As day one drifted into days two and three, we crossed from France into Italy, over the Col de la Seigne, a crested hilltop long an ancient gateway for shepherds to the Aosta Valley. The southern aspect of Mont Blanc and its fraternity of Italian-set buttresses and peaks – Punta Baretti, Picco Luigi Amedeo, the Grand Pilier d’Angle – were spectacular, and had him reminiscing over a glass of wine in the resort of Courmayeur on our third night. Never one with words, he was hard-pushed to explain why these landscapes meant so much to him. Words failed and he shook his head as if to free a lost memory.
The days passed and began to take on a predictable rhythm, the path carrying us ever forward. We rose late, left later (stalled by having to medicate my dad with a daily dose of pills), stopped for lunch then enjoyed a beer on the back of a farmer’s wagon. Finally, after some 20km of up and downhill slog, we’d reach our stop for the night, long after everyone else, but just before stillness descended upon the valley.
“Wait for your old man,” he’d sigh, struggling to catch his breath. “We’ll get there eventually.” And yet this ticking time bomb soldiered on. The base-camp beard and summit gleam from the 1960s had disappeared, but the smile stayed put.