Of Plateaux and Black Leaps

After a very propitious start, with several days of wall-to-wall sunshine, the spring is giving us somewhat unsettled weather. It’s great for plants – the cloudy atmosphere is reminiscent of tropical rain forests – but not so good for walking. Has the climate really changed that much in eight years?

In May 2007 I decided to take a long walk from near Vico Pancellorum up to the Balzo Nero mountain which lords it over the village.

The walk was mainly on CAI footpath no 8, starting at 2066 feet and which follows the valley of the Coccia di Vico torrent. The first part was a broad unmetalled road which then gave way to a path crossing a large scree slope.

After an initial exposed part, the path plunged into a wonderfully thick holm oak forest.

There was a little detour  to see the Grotta dei Porci (cave of the pigs) at 2460 feet which was suitably mysterious. I don’t exactly know why it’s called the cave of the pigs. Perhaps the name refers to wild pigs or boars which might shelter there when the weather is inclement. In summer, obversely, the cave could be a good place to cool off in!

I then re-joined the main path which began to rise until the forest ended and then entered an area called “I Piani”, a grassy plateau emerging from a beautiful beech forest at altitude 3854 feet, and immersed in a faery mist, strangely reminiscent of the Welsh highlands.

From here there was a choice of either going right to the top of the Balzo Nero (“black leap”), the rocky mountain which overlooks Vico Pancellorum, or turning left to a viewpoint called Poggio degli Agli.


I did neither but decided in view of the thickening mist to take a short rest and then descend back to my starting point using, however, an alternative path no 8b, to do so.

This path avoided the forest but involved a lot of scree walking about which one had to be careful to avoid a twisted ankle. I got to my scooter safely; glad that at least I’d reached that eerie plateau of I Piani.


Here is a map including the route I took (I did the violet and red bits in a clockwise direction):

Balzo Nero 2 giugno ok

There’s also a good map with photographs showing signs of the route taken at https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=z6egWTtpeHUw.kEmT_67Xtoes

I would repeat the walk again in later years, once with a group of keen Germans. They seemed to walk at break-neck speed and actually reached the top of the Balzo Nero. Instead, I again rested at I Piani. Will I reach the top of the Balzo Nero this year, I wonder?


In working out walks one should remember even more than the distance travelled, which in this case was just a little over ten kilometres, the various differences in height level one has to traverse. In this case it was a total of 945 metres. There is also the question of gradients, useful to know if one has a vertigo problem or doesn’t like more extreme scrambles over rocks. In this walk the maximum gradient was 54%.

The walk is classified as grade E. There are several different hiking difficulty grades in operation through the world. Difficulties in Italy are measured according to a clearly defined scale laid down by CAI (Club Alpino Italiano, founded by Indian army Colonel Budden back in the nineteenth century. See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/high-rise-hotel/ for more on this remarkable character) as follows:

T Tourist trail

Hiking within everyone’s reach; route on roads, mule or wide paths; paths are generally not long, do not present any orientation problem and do not require specific training. Trails are near villages, resorts, roads, and are easy for all able-bodied persons.

E Hiking trails

Hiking that takes place on well-signed and marked footpaths trails or mule tracks and cross a variety of terrain including forest, fields, and screes. Discrete physical training and orientation skills are required.

EETrail for experienced hikers

Routes that involve an ability to move easily over rough and treacherous terrain. Requires good prior exercising, good knowledge of the mountain, and basic techniques in use of appropriate equipment. Generally they correspond to routes crossing medium or high mountain and may include some vie ferrate (use of steel cables or iron steps to help one across some sections – in England’s lake district there’s a via ferrata in Honister’s slate mine. In Italy there are over 400 vie ferrate over half on them in the Dolomites but quite a few here both in the Apuans and the Apennines.)

EEA Path for expert hikers with suitable equipment

These are equipped paths or climbing routes that lead hikers on high cliffs, ridges and ledges, Ropes are essential together with helmets, harness etc. (unless one is a free climbing expert). See my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/rock-cake-or-panettone/ for pictures of this kind of walk.

EAI Hiking in snowy environment These are routes in snowy environment that require the use of snowshoes. The Apuans in winter are the real challenge here as often there is ice beneath the snow where at least one person in our area falls to their doom every year.

Finally how long is the walk supposed to take? In this case the suggestion was from five to six hours which was pretty accurate as far I was concerned back in 2007. Will it take longer now….?


4 thoughts on “Of Plateaux and Black Leaps

  1. Sadly every year expert climbers seem to die on these mountains so I think that the time has come to hang up those boots and be sensible about matters no shame in that just thinking self preservation after all one can do excellent walks on safer paths without scree and impossible gradients and of course one gets slower as one grows older I think this happens to us all!

  2. Safety first, nothing wrong with a bit of self preservation! How’s the weather generally over there?

    In the recent past if we’ve taken two weeks in Bagni in April around Easter, the first week has been cool but the weather seemed to become warmer around 11/12 April; after that it just kept getting warmer and when we returned to Bagni at Whit half-term it was (to us at least) full blown summer. From what yourself and other bloggers have written, that seems to have changed?

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