Day 62 / Rifugio Campo Base-Salso Moréno

After a night in the architecturally rather strange Rifugio Campo Base (it used to be some sort of military facility) today I left Italy again, probably (really) for the last time. I wouldn’t have minded spending some more time in the Valle Maira, though; it was really very pretty there, with small blue lakes and high towering rock crags. But I want to get to Nice to finally give my body and above all my one aching leg a rest.

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Valle Maira in the morning

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Back in France: view to the Val Fouranne

The weather has been strange for a few days now; sunny during the days, but never really warm, and always a strong wind blowing. Perhaps this is a sign of the nearing autumn. With a fierce and chilly northwesterly wind in my face, I entered France around noon via the 2631m high Col du Boeuf. Through the lovely landscape in the Val Fouranne I entered the Mercantour National Park. And finally, in the early evening, with the Pas de la Cavale (2671m) I crossed the second col of the day, and on the south side found a place to spend the night on a meadow at around 2100m (with the strange, not French-sounding name Campo Moréno) by a stream. I hope the night won’t be too cold or windy in my tent.

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In the Val Fouranne

I will admit that I had hoped vainly to be able to see the Mediterranean Sea from the top of the second pass; alas it wasn’t to be seen yet. The coast is probably still about 80 km away as the crow flies, and there is at least one mountain range blocking the view, as I now realise. But it’s all downhill from here; tomorrow I will be able to begin following the river Tinée which flows into the sea not far from Nice.

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View south from the Pas de la Cavale; sadly no sea, but my campsite in view (at the bottom of the meadow)

Gear check: clothing

What does one wear on a trip like this? I was surprised to find just how much clothing is a major weight factor; one could easily carry 5 kg of clothing, and still not feel certain of having enough. So it was important for me to be very economical and take as little as possible while still staying warm and dry. (The downside of having very few clothes, of course, is a lot of time spent hand-washing them in the sink, which really is annoying after a while.)

The principal idea while doing any alpine sport is to dress in cumulative layers; the Germans call this the “onion principle” (Zwiebelprinzip). As a bottom/base layer I have two shirts for different weather, one long-sleeve and one without sleeves; three underpants; and only one pair of trousers, warm enough for chilly days, and to roll up as quasi-shorts if it gets too hot. All of these are made from synthetic materials, not cotton, because they dry faster and (apparently) are less likely to smell.

I have only one mid-layer item, a fluffy jacket with synthetic stuffing. It’s very comfortable to wear, but I’ve found it’s too warm to use while hiking or even to wear in the sleeping bag on all but the coldest nights. Probably a fleece would have done it.

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Flaunting the Haglöfs jacket at 3300 metres

Finally there is the top layer, consisting of a waterproof and wind-resistant Gore Tex jacket (by the company Haglöfs; a great buy) and waterproof rain trousers which can be unzipped all the way up to the hips for easy taking on and off.

Perhaps all that is relatively self-explanatory; but, in hiking, what’s most important of all? The feet. For socks, I bought three different pairs made from a wool-synthetic fibre mix, which is much better than other materials as regards comfort and smell. The wool has (surprisingly) never felt too warm. I can only stress this: if you’re going on a multi-day hike, buy hiking socks, don’t wear your standard cotton tennis socks unless you want horrible blisters and horrible stench.

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The Nordisk down shoes; great, except for the water issue…

In the evenings of course I don’t want to remain in my sweaty things, or my hiking boots. So I have one set of “indoor” clothes (jogging trousers and a t-shirt). For my feet I bought down-filled slippers to keep me warm on cold nights in the tent, and to wear instead of the standard slippers you find in the refuges (which hundreds of people have already had their sweaty feet in…). The down shoes are ultra-light, look pretty cool and are nice and warm, but there is one thing I don’t understand, and which reduces their usefulness: why didn’t the producer make their bottoms waterproof?? It would have been so easy to do, and would make them much much better in the damp grass and in wet communal bathrooms!

Have a very nice day,
Phil

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