Last Friday, while the rest of the entire productive planet was grunting and sweating under the weary load of a normal work day, a group of footloose explorers undertook, with their usual sense of abandon, to jump into their off-road-rattletrap and set off on the winding roads of the Picentine mountains. This time, the goal was the Lost Hermitage of San Michele. Another memorable day.
We passed through the town of Campagna, then drove for about 8km on the SP31 (Campagna – WWF Oasis of Polveraccio, alias the Oases of the Wolves!). On the right at 763 meters a.s.l., there is a trail, CAI 154 (33 T 510429 4504751) (note: the cordinates hereafter given are all in the UTM WGS 84 system). We advise you to park in the space along the road at about 50 meters into the valley (33 T 510494 4504645).
The trail starts upward immediately. After 150 meters there is a metal barrier with a chain, probably put there to keep motor vehicles out (back in the days when the road conditions might have let them through in the first place). You get past the barrier and the trail changes drastically. There is a deep rut eroded away from constant and intense rain; there is no way pass it even in the most determined 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The trail keeps moving up from SW to NE and leads you to the Varco [Crossing] sellara (33 T 511027 4505267) at 1062 meters above sea level.
It was right there, on that part of the climb, right after the second switch-back (where the trail turns sharply to N-NE at the base of the limestone cliff), that Selene raised the alarm. We were moving in single file with about 20 meters between us (Selene first, Jaco next, and me bringing up the rear) when in the silence of the climb the cry went up “Landslide!...I hear something coming down!”
Then a few seconds passed... “...there, on the right, in the trees!”
It took Selene's word just a Planck or two (one Planck, by definition, is the shortest time possible) to reach me but I had no time to catch my breath. I raised my glance and focused on a large hare that had just passed straight across the trail above us and was moving down the ridge. I was focused on that and saw nothing else.
Selene and Jaco, more alert, had turned their glances to the east and were now staring directly at an exemplar of Canis lupus italicus, the Italian wolf, even more surprised than we were. He had stopped in his tracks and now saw his prey, the target of his hunt, escape down into the valley. What had happened?
Only the falcon gliding around above us, really knew and might have described it:
"Down below there is a young solitary wolf on the hunt. He got the scent of the prey and started to track it. He's using everything he learned from his elders as he starts after the hare (these creatures have more developed hindquarters than forelimbs and use that to their advantage when they can escape uphill. The skill of the hunter is in making this prey move downhill where it is more likely to falter, all working to the advantage of the pursuer). At that same instant, however, a squad of humans, unawares, is struggling up the trail towards the Varco Sellara. If someone doesn't change direction, these two groups are going to run right into each other. And that is what has happened. Maybe the wind was blowing the wrong way, maybe it was the heat of the hunt with all his senses tracking the prey, but the wolf didn't notice a thing until they were all just a few meters apart. The scene froze for a moment, they all looked at one another for a fraction of a second and then, in a flash, the wolf gave up the hunt and turned back the way he had come."
We had been waiting months for something like this—to run into the “Lord of the Woods”, but it then happened so quickly and none of us could take our eyes off the beast; that kept us from taking a photo, one that certainly would have been of great interest to many. That's the way it goes. You're caught up in watching this animal so as not to miss a single moment of a scene that might never come again in your entire life.
We took up the trail again and first crossed a naked gully, what was left from a giant earth-slide (still active) that had broken the trail we were on, and then we reached and crossed the Varco Sellara. After the slide, at the crossing, we turned to the east and moved more and more into a nature that seemed unspoiled.
After a couple of kilometers, all downhill, we moved into a clearing where we got our second surprise of the day: a large bulldozer, abandoned for years, was rotting in the woods. Almost certainly, the earth-slide we had just passed had destroyed the road and forced the foresters to abandon this mechanical monster forever and leave it there and take on ever increasingly the semblance of a Jurassic dinosaur.
We passed out of the clearing and started down a steep, winding gulley (the dry river bed of a mountain stream) that dropped quickly towards the Vallone (glen) Trogento.
At that point, not having any detailed information as to the precise location of our goal, “the Hermitage of San Michele”, we decided to stop there. Our day came to an end.
We still had our GPS coordinates stored for our entire trek, so we went back the way we had come, putting our visit to the hermitage off until the next time. On the way back, strawberries from the underbrush around us sweetened the labors of this particular outing, one that found us once again “lost in the wilds”.
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