Yesterday we set out once again to find the Hermitage of St. Michael in the Picentine mountains. We didn't really know the countryside and had no reliable indications, maps or useful markers that might have helped us on our way. That slowed us down. At 1 PM we were just at the base of the cliff that holds the ancient monastic structure in a shell-like hollow 300 meters higher up. But, as opposed to the first time out (see Lost in the Wilds), we at least saw it. Here is how it went.
At 9 in the morning we once again left our vehicle in the usual small space on the side of road SP-31, about 8 km (5 miles) from the town of Campagna and set off bright-eyed and bushy-tailed along trail CAI 154. Just 40 minutes later we passed the crossing of Varco Sellara at 1062 meters above seal level. The idea was to retrace out previous steps, go downhill to the south-east, pass the old abandoned tractor, get down into the river bed and and follow it to the valley. At that point we should have had a good view of the hermitage wedged into the cliff-face on the other side of the valley. That was easier said than done.
The first problems arose along the river-bed. It was a difficult slope, so we left it to pursue another trail that looked more hospitable, though the brush. After a number of detours caused by entire stretches of the trail being simply impassible, brambles and thick vegetation, we finally reached a first intermediate trail that ran along the mountainside about halfway up. Along this trail the valley side was protected by coils of barbed wire and we found and old sign that said “Hunting Reserve”.
Hoping that this was the right trail, we kept going to the south for a few hundred meters and squeezed through a tight passage in the rocks. A short time later, the thickets cleared and a view though the trees gave us our first look at the hermitage on the other side of the valley,
It was certain that we had sighted our goal, but it was also evident that we were moving further away from it on the trail we were on. Thus, we decided to take a right-angle and head back down to what looked like the floor of the valley. It was, indeed, and we reached the road that runs along the banks of the water course that runs through the Trogento Glen.
We followed that water course for a few hundred meters and after a narrow turn to the right found a ford that let us finally pass over to the other shore. We were at the base of the ridge that held the hermitage of St. Michael high above us. There was a trail up,and it was the right one, but it was also 2 p.m. So as not to find ourselves in the mountains after sunset, we turned for home.
Going back, because we were actually trying to find the trail described in the published information put out by the Picentine Park, we wanted to follow another route. The first part was easy because the white and red CAI trail markers and the subsequent two river fords to get to the other bank were just as described in the published guide. After a few kilometers, however, the situation changed. The thinning traces of a real trail and the dense vegetation made further passage impossible; thus, we relied on the latest indications from GPS Garmin 60CSx and cut perpendicular on the mountain and followed a dry river bed towards the WayPoint of Varco Sellara. The steep slope and thick vegetation was about all we could handle physically, but perseverance pays off and after an hour's climb we found ourselves back at the Varco Sellara crossing. We rested a bit and then headed down to the valley along the trail past the landslide towards road SP-31 where we had left our faithful off-road clunker.
So once again we returned home without having reached the goal, but that's fine.
Journeys are made up of small steps that, little by little, get you where you're going. Wait till next time! With this experience, we'll get to the base of the cliff sooner, and when we're sure we are on the right trail we'll furnish the proper readings for your GPS so you can reach the hermitage on your own.
Here is a link to the photo gallery of old and new shots of our excursion to the Hermitage of St. Michael.
P.S. On the way back, along the dry river bed, Selene found the lower jaw bone of a boar. We shall extract the long canine teeth and prepare a magic amulet to protect use on our next outing into the woods!