Short description and aim of this site (last update 2012)
Homo Appenninicus is a sub-section of the Anfablopir.com website. Its pages are devoted to my hiking experience through the south-western ranges of the Italian Alps (Ligurian, Maritime and Cottian Alps), and through the Ligurian Apennines and the Apuan Alps.
The aim of this section is to provide foreign hikers with some information and pictures about destinations and routes in this area.
I am not an Alpine guide and I am not an English native speaker. I've tried hard to be as accurate as possible, but I apologize in advance for the mistakes you might find on these pages, either in the information provided or in the language.
"Homo Appenninicus" is a Latin expression meaning "Apennine Man". I use it with my friends as a private joke, meaning that the "Apennine Man" is a more cautious and fearful "species" than the "Alpine Man" (i.e. the Alpinist).
But to tell the truth, it is the Alps I really love. And here, too, it is possible to find easy routes and peaks, even 3000m or higher, where no climbing or scrambling is involved.
What you find on these pages
Detailed descriptions - with general information, pics and (sometimes) maps - of routes to easy peaks in the south-western ranges of the Italian Alps (Ligurian, Maritime and Cottian Alps) and in the Ligurian Apennines.
This is not just the English translation of the Italian pages. What you find here is something more, since I assumed that as a foreigner you need to know something more specific before embarking on any walking adventure through the Italian mountains. And something less, because not all pages and all routes have been translated into English.
As for the Alps, I've asked myself who might be travelling to this part of the Alps and for which purpose, and I've come to the conclusion it might be people doing some stages of the Grande Traversata delle Alpi (GTA).
I think that the GTA can be a great experience, but one may wish to "add salt" to his daily ups-and-downs between one pass and the next valley floor by climbing some easy peak; this is why I have translated (or planned to translate), of all routes, just those along the GTA or implying only small detours from it.
As for the Apennine routes, my idea is that there might be people going to Genoa or to some other renowned places in Liguria (Portofino or the Cinque Terre, to name just a few), willing to do some hill-walking anyway, and I have chosen the routes passing through or departing from these places.
Routes available in English
At present the following routes are available in English:
» Mount Altissimo (1589 m, Apuan Alps)
» Mount Tenibres (3031 m, Maritime Alps)
» Testa dell'Ubac (2991 m, Maritime Alps)
» Mount Maniglia (3177 m, Cottian Alps)
» Rocca La Marchisa (3072 m, Cottian Alps)
» Col and Mount Bellino (2942 m, Cottian Alps)
» Monviso (Mount Viso) (3841 m, Cottian Alps)
Many more routes will be published in the English version as soon as possible.
These routes are also accessible from the main page "Archivio Gite" (routes archives) where you can find the complete list of my hiking trips (146 in Febraury 2012).
I have devoted a web page with pictures, general info, route description (and sometimes a map) to each route listed there. I hope all this might be of interest even to those who aren't familiar with Italian. So please have a look.
A few warnings on how to read my route descriptions:
- I've done all the peaks described, so there is no "hearsay" here.
- As a rule, no information on distance is given, as this is not a very important factor in the Alps, or at least not so important as, for example, the height gain, that is how many metres you have to climb.
- the height to climb is given in terms of difference between the starting point and the summit. In case of significant ups and downs with further loss or gain of height I've made it clear explicitly.
- as for timing, I've considered the time you need from the starting point to the summit according both to guidebooks or signposts and to my own experience (my pace during the ascent is generally faster).
Stops are never included. The way back or down is not included either.
- Grades and rating of difficulty: there is a whole section below. Notwithstanding the grade given to a route, I've always seen it with the Apennine Man's (cautious) eyes, so I have never omitted to mention or describe passages or situations where I felt problems or potential hazards.
Grades - Alpine rating system of hiking and climbing
The Italian alpine rating system of hiking and climbing is the same as in France, and it is as follows:
"T" indicates a route for "tourists" ("T" stands for "Turistico").
A route graded "T" is not much different from the walk you take in the park at home. We are talking here about walks on country roads or very large paths, where no experience is required and very little physical effort is made. Almost any footwear would be appropriate, from tennis shoes to mountaineering boots.
"E" identifies a route for "mountain hikers" ("E" stands for "Escursionistico").
This grade covers all hiking activities on paths even at high altitudes (3000m), no matter what the terrain (grassy, rocky, scree slopes), the ascent to climb (could be 1400m or more). Therefore you must be physically fit, have a reasonable knowledge of mountains and of the outdoor environment, and wear proper footwear and equipment.
No technical knowledge is required, however, and on an "E" grade route you will always find a definite path to follow.
"EE" indicates a route for "expert mountain hikers" ("EE" stands for "Per Escursionisti Esperti").
A route may be rated "EE" for a number of alternative reasons: because it includes exposed passages, requiring head for heights and sure foot; or it may entail easy scrambling, or orienteering on rough terrain, without a real path to follow. This is the upper limit of hiking. Glaciers, however, are never involved. IGC maps (see below) generally show "EE" paths with red dots (but the reverse is not always true).
The difference between E and EE is tricky, the very concept of exposure, for example, being not that easy to define. According to my experience, E grade routes do involve very easy scrambling at times, and may present slight exposure too.
Climbing "F" (stands for "Facile") that is "Easy" (climbing).
This is the first stage of alpinism. The difference between EE and F, again, is not always very clear, though if you are on an F grade route you are already "climbing" (scrambling) and not "hiking" any more, which means that handholds (and even footholds) are not optional but necessary to proceed here.
Above "F" you have serious stuff, climbing far too complicated for us "Homines Appenninici" (Apennine Men) to be even dreamt of! Anyway the rating goes on like this : PD: peu difficile / not very difficult - AD: assez difficile / fairly hard - D: difficile / difficult - TD: très difficile / very difficult - ED: extremement difficile / extremely difficult.
Note that often a + or a - is placed after the grade to indicate that a particular climb is at the lower or upper end of that grade (e.g. a climb slightly harder than "F" might be "F+", if slightly easier than "PD" might be "PD-". "PD-" is therefore slightly harder than "F+").
NB. This rating system, generally used in guidebooks, expresses an overall rating of the route, taking into consideration the technical difficulty along with the quality of rock, the length of the ascent, altitude, danger, commitment, etc.
Sometimes this rating comes with the indication of the most difficult climbing passage, expressed in roman numbers (e.g.: F, with one passage of II)
All grades refer to ideal conditions of weather and terrain. In the Alps these ratings make sense only in the summer (basically July and August).
Whatever the season, ice, snow and even rain may turn an "E" route into a much harder and dangerous one.
Routes described on my pages are mostly rated "E", sometimes "EE", with the odd "F" (and even "PD-") experience.
Maritime and Cottian Alps. How to get there and around by public transport: train and bus
If you have no car, the best starting point for exploring the area of Maritime and Cottian Alps is the town of Cuneo.
Since December 2008 Ryan Air (www.ryanair.com) offers low-cost flights from London, Birmingham and Dublin to Cuneo Levaldigi.
This makes things incredibly easy and cheap. At last!
The Cuneo airport (Levaldigi)(www.aeroporto.cuneo.it) is connected via shuttle to Fossano railway station, from which you've got a train to Cuneo every half an hour.
A bus service is also available from the airport to Limone, Mondole Ski and Vars (France) but runs on Saturdays only and with seasonal restrictions.
You can reach Cuneo by train from both Turin and Savona (Liguria), this latter a good option if you come from Genoa or France. Railway timetable is available at www.trenitalia.it
Cuneo is a nice town (smart shops) in a wonderful setting and deserves some of your time.
Cuneo has got bus connections with all the valleys from where our routes start (Tanaro, Gesso, Stura, Grana, Maira, Varaita, Po, Pellice).
Regione Piemonte, at www.regione.piemonte.it/ptplweb/index.do, has a search engine for bus lines and timetables.
Or it may be easier to visit the bus companies' websites:
- Benese (www.benese.it, lines and timetables available only on the Italian page), operates bus service for Valle Maira (Cuneo-Acceglio) and Valle Gesso (Cuneo-Valdieri-Entracque, and Cuneo-Terme di Valdieri, this latter in the summer only).
- Ati (www.atibus.it) runs the bus service in Val Varaita (Cuneo-Saluzzo, Saluzzo-Pontechianale) and in Valle Stura (Cuneo-Vinadio and Vinadio-Argentera).
- Val Tanaro is served by the railway up to Ormea (from Cuneo, Mondovì and Ceva). From Ormea to Viozene (it's about 20Km) a local bus connection is available once a week during the summer (July and August only). The run is done by Autolinee Viani, but the summer timetable is generally not published before May. The Tourist Office at Ormea knows more (Tel 0174-392157).
If you use buses don't expect to find one every five minutes. Plan your moves carefully and in advance to avoid being stranded in a place for hours. Buses, however, should be really considered as a last resort.
Accommodation and food
The accommodation in the valley-floor can generally be found at a "Posto Tappa GTA", a special walkers' hostel, cheap and spartan. As you are in a village (or close to one), you'll also find shops and things to buy. Drawbacks of being close to civilization: cars, people, noise.
Mountain huts (Rifugi) cannot generally be reached by car, and some of them are located in truly breathtaking locations. They are the real alpine experience. Very spartan at times, with accommodation in bunk beds as the norm. Toilets and showers facilities are improving everywhere (though you may have to pay extra for a hot shower). Dinners are generally good, with very generous helpings. Price reductions in most places are available for CAI members (Italian Alpine Club), and sometimes for members of foreign sister organizations.
You also find many unmanned shelters or bivouacs (Bivacchi), but overnighting there implies to carry food and water, not to mention other discomforts...
The full list of Posti Tappa, Rifugi and Bivacchi in the area, with pictures, phones and fax numbers, emails, etc can be found here: http://montagna.provincia.cuneo.it/gta/rifugi
In this part of the Alps I've never seen solo-walkers or small party turned away because a place was full, but during summer weekends and the month of August mountain huts and posti tappa get crowded, and booking is necessary. Always give them a ring before showing up.
Food (a packed lunch, basically) can be bought at Rifugi, sometimes at a price.
Climate and weather
The best season for hiking in this part of the Alps is the summer, from mid- or better end-June to the end of August. It is the only time when you can reasonably expect not to find late-lying snow on your paths.
Hiking on the Appennino Ligure is possible almost all year round.
Avoid the Apuan Alps in winter (very dangerous for verglas and rime) and in summer (too hot).
Along the coast, summer hiking is also a very bad idea because of the heat and the crowds. Try to visit Cinque Terre and Portofino in spring, autumn or even winter.
Before setting out for your route in the Alps, have a look at the weather forecast.
Best mountain huts generally have local forecasts sent in by fax. On the internet, Regione Piemonte through Arpa Piemonte (www.arpa.piemonte.it) gives detailed weather forecasts for Piedmont up to 48 hours ahead. Pages are updated daily after 12 a.m.
See also Il meteo.it (www.ilmeteo.it/meteo/Piemonte).
Weather conditions are generally not so dramatically unstable as elsewhere (UK, to name one place) but don't underestimate the problem. In July and August you may well be walking most times wearing a t-shirt and shorts, but being caught in a snowstorm is not unheard of either.
Making undue generalizations, bad weather (thunderstorms) tends to come after noon. This is an additional reason for an early start.
Maps and guidebooks
1:50000 IGC Maps (IGC - Istituto Geografico Centrale) cover the Area of Ligurian, Maritime and Cottian Alps as follows:
IGC sheet n.8 "Alpi Marittime e Liguri"
IGC sheet n.7 "Valle Maira Gesso Stura"
IGC sheet n.6 "Monviso"
For some areas, like the Monviso area, an IGC 1:25000 map is also available (for Monviso: sheet n.106 "Monviso Sampeyre Bobbio Pellice").
For the areas part of regional parks (around Mt.Argentera, for the Maritime Alps, and around Mt.Marguareis in the Ligurian Alps) I recommend the following maps:
Parco Naturale Alpi Marittime, Blu Edizioni, 1:25000
Alpi Liguri Parco Naturale Alta Valle Pesio e Tanaro, Blu Edizioni, 1:25000
The 1:50000 IGC maps are not very detailed, there is no date of publication or revision, but they serve the purpose fairly well.
All maps are quite cheap (arond 7.50 €) and widely available in the valleys.
As for books, if you can read Italian the must-have books are those published by CAI - TCI ("Club Alpino Italiano", the Italian Alpine Club, and "TCI" Touring Club Italiano) in the series Collana "Guida dei monti d'Italia". Unfortunately many are out of print. The only one easily available is:
Monte Viso - Alpi Cozie Meridionali, di M.Bruno - ed. CAI - TCI (Collana "Guida dei monti d'Italia"), Milano, 1987, € 33.50, available. The two volumes on the Maritime Alps cannot be found any more, not even second hand! (But every CAI section in Italy has got one copy in their library)
These books are expensive and very climbing-oriented, but hikers too will find them very useful. They are the true 'bible': if there is a way to go up, you'll find it written in there.
As they are difficult to find, the second best choice is the series "In cima" by Blu Edizioni. There is one volume for the Alpi Liguri, two for the Maritime Alps, and two more for the Cottian Alps.
For hiking in Liguria, especially through the Cinque Terre and the Promontorio di Portofino, the booklets published by the Parks and other local authorities should be enough (and they are likely to be in English). Multigraphic in its fairly reliable and cheap (7.50 €) 1:25000 map series covers in one sheet the Apuan Alps and in another the Cinque Terre; this is the best purchase.
On the Apuan Alps you'll find a guidebook, "The Alps of Tuscany: selected hikes in the Apuane Alps, the Cinque Terre and Portofino" by Francesco Greco. I own the Italian version of the book; I think it is a good book to buy if you plan to hike there, as it is a goldmine of information and ideas on hikes in the area, and more info about what to do and what to see. Be extremely careful, however, to the rating given to the routes described; some routes are grossly underestimated (eg M.Pisanino).
On all these mountain ranges you can obviously find a lot on the internet, but then in most cases you'll need to read Italian.
On my page on maps and books (halibri.asp), in Italian, you'll find the full list of what I own and use, with more pictures of some book and map covers.