The only difference between Lockdown Life and Groundhog Day seems to be that the scene outside has changed.
In the film, actor Bill Murray’s window opened daily on the same snowy landscape, although he was not in isolation. For us, seventy-two days into lockdown, the Alpine scenery has moved decisively from winter to spring. Even the thick snow on Moos, the piste opposite our apartment, has almost disappeared.
Nevertheless, we have seen virtually no-one and have not always been able to get out. Today, both Mark and I were feeling emotionally drained.
It is hard to understand why, when we are comfortable, safe and in such a lovely place, but a beautiful prison is a prison nevertheless.
With uncertainty still hanging over our travel plans, we have committed to stay in the apartment until the end of June; four months after our itchy feet had urged us to leave. I guess we’re just not very good at being confined.
I lived in the house in which I was born in until I left for university at seventeen. When I met Mark at thirty-five, I had moved house twenty two times, and lived all over the UK. Twenty-two moves in eighteen years. I just have a restless nature!
Since 4th May, when lockdown in Italy was relaxed enough to allow us to walk, the weather has been mixed and the forecasts contradictory. Naturally, we have done what any self-respecting windsurfers would do and chose to believe the best one.
On such a beautiful day, we decided that the best therapy to appease our vagabond cravings was to get high.
In November, before the winter snows came, we did a very pretty, circular walk to the chapel of St Anna. At 2,178 metres (7,145 feet), the chapel nestles beneath the imposing, double peak of the Rothorn and offers a commanding, panoramic view of the Lys valley. St Anna and her husband, Joachim, are celebrated as the grandparents of Jesus.
When it is open, in fewer than two minutes, the Staffal to St Anna cable car will whisk you to within a short walk of the chapel and the adjacent carved, wooden statue of the saint. May is closed season anyway; Monte Rosa opens for the summer from mid-June to the end of August. Regardless of lockdown, at this time of year, we would have been forced to make the ascent under our own steam.
We set out up ‘the zig zag’ – one of our stalwart walks, which starts right next door to the apartment at the Oagre Chapel in Staffal, dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows.
In summer, the zig zag is a rough, forest road. In winter, it is a ski run; a quiet alternative to the main piste into Staffal. It is fine for Winter Walkies, so long as you avoid the busiest times, such as weekends and the finishing-times of ski school, when crowds of out-of-control children come pelting down, cooing at the dogs!
It is a challenging climb of 328 metres (1,076 feet), but always pretty. Now that spring has arrived, the snow-muffled silence is replaced with birdsong, the rush of waterfalls and the vibrant colours of woodland flowers.
Our ascent treated us to perfect views of the route that we had taken a few days before on our 8,000ft Walkies to the Sorgenti del Lys – The Sources of the Lys.
Today, the towering peaks of the Monte Rosa massif were almost free of cloud and in full view. The backdrop of the rounded, eastern peak of Lyskamm, rising to 4,527 metres (14,852 feet), made our breathless ascent to 2,400 metres (nearly 8,000 feet) look puny and insignificant! Lyskamm is not even the tallest peak on the massif; that honour goes to Dufourspitze at 4,624 metres (15,203 feet.)
The Alpine meadows at the top were alive with wild flowers; yellow Alpine anenomes and the purple trumpets of gentians. Forget-me-nots, speedwell and other tiny flowers littered the grass.
At the top, we had a change of plan. Rather than turn left for the chapel, we decided to go somewhere new and climbed to the Rifugio on Alpe Sitten. From there, we could determine whether the route to Laghetti Salero – the Salero Lakes was free of snow, so that we could walk there another day.
Our climb was rewarded. As Mark quietly beckoned me upwards to view a herd of stambecchi – Alpine ibex, a marmot ran across our field of view. Then, we got our second ever sighting of a rare, bearded vulture – il gipeto, soaring through the valley, searching for bones to break open on the rocks.
At this point, we realised that our numbers were depleted. Lani and Lampo, our little Italian pal, who follows us on most of our walks, were nowhere to be seen. When we caught sight of them, they were both miles away and miles below, chasing who-knows-what on the meadow in front of the cable car. We sat for a while to give their little legs a rest after they galloped up the steep hill to join us!
We descended a little way down via the black ski run, Nera, from Rifugio Sitten. After the initial slope, the piste turns sharply left. There, the very steep, north-facing gulley still retained a slippery covering of snow. For safety, we crossed off piste to re-join the track, which had been our route of ascent.
When Mark and I finally sat down with a cuppa back at the apartment, our spirits felt lifted. We had chosen the correct weather forecast and had succeeded in getting high.
Recently, we have seen marmots and ibex on most of our walks. If Groundhog Day means repeated sightings of glorious scenery and rare wildlife, perhaps we should not complain.
Fresh air and the beauty of nature is good for the soul, and a quick change of altitude never hurts.
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