I won’t let the vertical terrain intimidate me!
3 May 2022
My first trekking day along the Cinque Terre went from Will Wheaton’s “No, no, Hell no!” to “I think I can, I think I can” before reaching a resounding “Eureka” much as the Donner Party must have felt when reaching the West after a hungry winter in the Sierras.
No description that I read, and I read several, quite prepared me for what this trek is really like. I have tried to imagine a one-mile hike in which its start is a climb from close to sea level to 761′. Nothing prepared me for my first realization that the trail looked to be going straight up the side of a mountain. Oh, my aching back!
(An aside: I truly have an aching back. Three days before departure I accomplished what I describe as a solid butt-plant. No bounce, shock absorber being my spine. Monday morning thoughts crossing my mind included “wow, I can barely move without pain” to “how crazy am I boarding a plane for Italy?” I packed lots of ibuprofen and Aspercreme and headed for the airport.)
Supposedly the Riomaggiore to Manarola trail is an “average” hike of about a mile, needing about an hour. Leaving Riomaggiore the reality is a series of uninterrupted, uneven, and narrow rock steps that go up about 750 feet the side of a mountain. I didn’t count the number of steps but it was somewhere between more than 1000 and less than 1 million.
I was able to watch a helicopter carry in heavy equipment for the workers that are repairing the lower trail, Via dell’Amore, which is closed for a couple years due to a massive landslide. Living along Pacific Coast Highway One, I understand that stuff happens. At least I know a helicopter could lift me off the mountain, should I need rescue. I have no walking stick, and seeing no restless squirrels to beat off, it would just be useless weight.
I left early, by 8 am. Glad I did as I don’t know how people do the hike in the middle of summer when hoards inundate the region and temperatures and humidity soar. Some of the paths are only wide enough for one person at a time. And this person was slow and methodical about where I put my feet. I passed few people. I moved over to catch my breath, somewhere around the 500th step, allowing a young girl to gingerly zoom by. I am positive that by the time I got to the top, she had arrived in Manarola, attended Mass, and was now enjoying a cappuccino.
I continue my climb. Just one step at a time and holding on to anything available, and hopefully nothing poisonous. Eyes on trail. Two minutes, ten steps, three minutes to gasp and take in the view. Lots of foliage, small black pvc pipes running into the farmers’ vineyards and gardens not meant for grasping, and occasionally the paper trail left by bladder-conscious hikers.
What doesn’t kill me by the 1000th step only makes me stronger. I see blue sky ahead, a teaser as I weave up another dozen steps, and another dozen more but eventually I reach to top! This is definitely the first time I have ever seen the condensation from my breath when the temperature was 60 degrees.
Once at the top, I reach the “you’ve got to be kidding” stage of the trek.
I was able to find some short rocky pathways but most of the trail consisted of rocks that just seemed to be there of their own volition to provide steps down. It was faster, but more jarring on my back, going down the mountain. So glad I hiked in the south to north direction as no way would I want to climb UP this direction!
I rejoiced when I reached roof level with a promise of a well-earned cappuccino and bruschetta.
The “average” trek Riomaggiore to Manarola took 2 hours. From across the valley, Manarola below me, I could see the trail leading from Manarola to the next village of Corniglia. As Will Wheaton said on Big Bang Theory, “No, No, Hell No!”
I returned to Manarola by train. It took 2 minutes.