Mount Altissimo (1589 m)
Gobbie - Uncini - vetta - Vaso Tondo - Fondone
provincia di Massa
Grade: E / EE
Starting point: Le Gobbie
Height to climb: 402 m
2h from Le Gobbie to the summit via Passo degli Uncini. Allow 2h for the descent from the summit back to Le Gobbie via Passo del Vaso Tondo.
First climbed: maggio 2007
A few words
Mt. Altissimo is one of the most famous peaks in the Apuan Alps. Notwithstanding its name (Altissimo means "the highest" or "very high"), Mt.Altissimo is not even among the highest peaks in the range. But as it's the nearest to the plain, and stands almost isolated, people of Versilia have perceived its height as truly impressive and named it consequently.
The story goes that Michelangelo himself was fascinated by Mt.Altissimo and its marble, and often came here. But he could never use this marble for his sculptures, for the quarries we see today (Cervaiole and Fondone, among others) were opened much later.
This page describes the ascent to the summit with a short but not to be underestimated circuit route (Le Gobbie - Uncini - summit - Vaso Tondo - Fondone - Le Gobbie) starting in the nearby of a remote village in the Apuan Alps, located between the coast of Tuscany and the city of Lucca
Getting to the starting point
- From the coast of Tuscany or Liguria
Take A12 motorway Genova-Livorno and exit at Versilia Junction, then follow signs for Castelnuovo Garfagnana. Past the small villages of Ruosina, Retignano and Levigliani, drive through the characteristic tunnel called Galleria del Cipollaio then turn L for the village of Arni at the first junction.
Past Arni and another short tunnel, you'll reach Albergo Le Gobbie (1087 m), a big hotel that stands isolated on the right. Park on the left of the road.
It is about 40 km in all, but it takes time, as most of the route is on a narrow and winding road.
You could also reach Le Gobbie following another road from the city of Massa via Antona and the Passo del Vestito, but you couldn't get to Le Gobbie from this side in May 2007 because a tunnel was closed for road works.
- From the city of Lucca
Take the road for Castelnuovo Garfagnana and then from here follow the signs for Galleria del Cipollaio.
By public transport
Forget about that. Vaibus (www.vaibus.it) does the bus service from Pietrasanta to Castelnuovo Garfagnana and this bus stops at Arni, but there are few runs, probably not enough to allow you to do the Altissimo in one day.
From the car park take the unpaved road going toward the wood, which soon rejoins the signed path (waymarking is red and white signs, or just red signs).
After a short and well graded ascent in the shade, the path crosses an unpaved road (a "marmifera", a road leading to a marble quarry) going up on the left (picture n.1).
As no signposts or indications are available, you don't know which way to choose. We continued on the path straight ahead, and discovered that this path (n.42) leads to the Foce del Frate, and from here another path takes you to the Passo degli Uncini. On the other hand, the unpaved road (marmifera) going up to the left leads to the Fondone quarries, but very soon it forks again and clear signposts point right for Passo degli Uncini (path n.33).
As you have to reach Passo degli Uncini anyway, both routes are therefore good. Ours was slightly longer, but we also reached the Foce del Frate (1327m, 45min from car park), from which you enjoy the first breathtaking views of the sea and of the Versilia plain.
From Foce del Frate it's just a 15min walk to Passo degli Uncini (1380m, 1h). From here again nice views of Versilia and of the sea.
From the Passo degli Uncini the path (now numbered n.143, but no numbers on the ground to be seen) becomes a little more demanding. You don't climb the steep western ridge (picture n.2), you just walk all around it on the N side, following a narrow path (marked with red, and at times also with blue signs) that entails just one slightly exposed stretch. The path then ascends the steep slope on grassy and rocky terrain (picture n.3). You have to find some handholds for some passages, but there's nothing difficult here.
Once you've reached the ridge, you follow it up to the summit. As the ridge is reasonable wide, the going, again, is quite easy and the summit of Mt.Altissimo (1589m, 2h) is soon gained (picture n.6).
The summit enjoys a sweeping view in all directions. Mt.Altissimo towers above Versilia and the Tirreno Sea. The far-reaching views extend to the N to the Gulf of La Spezia, with Portovenere and the small islands (Palmaria, Tino and Tinello); to the S the densely populated coast of Versilia with, further S, Lake Massaciuccoli. Just below you the impressive Cervaiole Quarry and the Passo del Vaso Tondo come into sight. Behind, to the W, most peaks of Apuan Alps can be easily spotted: Sagro, Cavallo, Contrario, Tambura, Sella, Fiocca, Sumbra, Pania della Croce, Corchia, and a tiny portion of Mt.Pisanino, to the left of Mt.Tambura.
On a good day even Corsica and the islands of Tuscany may be seen, along with the distant Maritime Alps!
The descent follows the SE ridge, on a different and easier path that goes down to the Passo del Vaso Tondo (1471 m). From the summit the path starts on your left (E-SE) and it's well marked with splashes of paint from the very beginning. The route is steep but easier, without exposure at all and nice views to the south (picture n.7 and n.8).
The pass (Passo del Vaso Tondo) is an obvious saddle where four trails meet: ours from the summit; a signed path continuing straight on to the Cervaiole quarries; another path coming from the right (Versilia side), known as the Tacca Bianca (White Notch), very exposed and dangerous; a path descending on the left (N), the one we have to take to reach the quarry (Cave Fondone).
After a few hair-pin bends this path leads you into the middle of the quarry (picture n.9), a fascinating experience of blinding whiteness. Follow the unpaved road (marmifera) but be careful not to miss an abrupt turn-off down on the L, poorly indicated (signs are meant for those coming up, and are located on a cliff on your right). Please note that this turn-off is not too far from the area of the quarry, so if you find yourself walking for too long without seeing a downhill branch on the left you'll probably have to retrace your steps (which is what we did).
Once taken this turn-off on the left, you'll find yourself on another unpaved road (marmifera). A stroll away is another fork: ignore the R branch for path n.31 (it descends to Arni, but still too far from the car park) and stick to the main road straight on.
After several ups and downs the marmifera descends till you find the fork and signposts for Passo degli Uncini (path n.33); minutes later you reach the confusing junction of this morning (picture n.1: you'll be coming from the left). At this point you need the L path descending to the car park of Le Gobbie.
I'll start with my personal general warnings on the Apuan Alps: these beautiful but tricky mountains can be very dangerous in winter because of ice or verglas, and paths generally become very slippery in the wet. Unless you are experienced and properly equipped, be careful not to choose the wrong time of the year, or to hike here in bad weather. Late spring and early autumn are almost always ok, while summer is not recommended for the unbearable heat.
This said, this route is a little demanding, but not difficult; it's not too long, and the elevation to gain reasonable anyway. You'll be rewarded with truly breathtaking views.
In addition, the place evokes strong impressions. I've told you about Michelangelo; then there is World War II: Mt. Altissimo was on the Gothic Line, and bunkers and other military ruins are still visible, by close, scattered and half hidden as they are along the flank of the mountain.
The quarry experience is another plus point. Here you walk through one, and it's truly fascinating. I don't know exactly how things work for marble quarries, except that they are privately owned, that there are people working there on weekdays, and that the hikers' presence is tolerated if they stick to the rules and follow what signs tell them to do, most times for their own safety. Some marble quarries in this area around Carrara are open for a thorough visit, but I do not think these are.
La descrizione di questo itinerario risale ormai a parecchi anni fa e non verrà più aggiornata. Nel frattempo, però, i luoghi, le vie di accesso ed i sentieri potrebbero essere cambiati.
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