We left Ravenna on the 13th of August. Well, that was the plan anyway. Halfway to the Apennine mountains, we decided the weather was too bad. We turned around and headed for the seaside. We found a nice camping by the beach and were just about to set up our tent when it started to pour. It was one hell of a storm. Thunder rolled back and forth, sometimes closer, sometimes further away, never fading away completely. water pouring down from the sky... Definitely not beach weather. We run back to the car and drove back to Ravenna. And, of course, that's when it stopped raining.
We left Ravenna on the 14th of August and headed for the Apennines once again. We found a camping near a small town inexplicably named San Benedetto in Alpe. Once again, it started to rain as soon as we got there. When it stopped raining, we went to the town in search of a map (This time not having one was fully justified, since we had only decided to go there two days before and couldn't find one in Ravenna).
It was a nice place, but there was one strange thing about it. Somehow it felt as though everything in the town, including the cat sitting by the church door, had been here as long as the church (which had apparently been there since the 10th century*). Of course, it was a very old cat.
Eventually, we found a shop, but it was closed and not going to open for a couple of hours. And then it started to pour again. We entered a cafe. It was technically closed, but the door was open and they were even selling coffee.
By the time it stopped pouring, the shop had opened and, hooray, we managed to buy a map.
The next day we finally started hiking. We walked to a nearby waterfall, the town's main tourist attraction. The path was rather crowded, but somehow when we reached the waterfall, there weren't many people there. We spent some time there taking way too many pictures.
We walked on through places with lovely names like Poggio dell Inferno and Cozzo di Diavolo. The trip took us longer than we expected and we didn't have enough food,** so we were really hungry when we got back to our camp, but it was fun.
The mountains are beautiful. And the best thing is how few people you meet there. No crowds. No rubbish on the ground. Just nature. There are not many places like that.
The day after that, we wlaked to a lake called Lago di Ponte. It was windy. After about an hour, it started to rain a little. Of course, since it hadn't rained yesterday, Dad had taken the raincoats out of the backpack. Mum decided we must go back. I didn't like the idea, but being wet for the rest of the day didn't seem much better. Since it wasn't raining too much, I managed to convince my parents to sit down under the trees and eat something before going back. It turned out to be a good idea. Soon, it stopped raining and the sun came out again.
Once again, we walked all day and only met one group of people: Some teenagers and a priest with big backpacks. Mum started to wonder why it seems like only religious people hike in the mountains. I came up with a strange thought:
If I had the need to pray regularly, I wouldn't go to church. Instead, I would climb a different mountain every week. And I'd pray for the inner peace, and for the strength and patience to deal with everyday life. And my prayers would be heard.
That was our last day in the Apennines. After that we moved on to the Alps. We stayed at the camping Palafavera. A very nice place with a beautiful view of the mountains.
Our first trip was in the direction of Civetta. We walked to the Rifugio Coldai, then to a nearby mountain lake. Then Dad started to worry about his knee. He went back to Coldai, as Mum and I walked on to Rifugio Tissi. The most amazing thing in the high mountains is the plants. High up where the toughest dwarf pines give up, colourful flowers grow directly on the bare rock. In some places, just below the first snow, the air is filled with their smell.
The second most amazing thing is... cows. Seriously. How the hell did they get there. They are not, as far as I know, skilled climbers, and yet there are cows in places where some humans have trouble climbing.
The third place goes to the Italians' tendency to talk all the time. Seriously, those people never shut up. It's a beautiful language, but hearing it behind you all the time when you're hiking in the mountains can get annoying after an hour or two.
But when we got away from tha group, the rest of the trip was really nice.
Meanwhile at Coldai, Dad managed to gather some information about the path to the top of Civetta and decided it was too dangerous to let me climb it. I guess I'll have to go there without him some day.
Instead of Civetta, we decided to climb Monte Pelmo. It was a three day trip. Less than half an hour after we left the camping and headed for Rifugio Venezia, we realised we had forgotten to take matches. This could be a problem, since we'd decided to cook our own meals. Still, we weren't that far away from our car. Since Dad and I were carrying the backpacks, Mum went back down to get the matches. Since we only had one map, we had to leave signs for her to make sure she finds us. She caught up with us at a crossroads. One road went around the mountain, the other one went around the mountain. We chose the first one.
Eventually, we reached the hostel. It looked nice enough, but it lacked a certain friendly atmosphere found in this type of places in Poland.
We got there early enough to go and take a look at the path we were planning to walk the next day. It looked just difficult enough to be interesting, but we met some guys coming down and Dad decided to ask them what they thought. They told us it was very, very difficult, practically impossible without your own ropes and a ton of other equipment. One of them added something like "Especially with... " and looked at me like I was something you have to carry. This was the exact moment I decided not to give up. Dad spent the rest of the evening trying to discourage me, but in the morning he agreed to go.
It was a little more difficult than I'd expected. To the untrained eye the path looked like just another not-quite-horizontal crack in the rock, but it was wide enough to walk comfortably... most of the time. Until we reached the place known as Passo dell Gato, or the Cat. It's called that because to get through it you have to crawl on all fours, while holding on to the rock with your nails. If you mess up, you fall a few hundred meters down. There is a rope, but it's pretty old and not entirely safe.
Oh well. Dad handed me the backpack. I was supposed to hand it back to him when he's on the other end. He got scared and decided to go back. And he needed some help getting out.
But it would have been such a shame to back out now. Eventually, we decided to try again. Mum approached the Cat, grabbed the rope, reached one rock with her left foot, pulled her right knee onto another, and finally she made it. Dad passed the backpack to her and followed, a bit uncertainly, trying to copy her technique. For a while he stopped halfway there, insisting that he needs to look after me (I wondered what he could even do if someting went wrong. Catch me?). I told him to get out of the way.
And then I was alone. I didn't look down. I'm pretty sure not afraid of heights, but this was not a good moment to check. I found a convenient rock to put my foot on. But it was too far away. I glanced at the rope. It looked uncertain. I took one more look at the Cat as a whole.
"The first step is the hardest," I repeated an old saying. "That and trusting this damn rope," I added.
I grabbed the rope carefully. I looked death in the eye. It winked and said "It's not your time yet, kid"***. The rest was indeed easy enough.
On the other side I saw a metal plaque on the stone wall with a name and two dates on it. "If I die in a place like this," I thought "don't bother with plaques. Install a chain for others to hold on to".
The rest of the way up was much easier or at least safer, although the trail markings seemed to be placed on the slope at random. But we knew that to get to the top you need to go up.
After a while, though, Dad started to worry about his knee again. Maybe if the weather was better I would have argued more, but the top of Monte Pelmo is always hidden in the clouds. At one point he refused to come any further. Mum and I climebed a bit higher. We're pretty sure now it can't have been much more than half an hour's walk to the top. But it was chilly. We didn't want to make Dad wait an extra hour just because the eternal cloud had gone away for a moment. Anyway, the place we ended up in was pretty awesome too.
The Cat seemed a little more difficult on the way back. Or maybe I just made the mistake of looking down this time? At least now I know for sure that death still scares me. It's oddly reassuring somehow.
Later on, we heard thunder, but it didn't start to rain until the moment we got back to the hostel. I suddenly stopped regretting not climbing to the top.
After we came back from Pelmo the hostel staff apparently started to like us more, as if the Cat was some sort of rite of passage, some kind of test that we had passed. We still got two new roommates that night. Strange people. They might not have been older than Dad, but I can only think of them as those two old geezers. They were just so serious. It seemed like things like tea, wine, pretty views or evenings were not a part of their lives. Before it even started getting dark they were sleeping: on their backs, with their heads exactly in the middle of the pillows, with the blankets pulled up neatly almost to their necks and their hands on top of the blankets. It's kinda hard to say what exactly was so strange about it, but it made me think "Who the hell sleeps like that?!"
I woke up at night. It can't have been later than 5 a.m.. They were already gone. I went back to sleep. There was still plenty of time.
The next day we went back down around the other side of the mountain. First we had to climb to Forcella di Val d'Arcia. According to the map there was supposed to be a glacier there. It wasn't as impressive as we'd expected.
That's it? Really?
We found out when we entered the valley (Choosing the path someone we met at the pass liked better, rather than the one we had planned to take. We do that sometimes). It was like another planet. One with no life on it. There were no plants anywhere and it was oddly cold. Finally I realised. The glacier was burried under the rocks about a meter below our feet. After a while we reached a place from which the only way to go was down, ankle-deep in little rocks.
It was a little steeper than it looks in this picture. It was difficult at first, but then I worked out a way to move down on top of the miniature avalanches under my feet. It was actually kinda fun.
But after we got all the rocks out of our boots we realised we were not where we'd expected to end up. Sure, we knew which way to go, but it was still odd. Getting back to the camping took us nearly twice as long as we'd expected, but it was fun and we weren't in a hurry.
And that's about it. The journey back home was rather uneventful.
* It had, of course, been completely rebuilt several times.
** Or maybe the mistake was bringing the Austrian bread, which was still fresh and tasty after a week, so eating a little only made you want more, instead of the Italian one, which tasted like cotton wool in a cardboard box, so just one bite could convince you you're not quite that hungry.
*** I was a little disappointed at the lack of CAPSLOCK speech.