by Luca D'Alba
Three days of trekking among the highest peaks of the Pollino. From Colle Impiso to Gaudolino, continuing to Serra del Prete, Monte Pollino, Serra del Dolcedorme, Serra delle Ciavole and Serra di Crispo. Two nights in a tent and a sleeping bag. Idea born for a game, one night in Terranova del Pollino, in front of a mug of beer in the company of Pasquale Larocca. But it is an idea that we both have been cultivating for a long time, driven by the desire to document something more important than a one-day trek. Between these and the bivouacs of several days there is an abyss of difference. It is necessary to plan every little detail, from the places where it is planned to mount the field to those where to get water. The preparation of the backpack needs a whole day to optimize weight and space. Taking a tent, a sleeping bag, first aid kit, equipment, food and water for several days is not a trivial matter. Despite being used to walking a lot, even from the first tests of loading at home I sensed that I would have suffered the weight of a backpack full of stuff on his shoulders. Perhaps out of prudence I brought more than what I actually need, but I postpone this assessment at the end of the trip. For the moment, I want to be sure I can face every difficulty.
At Colle Impiso, at 2 pm, Leo and Angela are waiting for us to join me, Pasquale and Francesca. Miss Anna, who has university exams and has been forced to stay at home to study. Today's program includes the afternoon ascent of Serra del Prete, but to avoid tackling this first drop with loaded backpacks, we decide to stop at Gaudolino to set up the tents. Here we find a comfortable clearing halfway between the fountain and the cabin. While settling my two-seater I think neither tonight nor the one that will be sharing my little shelter with my Anna and I do not like the idea very much.
At 17:30 we leave for Serra del Prete to admire the sunset from there. We arrive at the top of 19. In front of us stands majestic Monte Pollino, destination for tomorrow.
Seen from this perspective, its soft slopes give it the shape of a large panettone. The sun, now low on the Orsomarso chain, radiates with warm and enveloping light, tinging the west wall of the Pollino with orange.
We begin the descent a few moments before the sun disappears, to take advantage of the last light and return to camp 1, where we await the preparation of dinner.
As the gas burns under the pots to heat the soups we hear a howl. For a few seconds we remain silent looking around. We have all heard it, we notice it from our looks. It is a wolf, no more than 500 meters from us. Beyond the imagery conveyed by fairy tales and films, here we are intruders in its territory and, although it is a very shy animal, the idea of being able to see one of them in front of them is a fear. Meanwhile, the moon shines and illuminates the plateau around us, where we can distinguish the shapes of cows and horses that graze undisturbed.
We consume our meal by sharing what each one has prepared. My lyophilized pasta and beans is not bad at all and I devour a whole saucepan. The cabin 100 meters from us tonight is populated. You see the lights and you hear a whisper. Tonight we will not be alone in this corner of the world.
It seems to have been very late, but it is just 10pm. Here, however, it is the right time to go to rest. These are the times of nature: with light you work, with the darkness you sleep. With pleasure I adapt to these times, but with less pleasure I adapt to the humidity created inside the tent, on the walls of which several drops of water have formed. All night I will fight with them trying to dry the towel with a microfibre cloth.
A new day begins between the peaks of the Park. Today we foresee the most demanding stages of our crossing: Monte Pollino and Serra del Dolcedorme. Awakening, however, is not the best. Putting your nose out of the tent, still crammed with condensation, and seeing the sky covered by large clouds does not benefit the mood. The absence of sun, however, with hindsight will not be a completely negative aspect: it will make us suffer less heat and will slow down dehydration. My breakfast is made with tea, bananas and cereal bread with jam. Every extra thing we eat is a weight removed from our shoulders. The prospect of having to carry big loads suggests to calculate these things too. So this morning I decided to bring a more contained ration of water to save 500 grams. But I will have to dose the drinks, because the next supply will be this evening and several hours of walking.
The ascent to Monte Pollino from Gaudolino is not particularly tiring. You cross a beech forest up to 2,000 meters above sea level, from which the vegetation becomes sparse and gives way to the solitary and mammoth pines loricati.
From a reflection of Pasquale we come to the conclusion that the itinerary of the 5 peaks, for a not particularly trained hiker, could be a difficult experience. It would be preferable to make a fixed base camp in Gaudolino and every day to start from there for a different peak, with backpacks unloaded from the weight of a tent, sleeping bag, food and field equipment.
Now afterwards I feel the detoxifying effect of the experience I am experiencing. Phone zero (save a few minutes a day to communicate with home), TV zero, noise and zero traffic. I do not feel the need to check emails, facebook and other devilries that daily nail us to a screen. Here all the comforts of "civil" life are perfectly useless. Just a bunch of bread, a flask and the desire to establish a symbiotic relationship with the mountain. We arrive at the top of Mount Pollino at 11:30, after passing a 100 meters stretch still covered in snow. Although our altitude can not compete with alpine ones, it seems to be on the Swiss border, if not that here, looking to the east, we see a blue expanse: the sea. After a short photo stop we begin the descent towards the Malevento pass, at an altitude of 1.980.
To the south, in the distance, we can see the "Patriarch", the oldest loricate pine tree in the Park. It is a majestic peak, standing out among the beeches that adorn the Pollinello woods. As usual, the descent proves more difficult than the climb. The trekking poles are indispensable both for the balance, and to avoid loading all the weight (our and heavy backpacks) on the knees. From the Malevento we estimate to reach the top of Dolcedorme in 1 hour and a half and so it is. From the highest peak of the Pollino National Park you look at the horizon with a different perspective. Everything is lower than you, even the clouds. Despite the difference in altitude compared to Monte Pollino is minimal, the Dolcedorme appears decidedly more imposing, monumental. The high walls of the southern slope give it authority and arouse awe.
I think it was more times when I conquered the top during the winter, with snow and ice, than in other seasons. It can change the frame (no longer snow), but the picture is unchanged for millennia: to the south-east the gaze can range up to the Ionian Sea, which is the background to the pyramidal profile of Mount Sellaro, above Cerchiara, while looking at south you notice the long way (known as "The crest of the Infinite") that from the Dolcedorme, ridge ridge, passing through Mount Manfriana, arrives at Colle della Scala, a few kilometers above the Arberesque village of Civita.
From the point where we find ourselves we can admire the entire Raganello Valley, bounded by the timbers of San Lorenzo, Cassano, Porace and the Demanio, which overlook the homonymous Gole. To the north, instead, Serra di Crispo and Serra delle Ciavole border the Piani di Toscano, where we will spend the second night.
We are not in a hurry to get back before dark, typical of the "touch and go" excursions. From here to camp 2 we have 2 hours of walking and we do not mind the idea of walking in low light after sunset. Aware of this, we enjoy the summit, reappropriating our time. Small gestures, like ignoring the clock, here they say a lot. They say, at least, that we are allowing ourselves to be embraced and conquered by the mother earth.
At 16:00 we walk towards the ridge that leads to the Passo delle Ciavole, above the Piani di Acquafredda. The descent is not easy. We are tired, the backpacks are heavy and in many places the path is steep. We are at the Pass after an hour. From here, looking towards the Piani, among the foliage of the beech trees you can see the herds of horses grazing on the great plateau.
A final effort awaits us, the ascent from the Passo to Piani di Toscano, 200 meters higher. We cross water ditches that in some places create small waterfalls and water basins where animals are watered. They look like landscapes from the highlands of the Carnia, and yet we are "only" in the South.
During the walk you notice a particular phenomenon: the tongues of snow that still resist the spring temperatures, although melting, do not determine the formation of large drainage channels. It is as if the melt water is completely absorbed by the ground below. At other points, then, the snow seems to be swallowed up by the depths of the earth. These signs suggest a particular composition of the subsoil, in which there are likely to be important karst phenomena. We could hypothesize the presence of sinkholes to date unknown, thus reproducing on an enlarged scale the conditions that, in the Municipality of Cerchiara, have given life to one of the deepest abysses of Southern Italy: the Bifurto.
At the foot of Serra delle Ciavole, we supply water from the highest source of Pollino, replenishing the now small supply. On our arrival, two horses with a tawny mantle give us the place backing a few meters, but without leaving. Our actions are curious and seem to be accustomed to the presence of man.
A few hundred meters more and we reach the beech wood behind the remains of the ancient loricate pine called "Zi Peppe". This authentic natural monument was maliciously set on fire in 1993, as an ignorant and barbaric protest by some screanzati against the Park Authority. The trunk, lying on the ground, has now lost its robust bark. The gray color and the visibly hard wood essence give it the appearance of a stone statue, erected to eternal memory of the tree that was assumed as a symbol, also graphic, of the Pollino National Park.
Position field 2 waiting for the sun, declining in the clouds and the Orsomarso mountain peaks, to give us the last sunset of our adventure.
At 20, after having set up the curtains, we return to Zi Peppe, and there opens up the view of a paradise. The sun's rays reddish the rocky walls of Serra di Crispo and delle Ciavole, extending over all the floors. A true charm and a sublime view. As the sun disappears below the horizon line the temperature drops, also due to the presence around us of so much snow. A white carpet with traces of horses, cows and ... wolves. Leo and Angela will leave us tomorrow at dawn. We consume a large part of the remaining food with them, keeping just as much as we need tomorrow. Tonight the long branches of the beeches will protect our tents like an umbrella, preserving them from humidity.
I put myself in the sleeping bag, realizing that, this evening, this gesture becomes more natural. In the same way, the morning, the awakening and the ritual of the tea take on a familiarity as unexpected as it is appreciated. I do not miss the bed, the pillow or any other comforts of home. Extract from "civilization" for two whole days unconsciously determines a transformation. The cares, the anxieties and the hurry, inextricably linked to the daily routine, do not find space here. Nature imposes its rhythms and its rules, stronger and just than those dictated by man. The serenity of soul that is conquered among these expanses of meadows predisposes us to understand the value of many small things, no less important than the larger ones and, at the same time, highlights the uselessness of many objects and habits that make the existence more complex than it already is.
After breakfast we start our last day of trekking heading towards Serra delle Ciavole. It is a beautiful sunny morning with clear skies. We go up the slope littered with loricati. Thanks to the almost discharged backpacks (we left the tents in camp 2) we absorb the difference in height of about 300 meters to the top in less than an hour. From the first of the two peaks of Serra delle Ciavole, the highest and most southerly, we overlook the Piani di Acquafredda and the immense beech forest that takes the name of Fagosa, in whose heart a dirt track leads from Colle Marcione in Piano di Ratto, continuing towards Fontana del Principe and Fosso del Vascello. The only drawback of this cool path is being ridden with quads, off-road and motocross, whose engines can be heard from up here.
We cross the ridge in a northerly direction, having fun on some easy rock climbing passages, until we reach the second peak of the Ciavole.
During the journey I am entertained in long and pleasant conversations with Pasquale, with whom I share for years the passion for the mountains. I was able to appreciate its seriousness and professionalism, as a man and as a guide. His sympathy makes him a decidedly pleasant companion for adventures.
Between one word and another we arrive at the saddle between Ciavole and Crispo. On our right, to the east, the trail goes down to Casino Toscano through the Grande Porta del Pollino. In front of us rise the rocky pillars of Serretta le Porticelle. We are surrounded by juniper bushes and young loricate plants. It seems to be in Versailles, as nature takes care of this corner of the world, defined by an authoritative guide "The Garden of the Gods".
The most appropriate name could not be attributed to him and attempting to make a description of it would offend its beauty. I had already been on Serra di Crispo some time ago during a ski mountaineering trip and I liked it a lot. The memory of the floors totally covered with snow contrasts with what I see today, in the middle of spring. Green access symbolizes life in turmoil and the awakening of the senses. Immersed in these thoughts, I do not even realize I have reached the fifth and last summit: Serra di Crispo. We did it, the dream came true. With great satisfaction we taste the taste of conquest. The weight of the backpacks and the long crossings faced in these days are infinitely small price compared to what these mountains have given us. We return home richer in awareness and experience. Heading towards the Piani di Vacquarro we return to Colle Impiso, walking more by inertia than by willpower. We meet people who go and people who come. They too, I'm sure, will return to their homes tonight, bringing with them a joyful memory of a day spent in these mountains.
Thanks to those who shared these 3 memorable days with me.
PS: food rations were right;)
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