canyon exploring with Michele Angileri
Vallone di Lestio
Vallone di Lestio is one of the three steep and wild valleys that make up the Coserie creek. Usually dry in the upper part, it is fed by small perennial
springs in the lower part.
I remember ...
In summer in Calabria weather is not always dry and hot. There are the summer thunderstorms, due to the arrival of cold air at high altitude clashing with the warm
and humid air that rises from the sea and from the low layers of the atmosphere in the late morning .
Summer storms are often violent, with so much rain coming down in a short time, triggering the natural outflow channels which flow into the streams generating
flash floods. And the conscientious canyoneer knows that flash floods are the greatest danger for those who descend a gorge.
A flash flood comes as a wave, a wall of water bringing mud and stones, overwhelming everything that is at the bottom of canyon.
When there is the risk of a summer thunderstorm you must give up on the purpose of doing a canyon route. Or else (if the will to go is very strong) you
must choose an area where the risk of thunderstorms is low, and in that area choose a stream from which it is always (or almost always) possible to exit sideways,
so that a flood would not be dangerous (provided you exit the stream at the first thunder).
There are years in which summe weather in Calabria is decidedly worse, with particularly strong and widespread storms, sometimes so strong as to cause torrents
to overflow. The summer floods in Calabria destroy and kill.
I remember the flood that struck the lower districts of Corigliano Calabro and Rossano on 12 August 2015, transforming the cheerful atmosphere of summer vacations
into a scenario of mud and cars piled up on each other under the pressure of water of the overflowing streams.
In August 2018 the weather in Calabria became decidedly unstable. Every day there were thunderstorms, on the mountains and even on the coasts, already from the late morning. My explorations program had to adapt to this situation. I and my friends chose the destination the night before, consulting and comparing weather reports. In case of uncertain forecasts (they were never good) the choice went on the less risky area and an open creek (i.e. a gorge with continuous escape possibilities), better with a little feeding basin.
For August 21st I had planned with Saverio the exploration of one of the three branches that make up the Coserie creek, an "open canyon" with a very small feeding
basin, the only kind of canyon you may figure to explore in case of unstable weather.
My thoughts went to the past, to the first canyoning experiences made in Raganello gorges, when my level of experience and awareness of risks was not
different from that of the people who had been hit by the flood. The fifth time I was in the gorges I was grazed by falling stones.
The weather was stable, the sky was clear, ... suddenly I heard like a gunshot 3-4 meters from me, and something (a splinter) touched my cheek.
The stones had fallen down a overhanging wall, silent, unnoticeable. From that moment I began to notice the marks left by the stones falling on the rocks of the gorge:
almost everywhere the rocks were chipped and there were fragments of sharp stones.
From one year to the next, then, I saw pieces of wall disappear and sharp boulders appear on the bottom of the gorge ... Brrr ...
These first canyoning experiences date back to the mid-80s, when canyoning and the Raganello gorges were almost unknown. Over the years Raganello has become one of the main tourist attractions of the Pollino National Park. In summer the gorge outlets are visited by thousands of tourists, which go through a short part of the gorges without suitable protections or clothing or footwear, completely unaware of the risks they take. Hundreds of them go trough the most or the whole canyons, attracted by the stunning beauty of the place but also by the advertising of commercial operators. The clients of commercial operators are among the few to go trough Raganello canyon well-dressed and equipped, and the guides are expert ... Nevertheless among the victims of the Raganello flash flood there are a guide and some clients. Surely such a big flood had never been seen in summer at Raganello canyon, not in the last 20-25 years, not since Raganello has become a tourist attraction. The criminal trial will assess whether one of the contributory causes of the tragedy is someone's imprudence.
What will change after the Raganello tragedy?
We did the exploration of Vallone di Lestio on august 22nd. The valley turned out as we expected: never narrow, with escape possibilities almost everywhere.
A little rain came when we were at half the descent, but it stopped immediately.
Later we began to hear distant thunders: not one or two but a real concert, a fury of booms that told of a violent storm that was unleashing upstream of Longobucco,
perhaps on the Sila plateau. Oh yes: there was a fucking bad weather that summer.
I began to feel uneasy: if the storm had shifted a few kilometers it could have affected the upper part of Vurganera valley.
And we were heading there, to the gorge downstream of the confluence of Vurganera into Coserie.
I imagined the arrival of a flood wave from Vurganera, preceded by a movement of air and a roar that would have become strong in a few seconds.
From the beginning of the air flow I would have had little time (maybe only twenty seconds) to put myself in a safe place at the top, then a wall of brown water
would have run down the gorge and there would have been no escape for anything that was in the stream bed at that time.
Was I talking about canyoning or life?
Copyright © 2002- Michele Angileri. All rights reserved.