Hike From Gressan To Pila – Without Oxygen.

Written by on July 8, 2020 in Blog

little pigs in their stone hut on the way up to Pila

The other day Anita and I, together with our friends and neighbours Tom and Lorna, hiked all the way from our homes in Gressan up to Pila. It took us 3 hours 45 minutes and Tom’s gadget recons we did 20,000 steps. Our ‘frazione’ where we started is about 600m above sea level. The arrival station of the Aosta – Pila telecabina is 1800m, so our hike had a ‘dislivelo’ of about 1200m.

Walks close to home in Gressan

Our usual ‘home walk’ is to take one of the many little country roads or farm tracks that leave our village. They wind through the vines and fruit trees along the valley towards the villages of Jovencan and Aymaville. These are mostly flat with the odd short uphill stretch. You can keep going for hours without getting tired out. The views are lovely and it is all very pleasant. If we want a quicker but more physical outing there is the Gargantua hill right behind the house. It can be relatively testing if you choose the steepest route up, but it only takes about 20 minutes from bottom to top.

Gressan view from the walk up to Pila

Poderali & Sentieri

We have made various little forays into the foothills of ‘Pila Mountain’. Venturing along the winding little farm tracks called ‘poderali’ or up some of the steep foot-paths called ‘sentieri’. We never really considered it possible to be able to carry on all the way to the top. Until Anita and her sister Eci miraculously managed it last summer. At least they claim that they did. I was in England at the time and they have no photographic evidence or eye witnesses.

An hour or so’s return trip on the sentieri and your muscles know about it! Both going up (thighs and calves) and coming down (knees). Aerobically for someone like me, mid-fifties, heavy frame, short legs and generally unfit these sentieri, which tend to take the direct route straight up, are brutal. It absolutely amazes me to see hill runners and serious mountain trekkers scoot up them like they were nothing.
On the other hand, the poderali are much more agreeable. Their purpose is to provide access to all of the little ‘podere’, (smallholding) that are dotted about on the mountainside. Therefore they take a winding, round about route and the gradient is much less steep. Walking up them is still quite hard work. But even I usually have just about enough breath to keep up a conversation, albeit while plodding up at a very gentle pace.

Starting point – Frazione Moline, Gressan

Yesterday’s route started off on senterio number 21B which leaves the main Pila road SR40 at the top of Frazione Moline. After a short steep section, you come off the sentiero, join the poderale and basically keep going on that all the rest of the way.

We didn’t really head out with the clear intention of reaching the top. It was more about getting some exercise and enjoying some company after lockdown. Anita and I were also keen to discover the way up from Tom and Lorna who are both very knowledgeable about the area. Not just about the hiking but also the mountain biking and ‘Sci-Alpinismo’ trails all over the Aosta Valley.

I almost left them to it before we had even started. Anita and I were waiting at the bottom of the trail for the others to arrive. I was suddenly hit by the same feeling of unpreparedness and inadequacy that I get during one of my recurring nightmares. The one where I am called up at the last minute to play rugby for England at Twickenham even though I was never any good and haven’t played the game for 25 years.
The conversation and the laughs must have distracted me because before I knew it we had been at it for two and a half hours and had reached the top of the climb that Tom had planned for us. From here he gave us the choice of carrying on up or following another poderale that would take us back down to Gressan.

Are we nearly there yet?

I won’t say I wasn’t tired and very tempted to call it a day. But when he explained that we were only about half an hour from the top I surprised myself by asking if it was alright with them if we continued.

Just like he promised things did get easier. Reaching the end of the climb was a good moment. The forty-minute traverse across the river gorge through the high forest, knowing we were soon going to be arriving was the best bit.

Arrival to Pila at 1200 m altitude

Pila – Made it!

And then we were there in front of the Chiesa di Pesein in Pila. For Tom and Lorna, of course, it was no big deal. They have done it many times and probably in less than half the time. I think Tom has even run up here once.

Probably not such a big deal either for Anita seeing as, apparently, she has also done it before.

From my point of view, I couldn’t believe I had made it. After 10 weeks stuck in the flat during lock-down I had convinced myself that I was no longer going to be capable of doing anything physically demanding. So this was a big relief.

We wandered up to the village to get a coke at the little supermarket. Lorna’s Dad, Ken came and picked us up in the van. We could have walked it back down I am sure but probably better to have saved the knees.

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