Sometimes you just know what you should be doing. Though we thought last weekend was our last chance for awhile to head to the mountains, when our plans fell through this weekend we didn’t hesitate to create new ones. While our original plans seemed sloppily stitched together, our alternative seemed already planned for us.
Friday after work threw bags, boots and beer in the car and took off to Lecco to pick up a friend and car pool to Valtellina. Our friend had a baita tucked up in those mountains and we had enough food and time to enjoy it!
As we drove farther north we drove farther above sea level. The smell of the mountain air replaced the smell of Milan’s smog as we drove past each little town, getting closer and closer to our weekend.
In Ohio my summer escape was a cabin nestled in the woods or a cottage overlooking a lake. I took the freedom of the forest for granted, diving off of a pontoon boat and scarfing down hastily-made sandwiches for lunch. Living in big cities I missed the feeling of grass on my bare feet or the change of the leaves during autumn. Marco’s escape was the mountains. Growing up surrounded by the Alps, they are a looming giant sorely missed while on the road. The smell of summer is the smell of escape, freedom, outdoors. For decades American’s boxed in during the week by cement city walls spent the weekends in the country, on a family camping trip or at a friends cottage or beach house. Outdoorsmen like John Muir or Thoreau claimed that immersing ourselves in nature was necessary for our survival as humans, and a definite necessity for our mental health.
We met our friend and all piled in to his Panda (small but mighty) up a rustic
death road until we finally made it to the Baita.
Raising cattle and goats is an important industry in Valtellina, and most Alpine towns, and the meat and cheese from the region is especially prized. We immediately opened up the cabin and started the grill. Actually, it was a pioda, or a sort of firestone used to cook outdoors. Either way I was camping with three boys and the amount of food brought to be grilled on anything that would get hot enough was enough to feed a small battalion.
With no electricity and no neighbors in the cabins nearby the night was a great retreat.
Saturday afternoon we all headed back down the mountain to Sondrio, the closest city. From there Marco and I headed to Morbegno to take the San Marco’s pass to Piazzatorre.
Most of my experiences of Italian mountains are in the Bergamo Alps, also known in Italian as the Orobie. They form part of the Central Eastern Alps in northern Lombardia, above the city of Bergamo. Sunday we were finally able to take that hike we had planned and chose to do one in Val Brembana, an enormous green valley above Bergamo that connects many of the small towns in the Bergamo Alps and also links to Valtellina by the San Marco pass. Our hike was the Benigni, that is, the hike that leads to rifugio Benigni about 7,300 feet above sea level (2,222 meters). We started from Piani dell’Avaro in Cusio and did an ascent of about 2,300 feet (722 meters).
Though I typically feel like I miiiiiight die when I go hiking, this time I was in better shape and able to really enjoy my surroundings. Climbing on the side of a deep valley blanketed in green grass and random rocks, we saw groundhogs, mountain goats and dozens of different species of mountain wildflowers. The best part though? Climbing this channel:
The worst part? Getting to the top of the channel and realizing you have a steep 10 minutes more to do until you get to the rifugio. ugh.
With aching feet, hamstrings and a headache (altitude and potentially remnants of my hangover from the day before) we drove home exhausted but satisfied.
“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ― John Muir