Fly like a Bird

The Pizzo d’Uccello (Bird Peak) (1,781 m – 5843 ft.) stands out among the other peaks of the Apuan Alps especially for its North Face, which features a sheer drop of almost  800 meters in elevation, placing it in the  same league as that of many of the most famous peaks of the Dolomites.

The Pizzo d’Uccello has sometimes been called the Tuscan Matterhorn but I think this is going a little too far as there is an easier way to climb to the top of it which is certainly not the case with the Cervino (as the Italians call the Matterhorn)!

The Pizzo is also the geographical and geological boundary between the upper valley of the Serchio River (Garfagnana) and that of the Magra (Lunigiana). Until the first half of the nineteenth century it was on the political border between the Duchy of Lucca and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany that included Casola in Lunigiana. Today it’s on the border between the provinces of Lucca and Massa and Carrara.

I am not a rock climber so would never attempt the amazing north face but it’s possible to reach the Pizzo from a path that leads from yet another similarly named Foce di Giovo.

To reach the foce (which is another word for “pass” or “col” in this region) one first has to reach Piazza al Serchio, the northernmost town in the Serchio valley (well worth a visit in itself). Then one goes down the Gramolazzo valley and past its beautiful (artificial) lake to reach the starting point at Foce di Siggioli.  Footpath no. 13 leads on past, at first thick holm-oak forests then onto barer birch-strewn uplands. There are a couple of tricky bits on the path (shown on the CAI map by a dotted line) but steady footing and holding on to the steel cable (via ferrata) will get one through.

The Foce di Giovo is a lovely, almost alpine, plateau – a high mountain equivalent of a Piccadilly Circus from whence footpaths lead to very different parts of this incredible region of the Apuans. Path 37 heads towards the borgo of Vinca (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/magical-mulattiera/). Path 179 goes under that massive challenge: the ridge walk to end all ridge walks – the cresta Garnerone – to the Foce di Cardeto. And path 178 leads up to the summit of the spectacular Pizzo d’Uccello.

On this occasion we decided to descend to the Orto di Donna (literally, “lady’s kitchen garden”) which would have been one of the most beautiful valleys in the Apuane were it not for the fact that much of it is ruined by marble quarrying. There is a footpath down to the rifugio Donegani but sometimes one walks on a rough stony road which, during the working week, is filled with noisy and dust-creating lorries.

The rifugio Donegani, after having passed a period of uncertainty, is a great place to stop and have a meal or a snack. Its interior décor reminded me a bit of a highland hunting lodge!

I have visited these beautiful places on a number of occasions, firstly in the 1990’s when I climbed the Pisanino (the highest mountain in the Apuans at 6,388 ft. / 1,947 m high) via the Foce di Cardeto. They shall always remain in my heart.

These photographs date from November 2005.

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