Abruzzo, terra dell’orso marsicano

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.

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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.

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Majella

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Gran Sasso

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.P6210527

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.

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P6210550 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.
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Photographs

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Video

Bibliography

Carta Escursionistica, Edizioni il Lupo
Gran Sasso d’Italia
1 : 25 000

With additions from OpenStreetMap.

Practicalities

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.

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Sentiero delle Orobie Orientale

In the morning we take a bumpy busdrive up to the ski resort Lizzola. We’re hiking Sentiero delle Orobie Orientale through the Orobie Alps, not the official hike, but our own variant. Originally this hike is not a round trip, but we start in the middle and arrive back at our starting point.
In Lizzola we’re having difficulty finding the right path. We find a sign of the path 200 meters after the path has started. The only path shown in the village is the GR322. If you walk to the upper parking in the village and then walk through the meadow in south-easterly direction, you’ll arrive on the GR307.
It’s a hot day to ascend through the meadows. We pass a shepherd’s hut and move on to Pso. della Manina, where a small chapel has been built. When we arrive a Mass is being held outdoors. We eat our lunch and enjoy the view.

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Mass being held outdoors near Pso. della Manina.

After the chapel we follow the GR401 and arrive at the official Sentiero delle Orobie Orientale. We enjoy the changing landscapes and walk the high route until the lifts near Chalet dell’Aquila. We notice that the paths from the valley to the huts are crowded, but on large parts of the GR401 it is nice and quiet. This year the amount of snow is extreme. This can be seen in the Italian Alps as well. Near Monte Ferrante we encounter the first snowfields we need to cross. Almost at the end of the Sentiero we leave the GR401 and descend over the GR311.
We pitch our tarp near water source l’Occhio dell Ogna. A beautiful spot.

After a good night rest we continu our hike over the GR311. Until township Möschl we can follow the signs and dots of paint easily. In the township they disappear and in real life there are many more paths than shown on our 1:50000 map. At one of the buildings a man just steps outside to hang the laundry. We ask him the way to Ardesio and he confirms we’re walking the right path. Half an hour later we see a stone with painted characters: “Grescala” and an arrow pointing to the right. If we’re on the right path, the arrow should point to the left. Are we on the wrong path?

We’re still wondering where we went wrong when an older man is approaching from Valzurio. First he asks us in Italian: “Vi siete persi?”, immediately followed in English: “Are you lost?” Wonderful! We explain the situation and he’s willing to guide us through the mountains to Ardesio. The alternative is to walk eight kilometers over jeep tracks around the mountain. We don’t feel like doing that.

The man is 72 years old and emigrated to America a long time ago. Originally he’s from this area and he is willing to take us through “his” meadows and footpaths, only known to the locals. He is training, for each year in the third week of June they ascend Monte Ferrante and eat polenta in Möschl afterwards. Of the twelve people starting this tradition, only two are still doing it each year and our guide is one of them. 72 years, unbelievable. For training he’s going for a small mountain top. When he arrives there, he’ll be reading a bit and drink a glass of red wine. We’ve asked him why the Italian Alps are rather unknown abroad, because we mainly meet Italians. He tells us that his generation was working hard and going to church. They didn’t had the urge to develop tourism. The new generation is different, but it’ll take a few years before these things really change. We agree, as we are welcomed and helped very kindly everywhere, despite the language barrier.
When our roads separate, we say our goodbyes and thank him a lot for helping us finding the way and for the nice conversation.
Just after noon we arrive in Ardesio. This is the most boring part of the tour. The Sentiero delle Orobie Orientale is shaped like a U. We bend it to an O by connecting the open ends of the U. That means we have to cross a wide valley. Up to now we’ve descended quite some meters. In Ardesio we can choose to ascend over the road or to wait for a bus. We choose the last option and take the bus to Valcanale. Unfortunately it will leave late in the afternoon.

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For Valcanale the route continues via Rifugio Alpe Corte, a few small climbs and plateaus to Rifugio Laghi-Gemelli. This morning we leapfrog with soldiers of the Italian army who are practising in the area. When we arrive at Rifugio Laghi-Gemelli around noon, we decide to eat there. We didn’t take food for all days, because we will be passing mountain huts and this is a good opportunity to save a meal from our backpacks. Actually it doesn’t look like a mountain hut, more like a hotel! They serve from a menu and we eat deer with polenta and a can of soda.

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The part after Rifugio Laghi-Gemelli is quite various. We walk over bridges, through tunnels and along the contours of the landscape. A lots of mosquitoes bivouac where we pitch our tarp. As soon as we’re done eating, we flee to our tarp.

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Path 213 in the direction of Rifugio Calvi.

At dawn we hear something that sounds like a wheezy, hoarse barking. We think it might be a roe and take a look outside. Nothing to be seen. Judging by the sound it certainly is a fast animal. He doesn’t bark only during dawn, but during the night he comes back a few times to keep us awake. Probably it has been a fox, who was not that happy with our bivouac spot. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to look at him.

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Bivouac near Dosso dei Signori.

During the night is starts to rain and this time we can’t keep everything dry inside our tarp. Just when we’re having breakfast it stops raining and we can leave without getting everything wet. After an hour we arrive at Rifugio Calvi. A bit later we need to cross the river Brembo. By stepping from stone to stone we manage to cross. We’re happy we did it by using stepstones as the bridge is lying broken on the shore a few hundred meters upstream.
We can barely see the col we need to go to, before the clouds obscure the view to it. We exchange our walking sticks for pickels and start our climb on the snow. In the guidebook we use it is written that on this col there is a high chance of seeing ibex. It is true, we see some ibex as well here.

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Broken bridge near the river Brembo.

We pass bivacco Frattini, an oranje soda can built on the mountain ridge. It is emphasized that the hut has been built on the ridge by the clouds that reach just until the ridge.

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Bivouac Frattini.

According to our guidebook we will encounter a difficult river crossing near Valle del Salto. To make the crossing easier, chains would have been put up. Not when we arrive there, the chains have been washed away, so we had to jump the river. After our crossing it starts to rain again. We cautiously walk over the slate ledges and arrive at Rifugio Brunone wet. We decide to spend the night in the hut.

From here two options start to continu on the Sentiero delle Orobie. The original high path or the lower footpath. When the weater is bad the low path is recommended. We’re in doubt about what option to choose, while this year there is still an extreme amount of snow (and we’re not that experienced in snow) and there are a lot of clouds that makes navigation hard. In the evening we ask the host of the hut for the conditions of the snow and the weather forecast. He’s very good in making us enthusiastic for the high route. In the morning it’s still overcast. When we pay for our stay the host starts talking about the high route again. He explains where to watch out and how to recognise the best route. The most difficult part is just after the hut, we can have a look and if it is not possible for us, we can always return and take the lower route. He emphasizes again that we should try the high route, because it is much more beautiful than the lower one.
He is right. It is a beautiful route indeed, between Rifugio Brunone and Rifugio Coca. Very well recommended and not too difficult. We’ve enjoyed ourselves and expanded our experience in steep snow.

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Rifugio Coca is filled with the soldiers we met earlier. We ask for the weather forecast and the route to the top. Then we pitch our tarp.

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View at Pizzo di Coca from Pso. Simal.

When we wake up at 5.15 the sky is blue. We start our route to Pizzo di Coca and soon we spot two ibex. They walk past us. Not much further we pass a group of ibex. What a beautiful, gallant animals, masters in the mountains. The males are fighting for their position in the group and they don’t care about the two humans filling up their memory card with photographs.

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Ibex.

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Young ibex..

After a col and a snow field we arrive at the nameless col at 2719 m. At the col is the crossroad to the summit. Next is third grade scrambling. Not Fred’s specialty. According to our altimeter we have to scramble for 300 m to the top, while the clouds are slowly filling the valley. While we are doubting to continu, two Italians return from the summit. It took them one hour to get to the summit, that just disappeared behind the clouds. We revert. Regrettably…

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Nameless col near Pizzo di Coca.

We return to our tarp, pack it and continu to Rifugio Curó. First a footpath up, then following the contour along the side of Valle Seriana, sometimes secured by chains. At one spot a rock the size of a refrigerator fell on the chain. After Pso. del Corno, which is less of a col than the nameless col, we see the rifugio. It’s an easy descend through the meadows. We feel a bit tired by the efforts this morning and pitch our tarp at a small beach of pebbles along a river in Valmorta. No peg can be used here, so we use some large rocks. In the valley a shepherd walks with his large flock of sheep.

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Bivouac in Valmorta.

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We have some thunderstorms this night, although they weren’t predicted. The forecast is not particularly accurate.
In half an hour we walk to Rifugio Curó which is filled with daytrippers. Over GR305 we return to Valbondione, where we left our car. Just before we arrive we have to take shelter for a big shower.

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Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography

Dominicus Adventure
Bergwandelen in de Italiaanse Alpen
Henk Filippo
ISBN 978 90 257 4403 8

Kompass Carta escursioni | bike | sci alpinismo
1:50 000
104 Foppolo / Valle Seriana

Arco

Arco
Arco breathes outdoor. Walking through the town, you’ll see climbers and mountainbikers everywhere. We have been here once in 2007 and this year we came back for a week. We’ve been climbing in: Corno di Bo, Nago, Massone and Val Lomasone. The last massif is not directly near Arco, but it is worthwhile to travel there because it’s nice and quiet climbing and not so polished as the other easy routes in Arco.
Besides climbing we’ve been doing two via ferratas.

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Climbing in Nago, Gardameer.

Via Ferrate Che Guevara
We park our car in Pietramurata and walk through the industrial area to the start of via ferrata Che Guevara. Just before the route starts, we’re passed by an Italian guy in swimming trunks and a tiny backpack with space for a can of soda at most.

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Valle dei Laghi seen from via ferrata Che Guevara.

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Valle del Sarca seen from via ferrata Che Guevara.

It’s a beautiful route, good weather and the views over Valle dei Laghi and Valle del Sarca are breathtaking. The route varies with ladders, scrambling and ledges up until top Monte Casale. We sweat out at Rifugio Don Zio and return to the valley via GR426. A part of GR426, Sentiero dei Rampin, has been turned into a via ferrata as well now. A lot of rocks are descending with us, we were glad to wear helmets. Unfortunately one of our unsecured nectarines didn’t make it back.

Cima Capi
The second via ferrata we did was a tour to Cima Capi. We left from Biacesa and went to chapel S. Giovanni via GR470 and GR471.

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Via ferrata to Cima Capi.

Then we went to Biv. Arcioni, GR460 (Sent. A Foletti), GR405 to Cima Capi. Over Sent. F Susatti and GR470 we went back to Biacesa. A tour that doesn’t take very long and varies a lot. The secured parts are not difficult and change into footpaths. There is also a lot to be seen of World War One: Trenches, tunnels, corridors and caves that you can walk in and through. Don’t forget to take a torch with you if you’re going to do this route!

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Via Ferrata M. Foletti.

Many thanks to the fast service of Mammut. They quickly exchanged our six year old via ferrata sets for new ones because of a recall!
When roaming through Arco don’t forget to taste the home-made ice at Gelateria Mio in the centre next to the bridge of the Sarca! (Gelato Mio, Via Segantini Giovanni 2, 38062 Arco)

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Colodri, Arco.

Click here to see all photographs.

Bibliography

Tabacco Carta Topografica per escursionisti, 1:25 000
055 Valle del Sarca
Arco – Riva del Garda