congratulate me on being such a fine hiker. No doubt to them I appear much fitter and stronger than my age would suggest.
Best not tell them about falling off the mountain then.
“I think it would be best,” I reply, “if you guesstimate my age!”
I’m just ever so absolutely stewing in my smugness.
After a short discussion with her colleagues she returns with the verdict.
“We are decided,” she bows in my direction, “that you are…....eighty seven.”

Eighty seven! Eighty bloody seven!
Me ????????????????
Well….That’s given my pride a decent punch in the solar plexus.
But it’s my conscience that’s now talking to me.
“Serves you right you great twat. Poncing about. Posing in front of women hikers.
Got your come-uppance didn’t you just? You really are a right dipstick sometimes.”
My conscience is really tough on me when it thinks I’m in the wrong.
It’s like a separate, distinct personality with which I can have quite a discussion.
It does seem to take great delight in giving me a rilly rilly hard time.
But I can’t complain about that can I?
Not when my conscience is right.....right?

I’m completely mortified, if still a little annoyed. But it is inherent on me to at least reply.
“I must say I never thought I would be spoken to this way by Estonian women. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined such an insult. I apologise for my mistake. I understand now that you are in fact Ethiopian women.”
“Ethiopian?” they immediately query in unison. “We are not Ethiopian. We are Estonian!”
“Doubt it. I have no doubt that Estonian women would never be so uncaring in their speech, insulting even. Estonian women have a reputation for kindness, for agreeableness. Ethiopians for sure you lot are.”

I turn and walk away up the trail.
They are quickly on my tail, still continuing to insist they are Estonians.
“OK,” I say, ”I know a way to sort this out. Now I hear that Estonians are the most wonderful singers, that they all participate in and love their choirs, that village competitions are held, area and regional competitions. National competitions draw enormous crowds. Is this true?”
They hasten to agree. “Oh yes, we love to sing, anytime, anywhere. National competitions attract nearly 100,000 people to the centre of our capital, Tallinn.”
For a country with a population of 1.3 million that’s impressive.
“Right,” I say, “You ladies must know many Estonian folk songs then. That being the case, and in order for you to prove to me that you are indeed Estonians, you must together sing folk songs for me, as we walk, for at least fifteen minutes.”
What a delight that is.
My wounded pride is healed in no time as their lyrical voices surround me and echo about the Swiss mountainsides.
Some things, deservedly, are never to be forgotten.

Time for me to rest again. The ladies forge on ahead, up into the rocky skyway. It’s very cloudy, but really hot so I peel off my puffer jacket. Staggering up the trail again a freezing splatter rips down the mountain. Back on goes the puffer and is covered by my rain shell.
Down she comes now with a vengeance and I get a little shelter from the attack behind a large boulder, for about half an hour, until the worst passes.
Slippery rocks now as I continue my upwards clamber.
I finally learn to never think “it can’t be far now.”
I learn to think instead. “It will not end until it is the end, and I will keep going until the end.”
Now, the rain ceases, the track becomes wider, somewhat less steep. Behind the clouds the sun must have set. Its dusk now.

What’s this, coming down toward me in the distance. A small group of people, occasionally stumbling forward.
They are being pulled. By dogs. St Bernard dogs!
My heart leaps. I pause and delight in their approach.
Five in a group. Their fluffy bulk is imposing.
I didn’t expect them to be quite this big.
They are out for their evening constitutional. I’ve read you can pay to accompany/take them on their walks. There’s a St Bernard Dog museum up the top. This’d be a fundraiser for the museum I suppose.
I stand with my jaw jutting out, looking aggressively, but in fun, towards the leading handler. He looks like the bloke in charge.
An important piece of equipment appears missing from the dog’s apparel.

“Where’s the brandy barrels mate?” I ask. “They don’t appear to even have one! And here’s a poor pilgrim bloke, whose just had a roly-poly down the mountain, and then got himself soaked to the skin in a fearsome mountain storm, and now, just when a bloke could do with a belt of the good stuff to revive his spirits, you cobber turn up with your rescue dogs, and there’s no reviver. No 'Eau de the good stuff'!
You’re no bloody help at all.”
I wag my finger at him.
“This is not in keeping with your traditional ‘Rescuing’ responsibilities!”

He looks at me wide eyed, as if in fear of his life. I guess he’s never met a joyfully rude, unruly, disrespectful, loud-mouthed antipodean before. He probably doesn’t understand a word I’m saying, and to complete the picture, my appearance is probably a bit terrifying also.
He scurries past, towing this menagerie of hounds and humans in his wake.
Not a word do they speak.
Enough to make a pilgrim feel right unappreciated.

A day hiker now greets me as he merges from another trail.
“Not far now,” he says. “Just a few hundred metres.”
Patches of snow now nestle in areas the sun seldom reaches.
None on the trail tho. It has here been built up with fine gravel to give a flat, hard surface.
It curves up and around a large snow patch, towards a high point.
This must be the final plod to the top.

I pause at the bottom to let the hiker vacate the slope.
I want to do this on my own.
It’s not a big deal. It just feels right.

I slowly rise up into a busy tarmac plain set between peaks. Its like a large open carpark on which buildings have been plonked. Cars charge, funnelling between the two main buildings, flags flutter, the wind is fresher here, people scurry about in their importance. Everywhere is movement.

I step up, out onto the blacktop, suddenly exhausted, but not done yet.
I recognise the simple, large, multi-story, oblong stone building away to my left as the Hospice.
I walk towards it. I note an overhead walkway leading from one of its upper floors to another similarly sized building across the road.
At last. Under the walkway I see the Hospice entrance.
Up a flight of steep stones steps now and into the enveloping warmth.
Pushing up those last steps has really made my legs weak.

Inside there is a small reception area with an unattended desk.
I drop my pack. Over it I drape my wet coat. A simple chair offers comfort. I droop into its arms. My watch says its taken me 8 hrs to get here. Must be a bit more battered than I thought. People are bustling about, this way and that. This place is noisy busy.
My head nods and my eyes, I’m not even going to try and stop them, close in peace.

It’s a gentle shaking that awakens me.
I stand to find a small, black cassocked priest moving in behind the reception desk.
“My son...you are welcome here,” he says. “You require a bed tonight? You have a reservation?”
“Good evening Father. Yes please, a bed tonight, but no, I have no reservation.”
After paying close attention to the screen for a few seconds he shakes his head.
“No reservation! But we are full tonight! We have no more beds! And now it is dark!”
He is saying this, not in way of admonition for my lack of a reservation, but in anguish over his inability to find a bed for me.

"Mate!" I exclaim, "you see that piece of floor down there?" I swing around and point down behind me, to where the cold stone floor runs into the wall.
This quiet, gentle priest gathers up his black cassock in his hands and stretches up, then forward over the counter. He looks down, his gaze settling where my finger directs.
"That...mate," I continue determinedly, "is where I'm gonna be sleepin tonight.”
I now point to the doorway. “There’s just no way I’m going back out out there cobber!”
Shouldn't really be talking to a man of the cloth like that, but blimey, sometimes a bloke's gotta say, what a blokes gonna do.

“Oh no, no, no,” he cries, “you cannot sleep here on the floor, and you are all wet!”
“Just a little mountain dew Father, nothing for you to trouble yourself over. Right there, in my down sleeping bag, I’ll be as snug as marmot in a mountain burrow.”
I would be too. Oblivious is what I’d be. Shot full of holes I am.
He throws his hands up in the air in exasperation, bids me wait here for further developments, then scurries off about his business, away down the brightly lit, crowded stone passageways.

Gently shaking me awake again he is.
“We have a bed for you! A poor man has been taken to the hospital. You will have his bed. As long as you didn’t come by bus. You didn’t come by bus did you?”
“Do I look like a pilgrim who came in a bus Father?”
“No....And you will come to Holy Mass tomorrow at 10am, won’t you?”
“Of course I will Father. Holy Mass. Wouldn’t miss it for quids.”

I’ve lost track of days. Of course! It’s Saturday night!
Getting towards the end of Autumn now and everyone is getting in their last weekend mountain hikes before the early winter snows come. That’s why the place is full.
He leads me up a stone stairway and turns down another impressive stone-block tunnelled passageway.
The door. He shows me to the very end bed in the dormitory.
Next to a large bay window. Bed with a view. Couldn’t be better.
I embarrass him with a one-armed hug as he leaves.
Being too late for pilgrims dinner, he has given me directions to a nearby restaurant.
I’ll pay it a visit after a shower and getting appropriately re-clothed.

And what a fine, beautifully prepared, plated and served, three course dinner it is. The quality is equal to that of a fine French restaurant. Accompanied by two glasses of Burgundy, it has the effect of reconstituting me into a semi-civilised human being again. If I ever was semi-civilised to begin with.

I’m the last to leave the restaurant. I walk out into the darkness.
What strikes me now is the quiet of the clear, dark night. It’s noticeable how the wind has died, and there are no clouds.
Starry starry night, way up in the mountains.
There is absolutely no one out and about but me.
I wander quietly out into the dark, away from the buildings and finally sit to rest on a mountainside outcrop.

I’m overlooking the little lake that sits up on this quiet mountain plateau. The surrounding peaks are mirrored in its surface. Overhead, a beautifully bright, star-filled sky completes a vast panorama.
I stand and look about in an attempt to force myself to merge, mentally as well as physically, into this awe inspiring landscape.

I feel the need to continue this morning's conversation with my mountain friend.
“So that was your best shot cobber,” I call.
“Not a bad effort. But I think you pulled a few punches. You can do better. Thank you.”

Us pilgrims. We get to have some pretty good days.
It’s rare we get a perfect one.

Regards
Gerard

Wikipedia;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_St_Bernard_Pass

Click on the photos to enlarge them.
This first photo, on the right, shows the view from the Italian side.
The Hospice is the building on the right. It is in Switzerland.
To its rear is the valley leading up from Bourg-St-Pierre.

The Italian/Swiss border runs across the lake so the Hospice and associated buildings are in Switzerland.
The buildings at the other end of the lake are in Italy.
Behind them the Via Francigena commences its decent, down into Italy.
It’s 1000km approx from the Great St Bernard Pass to Rome, divided into 45 stages.
 
Last edited:

mspath

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances, autumn/winter; 2004, 2005-2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015
Gerard,
Thanks for sharing your special memories.
May we all now find the strength to persevere as you did then.
Godspeed and in the truest sense, Ultreia!
Margaret
 

kiwiDavid

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances 2012 - SJPP-Finisterre
I note many members continuing to contribute to the health of the forum during these somewhat quiet, dark times.
I congratulate and thank them for their efforts.
What follows is my limited contribution.
Its a bit long, wordy even. But I figure we've all got the time.

To the Top of the Pass

I am about to leave this gas station come Hotel Restaurant du Cret, that has been my warm abode in this last village.
Bourg-St-Pierre.
Today is to be the day of the final push to the top of the pass.
But on my way to the door the manageress calls me back.
"Would you like M'sieur to take your pack up to the Hospice at the top of the Grand-St-Bernard-Pass?
Would I what!
"Yes please," I answer eagerly, "That would be most kind of him."
I pull out my flimsy 20 litre day pack and stuff it with all the gear I figure could not possibly need today.
In answer to my query as to how long he thought it would take me to get to the top he answers, "8 kilometers….between four and five hours".
That's like walking about 2ks every hour.
That gives me an inkling of what this stage would be like.
I'll plan on five to six hours then, me being no great hiker, with my tin hips making me pretty wobbly even with the help of my Pacer Poles.
Folks coming the other way had described the trail as narrow, very rough. Steep and rocky. So, a goat track then, that would be ascending the ever steepening mountainside.
This’ll be fun. Yeah right. This was going to be tougher than anything I had attempted before.

I stop in the chill air as I walk out of the village.
I raise myself to my full height and look up at the mountain towering ahead.
"I'm coming for you cobber," I call to it.
Shouldn't talk to mountains really.
People will think you're crackers.
But I was deadly serious.
I called again.
"Gimme your best shot mate. Let's see how bloody good you really are."

It’s only a little way out of Bourg St Pierre, beside the road leading up the left side of the valley, that I come upon the start of the avalanche shelter. Its concrete roof projects out from the valley's rock wall and encloses the two lane highway alongside which I'm now walking.
I’d best check the track of the Via Francigena on its specialised app.
It's dropped down into the valley and gone up the other side.
It’s proceeding along about parallel with me now.
Over the last few days it’s been leading me upsy-downsy, sometimes unnecessarily, and I'm no fan of tracks that lead me up hill and down dale for no good reason, specially in mountain country.
I decide to stay over this side of the valley, alongside the road, even if it has got itself enclosed.

Surprise surprise!
A steel ladder, leading up to the roof of the avalanche shelter.
After spending a few moments reading the explicitly deterrent signage, I ignore it and clamber up the ladder and out onto the roof. What stretches way ahead, up the valley, is a wide flat concrete surface, covered with a few centimeters of level soft spongy moss.
HooRoo! Score one for Gerard the trail finder!

After probably 3ks of delightful walking whilst keeping close to the valley wall to avoid being seen, an extensive dam wall appears in the distance.
It traverses the valley at the same point at which my avalanche shelter comes to an abrupt halt against a protruding rock wall. The highway has decided to become a tunnel and disappears into the mountain.
Being faced with this rock wall I've no option but to retrace my steps until I find another steel ladder. Down I go.
Well, that walking was just wonderful while it lasted.
It now appears that with a little ingenuity (ignoring the signs and climbing over a fence) I can continue by walking across the top of the dam to the other side of the valley. That’ll plonk me right on the GPS track.
But being on top of the dam I'll be wide open to view and possibly attract unwanted authoritarian attention. I’ve been lucky so far. I’d better not push it.
Instead, I clamber my way down along the face of the dam wall, to the valley floor, then up the other side. Time for a breather.

Off again now, looking down into the reservoir lake, from a higher elevation now.
Below, in grassy patches, I see movement. Rabbit sized, but longer, low to the ground, admirably fluffy. Marmots, feeding. Lovely they are. They dart into burrows after perceiving my movement, re-emerging carefully after I stop to observe them. I’d been told to keep an eye out for these large ground-dwelling squirrels that live at up to 10,500 ft in mountainous areas of the Alps.

I’m resting every 15 minutes or so now.
I note my GPS signal has me right on rack, but, as I am watching, it up and moves across the valley to now position me on the other side of the reservoir.
“That’s not right!” I yell at the screen, “come back here immediately you swine of a thing.”
At that time I did not realised that in deep valleys GPS can be unreliable. Your position is determined by its being triangulated utilising several satellites.
Guess what? If you’re in a deep mountain valley not all the satellites can see you at the same time! We live and learn.

Behind, in the distance, I note three blond heads following me up the valley. Ladies.
They catch me up at my next rest stop.
At a little wooden bridge, where a mountain stream sloshes across the rocks, I have sat and am bathing my feet in the painfully cold, healing water.
They join me.

Friends from work, they chatter away about their lives.
Without exception I have found that every traveler has an interesting story to tell. I have learnt to always take a little time to eek it out. It is probably the greatest joy I find in travelling. Here is a font of knowledge that continually displays the great diversity of human experience.
Estonians.
Never met anyone from Estonia before so I am full of questions, specially regarding the historical closeness with Russia, and the problems that has created since Estonia gained its independence.

I move off before the ladies. This clambering is getting very serious. Large boulders to be circumvented whilst climbing. Dinner plate sized rocks on the path. I find it best to rest a few seconds at the top of each rough climb, then on with the upwards plod.

My left knee has gone but I haven’t realised it yet and the world is turning over. I fall sideways, over the edge of the path.
I crash ungainly, then roll and flail down the steep rocky slope.
Eventually, probably due to the pack on my back acting as a brake, I come to a halt.
No moving Gerard. You know the rules. If in no immediate danger, remain absolutely still. At least for 30 seconds. Count em out. I find I need this time to gather my thoughts, for the Adrenalin flow to slow.
I am only then capable of rational thought.

Now to check the body for damage. Not too much of a problem by the feel and look of it. A bit battered maybe, like everywhere.
I unhitch my pack, roll and push it uphill a way.
Got my Pacer Poles. Hoist yourself upright you hopeless pilgrim.
I make it to my knees and crawl uphill to the pack. I roll it, slowly and painfully, up to the trail. Time now for a decent rest.


I look about on the path. Here it is. The wobbly, flat rock.
I’m up on my knees again and I roll it bounding away down the mountainside.
“I’ll be the last dumb pilgrim you’ll ever trip up cobber.”
Now I’m talking to rocks.
I extract a drink, a banana and some Werthers Original Candy from my pack.
Why….I wouldn't know, maybe my brain got battered too, Joost comes to mind.
“For energy,” he explains to Tom as he bites into the bread.

Up on your feet again lazybones and on with the pack.
Away we go again. Extra carefully now I’m stepping uphill.
The road reappears, to start its zigzag up the steep mountain valley.
Sometimes it comes in so close to the trail it makes me consider walking the tarmac from here to the top.
But it never comes close enough at the right time.

Another rest and tucker stop and the ladies catch up.
They are looking at me, surreptitiously.
The most forward decides, that, as the other two won’t, then it is up to her to broach a subject that has been troubling them.
“We wish,” she says shyly, “to know how old you are?”
“Oh....right.”
It’s now I make perhaps my biggest mistake of the day.
Obviously the ladies are about to congratulate me on being such a fine hiker. No doubt to them I appear much fitter and stronger than my age would suggest.
Best not tell them about falling down the mountain tho.
“I think it would be best,” I reply, “if you guesstimate my age!”
I’m just ever so absolutely stewing in my smugness.
After a short discussion with her colleagues she returns with the verdict.
“We are decided,” she bows in my direction, “that you are…....eighty seven.”

Eighty seven! Eighty bloody seven!
Me ?????????????????????????
Well….That’s given my pride a decent kick in the guts.
But it’s my conscience that’s now talking to me.
“Serves you right you great twat. Poncing about. Posing in front of women hikers.
Got your come-uppance didn’t you just? You really are a right dipstick sometimes.”
My conscience is really tough on me when it thinks I’m in the wrong.
It’s like a separate, distinct personality.
It gives me a rilly rilly hard time.
But I can’t complain about that.
Not when my conscience is right, can I?

I’m completely mortified, if still a little annoyed. But it is inherent on me to at least reply.
“I must say I never thought I would be spoken to this way by Estonian women. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined such an insult. I apologise for my mistake. I understand now that you are in fact Ethiopian women.”
“Ethiopian?” they immediately query in unison. “We are not Ethiopian. We are Estonian!”
“Estonian? Doubt it. I have no doubt that Estonian women would never be so uncaring in their speech, insulting even. Estonian women have a reputation for kindness, for agreeableness. Ethiopians for sure you lot are.”

I turned and walked away up the trail.
They were quickly on my tail, still continuing to insist they were Estonians.
“OK,”I said,”I know a way to sort this out. Now I hear that Estonians are the most wonderful singers, that they all participate in and love their choirs, that village competitions are held, area and regional competitions. National competitions draw enormous crowds. Is this true?”
They hastened to agree. “Oh yes, we love to sing, anytime, anywhere. National competitions are held every five years and attract nearly 100,000 people to the centre of our capital, Tallinn.”
For a country with a population of 1.3 million that’s impressive.
“Right,” I say, “You ladies must know many Estonian folk songs then. That being the case, and in order for you to prove to me that you are indeed Estonians, you must together sing folk songs for me, as we walk, for at least fifteen minutes.”
What a delight that was.
My wounded pride was healed in no time as their voices echoed around the Swiss mountainsides.
Some things, deservedly, are never to be forgotten.

Time for me to rest again. The ladies forge on ahead, up into the rocky skyway. It’s very cloudy, but really hot so I peel off my puffer jacket. Staggering up the trail again a freezing splatter rips down the mountain. Back on goes the puffer and is covered by my rain shell.
Down she comes now with a vengeance and I get a little shelter from the attack behind a large boulder, for about half an hour, until the worst passes.
Slippery rocks now as I continue my upwards clamber.
I finally learn to never think “it can’t be far now.”
I learn to think instead. “It will not end until it is the end, and I will keep going until the end.”
Now, as the rain finally ceases, the track becomes wider, somewhat less steep. Behind the clouds the sun must have set. Its dusk now.

What’s this, coming down toward me in the distance. A small group of people, occasionally stumbling forward.
They are being pulled. By dogs. St Bernard dogs.
My heart leaps. I pause and delight in their approach.
Five in a group. Their fluffy bulk is imposing.
I didn’t expect them to be quite this big.
They are out for their evening constitutional. I’ve read you can pay to accompany/take them on their walks. There’s a St Bernard Dog museum up the top. This’d be a fundraiser for the museum I suppose.
I stand with my jaw jutting out, looking aggressively, but in fun, towards the leading handler. He looks like the bloke in charge.
An important piece of equipment appears missing from the dog’s apparel.

“Where’s the brandy barrels mate?” I ask. “They don’t appear to even have one! And here’s a poor pilgrim bloke, whose just had a roly-poly down the mountain, and then got himself soaked to the skin in a fearsome mountain storm, and now, just when a bloke could do with a belt of the good stuff to revive his spirits, you cobber turn up with your rescue dogs, and there’s no reviver!
You’re no bloody help at all.”
I wag my finger at him.
“This is not in keeping with your traditional ‘Rescuing’ responsibilities!”

He looks at me wide eyed, as if in fear of his life. I guess he’s never met a joyfully rude, unruly, disrespectful, loud-mouthed antipodean before.
Possibly doesn’t understand a word I’m saying either.
Maybe my appearance is a bit terrifying too.
He scurries past, towing this menagerie of hounds and humans in his wake.
Not a word do they speak.
Enough to make a pilgrim feel right unappreciated.

A day hiker now greets me as he merges from another trail.
“Not far now,” he says. “Just a few hundred yards.”
Patches of snow now nestle in areas the sun seldom reaches.
None on the trail which has now been built up with fine gravel to give a flat, hard surface.
It curves up and around a large snow patch, towards a high point.
This must be the final plod to the top.

I pause at the bottom to let the hiker vacate the slope.
I want to do this on my own.
It’s not a big deal. It just feels right.

I slowly rise up into a busy tarmac plain set between peaks. Its like a large open carpark on which buildings have been plonked. Cars charge, funneling between the two main buildings, flags flutter, the wind is fresher here, people scurry about in their importance. Everywhere is movement.

I step up, out onto the blacktop. Suddenly exhausted, but not done yet.
I recognise the simple, large, multi-story, oblong stone building away to my left as the Hospice.
I walk towards it. I note an overhead walkway leading from one of its upper floors to another similarly sized building across the road.
At last. Under the walkway I see the Hospice entrance.
Up a flight of steep stones steps now and into the warmth
Pushing up those last steps has really made my legs weak.

Inside there is a small reception area and desk.
I drop my pack. Over it I drape my wet coat. A simple chair offers comfort. I droop into its arms. My watch says its taken me 8 hrs to get here. Must be a bit more battered than I thought. People are bustling about, this way and that. This place is noisy busy.
My head nods and my eyes, I’m not stopping them, close in peace.
It’s a gentle shaking that awakens me.
I stand to find a small, black cassocked priest moving in behind the reception desk.
“My son...you are welcome here,” he says. “You require a bed tonight? You have a reservation?”
“Good evening Father. Yes please, a bed tonight, but no, I have no reservation.”
After paying close attention to the screen for a few seconds he shakes his head.
“No reservation! But we are full tonight! We have no more beds! And now it is dark!”
He is saying this, not in way of admonition for my lack of a reservation, but in anguish over his inability to find a bed for me.

"Mate!" I exclaim, "you see that piece of floor down there?" I swing around and point down behind me, to where the cold stone floor runs into the wall.
This quiet, gentle priest gathers up his black cassock in his hands and stretches up, then forward over the counter.
He looks down, his gaze settling where my finger directs.
"That...mate," I continue determinedly, "is where I'm gonna be sleepin tonight.”
I now point to the doorway. “There’s just no way I’m going back out out there cobber!”
Shouldn't really be talking to a man of the cloth like that, but blimey, sometimes a bloke's gotta say, what a blokes gonna do.

“Oh no, no, no,” he cries, “you cannot sleep here on the floor, and you are all wet!”
“Just a little mountain dew Father, nothing for you to trouble yourself over. Right there, in my down sleeping bag, I’ll be as snug as marmot in a mountain burrow.”
I would be too. Oblivious is what I’d be. Shot full of holes I am.
He throws his hands up in the air in exasperation, bids me wait here for further developments, then scurries off about his business, away down the brightly lit, crowded stone passageways.

Gently shaking me awake again he is.
“We have a bed for you! A poor man has been taken to the hospital. You will have his bed. As long as you didn’t come by bus. You didn’t come by bus did you?”
“Do I look like a pilgrim who came in a bus Father?”
“No. And you will come to Holy Mass tomorrow at 10am, won’t you?”
“Of course I will Father. Holy Mass. Wouldn’t miss it for quids.”

I’ve lost track of days. Of course! it’s Saturday night! Getting towards the end of Autumn and everyone is getting in their last weekend mountain hikes before the early winter snows come. That’s why the place is full.
He leads me up a stone stairway and turns down another impressively stone-block tunneled passageway.
The door. He shows me to the very end bed in the dormitory.
Next to a large bay window. Bed with a view from upstairs. Couldn’t be better.
I embarrass him with a one-armed hug as he leaves.
Being too late for pilgrims dinner, he has given me directions to a nearby restaurant.
I’ll pay it a visit after a shower and getting appropriately re-clothed.

And what a fine, beautifully prepared, plated and served, three course dinner it is. The quality is equal to that of a fine French restaurant. Accompanied by two glasses of Burgundy, it has the effect of reconstituting me into a semi-civilised human being again, if I ever was semi-civilised to begin with.

I’m the last to leave the restaurant. I walk out into the darkness.
What strikes me now is the clear, dark night. It’s noticeable how the wind has died, and there are no clouds.
Starry starry night.
There is absolutely no one out and about but me.
I wander quietly out into the dark, away from the buildings.
I finally sit to rest on a mountainside outcrop.

I’m overlooking the little lake that sits up on this quiet mountain plateau. Flooded by moonlight, the surrounding peaks are reflected in the mirror surface of the lake. Overhead, a beautifully bright, star-filled sky completes the quiet panorama.
I stand and look about in an attempt to force myself, mentally as well as physically, to sink into, to become an even deeper part of this stunning environment.

I feel the urge to address my mountain friend again.
“So that was your best shot cobber,” I call.
“Not a bad effort. But I think you pulled a few punches. You can do better. But thank you.”

Us pilgrims. We get to have some pretty good days.
But it’s rare to get a perfect one.

Regards
Gerard

Wikipedia;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_St_Bernard_Pass

Click on the photos to enlarge them.
This first photo, on the right, shows the view from the Italian side.
The Hospice is the building on the right. It is in Switzerland.
To its rear is the valley leading up from Bourg-St-Pierre.

The Italian/Swiss border runs across the lake so the Hospice and associated buildings are in Switzerland.
The buildings at the other end of the lake are in Italy.

Behind them the Via Francigena commences its decent, down into Italy.
It’s 1000km approx from the Great St Bernard Pass to Rome, divided into 45 stages.
Good one Gerard
 

Middo

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
August/Sept (2015) SJPDP-SDC. Finisterre-Muxia-SDC. August /Sept 2016- Seville - Salamanca.
Sept-Oct 2017.Madrid/ Levante / Sanabres.
I note many members continuing to contribute to the health of the forum during these somewhat quiet, dark times.
I congratulate and thank them for their efforts.
What follows is my limited contribution.
Its a bit long, wordy even. But I figure we've all got the time.

To the Top of the Pass

I am about to leave this gas station come Hotel Restaurant du Cret, that has been my warm abode in this last village.
Bourg-St-Pierre.
Today is to be the day of the final push to the top of the pass.
But on my way to the door the manageress calls me back.
"Would you like M'sieur to take your pack up to the Hospice at the top of the Grand-St-Bernard-Pass?
Would I what!
"Yes please," I answer eagerly, "That would be most kind of him."
I pull out my flimsy 20 litre day pack and stuff it with all the gear I figure could not possibly need today.
In answer to my query as to how long he thought it would take me to get to the top he answers, "8 kilometers….between four and five hours".
That's like walking about 2ks every hour.
That gives me an inkling of what this stage would be like.
I'll plan on five to six hours then, me being no great hiker, with my tin hips making me pretty wobbly even with the help of my Pacer Poles.
Folks coming the other way had described the trail as narrow, very rough. Steep and rocky. So, a goat track then, that would be ascending the ever steepening mountainside.
This’ll be fun. Yeah right. This was going to be tougher than anything I had attempted before.

I stop in the chill air as I walk out of the village.
I raise myself to my full height and look up at the mountain towering ahead.
"I'm coming for you cobber," I call to it.
Shouldn't talk to mountains really.
People will think you're crackers.
But I was deadly serious.
I called again.
"Gimme your best shot mate. Let's see how bloody good you really are."

It’s only a little way out of Bourg St Pierre, beside the road leading up the left side of the valley, that I come upon the start of the avalanche shelter. Its concrete roof projects out from the valley's rock wall and encloses the two lane highway alongside which I'm now walking.
I’d best check the track of the Via Francigena on its specialised app.
It's dropped down into the valley and gone up the other side.
It’s proceeding along about parallel with me now.
Over the last few days it’s been leading me upsy-downsy, sometimes unnecessarily, and I'm no fan of tracks that lead me up hill and down dale for no good reason, specially in mountain country.
I decide to stay over this side of the valley, alongside the road, even if it has got itself enclosed.

Surprise surprise!
A steel ladder, leading up to the roof of the avalanche shelter.
After spending a few moments reading the explicitly deterrent signage, I ignore it and clamber up the ladder and out onto the roof. What stretches way ahead, up the valley, is a wide flat concrete surface, covered with a few centimeters of level soft spongy moss.
HooRoo! Score one for Gerard the trail finder!

After probably 3ks of delightful walking whilst keeping close to the valley wall to avoid being seen, an extensive dam wall appears in the distance.
It traverses the valley at the same point at which my avalanche shelter comes to an abrupt halt against a protruding rock wall. The highway has decided to become a tunnel and disappears into the mountain.
Being faced with this rock wall I've no option but to retrace my steps until I find another steel ladder. Down I go.
Well, that walking was just wonderful while it lasted.
It now appears that with a little ingenuity (ignoring the signs and climbing over a fence) I can continue by walking across the top of the dam to the other side of the valley. That’ll plonk me right on the GPS track.
But being on top of the dam I'll be wide open to view and possibly attract unwanted authoritarian attention. I’ve been lucky so far. I’d better not push it.
Instead, I clamber my way down along the face of the dam wall, to the valley floor, then up the other side. Time for a breather.

Off again now, looking down into the reservoir lake, from a higher elevation now.
Below, in grassy patches, I see movement. Rabbit sized, but longer, low to the ground, admirably fluffy. Marmots, feeding. Lovely they are. They dart into burrows after perceiving my movement, re-emerging carefully after I stop to observe them. I’d been told to keep an eye out for these large ground-dwelling squirrels that live at up to 10,500 ft in mountainous areas of the Alps.

I’m resting every 15 minutes or so now.
I note my GPS signal has me right on rack, but, as I am watching, it up and moves across the valley to now position me on the other side of the reservoir.
“That’s not right!” I yell at the screen, “come back here immediately you swine of a thing.”
At that time I did not realised that in deep valleys GPS can be unreliable. Your position is determined by its being triangulated utilising several satellites.
Guess what? If you’re in a deep mountain valley not all the satellites can see you at the same time! We live and learn.

Behind, in the distance, I note three blond heads following me up the valley. Ladies.
They catch me up at my next rest stop.
At a little wooden bridge, where a mountain stream sloshes across the rocks, I have sat and am bathing my feet in the painfully cold, healing water.
They join me.

Friends from work, they chatter away about their lives.
Without exception I have found that every traveler has an interesting story to tell. I have learnt to always take a little time to eek it out. It is probably the greatest joy I find in travelling. Here is a font of knowledge that continually displays the great diversity of human experience.
Estonians.
Never met anyone from Estonia before so I am full of questions, specially regarding the historical closeness with Russia, and the problems that has created since Estonia gained its independence.

I move off before the ladies. This clambering is getting very serious. Large boulders to be circumvented whilst climbing. Dinner plate sized rocks on the path. I find it best to rest a few seconds at the top of each rough climb, then on with the upwards plod.

My left knee has gone but I haven’t realised it yet and the world is turning over. I fall sideways, over the edge of the path.
I crash ungainly, then roll and flail down the steep rocky slope.
Eventually, probably due to the pack on my back acting as a brake, I come to a halt.
No moving Gerard. You know the rules. If in no immediate danger, remain absolutely still. At least for 30 seconds. Count em out. I find I need this time to gather my thoughts, for the Adrenalin flow to slow.
I am only then capable of rational thought.

Now to check the body for damage. Not too much of a problem by the feel and look of it. A bit battered maybe, like everywhere.
I unhitch my pack, roll and push it uphill a way.
Got my Pacer Poles. Hoist yourself upright you hopeless pilgrim.
I make it to my knees and crawl uphill to the pack. I roll it, slowly and painfully, up to the trail. Time now for a decent rest.


I look about on the path. Here it is. The wobbly, flat rock.
I’m up on my knees again and I roll it bounding away down the mountainside.
“I’ll be the last dumb pilgrim you’ll ever trip up cobber.”
Now I’m talking to rocks.
I extract a drink, a banana and some Werthers Original Candy from my pack.
Why….I wouldn't know, maybe my brain got battered too, Joost comes to mind.
“For energy,” he explains to Tom as he bites into the bread.

Up on your feet again lazybones and on with the pack.
Away we go again. Extra carefully now I’m stepping uphill.
The road reappears, to start its zigzag up the steep mountain valley.
Sometimes it comes in so close to the trail it makes me consider walking the tarmac from here to the top.
But it never comes close enough at the right time.

Another rest and tucker stop and the ladies catch up.
They are looking at me, surreptitiously.
The most forward decides, that, as the other two won’t, then it is up to her to broach a subject that has been troubling them.
“We wish,” she says shyly, “to know how old you are?”
“Oh....right.”
It’s now I make perhaps my biggest mistake of the day.
Obviously the ladies are about to congratulate me on being such a fine hiker. No doubt to them I appear much fitter and stronger than my age would suggest.
Best not tell them about falling down the mountain tho.
“I think it would be best,” I reply, “if you guesstimate my age!”
I’m just ever so absolutely stewing in my smugness.
After a short discussion with her colleagues she returns with the verdict.
“We are decided,” she bows in my direction, “that you are…....eighty seven.”

Eighty seven! Eighty bloody seven!
Me ?????????????????????????
Well….That’s given my pride a decent kick in the guts.
But it’s my conscience that’s now talking to me.
“Serves you right you great twat. Poncing about. Posing in front of women hikers.
Got your come-uppance didn’t you just? You really are a right dipstick sometimes.”
My conscience is really tough on me when it thinks I’m in the wrong.
It’s like a separate, distinct personality.
It gives me a rilly rilly hard time.
But I can’t complain about that.
Not when my conscience is right, can I?

I’m completely mortified, if still a little annoyed. But it is inherent on me to at least reply.
“I must say I never thought I would be spoken to this way by Estonian women. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined such an insult. I apologise for my mistake. I understand now that you are in fact Ethiopian women.”
“Ethiopian?” they immediately query in unison. “We are not Ethiopian. We are Estonian!”
“Estonian? Doubt it. I have no doubt that Estonian women would never be so uncaring in their speech, insulting even. Estonian women have a reputation for kindness, for agreeableness. Ethiopians for sure you lot are.”

I turned and walked away up the trail.
They were quickly on my tail, still continuing to insist they were Estonians.
“OK,”I said,”I know a way to sort this out. Now I hear that Estonians are the most wonderful singers, that they all participate in and love their choirs, that village competitions are held, area and regional competitions. National competitions draw enormous crowds. Is this true?”
They hastened to agree. “Oh yes, we love to sing, anytime, anywhere. National competitions are held every five years and attract nearly 100,000 people to the centre of our capital, Tallinn.”
For a country with a population of 1.3 million that’s impressive.
“Right,” I say, “You ladies must know many Estonian folk songs then. That being the case, and in order for you to prove to me that you are indeed Estonians, you must together sing folk songs for me, as we walk, for at least fifteen minutes.”
What a delight that was.
My wounded pride was healed in no time as their voices echoed around the Swiss mountainsides.
Some things, deservedly, are never to be forgotten.

Time for me to rest again. The ladies forge on ahead, up into the rocky skyway. It’s very cloudy, but really hot so I peel off my puffer jacket. Staggering up the trail again a freezing splatter rips down the mountain. Back on goes the puffer and is covered by my rain shell.
Down she comes now with a vengeance and I get a little shelter from the attack behind a large boulder, for about half an hour, until the worst passes.
Slippery rocks now as I continue my upwards clamber.
I finally learn to never think “it can’t be far now.”
I learn to think instead. “It will not end until it is the end, and I will keep going until the end.”
Now, as the rain finally ceases, the track becomes wider, somewhat less steep. Behind the clouds the sun must have set. Its dusk now.

What’s this, coming down toward me in the distance. A small group of people, occasionally stumbling forward.
They are being pulled. By dogs. St Bernard dogs.
My heart leaps. I pause and delight in their approach.
Five in a group. Their fluffy bulk is imposing.
I didn’t expect them to be quite this big.
They are out for their evening constitutional. I’ve read you can pay to accompany/take them on their walks. There’s a St Bernard Dog museum up the top. This’d be a fundraiser for the museum I suppose.
I stand with my jaw jutting out, looking aggressively, but in fun, towards the leading handler. He looks like the bloke in charge.
An important piece of equipment appears missing from the dog’s apparel.

“Where’s the brandy barrels mate?” I ask. “They don’t appear to even have one! And here’s a poor pilgrim bloke, whose just had a roly-poly down the mountain, and then got himself soaked to the skin in a fearsome mountain storm, and now, just when a bloke could do with a belt of the good stuff to revive his spirits, you cobber turn up with your rescue dogs, and there’s no reviver!
You’re no bloody help at all.”
I wag my finger at him.
“This is not in keeping with your traditional ‘Rescuing’ responsibilities!”

He looks at me wide eyed, as if in fear of his life. I guess he’s never met a joyfully rude, unruly, disrespectful, loud-mouthed antipodean before.
Possibly doesn’t understand a word I’m saying either.
Maybe my appearance is a bit terrifying too.
He scurries past, towing this menagerie of hounds and humans in his wake.
Not a word do they speak.
Enough to make a pilgrim feel right unappreciated.

A day hiker now greets me as he merges from another trail.
“Not far now,” he says. “Just a few hundred yards.”
Patches of snow now nestle in areas the sun seldom reaches.
None on the trail which has now been built up with fine gravel to give a flat, hard surface.
It curves up and around a large snow patch, towards a high point.
This must be the final plod to the top.

I pause at the bottom to let the hiker vacate the slope.
I want to do this on my own.
It’s not a big deal. It just feels right.

I slowly rise up into a busy tarmac plain set between peaks. Its like a large open carpark on which buildings have been plonked. Cars charge, funneling between the two main buildings, flags flutter, the wind is fresher here, people scurry about in their importance. Everywhere is movement.

I step up, out onto the blacktop. Suddenly exhausted, but not done yet.
I recognise the simple, large, multi-story, oblong stone building away to my left as the Hospice.
I walk towards it. I note an overhead walkway leading from one of its upper floors to another similarly sized building across the road.
At last. Under the walkway I see the Hospice entrance.
Up a flight of steep stones steps now and into the warmth
Pushing up those last steps has really made my legs weak.

Inside there is a small reception area and desk.
I drop my pack. Over it I drape my wet coat. A simple chair offers comfort. I droop into its arms. My watch says its taken me 8 hrs to get here. Must be a bit more battered than I thought. People are bustling about, this way and that. This place is noisy busy.
My head nods and my eyes, I’m not stopping them, close in peace.
It’s a gentle shaking that awakens me.
I stand to find a small, black cassocked priest moving in behind the reception desk.
“My son...you are welcome here,” he says. “You require a bed tonight? You have a reservation?”
“Good evening Father. Yes please, a bed tonight, but no, I have no reservation.”
After paying close attention to the screen for a few seconds he shakes his head.
“No reservation! But we are full tonight! We have no more beds! And now it is dark!”
He is saying this, not in way of admonition for my lack of a reservation, but in anguish over his inability to find a bed for me.

"Mate!" I exclaim, "you see that piece of floor down there?" I swing around and point down behind me, to where the cold stone floor runs into the wall.
This quiet, gentle priest gathers up his black cassock in his hands and stretches up, then forward over the counter.
He looks down, his gaze settling where my finger directs.
"That...mate," I continue determinedly, "is where I'm gonna be sleepin tonight.”
I now point to the doorway. “There’s just no way I’m going back out out there cobber!”
Shouldn't really be talking to a man of the cloth like that, but blimey, sometimes a bloke's gotta say, what a blokes gonna do.

“Oh no, no, no,” he cries, “you cannot sleep here on the floor, and you are all wet!”
“Just a little mountain dew Father, nothing for you to trouble yourself over. Right there, in my down sleeping bag, I’ll be as snug as marmot in a mountain burrow.”
I would be too. Oblivious is what I’d be. Shot full of holes I am.
He throws his hands up in the air in exasperation, bids me wait here for further developments, then scurries off about his business, away down the brightly lit, crowded stone passageways.

Gently shaking me awake again he is.
“We have a bed for you! A poor man has been taken to the hospital. You will have his bed. As long as you didn’t come by bus. You didn’t come by bus did you?”
“Do I look like a pilgrim who came in a bus Father?”
“No. And you will come to Holy Mass tomorrow at 10am, won’t you?”
“Of course I will Father. Holy Mass. Wouldn’t miss it for quids.”

I’ve lost track of days. Of course! it’s Saturday night! Getting towards the end of Autumn and everyone is getting in their last weekend mountain hikes before the early winter snows come. That’s why the place is full.
He leads me up a stone stairway and turns down another impressively stone-block tunneled passageway.
The door. He shows me to the very end bed in the dormitory.
Next to a large bay window. Bed with a view from upstairs. Couldn’t be better.
I embarrass him with a one-armed hug as he leaves.
Being too late for pilgrims dinner, he has given me directions to a nearby restaurant.
I’ll pay it a visit after a shower and getting appropriately re-clothed.

And what a fine, beautifully prepared, plated and served, three course dinner it is. The quality is equal to that of a fine French restaurant. Accompanied by two glasses of Burgundy, it has the effect of reconstituting me into a semi-civilised human being again, if I ever was semi-civilised to begin with.

I’m the last to leave the restaurant. I walk out into the darkness.
What strikes me now is the clear, dark night. It’s noticeable how the wind has died, and there are no clouds.
Starry starry night.
There is absolutely no one out and about but me.
I wander quietly out into the dark, away from the buildings.
I finally sit to rest on a mountainside outcrop.

I’m overlooking the little lake that sits up on this quiet mountain plateau. Flooded by moonlight, the surrounding peaks are reflected in the mirror surface of the lake. Overhead, a beautifully bright, star-filled sky completes the quiet panorama.
I stand and look about in an attempt to force myself, mentally as well as physically, to sink into, to become an even deeper part of this stunning environment.

I feel the urge to address my mountain friend again.
“So that was your best shot cobber,” I call.
“Not a bad effort. But I think you pulled a few punches. You can do better. But thank you.”

Us pilgrims. We get to have some pretty good days.
But it’s rare to get a perfect one.

Regards
Gerard

Wikipedia;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_St_Bernard_Pass

Click on the photos to enlarge them.
This first photo, on the right, shows the view from the Italian side.
The Hospice is the building on the right. It is in Switzerland.
To its rear is the valley leading up from Bourg-St-Pierre.

The Italian/Swiss border runs across the lake so the Hospice and associated buildings are in Switzerland.
The buildings at the other end of the lake are in Italy.

Behind them the Via Francigena commences its decent, down into Italy.
It’s 1000km approx from the Great St Bernard Pass to Rome, divided into 45 stages.

Well written Gerard.

Looking forward to hearing more about this trip when we catch up at Southbank. Some time this year I hope.

Ross
 

gerardcarey

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CFx2, CPx1
Gerard,
Thanks for sharing your special memories.
May we all now find the strength to persevere as you did then.
Godspeed and in the truest sense, Ultreia!
Margaret
Margaret,
I think one of the most important lessons pilgrimage has taught me is to persevere, that I can, and therefore will, to the best of my ability.
There is no other option.
Regards
Gerard
 
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JennyH94

Pilgrim in progress
Camino(s) past & future
CF - sections and whole (2012-2019) and part VF (2017)
Wow Gerard - this is another absolute cracker of a tale! Fabulous! It joins in its excellence several of your other stories you’ve shared over the years, all of which I’ve loved. Remember the hiker’s revenge ...!
Cheers from Sydney -
Jenny
 

gerardcarey

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CFx2, CPx1
Well written Gerard.

Looking forward to hearing more about this trip when we catch up at Southbank. Some time this year I hope.

Ross
Hi Rossco!
Look forward to that mate.
I've been thinking of the Plata but too tough for me these days I think.
Then a thought. "What about by bike?"
We'll have a chat mate.
Gerard
 

kmrice

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Santiago - Fisterra 2008
St. Jean Pied de Port - Santiago 2013
Wonderful post, as always. Thanks!
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking..
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
I absolutely love the sporadic writings/musings you share, Gerard, and always affectionately have called them chapters to be included in your "book".😉 I do believe this is the longest one yet! Your words paint a vivid picture in my mind and often have tickled my funny bone!
 

gerardcarey

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CFx2, CPx1
Wow Gerard - this is another absolute cracker of a tale! Fabulous! It joins in its excellence several of your other stories you’ve shared over the years, all of which I’ve loved. Remember the hiker’s revenge ...!
Cheers from Sydney -
Jenny
Thanks Jenny!
I get down to Sydney town occasionally to visit my son, and go to Decathlon!
Next I'll try to coordinate that with a visit to the Sydney Pilgrim's meeting to greet our cockroach cuzzies!
Regards
Gerard
 

Bala

Veteran member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: SJPdP-Burgos, (2015); Burgos-Sarria (2018); Sarria-Santiago (2018).
Frances (2020)
I could visualize the whole day as I read. Wonderful story.
 

JennyH94

Pilgrim in progress
Camino(s) past & future
CF - sections and whole (2012-2019) and part VF (2017)
Thanks Jenny!
I get down to Sydney town occasionally to visit my son, and go to Decathlon!
Next I'll try to coordinate that with a visit to the Sydney Pilgrim's meeting to greet our cockroach cuzzies!
Regards
Gerard
We’d all love to see you at one of the meetings Gerard! In the meantime, how ‘bout joining the Forum Zoom meetings? Last Thursday’s meeting was fantastic - very useful discussion.
Cheers from Cockroach Central! ... Where’s the Mortein when you need it! 😉😎
Jenny
 

gerardcarey

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CFx2, CPx1
Thank you.
I wish I could write a book too!
The prospect is all a bit difficult. Probly because the effort required looks a little overwhelming.
Regards
Gerard
 

Tandem Graham

Every new day an adventure
Camino(s) past & future
Bike: Mont St Michel-SdC. Budapest-Vezelay. Alicante-Burgos
Walk: Le Puy-SJPdP. Dax-(CF)-SdC.
Thanks for sharing this, Gerard. I saw it before but saved it for a time I could read it all.
Gosh sir, you can write!
Graham
 

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