It is difficult to explain my feelings when I woke this morning. Today I would reach the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard, the highest point at 2470 metres on my pilgrimage. It is also close to halfway on my journey to Rome and I will be staying in the hospice that has been welcoming pilgrims for over 1000 years. It is a moment I had dreamt of and planned for these past twelve months.
I joined Jean-Pierre for breakfast at 7.00 am and after collecting a prearranged packed lunch we started, with eager anticipation, the climb to the top. It was a fine warm day with sunshine as we climbed first to the dam of the Lac des Toules where the path followed the edge of the lake. From the lake, the path continues to climb following former mule paths and historic Roman trails. It is spectacular scenery as we walked through steep valleys of Comba Marchanda and Combe des Morts.
I was feeling relaxed when we sat on rocks by the side of the path to enjoy an early lunch break. We watched cyclists toiling up to the pass on the road below and chatted with other walkers who passed by, no pilgrims just day walkers. We were now just 5 kilometres from the summit. We walked on for another 2 kilometres and it was at that point I began to feel the efforts of the past few days. My legs started to waver and I needed regular rest stops to generate leg strength. I was passed by two young male walkers who seemed to float as they easily walked the path. It was tough and I struggled to reach the top, where eventually I joined the road for the final short stretch. Jean-Pierre who had gone ahead was waiting for me and we went to the first bar to celebrate with a glass of cold beer. I looked at my watch, it was 1.30 pm and almost to the hour exactly 47 days since I had started out from Canterbury. Today’s walk of 12 kilometres with a height gain of 1100 metres had taken me 6 hours!
It was much colder at the top just 10 degrees compared with the 25 degrees of the past few days. So donning jackets for the first time since the rain in France we made our way to the hospice to check in for our night’s stay. We were welcomed and directed to the dining room where we were given a hot pot of tea and after, shown to our sleeping quarters, dormitories with bunk beds. Later after settling in we went to explore and in the evening we joined the service for Mass before joining other walkers and pilgrims for supper in the dining room. It was a very convivial evening and for the first time since leaving England, I met another English walker, Ann, who was starting her walk to Rome from the Great Saint Bernard pass.