Up high

A leisurely sleep in and I awoke to a beautiful day on Saturday. Again, blue, sunny skies and not a trace of cloud. This will only last for one more day, so after breakfast I laced up my trusty boots and set out for the Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi

Good thing I didn’t try to stay there, because when I reached it after a steep climb it is completely closed. But the view was fantastic and I could see L’Aquila, Assergi and the entire Campo Imperatore at my feet. Because it is right there I quickly climbed Mt Portella, an easy peak to bag at 2385m.

From there I worked my way to the saddle with Mt Aquila and bagged a few unnamed tops on the way. More out of necessity than peak bagging desires: the track is snowed under in places and in trying to cross one it became so perilous that I abandoned that idea and retraced my steps, climbed higher and instead opted for the ridge line to get to the saddle. This is not the place to get myself into trouble.

It also showed why there is no way that Corno Grande can be climbed at this time of the year unless you are equipped with trekking poles, crampons and ice axe and have done it before. This is tricky terrain.

When I got to the saddle, I eyed off Mt Aquila. It didn’t look like a difficult climb, but it is a way up still and the descent will be hard on my knees. Looking at the descent ahead me I knew the wiser option is to forego the peak and make sure my knees are strong and steady for a slippery traverse through snowfields down the side of a steep mountain.

Safely back at the hotel I ensconced myself on the terrace with laptop and book and basked in the sun. The afternoon got exciting when a helicopter flew in offerring sightseeing flights. It being Saturday there are quite a few people visiting; a lot of people on motor bikes, out for a ride, and others by car. They do a bit of business, flying in and out until they finally depart towards 5pm.

And so we get to today, Sunday. After checking out of the hotel I was hoping to take the cable car down to Fonte Cerreto, to save my knees on a steep descent. But in typical Italian fashion there is no one there and after waiting for quite a while with the weather gradually closing in, I decide I better make a move and walk down the mountain instead of waiting around for something that might never happen.

The track is a steep zigzag down the mountainside, but I take it slow. Only during the latter part do I slip a few times on the gravel. Obviously the muscles are getting tired. I reach Fonte Cerreto in an hour and forty minutes, which is not bad going when you consider I’ve descended a 1000 vertical metres.

As I write this the clouds are rolling down the mountains quickly and it won’t be long before  it will rain. I’m glad to have a roof over my head for the night. If it’s really bad tomorrow I can always stay another night.

A perfect day

On Friday morning my walking plan hit a little snafu: the Rifugio where I was planning to walk to from Castel del Monte and stay for the night was closed, undergoing renovations. But Francesco from Le Civette came to the rescue and offered to drive me to the Rifugio, so I could walk from there to Campo Imperatore. I can’t thank Francesco enough, as it really saved the day.

Just before 10am he dropped me at the intersection and I made my way to the Rifugio first, from where I took the path which passed the ruins of the monastery of Maria del Monte. There I bumped into a Dutch couple and their dog who were also walking in the area.

The day was simply glorious: hardly a cloud in the sky, wildflowers all around in pretty yellows, purple and blues, and a frog symphonie in the background. The views were stunning and I understand why they call it the Little Tibet of Italy. It is very unique in its aspect and as dry as Tibet.

The Dutch couple pointed out two little vipers on the track. Nothing compared to what you can be faced with in Australia, but they’re still poisonous snakes and to be treated with respect, so we walked carefully around them.

Further on I had a brief moment where it turned out the track I was on wasn’t the one I should be following, but the right track wasn’t far away and soon I was on the right one. From there, the climbing started. At first very steeply uphill with essentially no track markings, but once higher up, the track became obvious and I slowly worked my way uphill. At some point I lost sight of the track again, but looking at the map I figured that as long as I kept climbing up in the same direction I would have to get out where I wanted to get to.

Suddenly I got to a building that looked like a spaceship, but it was merely the terminal for one of the skilifts and just over the hill I could see the hotel Campo Imperatore, my goal for the day. A very welcome sight! I still took me another half hour before I got there on increasingly sore feet – blisters all over on this walk. Not quite sure why and I suspect it’s the padding I put in the front of my boots, as without that I’ve never had any problems. I’ve now taken it out and hopefully that will fix the problem, although the existing ones will have to heal first and they are large.

I’m staying here for two nights, so I can enjoy the mountain scenery and maybe go up a little, although an attempt on the Corno Grande is out of the question. There is too much snow and the receptionist has already told me that it’s dangerous to do it on your own. But with another sunny day forecast, I can just sit in the sun and enjoy the view.

And here’s some weird trivia, which I know will amuse at least one of my readers. I’m staying in the hotel where Mussolini was held imprisoned in 1943. You can see the room  where they held him. He escaped at some point, but his destiny caught up with him before too long.

The good, the bad and the ugly

I’ll get this off my chest straightaway: I have a beef with the National Parks service here, because their maps don’t always reflect the reality, they lack signs in the important places and some of the main tracks need major maintenance work done.

The good: it was a glorious day waking up in Rocca Calascio after the party. And it was a good party. Great local music and lots of dancing happening. The band also played the tune ‘Ciao bella, ciao bella, ciao’ which is a partisan tune from WWII and is often sung when the population doesn’t like the dictators/ruling party anymore. Most recently when all that stuff was happening with Berlusconi, that was what a lot of Italians could be heard humming. And so this morning I skipped down the slopes from Rocca, happy in the knowledge it would be a short walk to Castel del Monte to be followed by a relaxing afternoon. Yeah right.

The bad: the map showed I had to cross the road to continue on the path. It showed I’d have to walk a short distance along the road to the left before crossing. Arrows on the road pointed to the left. Nothing materialised after 10 minutes and so I turned back to where there had been a dirt road, but slightly to the right. Hmm. That went steep uphill and then the track petered out and left me high and dry on a steep hillside. More consultation of the map and a careful reading of the surroundings (fortunately well visible from my eyrie perch) showed me where the road was I should be on. Problem was it was down below and in front of me was a very, very steep hillside. A slow descent, some nifty traversing and quite a while later I breathed out, relieved to know I had to be on the right road. Of course no signs to confirm this, but instinctively I knew it to be right.

The ugly: the road eventually turned into an overgrown track. Which became ever more overgrown until it was covered in brambles, so that I had to continue walking in the field next to it. I kept honing in on the target of Castel del Monte with a growing sense of unease. Eventually I had to climb over stonewalls, big pyramids of stone and bash through more brambles until I finally made it out onto the road, only to find that I had indeed been on the right track. I almost needed a machete to work my way through that jungle and that is supposedly a major walking track from Calascio to Castel del Monte. My travails weren’t over yet as the track pointed upwards, but signs were soon hard to find with tens of little tracks fanning out. More up, then down and eventually, long, long after the 10 promised minutes, I found my way up to the town, to be attacked by a vicious little dog. So far, none of the times on the signs have made any sense, so whatever it says tomorrow, I shall double it to be on the safe side.

Back to the good: found a delightful room to stay in at Le Civette, checked mails and went for dinner. Snooze time now.