Day 51 / Bivacco Tzan-Lignan

From Breuil-Cervinia I’ve headed through the mountains towards the town of Aosta. After a night in the tiny unmanned Bivacco Tzan, together with three nice, young (well, my age) Italian trekkers, in the morning I just crossed the 3000-metre mark, climbing to the top of a mountain called Cima Bianca (3009m). Sadly, the sky was mostly cloudy, but still the view was nice enough.

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View to Cima Bianca from the south, in the afternoon

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At the top of Cima Bianca

From there, it was just a steep descent into the very picturesque Valle di St. Barthélemy, which I followed southward in the afternoon. In the sunny, panoramic village of Lignan, where I found a youth hostel, I decided to call it a day, and actually spend some time in the sun, reading and relaxing.

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The village of Lignan, in the nicest location imaginable, high above the Aosta valley

Gear check: boots

I’m continuing my occasional review of the gear items I’ve taken along on this trek today with another fundamental piece of equipment: the shoes. Sadly this is a negative review.

For this long-distance trek I bought myself a new pair of boots from the renowned Italian manufacturer Scarpa. When I bought them (the model is called Scarpa Rebel GTX) I was happy to have found just the right ones: sturdy yet light mountaineering boots, solid enough for light climbing but soft enough for walking distances. Not an easy mixture of demands for any manufacturer to meet, I will admit, but the Italian mountaineering equipment manufacturer Scarpa has an excellent reputation, and the boots weren’t cheap.

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The boots after exactly 31 days of trekking; notice the improvised fix with a cable tie.

Waking in these boots, as such, was fine. No mountain boot can comfortably do miles and miles of asphalt roads, as I have had to do sometimes, but the pain was bearable. The blisters I suffered at the beginning of this trek were entirely my own fault (I put in an extra inlay stole, which I thought would be good cushioning, but disastrously pushed my heel too far up in the shaft). The temperature regulation and perspiration permeability of the boots was good; I rarely had sweaty feet. The boots (at first) offered good grip and stability on tricky trails. BUT: the durability of these boots has been abysmal. Within four weeks they were junk. I believe, despite the distance, the demands I’ve put on them were fairly light (I only attached crampons twice; no rock climbing; mostly just going along roads and normal trails). The quality of the product overall has been an immense disappointment. Expensive boots are the sort of equipment you have to be able to rely on; yet I couldn’t.

After just a few days, still in Slovenia, the membrane netting on the left boot began to show signs of wear in one small place; this hole grew bigger and began to let water in. Josef Hotter, the Zillertal cobbler, fixed this very well. Then, on the 21st day, the real fall from grace: doing up the laces in the morning, one of the lace-attaching loops on the right boot ripped, making it impossible to tie the boot tightly (and making any more technical activities like light climbing difficult or dangerous). Some of the other loops also showed serious signs of wear and tear, and broke soon. In total, within four weeks, five (!) out of the twelve lace loops ripped. Why the manufacturer used thin synthetic bands for lace attachments, instead of metal attachments or grommets, I don’t understand. Perhaps it saves a few grams of weight, but clearly this has come at the expense of durability and reliability.

On day 21 I called up the manufacturer, Scarpa, to discuss the problem directly; they said the only way they could do anything is if I send in the boots so they can decide whether to repair our replace them. So what should I have done; sit around for a week and wait? Worst of all, after five weeks, the sole was completely worn down. I was slipping and sliding around, for lack of grip. As the pictures show, the front and the back had become round, whereas there should in fact be a stiff corner for good grip.

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Hardly any sole left

In the end, after exactly 31 days of trekking, I bought a new pair of boots and sent this one home. The employees at the shop where I bought the new boots were amazed, and held a little salespeople “conference” to study this artifact; they were puzzled how 5 weeks of use could destroy a boot so much. At the Globetrotter outfitter store in Frankfurt, my money was returned without any fuss – excellent customer service; thank you.

In sum, the Scarpa Rebel GTX is not a boot that I would recommend anyone. And I am amazed that such a famous brand would produce such a poor shoe. As for the new ones, which are Meindl boots: I will review them nearer to the end of the trek.

PS: All this, by the way, is because I sadly can’t wear the full leather boots which I bought just last year. They were amazing; but it turns out I’m highly allergic to the chemicals which are most commonly used in tanning. So: if you can wear leather, and are getting into serious mountain sports, I would recommend the full-leather, oldschool “Meindl Perfekt”; a boot built to last a lifetime. (Anyone want my barely-used pair of size 42’s?)

Phil

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