December 8, 2012

Mill Creek Canyon, Moab Area, Utah

If you want to see one of the most spectacular sites in the Moab area, you don't need to go to Arches National Park, or Canyonlands, or the Colorado River Gorge. Instead, there is an amazing canyon located right down the street from downtown Moab called Mill Creek Canyon. 500 foot red rock cliffs of Navajo Sandstone rise up above the perennial waters of Mill Creek. Mill Creek itself flows down from the La Sal Mountains and into downtown Moab.

Mill Creek Canyon begins in a wide sandy area, but within a quarter mile the canyon walls close in. The canyon soon splits into a north fork and a south fork. Either way, be prepared to cross the stream several times. The water is very cold, since it is snow melt. Which might be nice in the heat of the summer, but is definitely very chilly in fall and winter.

Immediately after crossing the creek for the first time up the north fork, you will see a large rock containing a couple of dozen ancient petroglyphs. The route weaves in and out of riparian forests, up onto rocky slopes, and across sand dunes. There are many different routes and way-trails, but you just need to find the one that looks good to you and keep heading up the canyon. 

Bypassing the waterfall

Soon you will encounter a beautiful waterfall. But, there is no feasible way to get up and past it. So, you will need to backtrack and look for where a trail heads up the slope and onto the rocks above and around the waterfalls. The route continues up-and-down sand dunes with towering rock walls drawing you further on.

Eventually you will come to a large bend in the canyon where the rock walls come to water level and a small waterfall drops over the slick rock. With no feasible way past this second waterfall without wading directly into the pool below it, this might be a good turn around point. If you continue, the canyon continues for miles further. Either way, Mill Creek Canyon rivals almost any other slickrock canyon I have ever seen.

If this were in another state other than Utah, especially anywhere east of the Rockies, it would be a national park. Here in Moab, it's just a "Wilderness Study Area", not even an officially designated wilderness. Just ho-hum spectacular beauty in the Moab area.

December 5, 2012

Forca d'Acero Loop, Parco Nazionale delle Abruzzi, Italy

Distance: 9.3 km (5.8 mi)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 1420 - 1880 m (4657 - 6166 ft)
Season: late May - November

Forca d’Acero translates to "fork of the maples" and is the main pass providing access to the Parco Nazionale della Abruzzi from the west. Located at 1530 m, it is also an excellent jumping off point for accessing the high alpine meadows of the Abruzzi mountains. Forca d'Acero can be accessed by taking the Cassino exit if coming from Naples or the Frosinone exit if coming from Rome and following signs for Atina and Sora. Take the SS509 from Atina straight there or the SS666 from Sora to the intersection with SS509 and then turn right onto it.

Approximately 400 meters west of the pass at Forca d'Acero is the trailhead for the P2 trail, which is the entrance and exit for this loop hike. There is a small parking area across from the trailhead, which is not well signed. Look for a blue road sign which says “10 innesto ss83 km 10+000 ss 509 Forca D’Acero” at this parking spot. Should you miss the trailhead or if the pull out is full, it is possible to park at the pass itself, where there is a refugio and plenty of parking, and to walk the road back down approximately 400 meters, looking for the trailhead on the left across from the pullout on the right.

The trail begins as a pleasant stroll through an old-growth beech forest. Approximate 600 m into the forest, look for blue/white blazes on the trees to the right leading to an opening in the forest at the base of the slope. Turn right and follow the blue/white blazes. Soon the route will climb fairly steeply up the slope through a tangle of young beech up to the treeline. This climb is the most difficult part of the hike both physically and in terms of orientation. It is difficult to follow the blue/white blazes on the rocks and small trees. But, if you lose them, do not be concerned. Just bushwhack your way upward and soon you will emerge out of the trees into the alpine meadows and will intersect a well established trail paralleling the treeline.

Turn right onto this trail and follow it as it switchbacks a couple of times and then emerges onto a beautiful promontory with the spectacular view to the north and west across the Abruzzi range, the meadows of Campo Luogo and Campo Rotondo, and the village of Pescasseroli in the distance. Follow the trail around the westside of the ridge until reaching a series of snow fences. The fences were built to prevent landslides and avalanches from reaching the road below. The trail appears to end at this snow fences, with the exception of a myriad of small livestock and game trails. Instead, turn straight up the slope to the saddle above. It is steep, but short, and just walk between the fences and use them for support, if necessary.

Once at the saddle, the most spectacular part of this hike is about to begin. The view becomes fully panoramic, with the entire Abruzzi range in view. Below is a beautiful valley, which you will descend into later. You can also see the dominant peak of the range, Monte Marsicano which stands over 2230 m high.

From the saddle, turn right and climb up the grassy slope to the summit above. From the summit, the next 2 km is just a pleasant stroll along the ridgeline, with magnificent views all around. There is not much of an established trail, but there is a faint path of beaten down grass caused by the wild horses that live on these slopes and occasional yellow stripes on the rocks indicating some sort of route. However, this faint this trail does not appear on the maps and the way is obvious in this open landscape.

The ridge undulates up and down over several short summits and saddles. Across the steep valley to the southwest is Monte San Marcello and in the distance to the west are the 2200 m peaks of Monte Petrose and Monte Altara. Between the last two summits on the ridgeline in the saddle you will come across the F9 trail blazed in orange descending down into the valley to the left. This is the trail down to loop back to Forca D’Acero. But, if you want to make one last climb to the summit of Monte San Nicola, you can stay straight and go up to the top, before returning back to the F9. It will initially descend very steeply into the valley, before becoming more gradual upon entering the beech forest.

This is a very pleasant trail and easy to follow as it gradually works its way down the slopes through the old-growth beech trees. Eventually, the F9 trail will descend all the way down to 1420 m and will emerge into the small meadow that you had seen from above. Here, it can get a little confusing with a myriad of blazes heading in several directions. Just head out into the middle of the meadow and look for a large limestone rock with several blazes on it.

It will read Inizio F8 pointing to the left. Turn left on the F8 following the orange blazes as it climbs up out of the valley and towards the ridgeline above. This is a fairly relentless climb of 200 m, especially since you may not really feel like climbing at this stage of the hike after having descended so far. The F8 will continue until reaching a saddle in the forest. At the saddle, it changes its name to the P2 – the same P2 you started on. Follow this gentle trail back to the trailhead.