Winter mountaineering in the Apuan Alps: in search of inaccessible canals and ancient legends. Also this year I decided not to let winter slip away, without trying my hand at least one mountaineering route with spades and crampons!
Because of the commitments of both of us, Luc and I were unable to organise an adrenaline-filled outing together, as usual: this is how I took advantage of the “mountain” programmes of the Pro-Rock association and, at the end of the winter, I joined an exciting outing: from Piglionico to the Rossi alla Pania refuge and, from there, to the entrance of the Borra di Canala up to the entrance of the magical canal climbed, for the first time on 29 March 1931, by G.V. Amoretti and D. Di Vestea.
The canal ends just below the summit crest of the Pania della Croce, to be precise at the Colle della Lettera, just along the normal route that goes up from the Vallone dell’Inferno (which we used to return to the refuge and then to the Piglionico).
Direction Rossi alla Pania refuge
Early in the morning me, Davide and Franco (Pro-Rock’s legendary guide) head for the Piglionico, the starting point for the Rossi refuge.
At 7.30 a.m. we are already at our destination and, prepared the rucksack with the winter mountaineering equipment, we continue along the road, beyond the chapel, until the carriageway becomes a path; soon we reach a crossroads (about 1000 meters above sea level) we take the path n° 7 which is the normal way to the Rossi refuge and then to La Pania della Croce.
It is an easy path, mostly inside a beautiful beech wood, which climbs with frequent and narrow hairpin bends. Soon, however, we are forced to wear crampons: the bottom is covered by a thick layer of glazed ice that gives way to hard snow only after gaining some altitude.
At last we come out of the woods and we find ourselves in front of the snowy slopes that climb quickly up towards the refuge; the view, now, amply repays the effort: on our left the Pania Secca with its gripping East Ridge, in front of us the Dead Man with his unmistakable profile, on the right – severe – the Pania della Croce and the Pizzo delle Saette. In short, turning the path gently to the right, we arrive at the refuge (about 1h30′ from the start): the CAI building is just below the slopes of the Dead Man’s Nose, at the beginning of March still completely enveloped by ice.
The Amoretti Canal – Di Vestea up to the Letter Hill
When we arrive at the refuge we “dress” (harness, helmet, lanyards, webbing, carabiners, etc.) and we tie ourselves with a half rope for safe progression; it is still early and the snow is hard and demanding up there, at the Puntone Mouth, where the Valley of Hell begins.
From here we descend towards the Borra di Canala (the deep channel embedded between the walls of Pania and Pizzo delle Saette on one side, and the Vetricia plateau on the other) keeping high, close to the rocky buttresses that descend from the summit ridge of Pania della Croce, “Queen of the Apuan Alps”.
In 40′ from the hut we are at the beginning of the ascent route: we make sure we have a spit and prepare the climbing ropes. From that moment on there are three intense and exciting hours of progression along a slope between 45 and 50 degrees (in some passages frozen), interrupted only by the stops that Franco “equips” with great skill along the right wall of the channel.
Behind us, down below, the snow-covered and shining Borra di Canala under the March sun and the Karst plateau of Vetricia; above the rocky terminals of Colle della Lettera, at the exit of the street. It is exciting to be face to face with nature: me, the fatigue, the icy rock of Pania and the ice broken only by the blows of crampons and ice axes! Once again, I think, this mountain is letting us climb!
Once again Mother Nature is teaching us to live together with respect! After five “pulls of rope” we see the end of the route; the sun makes the snow crystals of the Colle della Lettera sparkle; on our right the short summit ridge leading to the Croce della Pania; on the left the steep descent to the Vallone dell’Inferno and the mouth of the Puntone.
One hour and we are back at the CAI shelter; we treat ourselves, exhausted, to a hearty dish of pasta with tomato sauce. The mountaineering day is coming to an end; the refuge has now become a meeting point for the roped-up climbers who have ventured out for the ice of the Panie group.
In another hour, going backwards along path no. 7, we are again at the Piglionico.
KALIPE’, with a slow and short step!!!
The legend of the dead man
Between Pania della Croce and Pania Secca the profile of a sleeping giant stands out clearly – visible from both Versilia and Lucca. For us Versilians a profile that has always been known as “Dead Man”. The legend, linked to what is simply an erosive phenomenon of the orogenesis of the Apuan Alps, is however very beautiful and fascinating: It is said that many and many years ago the Pania della Croce and the Pania Secca were not united and in the middle there were vast meadows from where it was possible to see the sea and where the shepherds led their flocks to graze every summer.
One day, a shepherd and a shepherdess met on those pastures, they spent time together and love was born between the two children; but at the end of the summer, the young shepherd began to spend more and more time alone. The boy was thinking about ships, trade and the wealth he could find far from the mountains. The young girl began to worry about him; she asked him many questions and paid him all kinds of attention, but the young man was absorbed in other thoughts. When the time came to leave the mountain pastures, the young man confided to his faithful friend that he would leave the mountains to go and become a sailor and get to know the world. So one day he left for the sea.
The young shepherdess remained alone in the mountains without losing hope, not even for a moment, to see her lover return to the mountain pastures. Months passed, years went by, but the shepherdess never came back. The shepherdess spent long hours staring at the sea, praying to the Lord that her lost love would return. In the meantime, a young boy who had climbed the pastures of Pania for the first time that summer had noticed her. Fascinated by the beauty of the young girl, whom sadness had made even more attractive, he had tried by every means to speak to the girl, but she fled from his presence without a single word to him. One day the shepherdess told the story of her unfortunate love, but every effort the boy made to make her forget her sorrows was in vain.
The boy climbed to the top of Pania and asked God to suggest a way to make the girl forget her love. It was revealed to him that the only way would be to prevent the shepherdess from seeing the sea; but to do this he would have to sacrifice himself, lying on the ground and let his face be transformed into that of a stone giant who would unite the two Panie, hiding the view of the sea. The young shepherd for love of the girl accepted and, from that day on, his face was imprinted in the mountains and was remembered by all as “the dead man”.
This is a very demanding winter mountaineering route: therefore it should only be undertaken with mountain guides, CAI instructors, or in any case with people who are very expert in this type of mountain, safety systems in mountaineering progression and the equipment to be used.
Our day in brief:
Point of support: Rifugio Rossi alla Pania
Type of route: Mountaineering
Equipment: Winter Mountaineering
Duration: about 7 hours
Suggested period: 1st February – 15th March