Day 40: Bourg-Saint-Pierre

Number of kilometres today: 14.3

Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 1,035.9

Total steps since Canterbury:  1,467,926

Every night for the past week I have been studying the weather forecasts, knowing that inclement weather could stop me walking over the Great Saint Bernard Pass.  A week ago it looked like it would be sunny.  A few days ago they indicated the possibility of snow.  None of the forecasts ever really agreed.

Leaving Orsieres this morning in sunshine, I knew that rain and snow were both highly probable.  The rain started 30 minutes after I left as I walked up into the hills, first as light showers and increasing with intensity as the day went on.  The rain didn't bother me today.  Mainly because there was little wind but also because I was surrounded by such beauty.  Eventually the trail founds it way away from the highway and its noise and I walked through the forest glorious in its Autumn dress; dark green, lemon, rust, honeyed apricots, dry gold and red, silent and still except for the river bubbling along its rocky bed.

I ate my lunch in a type of chapel or memorial, round but covered with half brick-walls.  It provided shelter from the rain and a light breeze.  After stopping for 15 minutes, I was keen to start walking again as the cold bit my fingers and nose and infiltrated my bones.  I put on my polar-fleece gloves and neck gaitor and started marching up the gentle hill to try and get warm again quickly.  It took thirty minutes.  In the meantime, my nose actually went numb and my fingertips ached.

Forty minutes outside of Bourg-Saint-Pierre, I paused under a tree to shelter from the rain and to try and take a photo of the forest, to remember how beautiful the colours were.  The rain was so consistent today I couldn't take my camera out to take many photos.  I watched as the rain began to soften and fall more slowly to the ground. So pretty. Then I realised, it wasn't rain.  It was snow.  It had actually started to snow.

I can count the number of times I have been to the snow on one hand.  I was mesmerised.  Watching the snowflakes, that I could actually focus on and see individually, float to the ground was hypnotic.  I was standing in my own real life snow dome in the Autumn forest I had all to myself.

As I walked, the snow shower became heavier.  The ground and the trees and me became blanketed in a layer of white and visibility decreased.  As I walked up the winding road into Bourg-Saint-Pierre, I could barely see with all the snow flying into my eyes. I walked along the main street trying to find my hotel.  I took shelter under the eave of a nearby house and checked the address on my email.  A man driving past pulled over to help me and ended up driving me to my hotel up on the main main road not the village main road. I was very grateful.

The hotel owner told me that 30 centimetres of snow is forecast tomorrow, that walking is non possibile, to take the bus.  I have studied the weather forecasts, my guidebook for an alternative route and sought the advice of others, hoping to find a way to walk the Great Saint Bernard pass.  I am only 11.6 kilometres away, around 4 or 5 hours walk.  I am so close yet so far.

As I studied the options, I watched the snow outside my window.  It fell consistently for 2.5 hours and when it eventually stopped and the clouds cleared I was completely surprised by the scenery it had blocked from my view; opposite my hotel is the steep mountain of fir trees covered in snow.  It hasn't snowed again but I watched as the clouds repeatedly swept over the mountain completely obscuring them from view and eventually clearing to reveal them once more.

The weather is a force far more powerful than I.  I am no mountaineer with experience to understand the weather or how to read the snow on the ground and know which way to step.  Tonight, I am accepting that I probably won't be able to walk the Great Saint Bernard Pass, that I will probably catch a bus to Etroubles which is at a lower altitude from where I can continue walking unhindered by snow.  

There is part of me that is sad and disappointed.  If I cannot walk it, it feels like there is a gap in my pilgrimage, that I have failed in my mission to walk all the way from Canterbury to Rome.  But there's also a wiser part of me that reminds me it is the journey that is important and not the places that I pass through.  That how I manage uncertainties and challenges and how I respond to the unexpected situations that arise on the path is what is important. That from time to time, pilgrims of old would have taken other means of transportation too.

Today, I stood mesmerisd in a forest of red and gold and dark green and honeyed apricots and rust as the snow began to fall and blanket everything around soft white.  I witnessed the sacred. For that, I'll give Great Saint Bernard up.

The view outside my hotel window in Orsieres this morning.

River running through the middle of Orsieres

Ascending the hill just outside of Orsieres

This was at 11am just as it started to rain.  The timing was accurate except I took a lunch break and then kept stopping to adjust Kermit and when I was mesmerised by the snow.

A little house near Fornex

Climbing above valleys and clouds

The return to hillside narrow tracks.

And more obstacles today.  I had to take off The Devil, push it through the trees and then climb through myself.

I was able to walk under this one.

More narrow tracks with steep drop offs

Mountain river

And a bridge to cross it

It was just a reservoir but I loved the colour of the water in contrast to the bright red bench seat

It started to snow

And eveything was blanketed white, even me.

View from my hotel in Bourg-Saint-Pierre