For several weeks now, I've been wanting to take out the tent and stretch my legs. As the days get longer and the Covid restrictions disintegrate, I take the opportunity to escape for a weekend. My goal: to discover the heart of the Apuan Alps, these mountains 1 hour’s drive north of Pisa. In particular, I expected to admire the view from their dominant point, the Pania della Croce. As we will see, I had to revise my ambitions downwards…
Day 1: Pania della Croce in spring, an overly ambitious summit
I leave from the pretty village of Cardoso. From there, we have a superb view of Monte Forato, a gigantic natural arch which dominates the valley. I then go up to the village of Pruno, completely Italian in its style. The path then winds through the undergrowth before reaching a magnificent viewpoint at the Foce di Borra Larga. In particular, we see several large marble quarries which have made the reputation of this region!
The landscape then becomes much more alpine and it is not very hot in this early spring. Although it is the Apennines, this massif well deserves the name of the Alps! I arrive at the Foce di Mosceta, a place that looks like a peat bog ideal for the bivouac. Unfortunately it's still a little early to pitch the tent.
I swallow my picnic quite quickly because the wind chills me. The path that goes up to Pania della Croche inspires little confidence in me because it still looks snowy. Hikers who look like mountaineers coming back down confirm this to me and strongly advise me not to go up there. So I have to review my objectives a little... I then decide to do the complete tour of Pania della Croce in two days. How will you see, it's still far too ambitious!
For the moment I am still climbing a little higher on the slopes of Mount Corchia. At one point the path goes from south face to north face and I immediately find myself in at least 1m of snow! Fortunately, the path in the forest is not very steep and the snow is rather hard. I travel a few kilometers before leaving the snow and arriving at a place called Fociomboli and its pretty peat bog.
A little further on, I come across a bivouac spot so perfect that I have to stop there despite the late hour. A little soft, green grass, a superb view and a corner already ready for a fire: what more could you ask for! I pitch my tent next to a small, nicely restored church.
Day 2: Monte Forato
In the morning, it's freezing cold and I can feel it passing despite my good sleeping bag. I really don't want to leave! I hear some animals a little further away but I tell myself that it must be deer like I heard during the night. Then I hear a sort of bleating and a clash of horns. This is what pushes me to come out of my den: I am convinced that these are mouflons because they are reported in this natural park!
I come out of my tent and indeed come face to face with a herd of mouflons. I have a bad luck, these animals are very shy and they hadn't seen my tent. Of course, they disappear as soon as I'm in sight... I still have time to take a few photos.
I eat my breakfast while trying to warm up (it froze during the night!). I then set off on a pretty undergrowth path which must have been well used once upon a time but is now fairly poorly maintained. I stop at the Col de Favilla where you can once again admire a church which has been nicely restored.
My plan was then to follow the path on the north face of Pania della Croce. Unfortunately, I quickly come across a bone: there are many avalanche remains from the surrounding cliffs and the snow is hard as ice! I don't have crampons and all this doesn't inspire me much... So I decide to do a simple U-turn of the mountain returning to Foce di Mosceta. So some advice to those who want to undertake this tour: do it in mid-May, not mid-April!
Even following this option, I come across a huge avalanche remnant that I have to cross. I really don't show off even with my walking stick and my sturdy mountain boots. The snow is too hard to carve steps with the shoes, I end up digging them with my stick…
I finally pass this obstacle to find myself at the pretty Mosceta peat bog. To avoid going back down immediately and finishing my hike too quickly, I decide to take a path on the side of the mountain. It is marked difficult but at least it's south face is not snow covered. The path is indeed quite aerial at certain moments in the middle of stones but it is nothing compared to what I crossed before…
I see two animals in the distance in the Pierriers, maybe mouflons or chamois. I then join Foce de Valli and continue towards Monte Forato. The path follows a ridge line which falls on the cliff on the right hand and connects the points of view, it's magnificent!
I finally arrive at the famous Monte Forato, which is too big to fit into the lens of my camera. You can walk on top of the arch, it's quite impressive but not difficult!
The weather becomes quite gray, which is why I quickly go back down towards my starting point. On the way back down, I find the spring vegetation which was absent during this passage at higher altitude. I pass by houses on the mountainside completely in the Italian style before finding myself in Cardoso to finish this adventure. I will have learned the lesson: the Apuan Alps are mountains to be taken really seriously, especially at the start of spring!