the first Barga/Mare biathlon (well almost)

Inspired by the CAI (hillwalking club) triennial walk from Barga, over the Apuane to the sea at Pietrasanta (see report by Dave Kinder on Barganews) which I couldn't take part in due to B&B commitments, I decided to do a similar walk but in one day rather than over two. Obviously making the trip in one day would be arduous and I decided that to save some time (I reckoned about 2 hours) I would do the first part by bike, then continue on foot. This is my diary of the day.

Ron Gauld, Casa Fontana, B&B, Barga

CAI triennial Barga/Mare walk

Every three years the local branch of the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) have organised a walk from Barga, across the valley of the river Serchio, to Gallicano and by a variety of routes, up to the ridge of the Apuane near Monte Forato. There the party stay in a mountain rifugio before setting off from there down to Pietrasanta and the sea. It is a long walk through spectacular mountain scenery, and as it is usually undertaken in Autumn, weather can be a significant factor.

This year the second part of the route proved to be challenging as a result of heavy rainfall which turned parts of the route to mud. The route crossed the Apuane ridge at Foce di Petrosciana and then followed the west side of the ridge to the Rifugio for the overnight stop.

The Biathlon (October 6th 2006)

My plan was to do the walk in three stages: firstly by bike down from Barga (440m asl) to cross the river Serchio at Mologno (150m), then via Gallicano and Verni (500m) to Trassilico (670m) 2: At Trassilico I would abandon the bike and set off on foot by way of the Garfagnana Trekking route 135, via Monte Bicocca (950m) to the crinale delle Balnorie at 1209m. From there, skirting to the south of Monte Croce I would reach the ridge at Foce delle Porchette, where I would take the track 109 along the east flank of Monte Matanna. 3: At the rifugio I would join the Alta Trekking route no. 3 along the side of Monte Lieto to Foce di Sant'Anna, via Culla, Valdicastello Carducci to Pietrasanta.

Stage 1

At 7:00 it dawned cold, but clear and bright with the rising sun painting the Pania pink. There was low lying mist in the valley but above the sky was the clearest blue. By 7:40 I was on the road speeding down through Barga, to Mologno and across the Serchio. That was the easy part of the route; from there the road climbs slowly but steadily through Gallicano, past the Eremo di Calomini to the little village of Verni at 500m asl. I was making good time and reached Trassilico at 9:40, about 20 minutes ahead of schedule, so I rewarded myself with a coffee and torta di cioccolato, made by Roberta, at the Rifugio la Mesta.

Stage 2

Leaving the bike behind a stone shed, I walked up through the chestnut forests where there were many local residents gathering sackfuls of ripe chestnuts. The falling chestnuts are a serious hazard as they come crashing and rattling down, in their spiky cases from 15m up! The track has a good stony surface and is well marked with the red and white sign of the CAI .

Two hours of steady climbing found me at Monte Bicocca. En route I had passed several groups of funghi hunters with good basketfuls of plump porcini. The gathering of chestnuts and funghi is controlled by the local commune and a licence is required. All along the route the mountain scenery was spectacular and dominated to the north by the sculptural south face of the Pania, bathed in bright sunlight and with the white marble quarry of Mont Altissimo gleaming in the distance. Here you get the first, tantalising view of the coastline beyond the dramatic profile of Monte Forato.

A further two hours along an excellent forestry track (used by foresters, funghi hunters and huntsmen) I was above the Foce delle Porchette. Here the good track ended and there is a steep scramble down through a deep cleft carved out of the limestone by a torrent. It is clearly not a track to be followed in poor weather or after heavy rain or snow melt. A chain hand grip is provided on the steepest section. At the Foce delle Porchette I got my first clear view to the sea framed in the perfect U shaped pass.

Stage 3

the CAI route took the western flank of the Matanna, but I had decided to take the 109 which skirts around the east side, partly as it was more clearly marked, and partly as I planned a lunch stop at the rifugio on the east side of the hill. In retrospect that was not a good decision as it prolonged the walk, and the food at the Matanna was not worth the deviation! I left the rifugio at 3:00 and followed track no.3 until it petered out on a hillside among a herd of cattle, bells donking as they mowed the grass. I retraced my steps till I found a narrow, rough path, poorly marked with faded red and white. Eventually the path connected with the 121 at Foce di Grattaculo (scraped arse!!), but although proudly marked on the maps as an Alta Trekking route (supposed to be maintained by the Province of Lucca) it was in very poor condition and badly eroded. This narrow track continues along the ridge then, above the village of Farnocchia, along the north side of Monte Lieto before climbing steeply up to the Foce di Sant'Anna, which I reached at 6:00pm (about an hour behind schedule due mainly to the poor condition of track and signage) From the ridge there is a fantastic panorama down over the heavily developed coastal strip from Viareggio and Pietrasanta to Forti dei Marmi. The track drops down to Capezzano from where the tarmac road leads down to the centre of Pietrasanta where my walk ended at the station. By now the sun had set, it was getting dark and I had run out of time for the last leg to the sea. In fact that section is a flat and boring trudge along a straight tarmac road through a built up area, so I did not regret missing it.

Epilogue

If I was planning the route again, and I think it is worth repeating, I would make some changes. Stage 1 to Trassilico by bike is excellent; stage 2 to the Foce delle Porchette is also fine but I would cross the ridge there and miss out the Matanna; For stage 3 I would follow the 121/3 as I did on this occasion, but drop down before the Foce di Sant'Anna following the CAI route down to Culla and Valdicastello Carducci, where I would arrange for a bike for the long down hill tarmac stretch to the sea. By making those changes it would be feasible (given good weather) to make the whole journey from Barga to the Sea in a single day by foot power alone.

Ron Gauld, Casa Fontana, B&B, Barga