Italy's mountains are generously covered with mountain huts; some offer food and lodging, others just food. Alpe Campo, one of the closest to the town Alagna in Northern Italy's Valsesia region, falls into the latter.
However, when I called to make sure they were still open for the season, I was told I was welcome to stay over as it was just me and Tala. I discovered the building houses the manager and has one extra room. I still took my tent because sleeping out in nature is a very special experience.
I followed the trail No. 9, easily marked but not the easiest walk as it was constantly uphill. It's maintained by the Alpine Club, CAI, and they placed rocks to simulate stairs. I'm really not sure if that makes an uphill climb any easier. And I am certain it is harder on tired legs and knees on the way down. Anyway, one step at a time and I arrived at Alpe Campo.
When the cluster of "huts" came into view, I stopped to catch my breath because it just doesn't look good to arrive huffing and puffing. What did I learn from the Italians? Image is everything. No wait, pure vanity taught me that a long time ago but the Italians have made it into an art.
At the stairs, I was greeted by the manager Gilberto who had been sitting with his friends on a corner of the patio that looked over the valley. As you can see, it was warm enough even for October, to be half naked. They offered me prosecco and cake while I relaxed at an adjoining table but other than a short conversation, I didn't join in their discussion of their early morning trek to rock climb one of the tall nearby peaks.
Tala the in-indefatigable dog was off searching for an appropriate site for my tent and put in dibs for a spot near the water. I agreed it was a good place and we were set for the night. Gilberto invited me to have dinner in the hut as (as he put it...) "he has to make something for himself anyway".
I spent the next few hours in the company of another soul who also embraces the solitude of mountains. His dream had been to restore the mountain home and with the help of a few friends, a helicopter service and a lot of time, the hut was finished. It became a part of the CAI and he began maintaining it for hikers, hunters and anyone passing by. He transformed a boggy piece of land into a lake and soon after, the inhabitants of Alagna watched in bewilderment as a small boat passed over their heads and disappeared into the hills.
The morning after, my first view out the tent window was of mountain majesty and after a few photos, I headed to the hut for coffee. I learned that Gilberto's mother had passed away that night and he was closing up to head into town. I was sorry for his loss, but in some circumstances, death is sometimes a release and this was the case for both him and his mother. On a personal level, this news meant no lunch so I was forced to stay only as long as my salami and cheese lasted in my tummy.
By 2pm, I was back on the trail and heading home - where I proved that stairs are more painful for already tired and sore muscles.