TRAILS TO FREEDOM
Thursday 20th to Friday 28th August 2015

This extraordinary nine day hike combines breath-taking scenery, enchanting towns, challenging walks and delicious food with the fascinating story of four young men who crossed the Italian Alps to freedom in the Second World War.

On the 4th of October, 1943, four young Australian soldiers crossed the Italian border at the Monte Moro Pass and into Switzerland, ending a three week odyssey that had started in a Fascist prison camp on the Po Plain near Biella in Piedmont (north of Turin).  It had taken the soldiers across the Italian Alps, walking nearly one hundred kilometres of trails, crossing five mountains passes, climbing over five thousand metres and skirting around Mt Rosa (the second highest mountain in the Alps).  The route they took followed a network of medieval paths that had been re-opened by partisans, which the locals called the 'sentieri della liberta' or the trails to freedom. 

Based on several years' research, this magnificent hike follows the same route, starting in Biella and finishing on Mt Moro.  It passes through some of the most spectacular scenery in the European Alps, staying in a mixture of hotels (at the beginning and end); pilgrim monasteries and mountain huts along the way (see below for details).  It will also includes two side trips, via cable car, up to the mountain peaks (including to the base of Mt Rosa at 3600 mts) to enjoy the breathtaking views and hearty mountain lunches before returning to the valleys.

Although we will walk through uncontaminated mountain landscapes, this is an ancient land: traders, pilgrims and graziers have been passing through here for millennia, in fact since before the Bronze Age.  While the trails are well-marked and no technical skills are required, this is a challenging hike (definitely not a 'walk') which requires very a good level of health and fitness (medical certification will be required before joining the tour).  The group will be a maximum of 12 guests and will be lead by Simon Tancred and a certified local alpine guide.

THE WALKS
The trails are well-marked, starting with a pilgrim route that takes us up into the hills above Biella in northern Piedmont before picking up sections of two long distance trails: the Grande Traversata degli Alpi and the final section of the Tour de Mt Rosa (TMR) which will take us to the Swiss border. 

In raw figures, this walk is comparable to the Kokoda track: 96 kms length with an accumulated ascent of 5000 mts (but without the mud and leeches and better food!)  A large part of the route follows ancient pack routes, variously narrow, wide, cobbled and paved.  You will cross some long stretches of skree and boulders, so you'll need to be sure-footed and fit. Technically the route is simple, however, you will be required to climb more than a thousand metres on several days and you will be crossing high altitude country where weather conditions can change dramatically so you will require a high level of fitness.  You must also be prepared to walk in all conditions rain, hale or shine! This is a Grade 5 walk.

THE FOOD
The walk passes through the region of Piemonte (Piedmont), home of the Slow Food movement and one of Italy's premier food and wine regions, so, although sometimes simple, the food on the tour will always be local, hearty and delicious.  Dinner each night will consist of three courses: a first course which may consist of risotto, ravioli or polenta; mains such as veal or rabbit stew; and a desserts such as bonet (a thick chocolate pudding) or a slice of excellent mature local cheese, chased down with coffee and/or a shot of grappa.  Wine with the meals is included.  Our accommodation will also prepare a cut lunch for us for the next day's walk.

THE EQUIPMENT & SAFETY
Because several of the legs do not have car access, you will need to carry your own gear for the week.  We will provide you with a comprehensive (and proscriptive) list of what is required (nothing more and nothing less!).  The first requirement is a good quality 40 litre backpack.  The total loaded weight should be no more than 12 kilos.  (The rest of our luggage will be stored in Biella during the walk and then will be waiting for us in Macugnaga at the end of the walk.)

As mentioned, the trail is well maintained, well-marked and there will be other people walking the route, however, the trail does pass through long stretches of uninhabited land at high altitude where the weather can change quickly so safety is a priority.  

The main safety requirements are a high level of fitness and common sense.  You will be required to carry a smart phone with a Telecom Italia SIM card (there is almost 100% coverage on the walk) and a fully charged lithium battery (which is sufficient to independently charge your phone throughout the week) as well as other more traditional safety items.  We will be accompanied by a certified mountain guide and there is a very experienced mountain rescue service that can send in qualified mountaineers and helicopters, if needed.

The equipment and safety

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