This post is also available in: Italiano
Duration of the excursion: 2 Days
Total km traveled: 115 km (65 km first day, 50 km the second)
Elevetion gain (tot): about 3,850 m
Descent cumulated (tot): about 3,850 m
Main check points:
Departure from Terranova di Pollino – 905 m
Riserva Catusa – 1319 m
Riserva Statale Rubbio – 1471 m
Acquatremola – 1430 m
Lago Duglia – 1426 m
Piano di Jumento (Rueping) – 1583 m
Piano dei Moranesi – 1700 m
Casinò Toscano – 1663 m
Piano del Praino (la fagosa) – 1443 m
Pietra Caduta – 1351 m
Piano di Ratto – 1388 m
Colle Marcione – 1300 m
Civita – 432 m
Fonte Scosa – 761 m
Tra San Lorenzo Bellizzi e Cerchiara di Calabria – 825 m
Costeggiando la Serra di Paola – 1202 m
Madonna dello Sparviere (Canale di Vallone Lupara) – 1399 m
Lago artificiale, Località Tappaiolo (Canale di Vallone Lupara) – 1300 m
Alessandria del Carretto – 1020 m
Terranova di Pollino – 905 m
Basilicata doesn’t have half measures, it is a region in the South of Italy where within a few kilometers you can come across hills, vast mountain areas or beaches. Descents and steep climbs are a daily routine, around each corner.
The Ski Instructor Pasquale Larocca knows it very well. He is in love with his territory, the Pollino National Park, where, from an early age he have practiced sports and hiking activities and still does it, as always, for passion but also for duty, being part of the Rescue Alpine Team of Basilicata. One of his latest successes was the victory of IDITA Sport Racing where, for more than 270 km he crossed a desolate area of Alaska triumphing as the first to arrived at the end point, after just over three days. I leave the link here to listen to the story of this magical enterprise.
He guided me on the tour I want to talk in this article: a circular route that begins and ends in Terranova di Pollino (PZ), passing behind one of the most beautiful and imposing peaks of the Pollino National Park, Serra delle Ciavole, reaching Civita (CS) in Calabria, crossing woods and enchanted (and desolate) scenarios between Plataci and Alessandria del Carretto.
But let’s get right into the story!
Appointment in Terranova di Pollino (PZ) at 08:00, at just over 900 m above sea level. Terranova is one of the countries falling within the area of the Pollino National Park , the largest park by surface extension in Italy and the only one, together with some natural areas in Balkan Europe, where it is possible to see the Loricati Pines , imposing trees able to survive up to over 2200 meters.
We get ready with the bikes and we are ready to start this new adventure: my bike is not yet the Scott Scale Elite 900, used to tackle my first solo trip, the Basilicata Coast-to-Coast , but it is still my first MTB Front 29 Bottecchia… (model to be inserted), bought as second hand the previous year (2019). For the path that awaits us, it is certainly not the best choice due to the limiting uphill gears (3 crowns, 7 gears), but it is the best bike I currently have and on which I have been training for a couple of months. The only one I can rely on.
At the starting point I feel well trained and ready because I have been going out a couple of times a week for about two months, covering even more than 70 km in one day. However, I was fully aware that my training, mostly on the road, while useful and necessary, would not be enough to prepare me for such an effort.
The mountain paths are difficult, irregular and you can often run into long climbs with slopes greater than 18/20%. Add the aggravating circumstance of the weight of the equipment necessary for the bivouac and you are already starting to stiffen your legs!
Given the mild weather in September, it was decided to carry along with us a tent, a sleeping bag, a rain jacket, a windproof jacket, freeze-dried food, a stove and some other accessories. Considering the bike weight and everything else I believe I’m carrying something around 30kg of total weight.
The route will be completely uphill for about half of the day. We cover the first 5 km on asphalt which, without wanting to offer us the possibility of gradually warming up our muscles, already shows the first slopes, in some points even greater than 18%, and soon after it begins a long dirt section that leads us near the Catusa Refuge (1319 m), to a spring in the middle of the wood, covered with imposing beech trees, surrounded by a bed of leaves, the first falls, and by very small light pink flowers that seem to have recently blossomed due to their short stem.
In less than 9 km, we have gone from 900 but more than 1,300!
We continue climbing seamless. We head towards to the Three Borders , the intersection, precisely of the borders, of three villages immersed in the Pollino National Park: Mezzana, San Severino Lucano, both Calabrian municipalities and Terranova di Pollino, Lucano municipality. The intersection is located immediately after the entrance to the Rubbio State Reserve (1471 m).
We continue for about 4.5 km, partially slightly downhill, excluding some points where the slopes are really impossible.
Here we are in Acquatremola (1430 m)
We have a small break, a snack and refill the bottles (once again). The next check point will be Lado della Duglia (1426 m) from where we resume pedaling on the asphalt for a small (but steep) stretch that will lead us first near the Segheria Refuge and then up, with a last intense tear, to the Piano Giumenta or Piano di Jumento (1583 m) where in winter it is possible to learn the discipline of cross-country skiing , a sport in the blood of most of inhabitants of this area.
From here on we cycle along the path entitled with the name of the road that comes from the German company which built it in 1910 with the aim of exploiting the forest heritage of the current area of the Pollino National Park: the Rueping . It is still possible to see, in some areas of the Pollino, what remains of the railway tracks such as wooden pylons, beams or real recreational facilities even though converted to shelters, often alas, abandoned to themselves.
Another type of shelters whose construction spread around the same period in which the Rueping was born, is the so-called “Casino”: places where shepherds settled during the periods of grazing and Transhumance from one place to another in the Pollino. We pass to the highest point of our tour, crossing the Piano dei Moranesi at about 1700 m and we reach one of the most famous Casinos, at about 1659 m, which takes its name from the last family who lived there: Tuscan Casino . The geographical point in which it is located makes it really strategic as a place of camp but you must be carefull if you decide to sleep in it since the structure, abandoned for decades, is not in good condition neither safe.
From Casino Toscano onwards we keep cycling on the south-eastern side of the Serra delle Ciavole, one of the highest peaks in the Park that I have reached several times, always and only on the occasion of a two-day trek. In my post The five peaks of the Pollino National Park you can have a glance of the panorama that can be enjoyed from up there and I give you advice, together with the GPS tracks, to reach Serra delle Ciavole, at 2130 m above sea level.
We jump on a new path, the Fagosa one, which takes its name from the Piano della Fagosa that it nearby the route. Followed by Piano del Praino, Pietra Caduta and finally Piano di Ratto (1388 m) and Ratto Piccolo.
From Piano dei Moranesi onwards, we cycle mainly downhill but the thing that amazes me is that I almost regret the climbs and I wonder if I am not hallucinating and wondering what is less painfull: going down or going up!
No hallucinations: especially for those who are not used to traveling rough dirt roads, the downhill route is paradoxically more challanging than the uphill one .
Under such conditions a constant and maximum concentration is required. First of all we need to use the view on three levels: on the first few meters where the front wheel goes; on 10 meters ahead, to choose your track in advance and to have enough space (and time) to avoid excessively irregular points or with obstacles on the ground but also at face height, to avoid branches! Taking all of this into account, you easily forget about the descents sitting comfortably on the saddle where you can even leave the steering: you are not on the road but on a rocky path where a minimum error can easily cost you a fall. The descent in these conditions is carried out standing on the pedals, with the feet parallel, moving the pelvis more or less behind the saddle, depending on the slope of the descent. The muscles used in the descent on dirt are mostly the calves, hands, arms and for those who have never cycled in this conditions, back and nek would get stiffer.
In any case, once you reach Colle Marcione (1300 m), the asphalt ends and you can finally rest with your but (oops!) On the saddle, relaxing yes, but not too much, given the speed you might reach in such ripid descend: in less than 11 km you go from 1,250 m to 432 m to enter the beautiful village of Civita (CS).
Civita (CS) is a town of Arbëresh (Albanian) origins, founded in 1471. I recommend you visit the museum dedicated to Albanian history and culture: it costs a free donation and is a beautiful journey into the past and into the tradition of places that still today do their best to hold them on with dedicated festivals and shows.
One of the most fascinating places in the Pollino is located in a stone’s throw, towards the valley (you always go down and up with steep slopes!), Of Civita: the Devil’s Bridge which connects the two walls of the canyon, dug by the Raganello stream.
The bridge has a beauty that can be intimidating given its height but also because of the gorges on which it stands upon. Near the Lamia spring (near San Lorenzo Bellizzi, CS), the Raganello Gorges are born, which extend for more than 13 km. The source of the river is at more than 1800 m, just below the Grande Porta del Pollino 1947 m.
The break in Civita is characterized by a snack based on typical sweets and drinks: Dried figs, covered with dark chocolate and with nuts; almond milk granita sold by the producer to the consumer in a small local shop in the square. Delicious.
We are preparing to close this day and after a brief discussion on where to camp, we decide to point to the picnic area adjacent to the Fonte Scosa, assuming the risk of suffering or putting our foot on the ground, given the slopes greater than 23% that characterize the last 2 km before arriving at the ideal point.
I admit it: it is hard, really hard. We use to say in Italian “è amara”, litteraly, it’s so bitter that you can’t handle it! The last stretch of about 700 m, maybe even a little more, I walk my bike, even though it felt painfull as well! On the other hand, however, we avoided starting the next morning with an excessively steep section.
Incredulous of how far and how much difference in height we have come to, I take finally my time to stretch with a panoramic view of the Raganello gorges, refreshing my legs and feet with the water of the Fonte Scosa. We set-up our camp and cook our dinner: carbonara and rice with mushrooms, pre-packaged freeze-dried, cooked with the stove of the dechatlon. I’m skeptical about the dried food but, either for fatigue, or for hunger, carbonara is not bad at all!