Monte Sirente – A full traverse

Returning from my short trip to the Grand Sasso I could not withstand the temptation of a little detour and to dash up to the high plains of the Sirente range. A full traverse of the serrated and aerial ridge would take me from Sperone Tiburtini (2,128m) to Monte San Nicola (2,012m), passing the summit of Punta Macerola, Monte Sirente (2,348m), Monte La Castellina and Monte di Canale.

When I left the car close to the trailhead it was already late afternoon. I had read something about a bivouac hut in a strategical position that might have allowed me to sleep just below 2,000 meters and start out early in the morning for the traverse. Considering the late hour, however, in a last minute decision I removed a second 2L water bottle from my backpack and replaced it with a small tent.

A heavy bag, the late our and the rocks still radiating the heat of an August day … a rather unfortunate combination. Soon enough I realized that I would eventually loose this race against a sun that was already setting. Since it seemed rather pointless to keep searching for the bivouac hut after dark, I decided to plant my tent at the onset of the ridge, at about 2k meters, and enjoy the panorama and the sunset. And what a sunset!

The night was short, still and surprisingly chilly, even inside the sleeping bag. I got up just before dawn, sipped my tea, scarfed a mouthful of sugary breakfast cake and started to strike the tent which was wet with dew. And so was the grass and the limestone rocks… But I knew that the day was going to be hot, really hot indeed.

I had heard that orientation can become a serious issue on the Sirente high plains, especially with fog. In fact, let it be said: the signposting is lousy. However, I had simply to follow the ridge and the morning air was still fresh and limpid. Very enjoyable the view on the Grand Sasso and the valleys at the foot of the steep escarpment all the way.

When I reached the highest point of ridge, i.e. the actual summit of Monte Sirente it was about AM 10 or 10.30 and the August sun had already begun to show its intentions to make this very day the hottest day of the year.

Taking a break at the summit I, on my part, was already prone to rethink my intentions to complete the traverse. I was down on 0.8L somewhat of lukewarm water and would have to cope with this sip for another 15(+) km.

In the end I decided to stick to the plan if I would be able to reach the summit of Monte San Nicola without touching the last 0.5L water bottle, my “reserve fund” for the way back across the plains. (Another 2L water bottle would have been just perfect.)

To cut a long story short, I made it to the top of Monte San Nicola, but the return trip was … nasty. To say the least. Around 32°C and not a tree to rest in its merciful shadow or a rock to hide behind. Bleached bones and animal carcasses under the pitiless midday sun made the Apennines resemble some kind of Mediterranean Death Valley.

Not yet hallucinating but ravaged but the heat and at the brink of dehydration I tumbled down the last rocky slopes and staggered into the shadow of the beech forest.

Tent or extra water? Well, a decision can be right or wrong, right? Wrong! At least in the mountains it can be both.