It might be the rainy weather, or maybe laziness has just been getting the upper hand lately, but one thing is certain: we've been taking it easy recently. Our hikes were starting to look more like dainty strolls in the countryside than real trekking, so this Saturday we decided to crank it up a bit and take on something more serious. The setting was still the Picentine mountains (not a very high chain—Cervialto , the highest summit, is only 1,809 meters/5,427 feet—but it's an area particularly wild and rich with water). Indeed, we've been spending more and more time there recently, (see the WWF oasis of Senerchia and the oil shale mine in Giffoni Valle Piana). This trip to the Scalandrone grotto was suggested to us by two hikers we had met on our recent visit to that mine.
There were more of us than usual this time: Selene, Fulvio Jr., Sirio, Grazia and Yours Truly (Fulvio Sr.). The morning started off in the most pleasant fashion possible with a stop at a coffee bar in Serino (I must say that we've been particularly lucky in that regard recently) where the breakfast was enriched by a variety of cakes made right there on the premises. We paid for the coffee, cake and beverages but got some free directions so we could find the trail. Then we were off on our adventure. Still in the car for another short stretch, we were fortunate to come across the ruins of the walls of the ancient Longobard castle “Civita di Ogliara” (9th - 10th cent.) built in the mountains on the site of an earlier Osco-Samnite settlement.
After another kilometer we parked the car in a small space and started off on one of those dirt maintenance trails used by workers to maintain the woods. The trails twist and wind amid grassy clearings and centuries-old oak and chestnut trees. Then in rapid succession, there was a fountain, a bridge of wood and stone and finally, the “Varco della Rena” (the trail of sand - an artificial excavation of a limestone wall) that put us on trail S.I. 106 (Sentiero Italia/Italian trail), which would lead to the Scalandrone grotto.
From this point, the path tales on the features of the classic forest trail; there are a few open patches above you in the trees that let you glimpse mountain tops through the foliage, and the trail gets more difficult through the thick woods. The entire route (a little more than 15 km/9 miles there and back) is prominently marked by red and white signs of the CAI (Italian Alpine Club). The closer you get to the goal (the Scalandrone Grotto) the greater the presence of small water-falls and rapid streams that you cross at rather tricky forging points. The last stretch of the trail as described in the pages of the guide published by the Picentine Park Authority, itself, becomes “decisively uphill” and terminates just before a spring (the source of the small lake within the grotto, itself) where we had the pleasant surprise of observing two salamanders with beautiful black and yellow spotted markings and, then, a few dozen meters further up, we saw the clear entrance to the grotto.
We had reached our goal in a little more than three hours
In the Scalandrone Grotto
...while tiny water drops dance in the air
Getting into the grotto is easy enough, but it's a muddy downhill ramp that is best dealt with by setting up at least a 20-meter rope to keep from slipping and falling. The part of the grotto that we visited is made up of an enormous articulated collapse chamber with a small lake at the bottom and beaches of fine sand. The lake is fed by water cascading from a fissure in the back wall. The din of the falling water makes communication difficult and even impossible over more than just a few meters. The walls and large rocks collapsed from the ceiling and strewn on the ground are covered with accretions and limestone drapes, and near the waterfall, itself, tiny water drops dance in the air.
Right near the waterfall there are a number of ropes indicating a path that leads up for further exploration, which, however, will then turn into pure speleology or caving. You need equipment to follow along ropes in order to go on, and we had not brought that equipment with us. We were, however, rewarded by the whole experience; we made it back up to the entrance, where, after a brief pause to charge up with energy, sandwiches and fruit, we set off on the road back.
The excursion—the way we did it—took a bit more than seven hours; thus, whoever plans to go further into the interior of the grotto should plan on an overnight stay so as not to be overtaken on the trail by nightfall. The trail, itself, is not particularly difficult, although it is long (more than 15 km). There is one point, marked by a fence, where a slide has broken the trail, but there is a by-pass that takes you up a bit and around that point. At least in this period (April), a fountain and some springs along the way will supply you with water.
These are links to photos that we took along the “Italian Trail 106 – From the Varco della Rena [trail of sand] to the Scalandrone Grotto”
in the “Scalandrone Grotto”
Here you may download the GPS trace for the entire route.
Enjoy your hike!
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