by Luca D'Alba
As usual when I am preparing for a new excursion, this time too I dedicate the night hours that precede the study of the itinerary, drawing information from the texts collected year after year and stored with jealousy. I do it because I respect the mountain and I know that behind its wonders can be hidden risks. Today my source is "Il Pollino Orientale", a "historical" guide written by my friend Nino Larocca and given to me by my friend Stefania Emmanuele after a walk together in that of S. Lorenzo Bellizzi. I define it as "historical" both because the text is now a reference point for hiking in this area of the Park, and because it contains a lot of information - in fact - historical and anecdotes that bind man to places in which it has lived over the centuries. I think this is an aspect that every guide worthy of being defined should treat. The object of my study today is the Cave of Serra del Gufo, in the Municipality of Cerchiara di Calabria. It is one of the most important in Calabria, both for its depth and for its wealth of concretions, so much so that from it the Speleo Group of Cerchiara has drawn its own name. The invitation to participate in the exploration of the cavity comes to me of the Speleological Group Sparviere, its discoverer. It is my first outing with them and the first in such a demanding cave. Study, I guess and hypothesize, trying to foreshadow what I will have to try the next day. It is an analysis aimed at comparing the scenario prefigured with what I know to be my abilities, to evaluate if I will be able to face the new venture. But in the end I do not have any confirmation and I can not do anything but trust in those who, having proposed to participate, have already evaluated my "fitness". On the other hand, the curiosity is so much, too much, and to pull me back I do not really think about it. The manual preparation phase follows, as a natural consequence, the preparation of the equipment. Rope, helmet, headlamp, harness, lanyard, carabiners, descender, tin bin, basic and croll. Nothing is missing, I can close the bag! On easy hikes or in places I already know, whether it's climbing, trekking or canyoning, I would like the luxury of preparing the backpack the same morning. But this time it's not like that. For a form of awe of Serra del Gufo I prepare everything the night before. And so the night passes, between desire to explore and fear of the unknown. When I wake up the sun embraces me, cradling a metereopathic like me among its rays, infusori of optimism and good mood. The approach to the cave is through an easy path that offers a wonderful view of the Contrada Damale di Cerchiara. It is a terrace overlooking the sea, with cultivated fields and signs of a very flourishing rural life in that area until the middle of the last century. My eye goes, nostalgic, to the country house in which I spent the most beautiful days of my childhood, sold by my father about ten years ago to the same person from whom the purchase at the beginning of the 80s. It is among those places that will remain forever in my heart, arousing in me strong emotions whenever I see them again. Probably if a few years ago I had the same sensitivity and attachment to the mountain that I have today I would have advised my dad from giving up this corner of paradise, strategic point for the proximity to the caves (even the famous cave of the Nymphs) and rock walls on you could create different climbing routes (to tell the truth, two have already been opened by myself a couple of years ago). We arrive at the entrance to the cave. It is broad, just as described by Nino, and in all the past it was used by shepherds for the shelter of animals. After wearing our suits and having developed the equipment we are going to overcome the stone wall artificially built by man to prevent the beasts, forwarding, fall to the bottom of the first well, 28 meters deep. On his eyelash I have the first sensation of the impotence of this cave. Carsism has worked for thousands of years, creating gigantic limestone pillars, as well as stalagmites and stalactites of extraordinary beauty. The entrance mouth of the first well is frightfully wide and dark enough to let imagine its considerable depth. The first one to go down is Lorenzo, president of the GSS and toolmaker of this expedition (as I will say later, in fact, we are not facing a mere excursion, but a real exploration of research). The bell shape of the well forces us to go down into the void. Baptism of fire for me. This is the welcome that the Cave reserves me, welcoming me silently in its bowels. The fear for the unknown gives way to the serenity that I feel as soon as I set foot at the base of the well. The other comrades of fortune reach us one after the other: Andrea, Giambattista and Leonardo. 5 in total and, now, separated from the outside world by a vertical ascent of 28 meters. As we continue on our way, we leave behind the large room to go into an increasingly narrow gallery, until we reach a natural "grating" created by limestone columns about 50 cm high, to guard a small loophole. It is from there that we pass by, crawling. And now mud, thick, tiring. Giambattista is stuck with his foot and almost risks leaving a boot inside. His imprecations, strictly in the dialect of the Cercarese, give us an additional parenthesis of laughter, in a climate from the beginning of the day cheerful and playful, those that are breathed between close friends. This is perhaps the most beautiful effect of the mountain (and the cave): to create strong bonds between the people who live these experiences together. After a fixed rope ascent in narrow and muddy bottlenecks, we arrive on the edge of the well Todi, a 40-meter vertical descent that leads to the large Salone del Decennale. Before going down, however, we decide to take a break to restore ourselves and decide what to do. In the few minutes in which we stand still, diverted attention from the fabulous concretions that until now had attracted him, my eye falls on the flame of the carbide lamp of my companions, fixed on their helmet. It is a warm, enveloping, reassuring color. In comparison, the cold white light of my LED lamp seems (and it is) synthetic, without a soul. I am reminded of the abysmal difference between the warmth of a house heated by a fireplace and that generated by an air conditioner. The scale of the difference between life in a small town and that in the city, welcoming and familiar, is the first, cold and detached the second.
Let's start once again. With the arrival at Pozzo Todi the excursion is over and the exploration begins. The goal of this day is to search for new branches inside the cave, following the indications of Nino, who about 15 years ago, during 3 whole days spent in the cavity, had an intuition that led him on an exposed terrace from which to explore new environments. We descend almost to the bottom of the well and from there we find the stretch to go up to reach the exposed terrace overlooking the Salone del Decennale. I have the honor, as a climber of the group, to open the way, putting it in safety with two fixes. But arrived at a more airy point I reckon with my limits and give way to Lorenzo, more experienced than me to climb into the mud of the cave. It is he who with determination and firm foot reaches the terrace. And I behind him. Our comrades wait for us behind, but it is useless for them to reach us. We have finished rope and carabiners, impossible to continue. But the result of the day is definitely positive: we found the way open free from Nino (a lanyard there found there confirms it) and made safe the steps exposed. The search for new branches is only postponed, but not by much. We are going to return and disarm the weapons. We are at the farthest point from the entrance reached today and a thought pervades my mind. We have penetrated into the heart of the earth, almost like in a sacred temple. Mystically, in this place it seems that the mysteries of the universe and the meaning of life can be better understood than elsewhere. These are the natural elements present here, ancient of millennia, which testify to the temporal immensity of creation. In his presence we are tiny beings and unable to affect the course of events, but able to leave a mark in the memory of men. Today I felt a great sense of individuality, immersed in the darkness, enveloped in silence, enclosed in my thoughts, there hanging on a rope trusting in my own abilities. But the feeling of unity and cohesion of the group was even stronger. The light of the lamps of my companions added to mine in the light of our path, and mine to them. United and close-knit, sharing the weight of the equipment, we arrived there where we had set ourselves, enjoying the result obtained together. This is what the mountain offers, both underground and above it, and this is the reason that makes me love the places where I was born and the people who share these adventures with me.
Some trips are difficult and require physical effort and technical skills. Participants must therefore be adequately trained in the chosen activity and equipped with appropriate clothing and equipment. Minors must be accompanied by their parents or another expressly designated person, or they must submit their written approval.
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