By Nyx Martinez
Learning how to parent involves remembering how to get back to the basics.
What are the basics? Joy in simple pleasures. Wonder in everyday matters. Childlike happiness.
And “happiness”, as I’ve learned from my own children, is not about expensive toys or gadgets. Happiness could be taking long walks together, hiking in the summer sun. Could be, enjoying the kiss of nature rushing towards you in a strong north wind, nearly knocking you over, and then laughing about how your hair is all blown about.
Today, for these two, happiness is rock climbing. Free, unfettered, following their dad’s lead. Happiness is mom letting them go ahead and wade in an ice cold river.
If the best things in life are free, it’s especially true out here. No “entry fee” to enjoy the wonderful world of the Val Masino.
Connecting Eastern Switzerland with Northern Italy is a glorious chain of mountains called the Bernina Alps. Covered with snow and glaciers, they create a unique, otherworldly panorama.
At the foot of their southern slopes sits the Mello Valley, or Val di Mello. It is one of the three small valleys in Val Masino, the others being Valle di Preda Rossa, and Valle dei Bagni. The Nature Reserve of Val di Mello is the largest protected area of Lombardy, and is especially known for its impressive natural rock structures and boulders (blocco in Italian).
“It’s like stepping into another world,” we marveled, hiking up the paths leading through mini-boulders, caves and crags.
Rain threatened to fall, but the day’s fog created a mystical, magical feeling. We passed friendly farmers, tending their fields while sheep grazed nearby. Rivers flowed alongside us, and above, the Alps towered majestically. Clouds sliced through their midst, but the sun still shone and so we kept on walking, and climbing…
But how did all these gigantic boulders lining the path get here?
“They were left behind by retreating glaciers,” explains Andrea Pavan in his book, Mello Boulder. An excellent source of information with maps, categorized boulders and explanations from pros who first scaled the terrain, this is the book to travel with if you’re headed here.
Rockfalls led to the formation of huge boulders which had to wait thousands of years before being considered for climbing. The Valmasino, originally known only for its shepherds and farmers, became a destination for tourists and mountaineers from 1800 onwards.
Today, those impressive granite rocks attract climbers from all over the world. Especially during the spring and early autumn months, they gather here for the Mello Blocco or Bouldering Festival.
Being the ever-protective mom, I wasn’t so sure about the children scrambling up sharp cliffs like mountain goats…until we went a little further and found a whole camp of climbers.
These folks held babies in slings, and a group of young children splashed in the nearby spring. Pet dogs kept watch. Both fathers and mothers were attached to harnesses and scaling the side of a completely vertical boulder. There was something unusually refreshing about this scene: young parents enjoying their sport, while kids gathered around at the cliff base.
I’m not a mountain climber myself; not sporty or that adventurous. But showing my own children what’s possible out in nature, bringing them into these beautiful open spaces is teaching them to care about the world, without even saying so. They see it, feel it, and learn to love it.
And that, for me, is one of the basics of life. Feeling responsible to tend the earth, because you know its beauty.
“All travellers who find themselves at Morbegno should give a few hours to the Val Masino… From the rugged peaks and ridges that bound the valley on each side there have fallen fragments of granite, that, exceeding 100 feet in height, are scattered about in wild confusion. We were unanimously of opinion that no valley with which we are acquainted surpasses the Val Masino in grandeur and in variety of natural beauty.” —Edward Shirley Kennedy, The Alpine Journal, 1862
(More photographs of my little ones being brave. The son is 5, daughter 2 years old…)
Tip: Don’t attempt to climb the boulders without a crashpad. These can be rented at in Val Masino at Fiorelli Sport or at Centro Polifunzionale della Montagna in Filorera: http://www.centrodellamontagna.it/ For the price of just 8 euros a day, it’s well worth its safety factor.
Best times for Bouldering: May to September
How to get there: Drive or fly to Milan, then take the train to Morbegno in the Lombardy region. From there, get on a bus to San Martino, the nearest commune to the protected parks.
Stay: Around the area, you’ll find an array of hotels and BnB’s for various budgets.
Tourism Information: www.valmasino-online.eu
More on the Bouldering in Val Masino: http://www.melloblocco.it/en/