Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hiking Monte Cucco

Dropping out of chronological order here . . .

View from the heights of Monte Cucco
This is the awesome hike that preceded that fantastic asparagus chowfest in the previous post. If I were to suggest an all-day hike within the environs of Gubbio, this one is it. Heh heh, because it's the only one that we did of course. Every time I gaze at this photo, it's like “I should grow me some wings!” At such altitude, there is nothing cooler than being able to look down upon a bird of prey from above. Too bad my binocular tracking skills suck, as sighting them at closer range would've been icing on the cake.

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa

Monte Cucco stands to the east of Gubbio, right up next to the border which separates Umbria and Marche. A popular retreat in summer, it was blissfully devoid of souls when we arrived at the starting point. The hike begins on Sentiero nr.1 in Val di Ranco at the large parking area to the left of Albergo Tobia. Walk past the children's play area and head on into the forest of ancient beech trees -- up until the halfway point at Pian delle Macinare, the going is fairly level with minor challenges in ascent/descent. Along the way you'll eventually come to Passo del Lupo - yep, that's Wolf's Pass - complete with an ideal panoramic viewing spot. From this point on, nr.1 leads to Pian delle Macinare and the rifugio which goes by the same name. Again, not a blessed soul, and lunch was none other than what else? Simple prosciutto sandwiches and those lupini beans that I could not ever get enough of on this trip.

After Pian delle Macinare you can either turn around the same way you came or continue on to the kick-ass part. And I mean that almost literally! Following the road out of P. Macinare, Sentiero nr.2 will be on the left. Keep an eye out for the telltale red/white marking. It leads immediately into the forest at an unforgivingly rapid ascent that will have you gasping for breath. We're talking a little over 600 feet (187 meters) within 30-40 minutes. Note below how the blue dots cut directly across the thin brown lines in the area named Val Rachena. Out of the woods, a fork in the path points to two ways to return to Val di Ranco. Turning left, we walk on level ground which gradually yields to a gentle ascent.

Black (1) and blue (2) dotted lines trace our path.

The general rule is that what goes up, must come down, and here is where hiking poles and a good sense of balance come in handy. The path (if you could call it that), zigzags downward on the exposed rocky face of the mountain. Dried clumps of grass crop up between the stones. The narrowness of the trail had me leaning toward the mountain's slant, acutely aware that one small misstep would send me tumbling down below on my butt. At a certain point, we had to toss down our hiking poles and scramble through this hole in the rock. On the other side, a constructed grid-type steel platform juts out over the ledge, offering an ideal (if not scary) viewing point over the lofty spaces all around and below.

From here on, the rest is easy. The trail ends at a large grassy area which is a takeoff point for hang gliders. Walking along the paved road, the turnoff to Val di Ranco eventually comes into view. Total hike time: 5½ hours (lunch break at Pian delle Macinare included)

Detailed itinerary (italian) at Parco del Monte Cucco website.