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Translated Jeff Matthews

This latest adventure truly tested the mental and physical prowess of the Junior Woodchuck section of NUg. Here's why.

As is often the case when deciding on goals for our outings, we put ourselves at the mercy of the creative afflatus and perverse fantasies of our “woods witch”, Selene. After pouring over ancient texts, browsing the web, and reading coffee grounds, she usually manages to come up with some intriguing hypotheses as to where we should go and what we should see. Her latest hallucin... vision (going back to last month) revealed three wayfarers unto her; they trekked through dense woods, climbed high mountains, forded mighty waters and reached, at the end of the “journey”, the magical hermitage set in the steep flank of the Sacred Mountain. How could we say 'no? The journey was by no means simple, and, indeed, took us three attempts in a row during which, as in the olden quests of ritual initiations, we came ever closer to the consciousness induced by the knowledge of places.

Act I
The Wolf, the White Rabbit and the Mechanical Monster
(date: Friday 12 June 2015)
Lost in the wilds
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...”
If you haven't read that episode, you may do so now [Lost in the wilds]

The metal monster

Act II
The Tusks of the Boar
(date: Sunday 28 June 2015)
The Lost Hermitage of St. Michael in the Picentines is Still a Mystery
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...
If you have not read that episode...you may do so now [The Lost Hermitage of St. Michael in the Picentines is Still a Mystery]

The trail of the brigands

The Goal
(date: Sunday 12 July 2015)
On the Trail of the Lost Hermitage
We had almost no sleep the night before setting off, as much due to the sweltering nighttime heat as to the excitement that had already started to pump adrenaline through us, not to mention that we knew this time we would have no excuse: we had to make it!
We arose at “Dark o' Clock”, had coffee an then hit the road for the 150 km between us and the Picentines, stopped at the usual breakfast bar in the town of Campagna for a good-luck coffee and pastry and rapidly drove up the SP31 until we got to the roadside space that marked the beginning the CAI [Italian Alpine Club] trail-154 (the one that would lead us up to the Sellara Crossing). The first climb on the trail is 1.6 km (1 mile) long; it has a change in level of 300 meters. This time we covered it under a blazing sun in exactly 34 minutes (the first time out, it had taken us a bit more than an hour; the second time, 45 minutes).
At the top, we first offered up to the Mountain the jawbone of the boar, burying it near the Great Tree. Only after we had done that, sealing the act by extracting the tusks and fashioning the sacred necklace that would protect us from the Krampus, the evil witch of the woods—only after all that did the magic portal open to what lay beyond, the path to east-southeast towards the Valley of the Trogento. [author's note: the trail lies on the other side of barbed wire, which is why we had missed it earlier.] The first part of the trail was as briefly described in the CAI pamphlet—easy to find and an easy trail. It was a pleasant descent on a slight slope on the border of a wooded area, and got us imagining what lay ahead—green pastures and hills in bloom. That was not to be. The rest of the printed description did, in fact, lay out what was about to unfold before us on the trail: ”...about a third of the way down the trail and for 500 meters, the path disappears into thick, low undergrowth...”. That's the way it was: the ferns and other shrubs of the woods ever more entwined in brambles and thorns forced us away from our narrow path more than once; had it not been for our faithful Garmin GPSMAP 60csx we'd still be out trying to disentangle ourselves from that treacherous trap. After about an hour of “heavy fighting”—brambles sticking out of our bleeding flesh!—the vegetation suddenly parted and showed us the trail that we had partially covered on the previous occasion. We had dome it! Now we knew the road up to the three fords that would get us back and forth over the Trogento and open the way for the ascent of the Sacred Mountain.
Once over the stream and onto the excavated part that started up the mountain with the hermitage almost at the summit, we fond the “three curves in the rising trail” (description from the CAI pamphlet) and reached the “characteristic path” (?) on the right that climbed to the summit. We had counted on some difficulty at this point because the descriptions advised, in general, to choose the least steep paths on the way up; when descriptions provide as little detail as that, it's a sure thing that you are about to “lose your way in a gloomy wood” and like the divine poet, you will have to have to struggle to “find your way aright” again. [translator's note: quoted text and “divine poet” are references to Dante and the opening lines of The Divine Comedy.] The first stretch had some characteristic CAI trail markers (a double white-red band) still visible, though somewhat faded from time; at a certain point, they disappeared, too. Alone in the woods, we relied on instinct and awareness of the direction we had to move in; we struggled but finally made it to the fountain of the Acqua del Merlo (Water of the Blackbird). Again, the CAI guide said it was close, and, again, it wasn't quite like that.

The fountain of the Acqua del Merlo

A few minutes passed—20 maybe 30, maybe more because now time seemed to make no sense to us anymore; had we perhaps given up? Then we saw the “grassy clearing” and then the “ancient stone cross”. We were there. An ancient stairway, a rusted iron gate with a knocker permanently open from the rust of ages, the passageway to the “characteristic grotto” and one last climb up a stepped ramp to face out over the void and watch the nervous flight of soaring hawks from this highest place, this Hermitage of San Michele. It was done! We had made it.

The hermitage of the San Michele

The building, itself, was closed (there may have been someone inside, but after isolating himself in this fashion, why would he have wanted to open up just for us?). We took a look through a peephole at the small church at the entrance and another look into the grotto beyond the gate that leads to the hermitage itself (definitely locked up tight), tried to decipher various dates chiseled into the rock and reckon their connections to mysterious events from those undefinable times meant for contemplating the mountains, valleys and woods beneath us. The hawks still soared and their cries said they were now even more nervous from our presence. We set out for home. It would be a tough hike back to our own “winged chariot” parked in the clearing along SP31 a few valleys over to the west.

This trip expanded our awareness. We behaved like mastiffs with a firm bite on something, refusing to let go. The terrain had become more familiar to us and we moved upon it with ease and nimbleness. We took away a few scars, but look what we got in return: the wolf, the White Rabbit, the Steel Monster, the berries, our skin entangled in thorns, the Sacred Amulet, and flights of hawks. That paid us back. That all makes it even more worthwhile.

P.S. The attacked traces and waypoints may serve as a guide to make your hike easier by pointing you in the right directions, but please remember to heed the signs that nature gives you. Do not put all your faith in technology, certainly more fallible than your own instinct. Danger is always nearby when you are trekking around woods and mountains. Don't take anything for granted and...

Download GPS indications here.

GPS indications

Other photos from this outing: The Hermitage of San Michele in the Picentines

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