“The wondrous Vale / Of Chamouny stretched far below, and soon / With its dumb cataracts and streams of ice, / A motionless array of mighty waves, / Five rivers broad and vast, made rich amends, / And reconciled us to realities.” –William Wordsworth, in The Prelude
Earlier this week, I returned from an eight-day adventure retracing the footsteps of poet William Wordsworth from Chamonix, France to Como, Italy. The next several posts will be devoted to this journey, which involved walking many miles, bivouacking in a forest, hitching a ride with an old lady in Sion, and sleeping with mice in an attic, among other adventures and misadventures. The point of it all was to walk, as Wordsworth did with his friend Robert Jones in 1790, and learn from Nature the “plain and universal reason of mankind, the truths of young and old.” Wordsworth wrote about his journey to the Alps and the grand ideas it produced in his autobiographical poem, The Prelude (1850). I can’t say that I had such lofty revelations as those along the way, but I did have some deep thoughts and a lot of fun, too.
On Sunday afternoon, I started the walk right from my front door in Chamonix. Within a few hours, I had reached the town of Le Tour and was tempted to hop on the Col de Baume lift, which would have—in a flash—taken me to the top of a great hill:
I resisted. Honestly. Instead of taking the lift (which wasn’t there 200 years ago when Wordsworth came to the area), I continued walking up, up, up until I reached the top of the Col de Baume and had this view looking back on Chamonix (Mont Blanc is the white blob in the center of the photo):
At this point, I’ve already crossed a border, and I had this steep descent into Switzerland in front of me:
This is the Alps, right? So as soon as I descended, I had to climb up yet another high pass, the Col de la Forclaz. I snacked at a hotel at the top of the col and watched cyclists buzz by, as the Tour de France stage ended in nearby Verbier that day. From the top of the col, I had a view of my destination–Martigny, a big town near the France-Switzerland border:
Here is where I made my first route-finding error. Instead of just bombing down this big hill, I traversed along the mountainside, and it took forever. So I didn’t make it all the way to Martigny that night, and I ended up sleeping in the woods. I carried a bivouac sac and sleeping bag with me, so I just plopped my sleep gear down on a bed of pine needles and slept for the night. In the morning, I woke with a start to the sound of a barking dog. Evidently, someone’s vicious sheep dog didn’t like the smell of me so nearby…
Note: this post is one in a series of posts about my recent attempt to retrace William Wordsworth’s footsteps from Chamonix, France to Como, Italy on the walking holiday the poet took with his friend Robert Jones in 1790.