Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Lost" the new season now filming in the Marche and Abruzzo, starring Bacco and me

29 May, 2011
Episode 3:  Recap, Bacco and I have tried 3 hikes on 3 separate Sundays and have become 'lost' each time,  1st week-20 minutes, 2nd week-30 minutes and this week-75 minutes!
Today we crossed the border into Abruzzo and the twin brother park to the Monti Sibillini in the Marche called Monti della Laga.  The book about the hikes is in italian and is called le piu' belle escursioni or the prettiest hikes, by Alesi, Calibani and Palermi.  I chose hike 6 named the forest of the fable which begins in the little town of Quintodecimo (which sort of translates as 'half a town') better known for its autovelox (fixed radar camera which will catch you if you are driving more than 50km/hr.) The town is about 40 minutes from Nascondiglio di Bacco on the Salaria or ancient roman salt road which served as the prime means of transporting salt from Rome to present day Porto dAscoli.
The sentiero or trail follows the river Noce Andreana into a series of "V" shaped  valleys past some picturesque waterfalls and finishing at a grotto with a veil of water in front and a pair of old stone buildings beneath the outcropping.
You park in the town in a little plaza by a church and immediately head up a series of stairs which lead you to the last house in town and a gravelly road which you will follow for about a mile past the locals' gardens, little vineyards and stalls.  The book tells you "where the road ends and you find a cement bridge, the real trail begins and heads off to the left".  That's  all fine and was probably that way in 2005 when the book was written, but now the road does not end there.  Luckily, my intuition and the cement bridge encouraged me to take a path to the left which has a Monti della Laga national park sign in front of it, and indeed, that is the correct way.  See below.

After a pretty nice little climb, you arrive at the first waterfall, which when you have a trusty sidekick flat coat retriever along, will be explored, pools will be entered and thirst sated, not to mention photos snapped.  This can be your downfall as from the pool just beneath the falls,

you naturally want to continue the hike from a level which is above the correct trail and nature has provided a little alternative trail which perfectly conforms to the description in the book (a bit smaller and covered with leaves).  Bacco and I trekked the next 75 minutes into a side canyon along another of those infamous wild boar trails (very well maintained, I might add) and probably ended up on top of Mt. Ungino where we found an old apparatus which must have been used by loggers to lower the huge logs down the steep hill with intact cables, rotting timbers anchor trees long since dead, etc.

We made our own trail back down and I am not saying I didn't have a grand old time exploring this hidden area, but it is a bit hairy hanging on to trees while you descend a steep slope with no bearings.  Anyway, having been born "testardo", inheriting stubbornness from my father,  I was determined to finish the real hike.  I found the 1st waterfall and then found the trail we had used to arrive, whereupon it was really easy to see the correct trail veering off to the right and 10 meters below the infamous false trail.  From there it is just 20 minutes up to the very nice little cascata with its little sheltering cave behind.  

If you don't mess up, the ascent should take an hour and 15 minutes to slightly longer and the descent 55 minutes or a bit more depending on your pace.  Not a bad hike at all for a morning or afternoon jaunt.  Bacco enjoyed the water and I enjoyed the topography, the dense forest and the isolation as we were once again the only ones on the trail. 
The photo above is what the true trail from the first falls looks like with plus or minus 91 trees to step over or stoop under.

The area seemed to have zones similar to those in MO with karst structures although I saw no sinkholes or arches. Take lots of water and a snack in case you want to audition for the next "Lost" episode from Abruzzo.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Valle del Fiastrone hike, Gualdo cheese festival

26 Maggio, 2011
Hike one in the Gillian Price book, "Italy's Sibillini National Park-Walking and Trekking Guide' is the Valley of Fiastrone which is a hike through a canyon carved by the Fiastrone river which has been tamed somewhat by an upstream hydroelectric dam which has formed Lake Fiastra.  This hike also can include a jaunt over to a grotto used by hermit monks some centuries ago.  You find the trail head just down hill from the town of Monastero, park by the cemetery and begin in a pleasant meadow surrounded by wild roses and a view to the east of the end of the canyon as the river flows into  a valley leading past to the Adriatic Sea.

 Now, I don't know how many people are like me and like the tough part of the trail at the start of the hike, but this trail is contrary.  You begin with a descent of 70-80 meters to reach the little stream called Fosse, then up 20 meters before descending another 140-150 meters.  All I could think of while descending was I was going to have to regain all those meters on my return, when theoretically I would be a bit more tired.  The trail is well marked to the river Fiastrone where you can take a right and climb up to the hermit's cave with its chapel inside, a relatively easy 20-30 minute climb.

There I met a group of about 30 teenagers hiking with their adult supervisors and a forestry service guide (more about him later).  They and soon Bacco were enjoying their lunch break.  On the return, I, who have been hiking all my life lost the trail (and 30 minutes) 3 times because the friendly wild boars had formed their own pathways especially at the switchbacks which led me straight into the woods.  At the first intersection the sign posts which are easily visible when you ascend are well above eye level and behind a tree as you return which led me to a parking lot.  Pay attention on this part and don't make my mistakes.
The next part was especially made for Bacco and included 7 stream crossings, which in springtime means if you are not an olympic long jumper or circus acrobat you are going to get wet.  The water level lowers later in summer revealing rocks you can use to cross relatively dryly.

 I was standing on a rock ledge at the first crossing with a stream 7 feet across and a foot deep or so and trying to remember my junior high standing long jump skills (always my weakest task in the physical education tests).  Anyway, after  my first failure it became more fun, because it is not possible to get your boots and lower pants more wet than soaked. In one place the trail became a tunnel where small trees had fallen along 10 meters of the trail and I had to crawl through on all 4's.  Bacco and I continued to trails end and then walked into the "gola" or throat of the canyon past the trail's end to enjoy our snack lunch in complete solitude with the sound of birds, stream and falling water as our musical accompaniment.

We then returned down stream with our 9 stream crossings (we did 2 more than required going in) and ran into the forestry fellow who had cut all those pesky downed saplings away, so no tunnel to crawl through on the way back. He didn't want the poor kids to exert themselves.

 Then we climbed up the two major hills, which weren't all that difficult, as this trail overall is pretty easy and we drove our wet selves on to the Gualdo cheese festival.
Gualdo is a nice little hill town above Sarnano and has this nice cheese fest every year and amazingly brought in some really fine producers from as far away as the Piedmont and the Veneto with their alps cheeses.
practically all regions offer Mozarella by now, but the original is from Campania and can't be beat!

most of our local shepherds are from Sardegna, the masters of Pecorino cheesemaking

Fontagrana, our local maestro was also there along with an artisanal beer maker from Padova, Slow food's contingent from Campania with Caciocavallo cheese (photos below, they hang one of the cheeses over hot coals to make it spreadable and give out samples on rustic bread)

Cacio Cavalli from Campania

, a wine tasting area with Marche wines, and lots of other goodies like wild boar sausage from Norcia.
I bought the best and stinkiest cheeses I could find, my favorites being one from Fontagrana of Belmonte Piceno, Marche and the other 2 from the alps and some desserts called Baba' for our wine label designers who were visiting from Verona to go over the final touches on our first 2 labels.
We have bottling of the first 2 wines scheduled for June 6 and I am still uncertain when the winery construction will be completed.  As you remember, it was scheduled for completion last christmas
easter, mid-May.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hiking the cascate dell'acquasanta trail in the Mt. Sibillini national park

16 Maggio 2011
Bacco and I after working a full day Saturday planned our hike in the Sibillinis for Sunday.  Bacco asked for a trail full of cool mountain streams and I wanted a bit of a challenge, so we decided on the waterfalls of the sacred water trail departing from the little mountain town of Bolognola.  It is a 90 minute drive from Nascondiglio di Bacco and involves driving to Sarnano and then past the ski slopes of Sassotetto before cresting the mountain pass an descending to Bolognola.  You have good signage for the trail head, but after that things become tricky.  Parking  is available for the escursionisti and you walk to the end of the road where the trailhead is marked thusly:
The first thing you notice is the 15.4 km part of the sign.  I am sure 90% of the people turn back at this point.  Is it 10 miles round trip or one way?  I strongly recommend to any mountain lovers who are coming to visit us at Nascondiglio di Bacco or nearby lodgings, buy the book by Gillian Price called 'Italy's Sibillini National Park-Walking and Trekking Guide'.  (If you forget, you can borrow mine) The book gives the distance as 12.4 km round trip and I would bet he is very close based on my walking pace.  They mention the trail is a difficulty 2-3 which interested me, and that it was well marked (not!)
Just 100 meters past the trailhead is your 1st challenge, a new road which descends to a logging area and a dead end at the stream and a very steep climb back to the right path, see photo below and please take the LEFT grassy way.
You then descend to the stream and wonder again which way to go, you have to walk upstream 20 meters (it pays to have gortex or waterproofed hiking shoes or boots with a lug sole-the latter part is very important for later!) and you will see the trail leaving the stream on the right.  Bacco enjoyed this part more than me, especially as we finished up our return.
bottom of pic is where you exit the stream to continue the hike after arriving from the left of the frame 30 meters or so downstream, the water is shallow

Now you will come to the only ascent of any significance and will turn to your right at a fork, also not marked, into a mature 2nd growth forest for a hike that is about 80% in the trees and shaded.  Soon you will run into some of the little challenges of the trail as it seems the forest service hasn't had time to either mark or clear this trail for a while.

These impediments are worse for those of us who travel with backpacks or are corpulent.  In some areas this trail is less than a foot wide and a misstep means a long drop or slide which is why I recommend lug soles.  Near the end of the trail is a part protected by a chain where the drop off is fairly marked and the trail a bit more exposed.  Bacco is trying to decide if he needs to grab it... he didn't.
The trail was built along an old aqueduct which was covered with cement tiles.  You can walk along the tiles and in places, as the book mentions, they make sounds like bass notes (there are a few high notes).  Your hiking poles are a hassle here as they will catch in the cracks. The water heads down to towns below and it was quite a feat of engineering.  Nature has completely covered some areas of the tiles as the mountain slowly heads to the sea, but other areas are pristine and water is still flowing beneath your feet.

Spoiler alert!  Now it is time for the payoff.  Here are some photos of the waterfalls.
This is the first of many and some go right across the trail, so watch your step.

Bacco is always finding the waterholes

1st view of probably the tallest waterfall of the bunch

At this time of spring, there is still a bunch of packed snow below the falls which Bacco is walking upon.  

The waterfall disappearing between the remaining snow and the rock face.

The dam is the end of the road unless you want to clamber up slick rocks and explore the water filled canyon above.  
As you see the canyons and hills are sedimentary rock formations thrust up by some ancient upheaval leaving man lines like a millefoglia dessert, a bit angulated, though.

The hike is pleasant and took me an hour and 15 minutes to get to the dam (I was keeping up a good pace in case it really was 15.4 km to the waterfalls) and an hour and a half to return as it was then I took the photos, talked to the birds and let Bacco have his water time.  Here he is cooling down and posing.

Flowers of the Sibillini montains, Cascate dell'Acquasanta trail

16 Maggio
I have to profit from our rainy days and blog.  Here are some of the beautiful flowers Bacco and I encountered yesterday in the Sibillini mountains on the trail, cascate dell'Acquasanta or waterfalls of the sacred water.  The next post will describe the trail experience; here are some of the flowers we saw. I don't know any of their names, sorry. I will wait for you to fill in that part.