A Workout for Mind & Body in Pettorano Sul Gizio
Well, something rather different for a collection of walks but I’m probably not the only one amongst us who loves the feel of rock beneath their fingertips and toes!
In Pettorano sul Gizio, at the southern end of the Sulmona Valley, there is a railway embankment wall – 6m high and over 300m long – perfectly constructed from beautiful interlocking limestone blocks. And it’s well over 100 years old – a testament to engineering and craftsmanship of the very highest order. On and between the blocks are small edges and pockets that cry out to be pulled and stepped upon – sharp, positive holds that allow you to move gently, with poise and balance, along the face that lies just back from the vertical.
Over the last week or so I have set out a sideways route along the wall for those who love the joy of bouldering – for me a delightful blend of tai chi, climbing and meditation – in the most beautiful of settings. And, I hope, for those who would like to try for the first time too!
Bouldering is rock climbing without the clobber (ropes, harnesses, jangly metal things) and without the fear of falling and hurting yourself (well, ok, much reduced – it is not risk free!). The art is in moving freely, your body and mind working harmoniously, blending balance and strength in moves to defy gravity. Your head quickly empties of every thought and worry as you concentrate only on your movement; muscles both relaxing and gaining strength as you pull, step up, down and through, twist and reach. When you descend to the grass at the end you will be tired, content and smiling!
The route is called Via Peppina in honour of one of the area’s most well-known inhabitants – Peppina, the Marsican Bear, who has been living and raising her cubs here for several years now. It is 55m long and has a technical grade of V+ (don’t worry too much about that – let’s say medium difficulty). But, of course, the main reason not to worry is that you are always just above the ground. Getting tired or can’t yet make the next move? Step down and hop off! Depending on the holds you use, your feet will be about 1 – 2m off the ground, maybe less.
Here’s another great thing – there are no rules! Just do it as you please using any hold you fancy. The answer to the puzzle of the wall will be different for everyone – figuring out your own solution is a big part of the fun! Just two things to remember – feet off the ground until you reach the end and, if you want the challenge of doing it as I designed it, be sure to use every hand hold marked with a little yellow square (see above) – there are 44 altogether. (The markers are currently gaffer tape – to be replaced with yellow paint to resist the weather.) Do the route from left to right as you look at the wall. When you can do that, well… do it in the other direction too!
Just a word about your feet. You could try a tight-fitting pair of slimline trainers but, frankly, you’ll probably struggle and not enjoy yourself. I recommend rock shoes – toes will go into small pockets, soles will smear on the sloping surface and you will be able to use little edges with the outside and inside of your foot. Decathlon (Pescara, L’Aquila) stock several styles starting at about €35. Try Adrian Sport in Sulmona, too.
How to find nirvana? Check out the map below. The walk-in takes 10 minutes on a good path from the Parco di Archeologia Industriale (mulini) car park. Start off north along the cycle track and then turn up a path on the left at the point where the wooden railings on the right and the stone wall on the left both end. The path passes beneath the railway and then climbs up to the right. From the point where the wall begins on your left, continue for a further 150m until you see a yellow square on the wall. That’s where you start.
And Pettorano is one of the loveliest villages in Abruzzo – 3 bars and 2 restaurants for your well-earned apres-boulder! The wall faces east and catches the full sun until early afternoon; on a warm day, best to let the sun go off it before you visit.
A final word before you go. The wall is most likley owned by someone or some organisation – the railway company (Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane) probably. Whoever the owner is, they do not know people boulder on the wall and they have not given their express permission for it to happen. Just so you know. And of course, very last thing, you boulder entirely at your own risk.
Take these two things on board and then have a lot of fun!