canyon exploring with Michele Angileri

Foce S. Michele (Rio Colle Alto)

The upper Volturno valley features green forests growing on white limestone peaks furrowed by the streams. Medieval villages rise on highest hilltops, protected by rocks, walls and towers from where the eye runs over fields and woods but also can go up towards the beeches forests and the naked tops of Mainarde Range, where snow remains till late june.
We are in the southest part of National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, the home of Marsican Brown Bears. Places stamped with the sign of the presence and activities of man, but at the same time they maintain their own dimension of wilderness. In these places Man and Nature have coexisted mutually shaping. The long history of mutual interaction between Man and Nature ca be read in every spot of this land but there are points where we see it more clearly, and one of them is the rupestrian hermitage of San Michele a Foce. It rises in a big grotto in the middle of the rock wall of the canyon of Rio Colle Alto. The canyon is a majestic portal allowing to reach the Mainarde from the hills of Volturno valley. Majestic but also mysterious, hard, terrible, scary ... a place joining heaven and earth, but also a place that made men asking for God's protection.

At present Foce San Michele is an appreciated canyoning route, quickly becoming a classic among canyoning routes in Central Italy. It's a short trail, but it has impressing and beautiful narrows.

Name Foce S. Michele (Rio Colle Alto)
Area Molise, Mainarde
Nearest village Castel San Vincenzo (Isernia)
Elevation loss 90 m
Length 600 m
Highest cascade 22 m
Rock Limestone
Rating3 (spring)
Shuttle Possible
Explored by Michele Angileri, Riccardo Hallgass; august 23 1992

 

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I remember ...

At that time I was working on the experimental thesis for my master university degree. As work was proceeding slower than I had thought, I decided to remain at work even in august, except for a 4 days vacation I spent going up and down the Appennino on my off-road motorcycle, looking for unknown canyons. A wonderful trip with no comfort at all, sleeping on the ground under the stars, eating sandwiches, washing in the rivers and going wherever my curiosity pulled me.

That's how I saw the canyon from afar, behind the village of Castel San Vincenzo. An unpaved road led me to canyon's exit. On foot I went up the stream, which was dry. It enclosed in narrows, and I got to the bottom of a high dark dryfall.

A couple of weeks later Riccardino returned from vacation, and together we went to explore the Canyon of Castel San Vincenzo. It proved to be much easier than I expected. Almost all its little cascades could be downclimbed, and there were no narrows except the one in its last section, where we found the only two cascades that required rappelling. We did them both in a single rappel, anchored on a bolt on left side, placed so far from cascade's edge that it was difficult recovering rope.

Overall I was disappointed by the canyon: I expected more, and my opinion on the canyon was: "a place to be seen once, just to know what's inside". So I never wanted to get there again. Years later I wrote a record for the new-born Italian Canyons Database, as "Gola di Castel San Vincenzo".

15 years pass, and rumours appear about a canyon called "Foce San Michele". It's it, the canyon of Castel San Vincenzo! but in the words of those who have gone through it seems another canyon, beautiful, impressing ... Those who descended it return there once again, and again, and again ... The photographs published on the web show slashing waterfalls, pools, plunges, ...
The differences between my opinion and their ones must be due to waterflow, I thought. I have to return there and see ...

Finally, 19 years after the exploration, I am again through the canyon, in may. A pleasant flow-rate paints spots of emerald green in the white rock. Plunging, swimming, rappelling aside the jet ... I have to admit the fans of the place were right: with water flowing this canyon is a little jewel.
But this confirms that a canyon exploration doesn't end with the first descent: to know a canyon must see it in different flow-rates, or you might not understand all the beauty and the dangers. Riccardino and I were the first explorators, not the only ones.

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