Thursday, 6 December 2012

Snowshoeing - A Cautionary Tale


We've been a little tongue in cheek recently about the reputedly "fastest growing winter sport" of snowshoeing, fuelled mainly by two hilarious videos that have me in fits every time*, but we've still been dying to give it a go.  Yesterday we finally did.


Boy, did we have fun!  And what a work out.  In true Kokopelli style, we were also under-prepared and under-planned.  Harsh lesson learnt if said snowshoes are to remain on feet and not be used as missiles.

We were only supposed to be trialling them, so said he.  Just out for an hour, he said.  In my usual  excitement I got my maps and Garmin - "ha, you won't need those", he laughed at me.  Yet again I blindly believed him.  The clue to what was about to become was in the statement "we're only going round the mountain and down the ski run".

So rucksacks were packed with a single flask of coffee, no food, no maps, no extra layers, no emergency kit.  No nothing.  Idiots.  

Tip Number 1:  Don't do the same, you never know how long you're going to be out, or the conditions you're going to come across.  Prepare for every eventuality.

It started well, we drove the short distance up to Passo Lanciano**, where we can see from our house that there's snow.   

PASSO LANCIANO SKIING (from our house)

And there was!  Great delight!  Proper snow too.  So pole lengths were sorted, and snowshoes were fitted and adjusted around new boots.

Tip number 2: you need ankle covering boots to protect against the snowshoe bindings.  Being a bit of a minimalist in the shoe department, I didn't have any boots so had to buy some.   I couldn't see the point in spending heaps of money - all they need is to be comfortable, warm, dry and big enough for a couple of layers of socks, including my indispensable Sealskinz*** waterproof socks (I never trust shoe "waterproof" claims).  


Parting with €18 at the market and I was the proud owner of a pair of uber comfy sheepskin-lined plastic boots.  They may not cut a dash at trendy ski resorts, and they may not last as long as high tech/high price hiking shoes, but they were perfect: super warm, super comfortable and they kept my feet super dry.

So off we went into the woods like excited children, skipping through the snow with gay abandon.  This was great!   It was so easy, and we quickly got the hang of it.  Even me, with my knock knees and pigeon toes.   Up and down banks, over logs, through the trees.  Until we (he) realised we'd gone the wrong way.  


Tip number 3: even if you're "only going out for an hour", discuss your route with your partner, plot and plan it, use and take a map.   Terrain looks very different in the snow - usual markers may not be there and it's very easy to get confused.

But I didn't care, we were having fun.  It may be mid afternoon (ie dark in a couple of hours) but we were only going to be out for an hour.  

So we back tracked and picked up the proper trail.

After an hour of more skipping through the snow, we started to climb the mountain we were supposed to be going around.   And we climbed and climbed and climbed.  This is where the beauty of these little devices strapped to our feet really came into their own.   I certainly felt the burn!  Great low impact workout!  Boy, could I feel my glutes!   This was great! 

Tip number 4: if you're after a strength training, low impact with high cardio vascular workout to see you through the winter, this has got to be it!

Tip number 5: you may only be going for a walk in the woods, but you will work.  Dress warm, but with sports kit, ie breathable layers and quick drying.   I didn't.   Warm yes, but my layers of cotton ensured I got very sweaty wet very quickly.   And wet I stayed.  And very very cold, hyperthermic cold, once the effort of climbing was over.

The dipping sun, and incoming storm clouds, combined with the confession that this was longer, harder and further than anticipated, meant there was no time for slacking. 


Eventually, after a mini "I'm never trusting you again!" tantrum, we finally (with huge relief) found ourselves at the top of the ski run.  In the dark and in a blizzard.

Now this is where we should have had skis strapped to our backs.  


Tip number 6: snowshoes are designed for gripping.   Their inbuilt crampons and studs means gliding gracefully (and fast) down hills just ain't going to happen.  And long downhills takes its toll on the ankles.  You will need poles and, no matter how fit you are, don't underestimate the impact on unfamiliar muscles.

Finally we reached the warmth and safety of our little, snow covered car.

The smell of our turkey curry cooking slowly on top of the fire as we made our way through the door, was heaven indeed. 

Final tip: have a warm fire waiting for you at home with a big pot of something hearty bubbling away. 

At least we got one thing right...


*   Extreme Snowshoeing
     Beginners Guide

** Passo Lanciano Skiing

***Sealskinz waterproof socks


PS. we are open for the winter (with snowshoes thrown in) if anyone wants to join us...?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Winter camping anyone?

Look what arrived last night!




And look what arrived this afternoon!


Now all we need is someone crazy enough to come out and join us!

If you fancy being a snowshoeing guinea pig and helping us to explore a Kokopelli winter and the tracks and trails of the Majella, just get in touch.  

And we're only joking about the camping ;-)   Of course, if you really, really wanted to you could, but we do have a rather nice (and heated) self-catering room, complete with an en-suite shower and loo, for €40 per night (snowshoe hire included).

Just a few piccies of past winters to tempt you out to Kokopelli and Serramonacesca in the snowy season...



Finally, a little piece I wrote for Snowshoe Magazine last year extolling the virtues of the Majella in winter:

Go on.  You know you want to.

Friday, 24 August 2012

"Making tents just like home spoils the fun"

An in-tents experience

Camping is not about yearning for emails and EastEnders and electric light; it is a game

Too many of us have become disconnected from life and caught up on the hedonistic treadmill.  And it's not making us happy.  Camping, proper camping, and even for short periods, puts you back on an even keel and rebalances perspectives and priorities.  

How many of us live in centrally heated houses with fresh running water and electricity freely available regardless of hour or season?  Light when you want it, warmth when you want it.  At the flick of a switch.  

How many of us can eat whatever we like, whenever we like, regardless of season?  

How often do we get into our climate controlled cars from our cocooned houses to go to work to buy things we don't really need?  Yet we only know what time of day or time of year it is from our watches or calendars, or know what we need to buy because someone else tells us so.

In other words, life has become too easy and too comfortable, and we work far too hard.  It's so easy to lose your way and not even realise.  

Can you remember the last time you felt the sheer joy of seeing the first spring buds appear?  The first rains?  The first walk in the snow?  The relief of finally snuggling into a toasty bed with a hot water bottle on your feet, whilst knowing that, in a few hours, you'll be able to see your breath in the frosty morning? The delight of the broad beans and peas finally coming into season (and the turnips and swedes going)? In other words, to feel life, to really, really feel it.  To live it, to become part of it, working in harmony with it, through the highs and the lows.

Camping may not always be easy, and at times you will cry through frustration, fear or fatigue.  But you will laugh too, and your heart will soar.  Time and time again.

This, for me, is what camping brings.  Make it too comfortable and you're recreating that plateaux of sensation once more.  Mediocre highs, mediocre lows.  Give me the soaring highs any day.  

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Walking Guide - Monte d'Ugni, Majella

Monte d'Ugni and the Feudo Ugni Nature Reserve, CH, Abruzzo

After a week of far too many late nights and early mornings, a chilled Saturday of an amble around the hills was in order.  You pick the route, says I, whilst I finish the chores.  Fatal.

Found one!   Says he.  Here, look.  Not far along the valley and only about 6km, nice circular route through the gorge, a gentle stretch of the legs.  

Yes, darling looks lovely says I, my mind not really on the job.  This is where I errored.    The warning signals of checking out the contours and noticing that we would be “ambling” to over 2000m just didn’t register.  From a starting point of 700m?  That’s 1,300m of climbing.  In 6km?  In 2 hours?  Not a chance.

Seven hours later, with almost 20km of hiking and scrambling, we had completed the most amazing walk with some incredible scenery, fueled only on a pizza slice.

Be warned, however, it is quite a hike - not only a long way up, but also a long way down almost entirely on scree.  Strong knees, food, water and a sense of humour a must.  It gets pretty chilly at the top and the weather can come in quite fast, so waterproofs and warm layers should also be packed.

There are a couple of gorgeous little refugi at the top, well worth overnighting in if you fancy doing the hike over a couple of days, or for just having more time to explore the stunning landscape all around you.

Finer Details

Distance:  19km
Time:  7-8 hours
Highest point:  2040m
Starting point:  Junction of walking routes G4/G5 Confini, Pennapiedimonte, CH (700m)
Difficulty:  A good level of fitness, stamina and strong knees/ankles required
Distance from Kokopelli:  25km 

Directions:  from Kokopelli, go down to the main Serramonacesca - Roccamontepiano road, turn right to Roccamontepiano.  In the middle of Rocca, take the right fork up to Pretoro.  Go through Pretoro and out the otherside, picking up the signs to Bocca di Valle.  Go through Bocca di Valle on the SS263 and head towards Pennapiedimonte, staying on the SS263 all the way.

From Pennapiedimonte keep on the SS263, and after about 5km look out for the hamlet of Confini signposted to your right.  Turn into Confini and make your way sharply up past a few houses.  This track takes you all the way to a picnic area with parking spaces dotted along the side.  Park up anywhere along here and pick up the sign to the U1 (G4 on a more up to date Majella map)

The U1/G4 is a well defined track all the way up until you get close to the top.  Unless you want to disappear well into the wild heart of the Majella (not advisable on a one day hike with limited provisions), just after the refugio Monte d’Ugni (signposted) start looking for a sign to your right indicating the path to the refugio Martellese.  Take the path all the way to and past the refugio.  As you go past, this is where your descent starts so start looking for the path (the G5) that takes you down through the gorge.  It can be a little tricky to spot but so long as you ensure you keep the drop into the gorge on your right you’ll stay on the correct side of the gorge and will pick up the path as it does become very obvious.

It is now downhill all the way!  But don’t relax as it can be pretty steep and technical in some places.  Eventually, however, you will reach the bottom at exactly the same place you started.  Give yourselves a pat on the back and go and find a nice, cold beer in nearby Pennapiedimonte.

The higher you get, the more spectacular the views.
This here looking down to Lago di Casoli

Just one of the many butterflies adding another dimension to this beautiful landscape

The beach woods and the rock formations

The sunlight and green hue through the trees

Incredible to see the Pennapiedimonte gorge from a completely
different perspective.  (Great climbing here btw.)

The walkway through the opposite gorge clearly in view

Views all the way to the sea

The higher into the clouds we went the more stunning the light

The top.  The gorge for our descent.  

And so it starts...

Smiley faces at the top, weary legs by the bottom

A long way down, maybe, but we wouldn't have missed this landscape
 for anything.  Well worth the weary legs at the end.

Even Mother Mary had a little place

...and back where we began.
In the nick of time too - wouldn't have fancied doing that descent in the dark!