We’ve come to the point where the game gets serious. We’ve done some beautiful hikes, we’ve had fun, we’ve discovered our limits, and we’ve tried to overcome them.
It’s been great. But now something is changing.
The upcoming outings are those that, for many reasons, will mark the turning point in the M4810 journey. With the Red Week approaching, we get closer to two of the most challenging hikes that this group will face in 2019 – the Petit Mont Blanc and the Vallée Blanche. They will be decisive in evaluating who will continue this adventure towards its heights and who will continue tackling it at lower altitudes.
The challenges of both groups will be ambitious, and change will be equally important to both.
But those who will decide to go all the way – all the way up, that is – those who will take on the Mont Blanc, will need to make some important decisions in the upcoming weeks. And, in one way or another, the next couple of outings will be enough to tip the scale for many people.
We all have our eyes on the challenges that Red Week will present, on the questions we’ll have to ask and the answers that we’ll have to find. Maybe this is why the Grigna didn’t seem like such a hard test.
At its 2400 metres, the Brioschi hut - our destination on this new day of hiking and of change - didn’t set off any alarms.
Neither did the words whispered as we crossed the towns of the Lecco region by car to get to the Colle del Balisio: “We’ve got 1600 metres to climb”.
Another thing that we’re discovering more and more on this journey, as much in the mountains as in change, is the concept of relativity.
The relativity of distance, when you see the hut in the distance and ask yourself how long it will take you to cover what seems like not such a big distance.
The relativity of fatigue, when at a certain point the path seems to finally level and you think the worst is over. But you’re always wrong.
But also the relativity of our own limits, which seem to be clearly defined when seen up close. But that move as soon as they’re touched.
We learn more about life than about hiking. And, as usual, the mountains are ready to teach us in the toughest of ways.
We take off in a group of fifteen – less than usual, but all very motivated. This is helped by the fact that it’s our first time hiking with our new technical support: our Garmin watches, which will help us track our expedition and the changes that it brings in a practical way.
The day promises to be a beautiful one – the first of sun and warmth after a sad, rainy May. We’re also joined by two representatives from the WWF to launch our beautiful collaboration with them as partners.
We climb through forests of beech and birch, fox footprints and curious groundhog heads – all unique elements of this environment that our new friends point out to us.
We climb and it almost seems like we can’t feel the fatigue. The path winds towards the mountains but, between one chat and another, a photo and a sign indicating the wild locals of the mountains, the hours and the kilometres pass.
The Brioschi hut is within sight. It’s little more than a point on top of the mountain, but that is enough to make our objective concrete. We push our legs a bit more. And another bit more.
But the path persists. We continue relentlessly climbing towards the top. Our legs start to give in and the breath we’ve been using on our chats runs out, silence falling among us.
The initial excitement slowly turns to exhaustion.
A sense of inadequacy in face of the size of the challenge fogs up like the low clouds that begin to surround us.
Some of us are even taken over by frustration: “How is this possible? After all the runs, the training, the effort, how is it possible that I can’t do this?”
Some feel discouraged: “I think this will just be my Mont Blanc.”
Others simply stay quiet and pale.
But for everyone, the bearable limit turns out to be just a few kilometres in the distance.
A small bivouac shelter in the rock, barely more than an awning. There is little distance to go, much less than to the hut. A good part of the group sees it as their own final destination, as the final push within their limits. It’s like a thick red line, drawn in the ground with the words “I can’t go beyond this” written above it.
They’re weird, these limits. They work in an almost elastic way. Like a mirage whose transience you can only understand when you get close.
They live in our heads more than in our legs or lungs.
Then there’s another question, that of knowing when we should go beyond them and when we shouldn’t. But that’s another story…
The fact is that we got ourselves to the shelter. Tired team members fall onto the rocks, their hands reaching for energy bars and Salewa water bottles. I have the feeling that if they weren’t made of such light aluminum, we probably couldn’t even have picked them up given how tired we were.
A group of people who want to go back down is starting to take form when something happens.
I’m not sure exactly what it is, no one really does.
Maybe it was looking at the peak, seeing how the same path that made us struggle now bends before us, winding down, almost flat, nearly all the way up to the hut.
Maybe it’s because breaks are an essential psychological element in the achievement of any kind of undertaking.
It’s also the stimulus of the group, that ancient force that is passed on among individuals that are brought together by a common goal.
The fact remains that something happens. In just a few seconds, while no one has a clear understanding of this dynamic, we get up and we all start walking towards the peak again.
It’s an incredible thing to recount, and even more incredible to experience.
We start walking again, and again we encounter the concept of relativity. This time relative to the idea of “almost flat”. Actually, the final stretch is a vertical climb, one of those climbs that makes you regret your brave decision to take it on. The only consolation is the incredible view on the Lecco side of Lake Como, which also acts as an excuse to sit down to take photos every once in a while.
The final effort. Step – breathe, step – breathe, step…
The steps of the hut seem like they may be the last thing we touch before passing out, but we make it. Here we are: 2410 metres high after climbing 1600 of them – 337 floors according to Garmin, and many legs that at this point we can barely feel. But we made it!
The issue is that the concept of “arrival” is another relative thing. Because it’s followed by the return.
1600 metres of climbing actually translate to 3200 total metres, and often the descent is worse than the climb. It’s during the descent that we feel mental and physical fatigue most. And even those steps that going up seem easy – that almost fly by – seem endless when done coming back down.
After what seems like an infinite amount of time that each one of us spends moving at their own pace - whether surprising themselves of what they’re able to do or swearing that they’ll never do it again - we find ourselves back in the valley. In front of the beer of victory, one of the moments every hiker craves for.
The debrief begins. Each person gives their feedback: a word, a phrase.
Someone chooses “awareness”, someone else chooses “limit”; to be recognised and to be overcome. Some express surprise, others silence – the silence that fell in the moment of maximum concentration.
For me, as you probably imagined, the word was “relativity”. Everyone has their own.
More than anything else, this is the moment for everyone to ask themselves the big questions. And, in no time, we will have to find the right answers.