Mt. Pollino – snow gully (northwest)

With spring on the rise, the Easter weekend was ripe for a climb. It also promised to be the last chance for a winterly ascent up to the high peaks of the Pollino Massif. The forecast predicted favourable weather conditions, with high wind in altitude. At AM 5:15 I found myself on the high plains of Colle Gaudolino, at the foot of the steep and rocky west face of Mt. Pollino, eager to try out a snow gully I had spotted the last time around.

Wet new snow and a formidable inclination are a rather unpleasant combination, escpecially where a thick forest of beech trees has to be crossed before reaching the actual gully. After a ¾ hour of drudgery something unexpected releaved me from further toil: a minor avalanche had already broken trail – from the opposite direction. Most of the young beech trees in its way had been bent or buried under huge blocks of crusted snow. With crampons on my feet this would mean taking the fast lane.

Minor avalancheThe results of a minor avalanche

After carefully observing the slope’s bed surface and the upper parts (potential starting zone) this way seemed quite safe (no cornices or overhanginging snow slabs) and, indeed, progress was quick and also much less laborious. (learn more)

aas2Looking back down towards Colle Gaudolino

Reaching the treeline, with clouds rolling in from south-west, the slope got steeper. From this point on solid rock buttresses flank the gully. Some of them are topped by admirable specimen of the majestic Bosnian Pine, their almost black needles heavily covered all over with ice.

aas3A Bosnian pine on a rock formation

Soon I was forced to slow down and halt frequently, as the clouds smoothered everything and reduced my sight almost to nil. The wind, much colder now and constantly gaining momentum, would rip a hole in them every now and then, thus permitting a short glimpse up (or down) the gradient.

ass4A hole in the clouds that will hold only a few moments

This sportful “wait-and-see” game was rather time consuming – but essential in order to find a way through the increasingly labyrinthine surroundings. In fact, the initial gully had split into several considerable steeper ravines, with some of them certainly more inviting in appearance than others. Unless I would be wanting to dig my way up through a snow cornice, I knew I had to choose carefully and wait for the right moment. Patience is often rewarded, especially when moving on a mountain slope, engulfed by clouds. As the sky suddenly broke above me, the blue revealed the path I had been looking for. Even the last short but steeper pitch (about 60° of inclination) would be no major obstacle for my single ice axe.

ass5The way to the top reavealed as clouds break

The wind on the summit plateau was literally breathtaking, a good 7 on the Beaufort scale, and walking against it truly exhausting. But what a grandiose spcectale this play of light and shade, with the clouds passing by! Alas, it was not the place to rest or take many photographs. Without any shelter this sublime spot was surely no picknick area. (On some August weekends it can almost become one, though.) A last look around, and I had to part, taking the east ridge for my descend route.

ass6A snapshot from top of Mt. Pollino towards Serra delle Ciavole

The descend itself would be a recreative winter hike. And in the meantime the early morning sky – I had reached the summit at AM 8:00 sharp! – was clearing almost completely, with the exception of the summit of Serra Dolce Dorme, still amid the clouds.

aas7Descending the east ridge of Mt. Pollino

Passing yet another beech grove and the high plains, crossing countless rivulets – bounteously nourished by meters of snow quickly melting away in the warm spring sun, I soon reached the meadows of Vaquarro and, further on, this day’s trail head Colle d’Impiso. Looking back over my shoulder, the Apennine Winter I had been fortunate to experience once more seemed but a beautiful and already distant memory.

aas8Mt. Pollino, seen from the already vernal meadows of the Piani di Vaquarro

Mt. Pollino (2248m) – north-west gully – 20/04/2014
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