Train to Corniglia, find the trail head to take the trail back to Manarola.
I have been dying to hike one of these trails since we came to Cinque Terre. The one preferred trail was the lower trail but it was still under repair from the October 2011 flood that devastated this area.
The other option was to hike the upper trail. When me and Rita decided to take this trail we didn't know just how upper this upper trail was.
It was literally up in the clouds.
When the train stopped at Corniglia, we saw the small bus that takes you to the central part of the town that sits high on the jagged mountain. We approached it and I recognized the driver, my old friend Enzo!
He saw us and figured he already had a bus full of stupido Americanos and closed the door and hauled ass.
Of course there is a back story to me and Enzo's short lived relationship, that story is for another day.
Ok, so with Enzo and the easy bus ride that would take us close to the trail head driving off in a cloud of exhaust smoke our next decision was walk the steeply inclined road up or take the switchback stairs up.
I had taken that the road route a couple of days before and it was no picnic and soon Enzo would be coming back down the steep winding road where anything could happen and I'm sure tourists get ran down here all the time so we opted for the mountain of stairs.
Side note, I'm riding the fast train from Cinque Terre to Rome as I write this. It's rainy but I still get distracted by the mountains outside of my window moving slow enough to take the occasional picture and the objects close to the tracks whizzing by too fast to see clearly.
I kind of enjoy this kind of travel when there are interesting things outside the window and we decided to spend the extra Euro to get first class tickets.
Anyway back to the trail.
We found out later there were 400 steps from the train platform to the street. We didn't know it yet but this would be a piece of cake when compared to the rest of our journey.
(The train is stopping in Pisa now, I know this because I just caught a glimpse of the Leaning Tower that we climbed after Venice on our way to Volterra in Tuscony).
Rita struggled up the steps and I could feel a little burn in my leg muscles but it felt good. 400 steps later we hit the streets and headed for the trailhead.
We were going in the right direction but we didn't know it so when we got to the end of town we reversed direction and went to the opposite side of town and found a trailhead and started our hike.
The trail wound its way close to the other side of the town and we saw the trailhead that we
could have taken that would have saved us a lot of walking but missed.
We started our assent, the first part of the hike was just that, climbing one ancient crudely laid stone step after another. Seems like we were climbing for close to an hour and a half, the heavy woods blocked our view for much of that time.
Little sister was taking more breaks as we went higher and now she was audibly cursing the never ending stone steps that continued to rise just when you thought you had reached the top.
It reminded me of novice Everest climbers, when they spot the Hillary Step, they believe they are looking at the summit of Everast only to have their exhausted hopes shattered when they reach that peak and see the actual summit many frozen footsteps ahead.
This was the bane of Rita's existence that day. Every time she approached her faux summit her hopes were quickly dashed as she discovered it was just another Hillary Step and the upward death march continued.
I took the historic mean big brother pleasure in scampering up ahead and adding to her mounting misery by encouraging her that we were finally leveling out, then when she rounded the corner or crested that peak her hopes are dashed, the look on her face was priceless.
The the day before she chastised me for dropping the F-bomb, imagine my glee when I heard her say "another f@"&ing hill!"
The best part was for me, kind of like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown so I kept doing it. Several meters up and it happened again and the payoff was seeing her look up and say "another mother f€#¥ing hill!"
Ahhhhb bah hahahah, the MF-bomb! Sweet!
I'm telling mom!
After many of these treats we finally crested the ridge and were able to see the town below. We had been climbing close to two hours and I was surprised to see the town we had just left still directly below us. It didn't seem like we had made any progress in the direction of Manarola where we were
We were a little south of the town but just barely past it. For a while I thought it was Manarola and somehow we had failed to follow the trail down to it and were now on our way to Riomaggiore.
After studying the details of the town well below us we determined that we were still above the town of Corniglia. It seems we had spent the last 2 hours climbing the backside of a ridge that intersects with the mountain ridge that over looks the five or cinque towns that make up Cinque Terre.
It was reassuring to know that we were on the correct path but now we understood that we had a long way to go before we began the what would turn out to be the arduous trek down the mountain.
After we had been traveling south for a time two couples from our side of the planet caught up to us and began asking if they had just seen us at a place called San Lorenzo. Me and Rita looked at each other puzzled and said no we were staying in Manarola.
After several questions back and forth we realized they weren't referring to some small town here along the Italian Rivera, they were talking about the place in Tuscony we had left 3 days ago. The Agraturismo Pondere San Lorenzo at the ancient town of Volterra. These were the Canadians we had shared dinners with in the converted 12th century chapel.
What were the odds in that?
We had a fun little reunion up there in the mountain ridge and took several pictures with them and trekked with them for a portion of the hike.
After another long segment we came to the payoff of the hike. The view opened up to both towns below and we could now easily see both our starting point and our eventual destination.
We could also look straight down and see the jagged cliffs and waters of the sea crashing against the place where certain death lurked several hundred feet down.
Since arriving at Cinque Terre I had been admiring the mountain ridge and the terraces carved out to make possible the gardens that feed the towns and the vineyards that make the townspeople happy.
When looking up to the terraces, I focused on the very highest one and wondered about the people up there who labored so high. Now we walked among them, the trail was incorporated with that very highest terrace and I could see the tiny clusters of grapes that were several weeks away from their fate in the winepress. I could touch the leaves and the vines, I was saying bon journo to the seemingly un-annoyed workers of the vines.
Of course I took pictures and tried to guess how I would feel if someone from this land happened to walk by my homeland and snap pictures of me repairing a refrigerator.
I chucked to myself at that thought.
At one point the trail and the connection between two terraces narrowed and a stone stairway overlooked a gap that looked almost straight down to the jagged mountainside to the Mediterranean or more specifically the Ligurian Sea coast. As I took video of this dangerous crossing I looked up to see the glare and warning from my baby sister.
At about the 3 hour mark I looked at my watch to check the chronograph I had started at the trailhead in Cornilia. I have a habit or some would say a compulsion to time things.
Either I have a need to know how much time I have left to do something or how much of my life I have wasted on some thing or some one.
Regardless, at this mark we had reached the mountaintop town of Volastra which sits directly above Manarola.
Now the trail lead us next to houses, courtyards and a very old and interesting church. Of course we had to stop and investigate the church with eye and lense.
Another check of the watch and now it is time to begin our journey down. There was food to enjoy and local table wine to drink. As we headed down we saw that a cloud was just above us hugging this mountain ridge.
The mountain trail down turned into a never ending staircase of wide and long steps made up of several stones per step.
Now I was the one cursing as my expectations to end the endless winding stairs were heightened by the burning sensation in my aging arthritic knees.
After hundreds of the punishing steps we reach a junction that an opposing hiker had told us about when we crossed paths 2 hours ago and asked him how far to Manarola.
He told us when we get close to Manarola to take the Panorama path. It's more difficult but the view is worth the effort.
It was and it was!
This final leg of the hike turned into a very steep climb down rugged steps of narrow stones, this is where the first and only fall of the two lone sojourners occurred.
Rita was leading and started to fall on these steps and though I tried to help but all I could manage was to call her name several times and try to grab the strap of her backpack to lessen the fall. Too late, she landed smack on her hip against the stone.
I wondered many times along this hike, what we would do if one of us became incapacitated. I can't imagine trying to carry someone down to safety.
Fortunately it was just a flesh wound on her ass or there close abouts.
Spending too much time admiring the vistas and not minding your feet was not without peril.
Finely reaching the level smooth path path that led around to the trailhead gave a, well I won't say a new appreciation for the upper terrace dwellers, just reaffirmed what I already admired about these people, the people who don't pay thousands of dollars to walk among the clouds every day, they do it to earn a living. I already looked at them in awe from far down the mountain.
Hiking trail 10 in Brown County State Park several times sure helped train me for this hike, also walking 4 to 5 miles a day and working out made it possible for this almost 58 year old geezer with aching back, neck and shoulders able to do this hike pain and all.
I do have to admit I don't think I could have done it without use of my script of pain killers and did need to stretch out on the floor after. I left part of my soul on that trail, literally, chunks of the bottom of both shoes are still up there, big chunks.
Before I strain my shoulder parting myself on the back I have to tell you we met many people on the trail who were a hell of a lot older than me. You could tell they have been doing this a long time.
I also have to admit that even though my baby sister was struggling mightily on accent, she hung in there and finished strong, back problems, old age and all.
I feel bad about the flood that wreaked havoc in this area and damaged the lower trail. But if it would have been open, there is no doubt that is the path we would have taken. Nice and level, paved and smooth, no accent no decent. Also no high ridge top vistas, no walking the high terrace close enough to touch the still tiny clusters of growing grapes, no walking within reach of the clouds in Volestra and no meeting up with our Canadian friends from the Argatourismo we stayed at in the Tuscony region.
I'm sure we would have enjoyed the easy path from Corniglia to Manarola. It would have made for a very enjoyable walk.
But I will take challenging over enjoyable any day.
Taking the higher path is not always our first choice.
Sometimes it's just something we have to do.
Taking the higher path is not always our first choice.
Sometimes it's just something we have to do.
Ready to go again Ree?
To read what she said about our hike click here.