Our 2015 summer hiking highlight: walking the Strada delle 52 gallerie. Like everything this year (friend’s birthday cards, mostly), this post is getting sent out much after the fact. But you know what they say, right?*
We set out early one Sunday with friends, with a backpack full of snacks. The first thing about the Strada delle 52 gallerie (road of the 52 tunnels) is that it is in the Veneto. From Rovereto there are two routes: a good route and a bad route. We took the former on our way there, and found ourselves first winding up and then down (and then back up) through twisting hill roads. One of our party quickly lost their breakfast.
Our destination was a former military supply route, built during the first world war by the Italian army. Tunnels were hammered directly through the rock to connect the path together, which winds up the side of Monte Pasubio. Climbing the mountain, I felt sorry for the soldiers who lived and died in the mountains during the war. The rifugio just below the peaks is only fully open for 4 months of the year, then operating another 2 months on a shorter schedule. The rest of the year the snow closes in, blocking sections of the path and making it less than ideal for leisure hiking.
We started out from Passo Xomo, and, even without the unrelenting incline of the path to consider, we found the hike a little difficult. The night before we had cycled a 20 kilometre round trip to a castle party, plus, this was Matt’s first hike of the season. Plus, it was that sun was fierce, and I came away with the neck sunburn to prove it. So, it was hot and it was hard. But it was worth it, as hiking in Trentino always is. Those mountains! There are so many!
The path was built wide enough for two pack mules to pass each other. Its continuing convenience comes today as the width allows for passing slow hikers and being passed by fast hikers. This happened with regular occurrence as the track is super popular and it was busy on the day we were there. The amount of people on the path meant the usual ciaos and salves it is customary to exchange when encountering people in the wilderness were abandoned until we reached the comparatively empty peak.
The path has 52 tunnels (surprise!) all numbered and named. Number 3 is Rovereto (*hometown pride*). Most are relatively short, or with windows, but others definitely required torchlight to get through even though we were hiking on a bright and sunny day.
Coming through the 52nd tunnel bought us directly to the rifugio, Rifugio Achille Papa, still my favourite part of hiking in Italy. It took us the signposted 3 hours to reach the rifugio, including snack breaks, all over a steep and uneven path. Most of those snack breaks were mine, as none of our European hiking companions ever seem to carry food with them.
A note on the snacks: most, if not every, walk we have ever done has centred on a rifugio that is the lunch provider and the natural midpoint of our hike. There is also usually a bar at the car park selling espresso and brioche. In short, there is no shortage of food available to the adventurous wanderer. But. Growing up doing walks and overnight tramps in New Zealand, you were required to carry all your food on your back. There are no rifugio, malga, or car park bars. Everything you want to eat, plus extra provisions for unforeseen events, has to come from home.
When we first started on these day trips last summer, and unaccustomed to mountain restaurants, we both carried a packed lunch. We were actually supposed to do this same hike last June, but, while making our sandwiches on the morning of the hike, a slip with a knife sent me back to bed (squealing like a stuck pig). I spent that particular Sunday instead lying in bed while Matt ventured out to source supplies. Important things like plasters, pancakes, etc.
This year we have abandoned our packed rations and we feast in mountain restaurants instead, but I still like to be prepared. That preparation no longer includes sharp knifes and bread rolls, but our companions are amused by my piles of snacks all the same.
From the rifugio we took the 2 hour round trip to the peaks of Monte Pasubio and through the sacred zone dedicated to the solders who died here during WWI. Rifugio Achille Papa does have beds, meaning the tunnels and peaks can be split into a two day hike. We, however, squished everything into one day. After another snack break at the rifugio on the way down, we took an alternative route – a wide curving road that was easily bypassed with many straight down short cuts. In total, we hiked something like 7.5 hours, plus the 2 hour return car trip. By the end of the day I was completely spent, achieving nothing more that evening that some light reading and ice block eating.
*Better late than never.