Flying. It’s not the first time, but we’re still not getting used to it. “Ready for take-off”, the sound of the engines swell from a high pitched tone to a blasting avalanche of noises. When we’re pulled into our seats by the acceleration I look to my left. Next to the window sits an old Italian man. He hasn’t spoken a word since we got into the plane and he looked depressed since. Just before the wheels lift off he quickly says his prayers. We’re not the only ones disliking flying. One and a half hours later when we land in Italy he finally relaxes.
Italy, the Apennines. We don’t have a day to day agenda but we’ve chosen two areas that we’ll be trying to connect over the mountain ridges. We don’t know exactly how the terrain looks like, whether or not there will be a trail and how fast we’ll go. We’ll monitor progress one day at a time and live in the moment.
The first day in Majella we climb up from the valley over a trail that disappears again the next day while hiking the ridge. Sometimes we see a fainted red dot or red-white marks, but it’s clear that hardly anyone walks this trail. The weather is great, not too hot. Because of bushwacking, progress is not as fast as hoped. There are no water sources en route, but we hope to end the day near a shepherd’s hut with a source. When we get near to the hut, we find a small creek. Dry, not a good sign. Next to the shepherd’s hut we find a water source, but that one is dry as well. Water will be rationed now.
We’ve read a number of -rather old- trip reports, so we didn’t expect the water to be so scarce. How to continue? Will we go on over the ridge and hope to find water on the way, risking not to find it? Next morning we choose to descend. We use our GPS as a 21st century’s dowsing rod. A few kilometres from the hut there should be a water source: Fonte Orsana.
The first kilometre is steep but on-trail. Rather soon it becomes steep and off-trail. Very steep and really off-trail. Straight through the forest we arrive at the water source. Dry. We find a lot of animal tracks and we see that water used to flow here, but not at this moment. The next source is located a few kilometres from here. Again we use the GPS to walk straight through the forest. Wrong choice, we waste a few hours and wander off more and more. We have only half a litre of water left and decide to save as much as possible.
When we spot a tree with a puddle of rainwater in it we cannot refrain from trying it. We drink it through our water filter. Not exactly Bear Grylls who would cut off a hollow branch from the tree and use that as a straw. Or he would filter the water through his old sock. We use our high-tech water filter and the water tastes good.
Eventually we arrive near the other source. The sandy trail slowly becomes soggy. A bit further a foot-wide creek flows. Then the creek becomes wider and we find a concrete trough. Water! While filling our water bottles we’re interrupted twice by wild horses which apparently are thirsty as well.
That night wolves walk around our tent. No lack of animals here.
A number of times we meet people in Majella that are picking hops. One morning we find people and two big white dogs. When we pass the dogs start to walk along with us. Nice. The longer the dogs run along with us, the less amusing it becomes. Why don’t the people call back their dogs? It starts to become more and more annoying until we’re half an hour away from the hops-picking people. The dogs are still not preparing to walk back.
We’re not really looking forward to walk back half an hour (and then again half an hour back to here!) to return someone else’s dogs. But we do, who knows how long they will be walking along with us?
Back to the hops pickers we need to explain the situation using two Italian words and a lot of sign language. Communication is arduous but finally we understand each other. They tell us that the dogs are stray dogs. They have been walking with them from the valley.
The next few days the silhouette of Corno Grande will accompany us. It’s still too early in the season to climb to the top, you’ll need pickle and crampons. We’re going to walk around it, which is certainly not less beautiful.
Though the whole area is no more than one day walking from civilized world we hardly meet anyone. One morning before we leave we hear soft thudding in the valley. The thudding gets louder while we’re packing our tent. A car… No, it’s a farmer on his tractor with a cow in a trailer. As soon as he sees us, he opens the door of his tractor and shouts something in Italian. “Sono Hollandese, non parlo Italiano.” He stops his tractor, gets down and walks towards us. We understand that he’s looking for his herd of cows. Which we’ve seen yesterday evening through the valley towards a source. We point him where we’ve seen them, nod and say “Eight, otto, six, sei big ones and eh due eh” – “Si, due bambini!“, two small ones indeed. We want to ask if that’s a cow or a bull in his trailer and say that we saw his herd yesterday evening, not this morning. Our translation guide is short of words so after browsing through it and staring at each other he shakes our hands and leaves. In the right direction. The only person we would see that day.
We stay at Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi twice, a big contrast to spending a night in our tent. While we don’t meet anyone while hiking, the hut is overrun with people. At night people that go to the summit the next day stay in the hut. We were lucky to meet some people from Rome who spokes English. It’s a nice way to get to know a bit more about your fellow travellers and about eating and drinking habits of Italians. It was very sociable. An old, small and cosy hut, with very kind wardens who like to explain about the area.
Carta Escursionistica, Edizioni il Lupo
Gran Sasso d’Italia
1 : 25 000
With additions from OpenStreetMap.
Water. It’s hardly possible to hike autonomously in these areas in summer. In the beginning of July a number of water sources were already depleted. Some villages near Gran Sasso have a water quota midsummer, water is that scarce here.
Ticks. Especially in Majella there was an abundance of ticks. Pack a tick remover and check yourself each evening!
Cabins. A great amount of cabins is located in both parks. In Gran Sasso almost all of them are locked. Don’t trust what’s indicated on the map. An extreme example is rifugio San Nicola that is indicated as guarded, but in reality it is a ruin.
Trails. Some trails are not signed, some are overgrown. Know how to use a map and compass. Off-trail your speed will be lower, take that into account while planning.
Dogs. There are a lot of stray dogs. Three times we’ve had dogs walk along with us for up to an hour.