Leaving Martigny Bourg was the the start of the assault! Following the guidebooks advice I caught the train from the next village for the 10 kms of dodgy path. Dodgy, because it was advised that one needed to be agile, and by no stretch of the imagination can I be said to be that, especially at present! I arrived in Sanbrancher to a race of some sort. I say of some sort, because people were obviously running, though many had walking poles with them.
This village, and most of the villages to come, were examples of very old Swiss villages. Here again I got lost. Again not because of the guide, but because there was a barrier across the path. My translation of what the sign said was something along the lines of "do not enter here, on pain of torture!" Obviously I didn't want that, and so I retraced my steps and went up the mountain to another village. Only to find that I was further away from Orsieres than I was originally! The road was exceedingly quiet, and so when a car came along I put the thumb out and got a lift down the mountain. My driver was very keen to tell me that there was bus to Liddes if I wanted to catch it. More fool me - I should have taken the advice!
The narrow path which changed from this ......
I crossed Alpine pasture .....
...... and raging mountain streams!
On the last 4 kms climb!
I have arrived!
Looking at the Hospice from the Italian border.
Most of the guests had walked from the start of the tunnel, though Matilde, Michael and their little 2 year old Charlotte, had driven as far as the second air chimney for the tunnel and parked there. During the rest day I had at the hospice there were people coming and going all day. Some passing through on their way down the other side, and some who had just walked from the tunnel to come up to the Hopsice, have lunch or a cuppa and go back down. It was in the aftenoon that I saw another (Texan) pilgrim - Steve Cooper. We chatted for a while sharing our experiences, and when he gave me his card I realised why I recognized his name. He is the authour of "Six Months Walking the Wilds (of Western Europe)". He was quite surprised that not only had I read it, but owned a copy which was loaned out regularly!
I only went outside to take a few photos, but the beauty of the place is extraordinary. The surrounding mountins were covered in snow, and in fact the main entrance to the hopsice is on the first story, because in the winter the ground floor is covered in snow. There is a lake in front of the hopsice, most of it still frozen, and the road form the hospice to the Italian border was still blocked by snow. There was a hive of activity about the place though as this weekend (June 2nd) the road is open for cars, and so the workers were out in force clearing the road, and replacing windows in the restaurant and hotel etc - all of which close for the winter period. The people who live in the hospice live there all through the winter, just on the off chance that they are visited by cross country skiers etc. The only way in and out is by ski or, I guess these days in an emergency, helicopter.
Napoleon ordered that a tombstone be built for his friend General Desaix, who was killed in one of the battles, and he chose to desginate "as its guardians the friars of St Bernard". This tombstone was carted to the pass by mule carts "each cart being trained by 30 mules"! The manager of this event said that the road was "only 2, 3, 4 or 5 feet large, and it had slopes of 45 degrees, coasting frightful precipes". This tombstone resides in the foyer of the hospice, along with a massive granite plaque - and a lovely grandfather clock!
About to begin the descent. The beanie an jacket soon came off and the sun hat on! I had to walk/ stumble through the snow on my Left side (that's where the road is) for about 500 metres, sometime sinking into it up to my knees and once faling over - quite tricky getting up as there is nothing hard to push against!
Just because I was over the border the snow didn't vanish!
Eventually though the grass started to appearand the mountains grew more distant.
That descent has left me with aches and pains in muscles I didn't know I had! It took less than half the time to get down the same distance that it had to get up, though I had just as many stops to admire the view - of where I had been, and where I was going! It was when I got half way down the mountain and found that my knee was too sore, that I decided to hitch to Aosta where I have been for the last 2 days. I have to give my knee and foot time to heal properly and so I am going to have to bus it for a few days, otherwise I will not be able to keep up with Carol and Elizabeth when they arrive!