As I had the joy of receiving my first visitor a few weeks ago, I ended up looking for an option to do a short side trip out of the city. I had been itching to get out into the outliers of the Alps, and this proved the perfect excuse.
After asking my colleagues for advice, I settled on a trip to the Susa valley, just a short train ride away, to visit the Sacra di San Michele. Featured in many guidebooks and websites about the area, the church is a fortress high up on a rocky outcrop, with stunning views. There are three ways up to the top, one from the east, one from the west, and one from the north (these are rough directions). The assent from the east and west are rather relaxed, with good paths through lush forests. Although the path is steep enough to make you sweat, it is very easy to read, generally cobbled or obviously cut through the forest. The guides all say that the walk will take around an hour and forty minutes to get to the top, but we set off at a breath-taking pace and were looking out across the valleys within one hour.
It was a good way to spend a Sunday morning, but I was a little disappointed that it was not as strenuous as I had expected. The fact that I perceived it as being manageable, gave me the confidence to look at the northern route. This route is special- it’s a Via Ferrata. After our amazing experience on the ‘Henchelstiege’ in the Saxon Alps, I had eagerly saved some pocket money to buy myself a real Via Ferrata set. Now, kitted out and ready, I attacked my first route. Solo.
Two days after my first “summiting” of the mountain via the eastern slope, I was back at the bottom, looking up at the distant church on the hilltop. I attracted a small group of onlookers as I left the ground in the late afternoon sun- a quick trip after work, I told myself. The route, split into three sections with two escape routes and the final descent, was described as varied and challenging on the forums, mostly because it was so long, with 600 meters of ascent. The thing which worried me the most was that the most conservative time estimate I had seen was 5 hours. If that was correct, I wouldn’t even be at the top before nightfall.
I reassured myself that I would make an escape route long before that, and headed off. I have to admit, the Via Ferrata packed all the excitement the walk did not. Although again it was very easy climbing (in fact I labelled many of the sections ‘scrambling’ in my mind) it was exposed and therefore offered brilliant views. Not only did I get to spend several (three, rather than five) hours on the rock face, I also got to cross a massive cable bridge, hang off the side of an overhang with nothing beneath me for several meters, and have a stand-off with a chamois. (A chamois is a fancy name for a goat like animal. This one spotted me and stared for several minutes, watching me as I got out my phone to take a picture, and then strolled off in the opposite direction.)
I arrived at the top exhausted from the heat and thankful that I knew that the next water fountain was only a few minutes cool descent away. There was a large feeling of accomplishment while I once again enjoyed the views of the imposing building and the distant city in the valley below. It was incredible to me that all of this was an hour from my doorstep. Tired, happy, and deeply thankful for this life, I set off downhill at a trot with two goals: get water and make the next train home.
This is definitely a walk I would recommend to anyone in the area. Information for the non-via Ferrata routes can be found on San Michele’s website. For Via Ferrata information I used a translated version of: http://www.altox.it/ValsusaFerrate/sacra.htm . Hourly trains leave Porta Nuova for San Ambrogio or Chiusa di San Michele.