Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Climbing a rugged Alpi Apuane mountain—and returning just in time

Monte Sagra—it means sacred mountain. Lucy and I tried to scale this 5751-foot peak in the Alpi Apuane mountain range two years ago, but we were turned back by heavy fog. We awoke yesterday to clear skies and a forecast of nearly 70-degree weather, so we mounted a new assault; this time we succeeded.
At the peak, smiling under the cross.

We should have left earlier in the morning, but on Sunday the forecast called for windy weather Monday, and we thought we would wait another day. But we realized during breakfast that the forecast had changed, and so we belatedly filled our backpacks and headed for the hills above Carrara, about a two-hour drive.
Nearing the top, one can just make out the cross at the peak of Monte Sagro.

By the time we arrived at Campocecina, it was lunchtime, and we saw signs leading us to a little restaurant at the rifugio there. It required a 10-minute walk up a wooded trail, another delay, but we needed to strengthen ourselves for what our guidebook said would be a four-hour moderately difficult hike. After a quick but satisfying pranzo of lasagna, roasted pork and green beans, we drove another mile and a half to the Foce di Pianza, where the trail begins.

It was clear and sunny, but because of the altitude and time of year, the temperature was around 60 degrees. We hit the trail at 1:30 p.m., following the loop in a counter clockwise direction, as our book suggested. We encountered little wind, and the air was so clear we could hear the faint tinkling of bells on the hills above, which came from a flock of goats.
The beech trees in Foce della Faggiola.

We trekked along a rocky ridge for about 15 minutes before entering a wooded area called the Foce della Faggiola, the pass of the beech trees. As we left the trees and approached a ridge, we heard distant engines, and then thunder, calling to mind the sound of large trucks rumbling over a bridge. Peering over the ridge and looking far below, we saw the stark white outlines of a marble mining operation. Huge loaders scraped the ground and lifted rectangular blocks of marble into waiting trucks, which accounted for the rumbling.
We passed close to one of the marble quarries.

From here, I could smell the top.
Now the trail became rockier and steeper, slowing our progress as we struggled to keep our balance and avoid slipping on the smooth shale. We had to branch off from the loop trail onto a spur that required about 20 minutes to reach the top. We questioned how the guidebook author had found this a moderate hike, but then we sometimes forget that at age 66, we aren’t exactly the kind of trekkers he had envisioned. Nonetheless, we persevered, and about 10 minutes from the peak, I commented that we were so near I could smell the top. I wasn’t joking. Goats must love the view as much as we do; they have left ample evidence of their many summit climbs.
We had a great view of Monte Pisano, the highest in the range.

Despite the goaty odor, the peak is indeed worthwhile and spectacular, with a 360-degree view of the craggy Alpi Apuane. The Appinini range is also visible farther to the east. We could see almost straight down on the remote and picturesque medieval village of Vinca, the site of a Nazi massacre in which at least 143 inhabitants were killed in a four-day period in August of 1944. To the west, we saw the shimmering coastline from Viareggio north almost to the Cinque Terre. A large plaque with arrows shows the names of other peaks and significant features visible in all directions. We also read several monuments and memorials that people had left for deceased friends.
Vinca viewed from above.

Lucy makes her way over the rocks.
After making our way down to rejoin the loop trail, we had the choice of going back the same way or continuing, which seemed like an easy decision. The map showed a shorter route if we continued, and it would be more interesting to see a different landscape. What we hadn’t realized was that we’d spend most of the descent scrambling down steep banks on slippery rocks, and it took much more effort and probably more time than the longer route. Furthermore, we had to descend to a dry stream bed and then climb again to reach the trail head.

Added to the stress on our legs was the realization that the sun was about to set. To top it off, we somehow veered off the trail on the final rocky hillside ascent, but that turned out to be a blessing, as I found a passable shortcut that probably saved us at least 10 minutes. A good thing that was, as we topped the final ridge and witnessed the brilliant orange sky over the Tyrrhenian Sea, with our car visible about 500 feet further on. Within 15 minutes, the sunset faded and twilight fell, and we said a prayer of thanks that we were safely headed back in our car.

Back home, I tried to find a verse or poem about mountains that would fit our excursion. Failing that, I’ve written my own.

An Ode to Monte Sagra
We scale the mount that towers high,
We reach the peak and touch the sky.
We stare and wonder at the sight,
That God has made for His delight.
This ragged scar, this sacred hill,
That He put here for us to thrill.
We wonder why we bear the strain,
Of struggling up the rough terrain.
And then all doubt is put to rest,
As we gaze north, south, east and west.
We came to praise what God has wrought
The grueling climb now seems as naught.
We’ve found the light that we have sought.

By Paul Spadoni
The sunset at the end of the trail.


  1. How spectacular and impressive that you guys persevered to the top! Thanks for sharing! Well Done!

  2. You did it! What a sweet poem daddy <3


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