Introduction – hiking Apennine

Hiking Apennine: this is the motto of this page. In fact, più di 1000 was born in the Apennine: his home is still there, where are also the more familiar things, but with a sight over all the rest, that, after all, is never so far.
In this page you find hiking notes, written more in the form of personal ideas about where and when to go, what could be useful to do or not to do, and other things.
It is possible to find many well written hiking manuals, so I will not add here anything technical, to what is already known, apart a bit of personal style and interpretation, connected to experience, that sometimes could matter

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General organisation: where, when…

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Hiking Apennine

Happy hikers, in a nice sunny day

Where to go

All what you find in this web site refers, unless differently stated, to situations without snow or ice cover. In fact, I have moderate experience of winter conditions when, for sure, the context for hiking is drastically changed. I recommend to seriously consider this fact.
Therefore, for my own sensibility, the choice of where to go depends a lot also on this fact.
To remain in the areas that I know best, the Ligurian coast is a winter target that, once tried, you will hardly abandon.
Several other hilly and mid-mountain areas are also snow-free during most of the winter, although with a harsher climate.
In summary, I substantially adopt a transhumance strategy: I follow the seasons and displace myself with them.
But, to be clear: in certain places the summer season is very short; therefore, winter and snow lovers are welcome, to whom I cannot however give substantial advice.

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Still snow, on the high range, between mounts Corno alle Sale and Cimone, but already spring in the lower Reno valley

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When to go

I see hiking as a pleasure, and a tool of place knowledge. Walking on a ridge among the fog is neither of the two, at maximum could be an experience: you simply see nothing, and it can also be somewhat dangerous.
I have therefore a clear preference for hiking in good weather. Nowadays we have the instruments to make it, since web weather forecasts are rather reliable. It is however important to have a specific knowledge of  places, and the capacity to interpret the weather forecasts, also in relation to what we can actually see and perceive.
If weather forecasts are really bad in the place of your choice, be flexible: see if you could go somewhere else. Sometimes, when the weather is very bad on the top ridges, but better at lower altitudes, think about staying lower: it can be an excellent occasion to explore unexpected beauties, often also lesser known by most.

If there is really no hope with the weather, in my opinion, it is better to give up.
In these pages I always refer to 1-2 days hikes. Of course, things may not be so simple in case of longer treks.
Some of the best weather conditions often occur in the days preceding the arrival of a front, clearing away all the local clouds and mist, hoping of course that the coming bad weather will not approach too fast: the south west wind on the Apennine ridge can harshly strike. The days following the transit of a front are generally clear and shining, although often windy and cold, especially during winter.

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HIking Apennine

Weather still clear, sky only veiled, without local clouds, preceding the approaching of a front

HIking Apennine

Walking into the fog is not amusing, puts the mood down, and can be dangerous

Time to start

Plenty of words have been written about this topic by the “mountain-men rhetoric”, generally pointing at the same direction: “a true mountain man leaves early”.
In reality, even forgetting about the “true mountain man” stereotype, starting early, also very early, has its advantages from both the comfort and the safety points of view:
– for long hikes, it guarantees to have time enough to be back when it is still light;
– in summer, early morning is cooler; walking few hours with cool temperature, instead of under burning sun, is not only pleasant, but also beneficial for your body, and safer;
– when the weather is not fully stable and clouds are developing during the day, leaving early may save your hike: you reach the top when it is still not fog-capped and then, when clouds come, you are already on the way back;
– early morning light is different from all the other times of the day;
– early morning is the best time to meet animals

If, for long hikes, the first point is the most important, for shorter walks different situations may occur. Sometimes the weather is still recovering and, waiting a bit, may allow the last splashes of rain to go away. And, after all, during nice, cool spring days, with stable weather, when the way to go is not so long, why not the be relaxed and leave a bit later.
However, the idea to leave early in the morning is quite in line with my concept of hiking: to leave early, you have to be on place the evening before. What a better occasion to look around and get in touch with places. It is the contrary to “grab and go”, to run to the top and nothing else. Make your considerations, and decide accordingly.

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HIking Apennine

Early morning light is different from all the other times of the day

HIking Apennine

Late morning, clouds are raising to cap mount Tre Potenze, but the summit is already behind and we are already descending

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Equipment and supplies

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Hikers with light equipment, in a nice late spring day

Light or “heavy”

Let’s admit: I am among the ones with a strong tendency of bringing “my whole house” with me; by consequence, I look with substantial envy the ones going light; so, bear this in mind.

However, I never regretted to have brought with me something that I did not use.
Nor I missed something that I did not have, but only since this seldom  happened.
There are things that, in my opinion, we must have:

  • Enough clothes, also to face emergencies; Ok, summer and winter are different matters, but keeping a stable basic equipment into your backpack is not a bad idea.
HIking Apennine

An adequate equipment into the backpack, hat and long sleeves for sun protection: safety guarantees also in daily hikes

  • Waterproof clothes: I did some hundreds hikes avoiding serious rains, but perhaps because I planned well. But, if the rain comes and you are not equipped, you can face unpleasant moments.
  • A hat: the sun  is everything but a friend.
  • One thing not often mentioned: also in full summer, an ample and light shirt, with long sleeves; as a screen from burning sun, when  necessary.
  • A change, at least of your socks and underwear T-shirt
  • A whistle: in case of emergency, you will be better heard than using your voice
  • At least during the sunny season: a full protection sunscreen cream.
  • A first aid kit.
  • A front light: it can happen to be late and be back when already dark.
  • For food and beverages, see the dedicated paragraph.
  • Your mobile phone

In summary, I would say: get acquainted to have with you a decent basic equipment, without exceeding. This standard weight of your backpack will become usual, and you will never regret.

Shoes, backpack, clothes and other

And here comes the difficult part: it is enough to enter a shop to get lost.
Choosing what to buy is a trial-and-error procedure, also requiring substantial previous experience.
Feet are your means of locomotion, so must feel well. And this will mostly depend on the shoes and socks combination.
Socks. Personally, I have now a consolidated preference for the Merino wool socks, available of different thickness. There are many brands, not all the same, especially with respect of duration. For socks of synthetic materials, similar considerations hold.

Shoes. You can find any type of ground during your hikes. Try to exclude shoes with too thin, not well sculptured soles.  Then, you can range from light trekking shoes, but with adequate sole, to the classical mountain boots.  The first can be attractive in summer, especially if  they have a net-like upper, keeping your feet fresh; but, combine them anyway with adequate socks.  If know how to “walk well”, you can go almost anywhere with these shoes, in warm and dry weather. On rocky ground you will certainly feel the stones on the sides of your feet, and you may regret more robust shoes. Especially in woodlands, with the ground covered by leaves, almost anything will enter into in your light shoes.  It is finally a matter of fact that, if you seek for impermeability, or thermal insulation, light shoes are not appropriate.
Generally speaking, I would say that light shoes are be feet-friendly for shorter hikes, otherwise, more robust shoes tend to win.

In my opinion there is a fundamental point, in choosing shoes. Forget about the old story that new shoes can give you pain initially, then you will get acquainted: it can be catastrophic. When you try shoes, you must immediately feel well with them. And with “well”, I intend not tight, without any kind of rubbing, anywhere, and that your toes do not impact the shoe tip.

Similar considerations hold for backpack.  It must be first of all comfortable; and here the thing is not easy, since you will try it empty.  Then, forget about mini-backpacks, that are generally of little use. If you can afford, buying two backpacks of different size can be a good idea: for sure for a half a day spring walk you will not bring the same amount of things as for a full summer daily hike, when you be loaded with liquids, or for a winter one, when you are loaded with clothes.  The rain cover is a not negligible accessory. Backpacks are very variable, with respect to the material they are built of: some of them rip off very easily, sometimes not exactly in relation to their price… but more than this, I cannot say.

Clothes. An advice, not original, anyway: dress in layers; bring with you all what you may potentially need. Take off or put on your clothes each time you need, do not be afraid of losing time. As an example, during winter hikes along the Ligurian coast it commonly happens to shift from a T-shirt, when ascending steep slopes, to T-shirt+shirt+sweater+paddled jacket+ K-way, during pauses to eat, at relatively higher altitudes.

Hiking poles and your bottom.  I was born without hiking poles and I am pretty slow to adopt new technologies. But, every now and then, I use poles and they can be useful to relief you knees during demanding descents.

What I can say, for sure, is that you must walk on your feet and legs, not on your arms. You must all the time have firm support on your feet. Given for granted, in some cases, the utility of a balance, most people that I see walking slowly, unstable and at risk of falling are the ones leaning on their walking poles instead of staying firm on their legs. Walking poles can be helpful for your uphill progression at two conditions: you have to be able to use them properly and your arms must be fitted enough, otherwise you will be soon exhausted.

A note about the use of your bottom; generally, we tend to use it downhill; it can be a comfortable help, provided we use it for one of its typical functions, that is to sit, not moving; but when we start descending again, we have to stay firmly on our feet; at maximum, use hands to help; the bottom is not prehensile, and is of a shape that will never hold us.

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Food and liquids

Liquids. Somebody needs to drink a lot, somebody less. It happens to me to drink 6-7 litres of liquids, during full day summer hikes. For sure, you must timely re-introduce the liquids you lose.
I cannot tell you that mountains are idyllic places with plenty of water; besides the fact that this is not always true, then:
– you will not always being walking on the mountains;
– water is not always safe; be always cautious with surface water, even from apparently clear streams; and be also cautious with spring waters, especially downhill of grazing areas.
You should  know your personal needs, in relation to your hiking program; you should know if you will meet reliable water points; and bring with you all what you need. Of course, each litre is more or less an additional kg load, but there is no alternative.
Together with water you will lose salts; excessive salt loss may cause muscle spasms, and also lowers mental attention, that is instead very important to preserve. Try to get acquainted, recognise this symptom and relate it to liquid losses.
Then you also burn sugars to produce energy; if you burn too much of them, you may at least experience hypo-glycemic crisis and feel very weak.
Drinking can be a way to attenuate both problems. Several drinks containing both sugars and salts are commercially available. Having with you some of them, besides water, is not a bad idea. Otherwise, if you really do not like them, you can use powder integrators, to be dissolved in water. Other options are tea, or whatever else can be of personal likes. I use a lot thick fruit nectars, sometimes diluted in water, that are food and beverages at the same time.
Food. You must have an adequate amount of food with you. That means, some cookies, or dried fruits, for short hikes, to all what you need for intense full day hikes. Also in this case, personal likes are fundamental, besides dietary and common sense basic concepts, that I will not recall here. Pasta, rice, bread, and something to accompany bread; I recommend to bring something juicy, fruits or vegetables, that help a lot. Above all: bring food that you like, that you can swallow easily.
Cookies and dried fruits are anyway useful, to chew anytime you feel the need.
Candies, the ones with sugar, not the “light” ones, together with a saline-energetic beverage, can give you a push of energy when you need to produce a peak effort: sooner or later, it will happen to be late, or to accelerate to escape bad weather.

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Planning: maps, trails and marks, times, duration, difficulties

In case you prefer guided hikes, maybe you do not want bothering with organisation. In this case….. welcome anyway, and I hope to serve you well.
But, perhaps you like anyway a basic background information.

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HIking Apennine

Maps laid on te floor at home, for a first glance at itineraries

Itineraries and maps

The decision about where to go will be your first hiking project; it may start as an idea, almost a dream; then it must be structured.
The starting point is usually something that hit our imagination: an image, a memory, an evocative name. It rarely happens to make mistakes; taking things with the appropriate mood, we will almost always find something beautiful to see, to listen to, to live.
But, to avoid making mistakes and be ready to really live the places, your fantasy should not be too compressed by improvisation. You must create adequate space to fantasy, among the practical things of organising the trip, finding where to stay, unexpected facts; otherwise the fantasy could remain prisoner of confusion.

HIking Apennine

A difficult and poorly marked path, although represented as marked, and accessible, on a recent map

Start with good maps. An advice: forget for a while to be in the digital era and go with true paper maps. Well done road maps are an excellent starting point to preliminarily plan your trip, either for a week end or for a longer period. There you have a geographic overview of places, and can start seeing where the places of your imagination are. Then, if you prefer Goolge maps to calculate distances and estimate times, that’s OK; there you can also see all the satellite details, but do this at a second stage.
For the true hiking part you will then need hiking maps. And here there is no Google anymore. On hiking maps you have the trails, and their marks, in a global view for a whole area, that you will not find even on the GPS maps.
Things to be considered:
– some areas are well equipped with marked trails, some others are not;
– not always an updated map will be available, even for areas with marked paths;
– on the contrary, in some other cases you may find more than one maps. A further advice: if it is affordable for you, buy all the available ones and compare them since often they may be complementary, in some parts;
– some of the paths represented on maps may be almost disappeared on the ground, or the marks may be very old, hardly visible;
– in some other cases, the marks on the terrain are update, but the maps are not;
– sometimes you find tracks with multiple and different marks; a bad habit, but that is.
So, what to do? The ideal situation is to have well done maps, reporting not only the marked trails, but also the details of topography, and to be able to read them. In this way, it will be very difficult to make relevant mistakes.
As soon as you acquire experience, your satisfaction will increase. You will be able to estimate distances, gradients, and walking times: an optimal situation to safely and happily enjoy your itinerary.
Once acquired the material you need, plan your trip / hike on the basis of your available time, experience with places and maps.

GPS, and other electronic instruments. A GPS can be a fundamental instrument, provided you can use it properly. It is a guarantee of safety, since, if properly used, it will always let you to find your way back: this is a very important function in situations of lack of known landmarks, along not well marked paths, such as inside dense forests or among fog. A GPS shows your altitude, very useful to determine your position. A GPS also directly gives the geographical coordinates of your point: this is fundamental in case of a rescue call. This trait is however less useful to understand where you are in case you are lost: to render on a map the geographic coordinates you really need good experience. A GPS may also allow to track a known point, and try to reach it; however, also in this case, it is not enough or it can be even dangerous, if you do not exactly know what is between you and the target point. Finally a GPS is fundamental to track un-marked trails, but you perhaps will not use this possibility. In my opinion, a GPS is somewhat less useful to plan an itinerary: for this, paper maps are far better. will be almost surely of little use to you to plan and follow your way. So, buy a GPS, if you like it, but do not make it the only instrument for your hikes, and learn also to walk without it: you will enjoy it best with a consolidated experience of using the maps to read the land features around you.
I do not have enough experience of the different Apps running on smartphones, to give you detailed advices. Maps are better visible on phones than on GPS. Some smartphone Apps should work well for an average hiker. Also in this case, however, phone Apps cannot substitute you awareness of land features and of your physical position.

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Trails and marks

Trails can be marked on the terrain. The more widespread system in Italy is by far the one of the CAI (Italian Alpine Club), using white-red marks with a number; there are however some other systems, sometimes prevailing in certain areas.
The chaos is sometimes generated by systems of fantasy, that overlap to the already existing ones; in this case, other marks do appear, fantasy names, aimed at catching the imagination: the path “of brigands”, “of spirit”, “of strawberries”, “of holy forests” and so on; not to speak about  long trials, like the several “alte vie” (high trails), the “Italy trial”, the several “cammini”, which number is on the raise. These  initiatives were sometimes also generated by good intentions, but almost always on the wave of ideas and available money, that left traces on the land, without thinking that such systems, once put in force, also need to be maintained. On the contrary, when money is gone, often maintenance ends and everything rapidly fades. It seems that inventing or tracing paths every now and then becomes a favourite enjoyment for administrators and their consultants.
But these details are of no interest to hikers, as a principle, but for the confusion they may generate. Sometimes it will happen that you have to carefully check your itinerary. To stay on the safe side, always plan some alternative, also considering that not finding a path may at least cause great time loss. Or, better, take the time for an preliminary exploration, to be then sure of your way.

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HIking Apennine

A cahotic mass and path marks

HIking Apennine

Panel marks of  unsuitable materials, already broken after few weeks on place

Walking times, duration, difficulties

These are substantially related topics, about which many things have been written in guide books and hiking manuals. So, once more, I will try not to repeat known points, but to rather intruduce some experience-based opinions

Lets’s start with difficulties
Accepted scales for rating hiking difficulty vary among countries; the criteria on which they are based are reported in almost all the well-done guide books, and in several internet sites. Some of them area also in Wikipedia.
Referring to the Italian classification, consider that the T (touristic) trails are for everybody lucky enough to walk; the E (hiker) tracks, are for almost everybody; the  EE (expert hiker) trails could generate some anxiety to many. Especially for EE grade, the situations however vary a lot: the classifications are indeed created by men, leaving therefore ample margins of subjectivity.
You will learn yourself how to evaluate by experience, and by comparing the grade of a path with the feeling you will experiment while trying it: if you do not feel well, give up.

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HIking Apennine

Hikers on a touristic (T) trail

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A hikers (E) trail

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An expert hikers path (EE)

Times and duration
Many minor or substantial details cannot be represented by any grading system, but can make the difference in term of required time, effort and cautions you must adopt: see the next chapter.
Another thing you will often read on guidebooks is the dependence of walking time on downhill and uphill quote differences and length. That’s certainly true, but is not the only determinant of duration.
For the time being, I note the following points.
It is generally assumed that ascending is slower than descending. Let’s say that that is true in most cases. However, very steep descents with difficult terrain, can make your pace as slow as ascending along a similar gradient slope, sometimes even slower: the ground type can indeed drastically affect walking speed. If your path is smooth, you go smoothly and fast. If it is stony, eroded, covered with leaves, with tall grass hiding your steps, your walking times will change a lot, with the same length and slope. Therefore, each individual trail requires its own time. Also in this case, you will satisfactorily learn by experience.

HIking Apennine

Along this slope you can happily and smoothly descend

HIking Apennine

But here you must slow down

There is finally an individual component: some people are extremely fast ascending, but as slow as snails descending; once more, get to know yourself.
One thing is certainly true: besides walking, you must also rest. Take as a golden rule the statement that about one quarter of the time, so about 15 minutes each hour, or 1 hour each 4, should be devoted to rest. Then, it will be your choice how to organise your time: generally a longer rest is at lunch time, with many shorter ones along the way.
Even in this case, things vary: for a short hike, which itinerary you know well, you may also try a bit yourself, have little rest and walk fast; for long hikes, be more relaxed.
In any case, forget that the overall duration of your excursion could merely coincide with your walking time.

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continue reading, with the “cautions and dangers” section


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