Pilate’s Lake

Trail: CAI n.101

Many people who would have planned a full holiday before the crisis, now have to make do with a weekend – and the destination of our weekend is Castelsantangelo sul Nera. We’re finally having a taste of the Sibillini Mountains! After a dinner that includes donkey meat (!) at the camping site Monte Prata, Stefano and I go in our tent to sleep. On the following morning we wake up at 4:00. Why are we punishing ourself like this while we are on vacation?

Mt. Vettore

Because the ladscape of the Sibillini around the Plain of Castelluccio is striking and unique, but one of the features which make it so peculiar is the nearly complete absence of trees – which means, no shadow. This is why we’ve settled for an early start in order to be at the trailhead (Forca di Presta) at sunrise.

We’re cold during the first 30 minutes, but we’ll be thankful when the sun is high. It’s an easy walk until Sella delle Ciaule, but before Refuge Zilioli the climb increases and we notice hikers on their way back walking down cautiously. We’re glad we brought our poles along as they will come in handy later, down that steep and rocky slope. Climbing up we witness an odd quarrel: above our heads, a bold kestrel is bothering a young eagle.

Past the refuge we walk down the meadows, where we’re surprised to find many edelweiss flowers. We pay attention not to tread on these protected plants. Once at the bottom of the meadows it’s better to turn right on the stones right away, rather than go through the narrow opening between the rocks a little further downhill. The path is now on jagged rocks, with a few difficult passages which require some care. We are now descending into the natural amphitheatre at the bottom of which lies Pilate’s Lake, surrounded by peaks Vettore and Redentore. The last part of the trail goes slantwise down a scree to the bottom of the funnel.

Approaching the lakeside is absolutely fordbidden, but as usual someone is behaving the “italian way” and is told off by a forest ranger. The reason for the ban is protecting the extremely rare Chirocephalus marchesonii, a freshwater shrimp which can’t be found anywhere else. Treading on the area immediately surrounding the water would mean damaging its fragile habitat irreversibly and removing the eggs laid by the small shellfish. The shrimp is nearly microscopic and it’s difficult to distinguish the individual animal: all that can actually be seen is a red colouring of the water near the lakeside. The only spot where getting close is allowed is a protruding rock from which we lean out, but the water surface is too choppy and we can’t see anything.

On the way back we meet and cross many hikers going up. They’ve just started to walk. I look at them while I put some more sunscreen on. Are they crazy? It’s past midday and the sun is at its zenith. They’ll get to the end in the grip of mirage and sunstroke, while we are now back in Forca di Presta heading to the Rifugio degli Alpini where we look forward to having a tasty lentil soup.

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