Champorcher

Approximate reading time: 3 minutes.

LAst week I was in the Italian Alps enjoying a colourful Autumn and putting my legs through the kind of terrain that I seldom encounter in Cambridgeshire! 

It was a while since I had been to the Canavese region of Piemonte and the Valle d’Aosta, from where half my family originates; a while since I had kicked steps into snow and felt my quads burning so fervently at the unusual strain of uphill propulsion. Strange to hear on this kind of web site I know, but hey, the whole idea is to get out of the armchair and back into a more adventurous outdoor life.  

So one day last week, amid the mists and mellow drizzliness I set off up the Valley of Champorcher, to go to Lago Miserin. It is a lake, situated at 2600m and has a special significance in my love of mountains because my early desires to visit it were thwarted by my parents, due to my being "too young”. Consequently this unassuming mountain lake took on a significance well beyond its modest altitude and indeed the ease of reaching it, coming to symbolise the essence of the unattainable; a holy grail of wild mountain environments.  

Anyway, I subsequently went there a few times but not for a good 10 years at the very least. So, nostalgia having got the better of me, I resolved to walk up there once more.  

After deciding my hire car was not entirely suitable for the dirt track I was rocking and rolling over I parked up and set off up to Dondena on foot. Its a pleasant gradient and I was fortunate to get some sunshine. Beautiful walking. The colors of autumn washed liberally across the landscape with the broadest strokes. Bright yellow larches, bleached, rusty grasses and dark, dank earth, wet from an early snowfall, now melting in the mid morning sun. An constantly changing sky; action, clouds, mist, sun - everything one could want from mother nature’s ample palette.

Lago Miserin

Before long it was tough going in a pair of North Face low cut boots and I soon hit enough snow to put on my gaiters. Then, instead of continuing to head up the valley towards Lago Miserin in the direction of the Finestra di Champorcher, I took a left and headed up Mont Rascias (2784m) which overlooks the lake. I don’t know why. Perhaps a boyish enthusiasm for a clean snow slope. Perhaps it just felt right. It felt as if part of this mini-adventure was going to be to do something different. 

Ultimately about 50m from the top I decided to turn back. The snow was deep and getting wetter and heavier and the mist encroached on my view down the valley. When it came to the level of M. Dondena (2548m) I figured it was time to call it a day. It just felt like I wasn't prepared for these kind of conditions even though the snow was not very deep. I took a long drink and forced myself to eat a peanut bar as fast as the mist rose.

I charged back down, thrashing through the snow; sliding, glissading and occasionally stumbling. I was soon in the mist and next to zero visibility so I retraced my footmarks until the terrain became mixed and the snow gave way to dark rock and earth and I was once again able to pick up the path markers. 

So I failed to reach Lake Miserin, I failed to reach the top of M. Rascias and, despite gaiters, I failed to keep my feet dry but I did succeed in finding something out about myself. When it comes to my enjoyment of the outdoors the journey is much more important than the destination. In a 2.5hr round trip I gained 850m of elevation and covered 12.5km. What I really wanted was not to reach the lake or the summit I had pivoted towards, but rather to revel in the splendour and quiet solitude of the mountains and internal triumph of physical activity.

More photos available on the Armchair Mountaineer Facebook page.