Monday, June 19, 2006

MONDAY, JUNE 19: DAY FOUR - La Douay to Gr S Bernado 28Kms

MONDAY, JUNE 19: DAY FIVE - La Douay to Gr S Bernado 28Kms
I was a gibbering idiot this morning. All the diaries we've read tell about the extreme gradients climbing up to the pass. I had nightmares that it would be like yesterday - terrifying scrambles up rocky paths, clinging onto metal chains perched above precipice gorges, but although it was exceptionally steep - 1:2 in places - the paths were much better today. If anyone reading this is afraid of doing the St Bernard’s Pass bit, don’t be. It was much better than yesterday – honest!
We sorted more items from our packs into carry bags for Rayna to take to the Hospice in the bus so that our loads wouldn’t be too heavy. We started at 680m climbing straight up above the La Douay railway line, passing wooden shrines representing the 16 Stations of the Cross. For obvious reasons we didn’t complain about dragging our packs and ourselves up the hill! For the next 24kms we climbed and climbed, sometimes on gravel paths, wide moraine-stone heaps and landslide piles; sometimes on forest tracks, across rickety bridges spanning raging rivers and waterfalls. The scenery was spectacular and the closer we got to the higher peaks, the thicker the snow was on the sides on the path and in the gulleys. Marion took strain today, the steepness of the terrain getting to her. At one stage stopped and said to me “Sil – I am stuffed!”
We passed the old St Bernard Hospice a few hundred metres below the new one and stood on the hard snow singing. The road was only cleared of snow and opened on 14th June and huge, solid banks of snow still lie on either side. We had downloaded bits of other pilgrim’s diaries on this section and every one spoke of huge changes in the weather as they neared the top – ‘swirling mists” “driving rain” “huge drop in temperature” “strong gusty wind”. We were blessed with clear calm skies and bright sunshine the whole way. There was a lot of water rushing down with many small waterfalls and rivers where we could collect water for our bottles. The wild flowers here are all tiny – indicative of the altitude – with white star daisies (Edelweiss?) blue gentians, yellow milkwort and many others all attracting scores of butterflies.
The path we were on disappeared under a high bank of solid snow carved out of melting water gushing underneath making it treacherous to continue so we clambered up onto the road and the last 4km was on the twisting tarred road, hairpin bends - rising from 2000m to 2475m at the top. When I saw the Hospice complex I blew my whistle to let the others know that we had arrived. I was SO proud of us - especially of Marion - that I felt quite emotional. We had made it! For months we have been talking about crossing the Alps – like Hannibal and his elephants, like Napoleon and his 40 000 troops – and here we were – triumphant at the top of the pass with no back up, no porters, no mules to carry us up!! Val will tell you about our reception at the Hospice.
We met three pilgrims in the Hospice dining room – a German fellow covered in tattoos who was sleeping in the same dorm as us and who will be walking to Ivrea, and a couple from Brazil who are walking to Rome. Val went to have a shower and came back rather ashen faced. "There is a MAN in our bathroom!" she said, "And ... he is covered in tattoos. Just hope he isn't sleeping in our room." With that in walked Bernd - the German fellow we'd met at dinner. And yep, he was sleeping in the room with us, but we knew that 5 against 1 were good odds so we tucked our precious bags next to our pillows and crashed.

Marion: I knew that it would be a difficult day for me because of the height that we would have to climb - I always have trouble breathing going up extremely steep climbs. I knew that I would have to dig deep – “BUT” I never realised just how deep I needed to dig. I found the 11 ½ hours extremely gruelling and a few times thought I could not go on. Even though it was such a difficult day for me the scenery was magnificent and I am so proud of myself for making it to the Hospice. I am ever so thankful for such wonderful friends that pulled me through the day.
At first it felt a bit strange to me that we would be sharing our dorm with a stranger – “a male”. By the time I went to bed I was so tired that it never bothered me at all.

Val: On the first day I lost my hat and stick, and Kathy, ever the girl guide fashioned one out of a branch. I was so thankful for that stick yesterday and Rayna kindly gave me hers today. However just a third of the way into our journey we came across a row of sticks outside a cottage, made from old broom sticks, bamboo and metal piping with an honesty box! We purchased a few sticks and continued on our Trek as the Swiss do using two sticks.
We overdosed on magnificent scenery today, mountains that would make "Table Mountain" envious. I do hope that the Swiss appreciate their beautiful country. Everywhere is picture perfect and you can't help sometimes feeling that you are in a scene from the "Stepford Wives".
After 11plus hours we arrived at Gr St Bernard Hospice, dead on our feet and somewhat dehydrated as we had to rely on streams for water as it was impossible to carry sufficient for the day. Before we knew what was happening we were ushered down the stairs to "Evening Mass" and the four of us were swaying ready to collapse. Silvia sat down on a chair and put her head on her arms as she was feeling faint. People looked at her with understanding, thinking that she was overcome with emotion. We got the giggles and also had to close our eyes and bend our heads! We were able to excuse ourselves within half an hour and were given a welcome cup of tea. Then the bell rang and we had to go to dinner.

Kathy: Passed some very crosspatch, mean looking bulls with nasty horns on the way up - and they didn't look like they were very happy with us in their turf. These
big bulls are sometimes used as fighting bulls (2 bulls fighting each other) and look a little like buffaloes. Anyway - there was Sil in a red shirt shouting “Ole! Ole!” Kathy shouting “Voetsak”, all of us squealing like girls, and Val at the ready with her pepper spray. The bulls beautifully adorned with wide leather neckstraps and cow/bull bells, decided to move off a little and we passed safely.
On the way out of Orsieres, Silvia had her whole fist sucked by a calf so we decided to say hello too. Also messed around in the snow singing:
♫ We feel good, like we knew we would.
We feel good, like good pilgrims should♫

We had a great giggle that lifted our spirits.

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