A sudden ending to the TMR!

Breaking news: the TMR is no more! Unfortunately we have had to cancel the tour as the conditions are just not appropriate this early in the season and we’ve had some extreme experiences… We’re all safe and sitting in a town called Macugnaga (Northern Italy) planning what to do next. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’ll describe it from the beginning…

So yesterday at around lunchtime we were planning to take a car for some of us, and a train for some others, but we got a bit carried away at our delicious italian lunch and were quite rushed, so made the decision to drive to the mountains, and luckily Luca’s mum drove 3 of us the whole way up! The two cars met up briefly on the motorway and we were on our way! After a very sleepy drive to Alagna we separated the communal goods into our backpacks and we were off! We hiked into the forest for two hours and started cooking while setting up tents- had some delicious sausages with pasta and we were feeling good! We happened to set up our stove next to a putrefying frog but otherwise it was perfect. Off to sleep at 10pm and we set our alarms for 4am. We had set up camp on a path but luckily it was really flat and we had no incidents, and we woke up at 4am (in the pitch black!) to begin our long day. After a quick breakfast and packing up our things we set off. It was a beautiful morning and we were making good time on the way up, and the sun came up at about 6am. There was a bit of snow towards the peak of Colle del Turlo, but we took it slowly and made it to the Colle at 10:30am.

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We were all pretty chuffed with ourselves…until…

We got down to the North side of the peak (heading down towards Macugnaga) and there was a HUGE amount of snow awaiting us. It was incredibly steep and had a lot of blind turns. It was still a nice sunny day so we decided to head down…by sliding! We actually slid on our bums for most of the descent- with Alan going first to scout out the routes. It kind of felt like a freezing, dangerous, uncontrollable waterslide. At first this was great fun, however as we went down the snow became thinner, and rocks became apparent under the snow. We had to slow down a LOT as this happened because we were worried about hitting a rock beneath us. This slowed us down loads, especially as some of us have little experience on snow and were very nervous. We stopped for a delicious lunch of cured meats, cheese and italian bread, which lifted the spirits for a while.

For the second half of the descent we were essentially crawling on hands and knees, making really bad time, and slipping every few steps. This was a big problem as there are thunderstorms in the alps (almost) every day from about 2pm onwards. We had tried to set off early so that we couldn’t be stuck in any storms but due to the delay we were still stuck descending on the icey snow when the clouds started closing in.

At one point Alan took Alice down in a ‘human sled’ formation (Alan first, with Alice sliding down behind him holding on to his back), but as they neared the bottom of the slope they noticed a big gulley that they were heading towards, so braked suddenly, but in the panic Alan’s bag tumbled loose and fell directly into the gulley! Slowly the rest of us came down to their level, and then we set to the task of whether or not to rescue Alan’s bag. It was approx 3m down a dark hole, couldn’t be reached by hiking poles, and had a lot of important equipment in it. Slowly we decided to risk it and try to rescue the bag. Alan and Aisling went to the edge of the ledge and Alan sloooowly climbed into the hole (we made sure he was well wrapped up first!) and managed to rescue it! But then…. He threw it up and out of the hole and it landed directly in the next gulley! We couldn’t believe it… Anyway he managed to get it out easily enough and we set off.

But next thing, there was a rumble of thunder and the visibility turned to nothing. It was time to run!! This was the most terrifying part of the day. We knew that we were well off the path (there was no path visible under the snow) and we could barely see 5 metres in front of us so we tried to run forwards without slipping, while the rain changed to hailstones, and we called out to each other between claps of thunder about which direction to head… It was a disaster- We were soaked and terrified and had no clue where we were going… We knew there were sheer cliffs to the left but towards the right there was an incline, and if we were to head up there we would have been more exposed to lightning. As a result we tried to head forwards- fast- to try to find a way off. We contoured around the cliffs, blinking through the rain, and the snow underneath our feet changed to heather, and snow, and back to heather again. It was really slippy and we were all quite shaky, so it was a really unpleasant way to hike.

After what seemed like hours (probably 30 mins overall) the thunder seemed to be further away, and a few minutes later the clouds began to lift. We contoured further and finally found the path, delighted. We were soaked to the skin and still had hours left to walk…. Anyway we passed down by some biouvacs, and climbed through a couple of waterfalls (one of which was so torrential that Alan had to stand calf-deep in the water to help some of us across). After a horrendously long descent along wet zig-zags, we got slower and slower and had to redistribute weight as we weren’t all able to descend at the same speed and we were still in danger of thunderstorms.

Eventually we made it to the floor of the valley- wet, cold, hungry and sore. We found a place to camp after a while and we began to set up (in the rain), until a farmer came along to shout to us (in italian) that his herd of cows would be coming through the meadow at 11pm and again at 6am so we decided to relocate! We moved to another patch and set up our tents. Unfortunately at this point all sleeping bags and clothes were drenched and showed no signs of drying… Also our plan had been to continue on to the town of Macugnaga to buy food, but the town was two hours away and it was starting to get dark. Luckily we had brought some ’emergency frankfurters’ (a tradition of ours which has served us well in the past) and we were able to have two frankfurters each, to tide us through until morning.

We slept badly due to the cold, and the wetness of our sleeping bags/clothes. However we were all exhausted after our THIRTEEN and a half hour hike and we slept until 7:30 this morning (having gone to sleep at 21:00 last night) even with thunderstorms outside. We had a very leisurely breakfast (of a few handfuls of dry cereal) and didn’t set off until 3 hours after getting up. Reflecting on last night we all agreed that we were so luckily nobody had been injured. We discussed the whole trip and concluded that the skill set of the group was just not up to scratch for these conditions; some of us would have been ok to continue but all together we couldn’t risk it.

We walked through the valley towards Macugnaga and relaxed by a couple of lakes. The glacier rivers are really blue and clear (but have 10 times the iron level that is acceptable, and the pH is two units below legal levels, along with a high level of bacteria growth, according to a sign we passed!) and we got the chance to enjoy the forests as we walked.

Nearing Macugnaga we were getting extremely hungry so we agreed to ask the first local we met where we should go. The first local we met owned a restaurant and actually took great care of us. It was the restaurant of Hotel Flora, and he created a set lunch of MANY types of meats and cheese for us, followed by pasta, for just 15euro each. As we ate we began chatting, and we explained our situation. He described a group of Americans that had set off on the next stage that morning, and we realised that they were the same ones that had passed us on the snow the day before! This ‘other Luca’ of the hotel offered to ring the cable car for us to see if they would let us go up early in the morning (it technically doesn’t open until next weekend) which would mean that we could take the cable car up and take our time descending on the other side, but as the lunch progressed it turned out that the Americans had done the same, and two of them had just had to turn back as conditions were so bad up there- apparently worse than the day before!! That was that then: the end of the Tour.

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We sat for a while at lunch discussing possibilities for what was to happen next. In the short term, we agreed to camp in Macugnaga (tonight anyway) and figure out what to do next. We ended up sitting at the Hotel Flora for 4 hours chatting and playing cards while we waited out the thunderstorms overhead. When the skies cleared for a period we set up camp behind the graveyard of the town (thanks to a local tip we found a perfect place) which is where I’m posting this from. We were able to buy some basic groceries and have a beer/hot chocolate in the town, and we’re all set for a nice loop walk in the morning. It’s still 1000m ascent but it’s well below the snowline so were hoping not to have any problems. Our main priority for tomorrow is to be back at 6 for the Italy match 😉

Alarms are set for 5:30am, and we’ll decide what happens next tomorrow afternoon! Looks like we’ll stay here for a while, we’ve picked out a few ‘easier’ routes, and then might have to head back to Milan early, but we’ll be sure to update the blog with our plans.

So far it’s been a beautiful but treacherous hike: the scenery is incredible and the locals are so friendly, but we’re now scared of every cloud that we see forming. We’re all covered in blisters and mosquito bites but otherwise well and happy!

Happy hiking!

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3 responses to “A sudden ending to the TMR!

  1. David here. Wow ! What an experience. Certainly one to remember. Stay safe and enjoy what are your well deserved holidays.

  2. Hate to say it but I think you ve made the right decision, exciting as it may have been!! Thank God you are all safe and that’s the main thing. Now will you take it easier please and give us at home less to worry about !!
    Keep us posted anyway.

  3. Gilbert Fagan

    Delighted all are safe and sound. No chance of life becoming a bore for you guys. At least you will have a great story for your grandchildren, unlike me. Enjoy your adjusted itinerary. As for me, my limits will be a walk in the Phoenix Park on a nice warm dry day at a maximum altitude of two meters. Take good carre of yourselves. Regards to all! Gilbert

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