“…from the Vallais we had turned, and clomb / Along the Simplon’s steep and rugged road, / Following a band of muleteers, we reached / A halting-place, where all together took / Their noon-tide meal.” –William Wordsworth, in The Prelude (1850)
Day 4: The Simplon Pass. This 33-kilometer path runs from Brig, Switzerland, over the top of the Simplon Pass, and through the Gondo Gorge to the little town of Gondo on the Swiss-Italian border. Wordsworth’s account of his Simplon Pass crossing is one of the most widely anthologized portions of his long autobiographical poem, The Prelude. It’s like Wordsworth has all of these expectations about how spectacular it will be to cross the Alps, and he has been anticipating crossing this pass for his entire journey. But he and his buddy Robert Jones lose their way, and because of the drizzly skies and otherwise misty, foggy conditions, they are a bit disoriented and don’t know where they are. So they cross the Alps without knowing it, and when a peasant confirms this, Wordsworth is bummed out in a major way. He launches into this heady reflection on the power of Imagination to shape our hopes and desires (“Imagination—here the Power so called / Through sad incompetence of human speech…”). This is all in The Prelude’s Book Sixth, if you want to read more; in fact, here’s a link to The Prelude on Bartleby.com, in case you want to read the whole poem (it’s really long).
Anyhow, that is the context for this portion of the journey. I woke up early in Brig and was nervous about whether or not I’d be able to do the entire distance in one day. The weather looked unsettled, and I found that I had lots of companions on the trail this day:
The lower reaches of the trail—officially called the “Stockalperweg”—cross over brilliant alpine streams and through pastures. Cows, horses, and sheep were on the trail. Multi-colored alpine flowers were all over the place.
By the time I was mid-way up the pass, it started to rain, so my summit view wasn’t too exciting. At the suggestion of a friend who had done some climbing in the Himalaya, I carried an umbrella, and was thankful for having done so:
Just beyond the summit, I came upon the Alter Spittal, which is the place where Wordsworth and Jones rested and ate their “noon-tide meal.” This is where the pair got separated from their guide (also pictured top, right):
A few hours of winding through alpine pastures and little hobbit villages later, I came upon the entrance to the Gondo Gorge, which is one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever walked through. In some places, the gorge is only about fifty yards wide, and the footpath winds over, under, and around the road on suspended bridges. A raging stream crashes and tumbles along below.
One of the wackiest portions of this path actually went through Fort Gondo. I was scared to walk through this tight and dark tunnel, so I jogged it. I didn’t quite know what I was going through until I reached the exit and saw a huge military gun still set up for show purposes. Upon stepping outside the tunnel, I realized that at one point in history, the entire distance of this fort would have been armed with massive cannons aimed directly at the Italian border. Go Swiss Army.
After ten and a half hours of walking, I stumbled into the town of Gondo and spotted the Stockalperturm, which is the place where Wordsworth stayed the night more than 200 years ago:
When Wordsworth stayed here, this lodge was simply called the Stockalper, and it was more of a bare-bones traveler’s lodge. Today, the place has been renovated, and it is simply gorgeous inside. I stayed in one of the bunk-style dormitory beds, but there are also private rooms, and today’s Stockalperturm has an impressive gastro menu. I didn’t think twice about feasting heartily to celebrate such a brilliant day.
Check out today’s Stockalperturm at http://www.stockalperturm.ch/ (site is in German, but you’ll get the idea).
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.