Serra Dolcedorme (south ridge)

Seen from the north, Serra Dolcedorme (7437ft / 2267m) resembles, indeed, a sleeping giant, dignified and stately but also gentle and calm. Its south face shows completely different aspects. On this side a long and rocky ridge leads straight up to the impressive rock walls of the summit. The elevation gain from the trailheads of the southern valley (Cozzo Palumbo and Valle Piana) is considerable, about twice that from any trail approaching the mountain from the north. What better choice than a splendid May morning for an ascent?

The trailhead of the day, Cozzo Palumbo, is not easy to approach with an ordinary car. There are no road signs and, truth be told, there is no road either, just a vicious dirt track which forced us to leave the car much earlier than the map had suggested.

The Pollino massif from the south

After some infighting with the thick vegetation (mostly fragent genista shrubs, – with a hideous underbrush of dog rose, hawthorn and blackberry) and after climbing an obstructive rock ledge, we reached the onset of the actual south ridge.

View of the south ridge and the extensive woods of Valle Cupa

Serra Dolcedorme and the steep flanks of Celsa Bianca (to its left, i.e. west) looked marvelous in the early morning light. The spring sun had been hard at work for several weeks, but on the crest line and in the cracks and narrow gullies of the upper slopes the last snow was still defying the inevitable. Down here spring was in full blast, the fresh green of beech trees was gleaming and the ridge itself assumed all aspects of a lustrous garden.

Spring on the riseViola calcarata (Mountain violet)

Somewhat further up the ridge gets craggy and some basic climbing skills are useful in order to overcome various obstacles. Some of them can be bypassed on the right hand side, but this would only mean detouring – and missing out the whole fun one can have on these easy rocks.

Easy rock passage, lower part of the south ridge

At a certain point, about halfway up, the ridge is broken by a col, called Passo di Valle Cupa, where another hiking path crosses. It is leading from Valle Piana to the thicket of Valle Cupa and Timpone Campanaro. Holding on to the the south ridge the terrain is gaining inclination, and the vegetation is changing drastically while the view goes over the valleys to the spectacular escarpment of Celsa Bianca, severe, almost vertical and vegetated only by the majestic Bosnian Pine.

Celsa Bianca seen from the south ridge of Serra Dolcedorme

The summit walls are close already, very close, indeed, but by now indiscernible, hidden behind the treetops. The temperature has dropped perceptibly, and the light is changing as clouds are closing in from the southeast. The scenery is stunning: the absurdly tall Bosnian Pines on the increasingly steeper slope, almost all lightning struck and badly burned, but still alive, still growing. Down from the col we had seen already that from this spot we would have to traverse, trying to reach a broad gully and a scree ramp leading up to the actual rock face. The terrain is tricky, but the real struggle lies always ahead. There were still large spots of crusted and extremely unstable snow. Even equiped with crampons and an ice axe they would mean taking a hazard. Fair enough, we did not care to bring crampons. So the choice was quite an easy one: it will has to be the scree ramp, instead.

A brief rest, right under one of these primordial giants, and we were ready for the final push. By the the time we reached one of the narrow gullies the clouds rolled in, smothering everything and conjuring hoarfrost upon our hair. A certain sense of direction is indispensable in such situation, and we would proof to have it. A last scramble with an almost vertical obstacle and we stood on the still snow covered crest.

Scrambling through the clouds

Usually, the view from the top of Serra Dolcedorme is breathtaking. This time we would be drenched in clounds. Having penetrated winter’s last resort, we were barely able to see our own feet. The descend on our mind, we had some moments of rest and prepared ourselves … for the hard part to come.