Walking On Solid Ground

Walking On Solid Ground

Author – Paul James Hay

I’ve just picked some Rosemary from the front garden of the secret lake house; I’m making a pasta sauce.
Zillah loves the front garden; it’s where the Sun lay upon in the afternoon. I believe it’s a novelty for a city dog to have this lush green grass, three ancient spruce trees, rhododendrons and bougainvillaea for days, not to mention the abundance of spring flowers that I’ve only seen in Italy. Zillah loves watching the butterflies flitting about the flowers. The air is fragrant with spring, and it’s sublime!
Every now and then, Zilly walks over to the goats in the neighbour’s yard for a catch-up. There is a very friendly male goat with big horns who loves a good scratch on the nose. His goat wife is quite cranky and often head-butts the man living next door while he tends to their yard. But this morning, I realised why she had a baby over the weekend while I was away on the mountain. A glorious, joyful and gallant little thing with skinny legs who loves to frolic, buck and jump about. Zillah seems to be very fond of the goat family, and I watch her fascination with them with great endearment.
I feel pretty peaceful this evening; I’ve tried very hard to ignore my phone today. This part of the trip is the vacation. I have five days, that’s all I get from three years of working non-stop, and I intend to embrace it to the best of my ability! But it’s hard to disconnect when you run your own business, anyways…
My feet, particularly the right one due to a server case of plantar fasciitis, both legs and shoulders, are all destroyed from the two-day hike. This morning, I just managed to get out of bed and make it to the sofa where I have laid all day stretching intermediately, a sight to behold, I assure you.
I don’t know where to start telling the story, so I will just tell it the way it was and go back to where it all began. In the late 90s, I was living and working in Milan; on a clear day, you could look down Corso Venezia and see the Alps. I was always fascinated by the Alps; perhaps it’s because I’m Australian and our mountains are munchkins in comparison. On my second or third trip living in Milan, it was late spring, maybe 1998… I felt it was time to be standing amongst those stunning mountains. I vividly recall it to be a Saturday morning; I woke up very early and took myself to centrale station. I asked the Biglette lady, “I want to go to the mountains” (in woeful Italian) … somehow, she understood and put me on a train bound for Domodossola.
It took about an hour northwest of Milan. I got off the train in Domodossola as instructed, and I walked up the mountain; about 6 hours later, I was at hotel Pace, asking for a room in the small village of Bognanco. The following morning I walked up to the top of the mountain, and I cried. That’s where the Love Affair for this part of Italy began. Over the years, I have brought some of my dearest friends here, some extraordinary memories made on the Mountain “Pizzo Straciugo”. But it’s very dear to me alone as I somehow found it, born from my adventurous heart and determined spirit. So welcome to Pizzo Straciugo, one of my sacred places in the Pennine Alps.
I set out on Saturday morning just past and made the ascent of Pizzo Straciugo, 2,713 m, with the love of God, Zillah, and I made it! It was perhaps the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’m not the young man I was back in the 90s or the 2000s; I am a chubby old fart with a very heavy CameraBag within a Mamiya 645 and the Canon R5 and lens for both cameras…. dog food, human food, film, charging cables, clothes, first aid kit, 3L of water.. etc. Anyways, it was fucking tuff, but we made it. This is a really personal and memorable series of photos to me; I hope you enjoy it!

I always start the hike at the top of the village of Bognanco, in the Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, with an elevation of 980 m. There is a conservative clearing in the forest with a simple sign with an arrow under San Bernardo. This is always where I start.





After about 4 hours of forest assent, the terrain changes to a more gnarly pine tree rocky situation. Amazing colours and textures. At this point, I could feel the skin separating from my ankles. Zillah led me the rest of the way, never getting too far ahead without looking back to see if I was ok.





When I reached Lago Ragozza the weather changed, and I was starting to get a bit worried. It was getting late, and I knew I had a few hours to go. At this stage, every part of me was in agony, and I focused more on the walk rather than taking photos.

As I pushed through the last climb, I needed to find all the strength in me to make it up that rocky pass. I can not articulate how relieved and overjoyed I was to see the refuge. Tears rolled down my face; we did it; I made it.

Rifugio Gattascosa is just below the sumit of Cima Verosso 2444m. For a half pension overnight stay, it cost 48 euros with Dinner and Breakfast included. No extra for Zillah, but drinks are on top. It’s run by a lovely lady, Graziella, who lives up there with her dog Zoe. Rifugio Gattascosa , there was no running water in May as the pipes are frozen, so there were no showers, flushing toilets etc. 

At this stage of the day, I was just so happy to be drinking a cold beer and taking in the view while reliving what I had just achieved. The following photos were taken before I took my tortured body top bed for a very needed recovery sleep. 

A black and white to commemorate my thought on Ansel Adams and his brilliance and make the end of day one. Also a side note that I shot 3 rolls of Kodak Ektar on the 645 that evening and the following morning.

I woke up early as always, took Zillah out for a walk and the mountain was covered in fog. Graziella heard me outside will Zillah and fixed me some breakfast.


Eventually, the fog lifted; I repacked my gear and left what I could behind to lighten my load. Said my farewell to Graziella and Zoe. Graziella was elated as the water ran from the taps for the first time this year. You could feel her relief and what a game-changer it was to her; perhaps it marked the beginning of summer. For Zillah and I, it was time to push on to Camoscellahorn 2,612 m.




And that was that … now it’s time for me to rest and recover.
Thanks for coming along the ride; I hope you enjoyed it as much as Zillah and I did.
Day one, 8.37 hours ascend
Day two, 9.23 hours descend
31km walked.


We hear you like what you´re reading - sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on the newest articles.

In order to optimize our website for you and to be able to continuously improve it, we use cookies. By continuing to use the website, you agree to the use of cookies. Further information on cookies can be found in our privacy policy.