So we took the wrong itinerary. And it was very disappointing. But it was great, exactly because it was so disappointing.
The idea was to hike up Cima delle Murelle (2,598 mt), in the Majella National Park. A great trek, rated one of the most beautiful ones in Central Italy. 24 km long and 1300 mt drop. It sounded like an adventure and me and my friend Veronica really wanted our slice of “great experience”.
Meeting the Majella.
The Majella is a massif of Central Appenines, situated in the Abruzzi Region. Great sister of Gran Sasso, which you can see in the distance beautifully towering over the horizon, it is one of the wildest places in Italy, where you can still find unspoilt nature and incredible glimpses of landscape. Monte Amaro is the highest peak, with its 2,793 metres. On the other end, extremely deep gorges and valleys cut the various crests, creating a rather peculiar atmosphere of majestic holiness and mysterious inferno.
Landscape is the master of the scene.
When we still were on the right path.
A mid October saturday. Rome. 5.30 A.M. wake up call. By 9.20 we arrived at Rifugio Pomilio (1888 mt), where the itinerary begins. The sun was high in the clear sky. The air was cold. The perfect conditions for a good, long hike.
The trail starts crossing the field on the left side of the Shelter. The first part is a very easy one. After the first 50 metres, it becomes a paved pedestrian road that leads to the first landmark, the Blockhouse. Once you get to this crossroad, head right instead of following for the Blockhouse, even though it is a very interesting sight to check out. Personally, we didn’t have a lot of hours of light, so we decided to skip the visit and keep on walking.
The path becomes earthy again and a thick bush of Mountain Pines begins. It accompanies hikers for the first part of the trail, until Fonte dell’Acquaviva. It can turn rather boring, especially on the way back, when the mind is tired and all you want to do is take off your shoes and enjoy a good beer. However, the landscape offers great satisfaction and incredible horizons.
And then we got it wrong.
When you get to Fonte dell’Acquaviva, the second landmark of this itinerary, pay attention to all the various trails departing from here and, above all, be wary of those hikers who act as the mountain’s owners, giving you different advices and directions than the ones provided by more reliable guides.
Why would they give you different directions and suggestions? Nothing dangerous or bad. Simply the pleasure of feeling guides and “better than you” for a few moments. Unfortunately, the mountains around these area are populated by very pretentious prima donna.
So once you get to this fountain (which is the only water refuelling point throughout the trek), you have to turn left, taking the G2 itinerary, as official guides say. Do not keep walking on the trail in front of you. Do not follow directions leading to Bivacco Fusco. Otherwise you’ll end up taking the trek in the wrong direction or actually not taking it at all, as it happened to us.
So this is where our adventure to Cima delle Murelle ended and these are the last bits of information I can provide you with about the actual itinerary. In fact, what we did was to follow the path straight ahead, hiking through the mountain pines for another hour or so. It was a rather hostile part of the trek, not because of its actual difficulty, but because of the dullness of it.
All strongly uphill, air was extremely hot because of the pines preventing fresh air from coming through. But most of all, the little trees were preventing the view from helping to distract the mind. Breathing was so very laboured and incredibly attention consuming: all that the mind wanted to do was to stop and turn back. Not to mention the vague but persistent feeling something wasn’t quite right and the path wasn’t the one we were supposed to be stepping on.
Even so, don’t ask why we still hadn’t pull our guides out and check the right way. Anyways.
Fortunately enough, we didn’t give space to any of that negativity. We stopped a moment, we had a sip of the ginger and honey infusion we had with us and on we went. The bush finally opened, making room for the typical mountain landscape, made of rocks and a bit of grass.
A few moments later, we chanced upon some very “cool” stalactites created by the first cold of this season.
They might sound irrelevant in comparison to great glaciers and extreme conditions. However, if you stop a moment and you look at them close enough, these shy and delicate upsidedown pyramids of ice actually are a fascinating little jewel. Nature is such an incomparable, meticulous artist, so we took a few moments to admire that tiny masterpiece.
Eventually, we got to Bivacco Fusco. At that point, we were sure: we were on the wrong trek and it was most definitely too late to get on the right one: days are too short during this time of the year to allow any mistake.
So we descended the valley, right in the lap of the Anfiteatro, trying to reach the last part of the actual itinerary – just to make things a bit more clear, it’s supposed to be a ring, like you can see in the map below.
I personally was rather upset and angry at myself. I knew I was wrong, yet I went for it anyways. We wanted an unforgettable day and all we ended up with was a bunch of mountain pines and a completely wrong track.
But you know those moments when life becomes a great master and it slaps you right in the face and it makes you realise that hadn’t you got it wrong, all the amazingness that came next would have never happened? When you are reminded that there always is a reason for things to happen and you just have to tune in and wait for it to unveil? And you know when all this stuff happens in a moment in life when you’re clearly loosing the right way (literally and figuratively speaking) and you really need a shake to get back on track? Well.
Trying to keep the mood up in order to face the descent (which was supposed to be exactly the same as the ascent, surrounded by mountain pines for another couple of hours…yay!), we went slightly off track to get on the right path.
A chamois was peacefully browsing in the distance. It saw us and it started to stare at us, driven by the typical curiosity that characterises these expert mountaineers.
Guides would talk about large colonies of chamois. “There they are, large colonies of chamois”, I sarcastically commented at the chamois , rising my voice to release some of my disappointment. “They say large because you are so large, as in fat!”, I kept on laughing at it – even though I was so happy I was seeing one, snapping one picture after the other at that rather distant point in the landscape. However, anger wouldn’t obviously allow me to enjoy the moment properly. I had to blame it on something or someone other than myself.
Then the chamois disappeared behind a hill, beyond which the eye couldn’t see. I went back to my grumpy mood. I kept walking downhill, among mushrooms that looked like melted scamorze, a typical italian cheese.
Then I turned behind that same hill too. And what I saw left me speechless for a few seconds. “Don’t tell me…”, was all I could utter. Which actually stood for: “don’t tell me, have I really been so stupid to forget this whole time I’m actually hiking around a beautiful environment, with the sun kissing my skin, the air cleaning my lungs and fortune all over my life, allowing me to be right here and now?”.
I hurried Veronica to come where I was. “You won’t believe it!”.
About 30 chamois were browsing around. Such a spectacle!
I tried to get as closer as they would let me. As soon as I started bothering them too much, I stopped, about a 20 metres away from where they were. I really didn’t want to cause them any problem or fear.
We stayed there a bit, looking at the chamois and contemplating our mistakes, realising they actually were beautiful blessings.
Hopefully, the trek won’t go anywhere for the next few years: we can always come back and give it a better chance. But we could never be sure to see all those chamois at once again. In fact, chances are had we got the right itinerary, we wouldn’t have seen any of them.
So by this time a couple of hours of light were left. We managed to get back on the trail (even if we were covering it in the opposite direction) and we went all the way back to Fonte dell’Acquaviva.
We actually had the fortune to cross one of the most panoramic parts of the trek anyways. An exposed corner (an iron cable helps those who suffer exposition the most) from which an extremely deep gorge falls straight down in the depths of the mountain, painted in red by the autumn trees and streaked in grey by the rock. The view was truly breathtaking.
Clouds started climbing up the crest and surrounded us for the last part of our hike. We couldn’t see more than a couple of metres ahead of us and mud was making the walk a bit uncomfortable.
Eventually, we got back to our car at 5.35 pm. The sea of clouds covering the valley was absolutely gorgeous and it gave us a last proof of our luck. As if the Majella was benevolently scolding us: “So here. And don’t you ever dare being angry, disappointed or whiny when you’re in the mountain ever again! Always remember how lucky you are to be around this beauty, even in the most disappointing times”.
“Turning mistakes into gold”.
Gratitude is a mountain. Being there. Being thankful for being there. Being thankful for what we have. Mountains are honest, great and humbling: they don’t take any bullshit, either way. No chance to be more than you are, no chance to undermine yourself, your value and what actually matters.
Mountains are certainties: sooner or later, one way or another, they’ll always remind you how things and people and moments actually are and what’s their actual worth, for better or for worse.
In my case, our lives had allowed us to be in the mountains that day and all the days before it. Together, safe and free. Negativity wouldn’t have changed that reality. So the choice was easy and simple: you either realise anger and disappointment are your own perspective and decision, or universe and nature will never allow you to blame it on anything else.
Mountains will always teach us to turn mistakes into blessings. They’ll always give us the chance to be honest with ourselves, and change if necessary.
Honest acceptance is the only trail we should always keep under our feet.
Keep in track, and any adventure will be a true one. Any step will be a real one. Any gesture will be a ritual. Every breath will be your breath. Nothing will be conquered, just appreciated.