Crossing of Mount Rotella: perspectives on the way

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When do the excursions start? When do we put on the boots? When do we take the first steps? Or when do we start thinking about them? This excursion begins last autumn, when Francesca, looking at Mount Rotella, asks: where do the mountains end?

“This ends more or less here” answers Savino at the new roundabout that breaks the state road 17 halfway between the cemetery and the hospital of Sulmona. Hence the idea of ​​crossing Mount Rotella from Pescocostanzo to Sulmona. The intuition changes a little over time and becomes “from square to square”.

We leave one morning in early September from Piazza del Municipio in Pescocostanzo at 7. The arrival is 26 kilometers away, several meters in altitude, a more than uncertain sky and the ridge of a mountain that we know only in pieces. In the square, while we let ourselves be blessed by the water of the fountain, the lights of the town go out. The night is over.
We go up the town, passing by the residences and second homes that from the 1960s onwards have filled the outer edges of the town, widening it more and more. On a balcony there are still Christmas lights: the intermittent living leaves its mark. A light drizzle accompanies the first kilometer through the streets of the unusually quiet town, free from the noise of tourists and the controversies of the summer. The gleaming SUVs parked in front of the houses collide with the sparrows and magpies chirping to a new day. It is the first of September and the morning bells greet us.

Arrived at the ski resorts we leave the asphalt. The sun does not rise covered by a blanket of clouds, the rain comes and goes but leaves us careless. The ski slopes in summer are an alien place: gashes in the woods, metal pylons and improvised cart tracks mark the side of the mountain. We silently go up the T3 path that follows the bottom of the Panoramic track. On the ridge we cross the T2 path that will take us to the Sulmona cemetery. All around are the major plateaus of Abruzzo to steal the show: that of the 5 Miglia, the fourth Grande that leads to the Bosco di Sant’Antonio and the remaining quarters of the pescolana countryside. The patches of different colors of the fields sometimes plowed, sometimes left fallow remind us of a human presence up here completely absent. Woods and mountains as far as the eye can see complete the horizon while the still ashen sky continues to throw intermittent rain on us. Highway 17 runs parallel to us below, on its asphalt cars and trucks like so many crazed ants. It seems to be on the crest of a silent and sleeping dragon, the path is its parting. Cima della Fossa is the first flying finish of the day and shortly after it is already the summit of Monte Rotella at 2129 meters.

It is only 9 o’clock and it is already time for the first sandwich. Roast turkey in bread meets cheese and rocket. The day before in a supermarket in Sulmona, among Sardinian pecorino and Emilian caciotte we had not found even a pescolano cheese. After the whole summer spent eating high-quality pieces of highland cheese from the plateau, it makes us think that these cheeses are unable to reach the valley. Imprisoned in distribution systems that push commodities into long networks of value or marginalize them in the self-producing dimension of the small business. In this schizophrenic blackmail, the quality and production sustainability of some products remain entangled like flies in honey.

We continue our journey and the Peligna and Sulmona valleys are very far away. Along the ridge that is now beginning to degrade clouds twist and fog banks rise up the slopes. As we go down the count of the surrounding peaks begins: that is the Porrara, that is the Genzana, ford of Coccia and Monte Amaro. A game that reveals the understanding of the landscape, helps to connect territories, to imagine future itineraries.

Shortly after Pettorano, the forms of the territory begin to speak. The villages that we see downstream help us to orient ourselves. Observing them from the mountain makes us understand their connections differently. We see the flyover cut through the mountain and connect two countries. The big and thick tail of the highway: a wide vein that opens the coasts of the mountain. Then the soft thread of the Napoleonic route, which remains low at high altitude, does not disturb the mountain, curving following it. A surface wound. The trajectory puts it into perspective: it shows the formations of space as objects that are different from time to time.

Suddenly a guttural and dark sound: the roar of a deer alarmed by our presence that is lost in a bank of fog and then in the woods. When the fog clears shortly afterwards, brown scratches mark the side of the mountain. A herd of about fifty deer moves neatly along a line. Like a claw, their transit marks the turf leaving traces of the passage. A little further on, another herd grazes serenely among the lawn and numerous junipers.

Traveling along the ridge is not linear. We continuously climb left and right. Flat folders alternate with rough side blades. The ridge with sharp rocks returns. Then the mountain bends, changes direction. We discover that walking a mountain in its extension means understanding it in its consistencies. Feel it change. The rock is compact and bare: smooth and pure, without imperfections then sharp and black. Finally, limestone becomes crumbly again: the white lime path breaks up and silts up. After the Terminone the mountain changes its face. The crested spinone makes its way into the valley and we discover a different Rotella. A few hundred meters more and it’s the turn of Pietra Maggiore: it’s half past twelve and it’s time for a snack. On the summit book we leave a question: when does a going away become a going towards?

The cross of Sulmona, Mount Mitra is in sight and will be our last flying finish line before the arrival. The descent, however, turns out to be long and worn out by the sun. A daze from tiredness mixed with hunger and monotony of the journey takes possession of us. As we progress, temperatures and climates change. From the rain and the cold of Pesco, we enter the sultry heat of the Peligna valley. Descending in altitude, the vegetation reappears, absent at the summit. While the climb was a tight time, the descent is an extensive and tiring space. To interrupt the trance is the arrival at Fonte Pacile: under the coolness of some oaks Mario and Francesco rest, two shepherds with their flocks. We talk to them about animals, relatives and countries as we fill our water bottles. When we come out of that unexpected Eden, the sky is again in fury. In the distance the echo of thunder and the first drops of the afternoon.

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The landscape changes again and is filled with pines and junipers, cysts and hornbeams. We go around the cross of Sulmona and enter the last descent escorted by an old dry stone wall while the Peligna Valley is prey to the storm. The cloud front takes little to reach us. The raincoats do their duty and the rain turns out to be almost cathartic. Rain that washes, cleans but also forgives. Rain that frees and blesses the company.

We are now at the height of the cemetery and we decide not to follow the path that descends to the square, but to continue straight to reach the tail of the mountain and trample it to the end. And unfortunately this is not the case because after having bypassed a reservoir of the Saca and having zigzagged on animal lanes, in its last meters the mountain reveals itself to be urbanized: houses and gardens block our path. We turn left towards abandoned olive groves and it is asphalt again, now eight hours after the last contact.

The end of the mountain is scorched earth and rain, the noise of cars. Wires, poles and pylons, entrance gates of outlying villas, pieces of gravestones from the cemetery. Man lives on this mountain. At the end of a mountain are houses and chicken coops with fences and wilderness: a couple secluding their cars and the highway roaring. It is not the mountain of hiking, but the mountain of living, eaten by the suburban.

The impact with the city is dystopian. Cars whizzing by, splashing water and littering the air with the stench of exhaust. The noise of workers working on the road surface is deafening and confusing. We walk the last kilometer tired and happy, bathed in water that never stops falling but we don’t care now. In the mouth we have the flavor of the enterprise when we cross Corso Ovidio with backpacks and boots like extraterrestrials.

Leaving the mountain, we think that this high route could be an excellent link between Alto Sangro and Valle Peligna, perhaps interspersed with an equipped refuge. A guideline aimed at lovers of slow tourism, walkers, inhabitants. A natural, long and tiring infrastructure that does not present particular dangers or difficulties. Due to the tapered nature of the mountain it is impossible to get lost and from time to time there are ways out towards the town: Rocca Pia, Pettorano, Cansano and the Bosco di Sant’Antonio. In one way or another, when we think about the development of the territory we end up talking about tourism, but this direction on the contrary could be above all an internal crossing route. We in the district should be the first to walk it. A type of path that would help to look at oneself from another perspective: from the Rotella perspective.

Walking sharpens the sight, refines the gaze while thoughts take air, oxygenate themselves. Connecting two adjacent valleys with the path helps to understand a territory from the inside, to delve into the landscape that is the backdrop to the days when, looking out from the balcony at sunset, the last rays of pink sun color the swollen profiles of Porrara, Pizzalto and Rotella.

Walking also means understanding what a mountain inhabits: the plant species that resist deforestation or the residual ones of reforestation sites. Populous and other endangered animal species. Precarious ecological balances and invasiveness of the human presence. The mountain bears the signs of living and producing: it bears the signs of anthropogenic mobility and development models. The mountain tells human and non-human stories. Tell us, depending on how you decide to cross it, what possibilities you give it.

Walking is ultimately choosing a perspective. Seeing pieces of the future, opportunities of the present, signs of the past imprinted on the landscape. Possible crossings and unexpected visions: waiting to be collected. Nine hours and twenty-six kilometers later, our journey ends in Piazza Garibaldi. Returned from the mountain, we return to urban life from the Rotella perspective.

Savino Monterisi and Francesca Sabatini


The article is in Italian

Tags: Crossing Mount Rotella perspectives

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