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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

June 9

June 9th, 2016

June 9 Lavorgo to Biasca 25 km


This morning I witnessed something I had never seen. In Nepal, I often encountered woodcutters who not only chopped the trees down with short, curved-bladed axes; they also cut the boards by hand in pit-saws. This morning I watched a helicopter fly back and forth bringing entire cut birch trees suspended on cables to a lumber yard. I have no idea how much an operation like that costs, but the economic differences between alpine Switzerland and Himalayan Nepal are staggering. Hiking in Ticino is different than I expected– not that I am sure what I expected. I guess I thought the Alps would level down after Gotthardo pass into Lugano and perhaps they will, but the past two days have been difficult. The trail usually climbs up on a ridge to pass through those villages I described yesterday, but it also keeps shifting from a narrow paved road to a farm track to a faint line across a pasture, to a steep, uneven rocky path that is difficult to follow. Even reading the finger post signs carefully and consulting th several GPS app/maps on my phone, I made several wrong decisions and had to backtrack. Still, lately the hikes have felt a little too scripted, so this morning as I was climbing a long and deeply switchbacked road up to the Strada Alta, I checked the map and decided it was time for an adventure. Climbing off the southernmost tip of a long road switchback, I struck out into the wild. It was clear as long as I kept heading south and climbing, I would eventually strike the road and the upper town, cutting off a kilometer or two, even if I added time. Early on I found a path, though it was more a game trail than something humans made. At one point a large animal scurried away downhill– no idea what it was, but I kept seeing the symbol on the Bern flag in my mind. I scrambled across rocks, slipped on soft tussocks of dirt, had my share of things slide beneath me, but occasionally found traces of a path, and a quick GPS check showed I was not far from the road in either direction. There were tense moments where a slip would have meant a considerable fall, but I usually found a tree or shrub to grab, and was just glad to be pushing things a little bit instead of following blindly some pre-determined path. After one check of the map, I turned due east, climbing straight up the bank at its most steep, slipping and sliding, but before long came upon a human-made trail which led to the road and the village of Anzonico where I would commence the day’s hike on the Trans-Swiss Trail to Biasca. Apart from a missed turn or two, the rest of the day was a magnificent trek wending its way back to the valley floor through old-growth beech forests which, as readers of this blog well know, is my favorite tree to hike under. Yesterday I was complaining about itching nettles, but today it was all bloody scratches from thorns and rocks, marks of a good risky climb.

T. Hugh Crawford