I grew up in a family that drove on vacations, be it six hours to the beach, eight hours to see relatives, or three days to Idaho. So the seven hour drive from Calabria to Rome is no big deal, although the lack of air conditioning does make it undesirable. When I tell my friends from the Crotone Basin that I’m driving to Rome, I get astonished comments about the distance.
This year, Nano and I stopped to hike Mount Pollino, 2,250 meter peak in the southern Apennines, not far from where we were working. It makes me smile to imagine how the Calabrians would react if they knew we were driving to Rome and stopping for a five hour hike with a 750 meter elevation rise.
It was a beautiful hike and wonderful way to end the field season. Nano had walked it a few years before and was showing me the way. The trail is not easy to find, and even more difficult to stay on. At one point, he turned off a large dirt path onto a small one. I asked, “Why did you go this way?” He shrugged: “I follow the horses.” A true Calabrese response. It turned out the large dirt road also worked, but the horse path was definitely more pleasant.
Nano described the change in vegetation as we climbed; the Maggiociondolo, with their beautiful hanging flowers; the Fagi, a type of birch tree, but much more knobby; and the Pini Loricati, a stunning tree that lives only at high elevation, in harsh weather. They originated in the Balkans and migrated to the Apennines during periods of glacial advance.
Italians call them “Loricati” because their bark resembles the armor used by the Roman armies.
We hiked in four stages. First, we skirted the bottom of Serra del Prete, the mountain next to Pollino, and climbed 1,500 meters. Stage two was a long and steady climb to a large field, with a herd of cattle and a bar for hikers to stop for a café. Stage three was a steep climb to 2,000 meters, through Fagi trees and near the top, Pini Loricati. Stage four was rough, with 250 meters to go. Wind, no tree cover, unsteady footing on limestone blocks. At 2,150 meters we came across an old, sturdy Pino Loricato. How could anything live up here, much less thrive?
At the crest it’s one more valley, covered in snow, and one more peak to the summit. We rest and have lunch at the top, protected from the wind, and then slowly make our way back down and finish our trip to Rome.