Long-Distance Hiking in the Northern Apennines

Not Exactly Hiking as Usual
By Michael H. Brown
  |  Gorp.com
Page 4 of 6   |  

Italian trekking, we quickly learned in the Apennines, can be frustrating for anyone with the pampered notion that hiking trails should lead somewhere — say, in the direction depicted on the hiking map.

This is not a complaint; it's a fact and one attested to by Italians themselves: In Italy south of the well-trod Alps, which is to say in most of Italy, hiking trails are undependable. Or as an Italian friend, Elena Bertolini, comforted us after our return,"In Italy it's normal to get lost. Once I went on an eleven-day excursion and for eleven days I was lost."

Actually we never got lost — the trail did. It would suddenly evaporate, and there would be not a soul around to ask for directions. We reached our nadir when the Alta Via delle Cinque Terre, so red and bright on our map, disappeared, and we found ourselves traipsing through a huge, hot, dusty, deserted rock quarry without a clue where we were or, more importantly, how to get somewhere else.

The afternoon was late and my two companions surly by the time we finally came across a couple of bulldozer operators. After a lengthy conference involving imaginative use of fingers and hands, we had directions to a road that eventually reunited us with the elusive Alta Via.

Any hiker anywhere, of course, faces the possibility that what's on the map won't be on the ground. But a Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) official explained after our trip's completion why the chances are particularly acute in Italy: Regardless of what dotted trail lines you find on the map, the actual path itself — everything from direction signs to its very existence — is the responsibility of a local CAI chapter. And chapters vary widely in membership and financial strength and, therefore, results.

We found all three particularly anemic in Liguria, where the emphasis is on the seashore, not the mountains. But even the 266-mile Grande Escursione Appenninica, touted as one of the country's major long-distance hiking routes, can be downright inscrutable.

The key, we concluded, is to hit the Apennine trailhead armed with as many hiking maps as you can find, and at the most detailed scale, preferably 1:25,000.


Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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