Monte Pollino, the "mountain of Apollo" (the greek god of light), is the second highest peak of the Pollino massif and the entire Southern Apeninnes. Perhaps it is also the most climbed mountain of the whole area, closely followed by Serra di Crispo (6,738ft / 2,053m). On the one hand its 'popularity' is surely due to the peak's vicinity to one of the most frequented trailheads (Colle d'Impiso) and its accessibility via an quite easy and exceptional well signposted hiking trail. But, it is a very beautiful and many-faceted mountain, too.
While its north face was shaped during the last glacial period (from approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago) and is characterized by rugged rock formations and a vast scree ramp, the so-called 'grande frana' (engl.: 'the great landslide' or the 'great slip'), its southern slopes are characterized by a number of interesting karstic phenomena, like extensive sink holes (for instance the "Great Southern Dolina") and extensive limestone pavements. Its southern extension gently descends towards Serra del Pollinello (6,706ft / 2,044m), its foresummit, and the abrupt cliffs of the Pollinello area which is home to the oldest living specimen of the imposing Bosnian Pine, commonly known as the 'Patriarch'. (Also the summit itself shows another interesting phenomenon, a large central dolina which usually holds a small amount of crusted snow until late July and, in some years, even in the month of August.)
The long south-east ridge and the adjacent col ('Sella del Dolcedorme') offer a very interesting alternative to the normal route. Last but not least, the west face holds a labyrinth of hidden gullies, to explore especially during the winter months.
Signposting (Colle d'Impiso)
Mt. Pollino (from the north-west, Piano Vacquarro)
Mt. Pollino (from the south)
1. From the west (normal route from Colle d'Impiso and alternatives)
The Normal Route - From the top of the hill, do not choose the sinuous and most evident hiking trail (to the left) but the narrow one gently dipping towards the extensive beech forest. After a 20-30 minutes walk you will reach the upper part of the clearings known as Piani di Vacquarro. Turn right now and follow the broad and winding forest track that ascends steadily towards Colle Gaudolino. Where the forest opens up into the glade, keep slightly to the left and aim for a small group of freestanding trees. Pass them on the right hand side and keep direction. Where the terrain starts rising again you should easily be able to find the onset of the beautiful trail that constitutes the west route.
At approximately 6,200ft, where the path flattens out again, you have come to the mountain’s vast southern dolina. From this point on there is no obligatory path to follow. Keep hard to the left, aiming for a singular pine tree on a peculiar rock formation one can already see from afar.
Mt. Pollino (from Piano di Vacquarro)
Mt. Pollino (west face from Piano Gaudolino)
Normal route for Mt. Pollino
Alternative 1 - Instead of using the sometimes highly frequented main trail simply cross the col (Colle Gaudolino) in a southern direction. At the well (or trough) you will encounter turn left and skirt the beech forest until you come upon a quite evident opening. Enter the forest and follow the also well evident hiking trail that traverses the south-west flank of the mountain before bending sharply left. The trail now continous among secular beech trees and leads to a small glade. Reached the glade, turn left and, right beyond a small group of trees, right again. The slope is getting increasingly steeper as the narrow footpath zigzags uphill. Where the forest opens you should find a quite distinctive rock formation. Beyond those rocks lie the vast southern doline of Monte Pollino and the rocky south slope of the mountain itself. To the right you can see the peak of the subsidiary summit of Serra del Pollinello. From this point there is no obligatory path to follow.
Alternative 2 - Another interesting, though much more demanding alternative is a direct route (ital.: 'direttissima') via one of the gullies of the west face. At Colle Gaudolino turn left and proceed directly towards west face of the mountain and traverse the beech forest. Reached the tree line the slope will get steeper. From this point on solid rock buttresses flank the gully. Some of them are topped by admirable specimen of the majestic Bosnian tree, during the winter months their almost black needles are heavily covered with ice. Further up the initial gully will split into a number of even steeper and betimes quite narrow ravines, various in inclination and difficulty. As the west face can show considerable snow cornices, choose your way also in these premises.
Result of a minor avalanche
Bosnian Pines close to the gully entrance
Looking down at Colle Gaudolino
This 2nd alternative route is really recommendable during the winter months, i.e. with lots of snow. Generally, the inclination does not exceed the 60 degree mark, but bring the right equipment and check the slope’s bed surface and the upper parts (potential starting zone for avalanches) for cornices and overhanging snow slabs. - As descend route you may want to choose an easier way, - either the one already described above (Alternative 1,in opposite direction), or the more lofty and very beautiful south-east ridge and the col between Monte Pollino and Timpa di Valle Piana.
2. From the north (and/or from the south-east ridge)
A reasonable alternative not only to the normal route but to the approach from the west (and south) altogether is another hiking trail starting from Colle d'Impiso:
Setting off from Colle d’Impiso, turn hard left and take the most evident forest track that winds down to the plains called 'Piani di Vacquarro'. Once reached the plains, follow this track for another 100 meters until you reach a fork where you may find one of the few remaining signposts of the whole area. From here, turn left and follow the arroyo of the torrent Frido, always keeping it on your left. Immediately after crossing a small rivulet, turn left again. After entering the beech forest, keep direction until you reach a point where the forest track, now to your right, steadily begins to gain height, and is winding its way up to an extensive clearance called 'Radura di Rummo'.
Forest track (Bosco Toscano)
Nearby there is also a spring (ital.: sorgente or fontana). Look to your left for a number of small rocks seaming a narrow and inconspicuous path and follow it for about 200 meters until you reach the creek. The spring itself is somewhat hidden under some bolders, to the left.
Back at the clearing, keep following the forest track that after a while begins to steepen noticably before it flattens out again. A few more meters ahead, the forest suddenly opens wide into the first of the three central high plains of the Pollino massif: Piano Toscano. From a loose heap of bigger rocks on a small elevation, once marked by another signpost, you can catch a view on almost all of the major peaks: Monte Pollino and the ‘Great Slip’ – to the south-east, Serra delle Ciavole (7,181ft / 2,130m) and the almost pyramidal summit of Serra Dolcedorme (7,437ft / 2,267m) – to the south-west.
Keep direction and always point roughly for the peak of Serra Dolcedorme until you reach the second high plain 'Piano del Pollino'. Turn right and aim for the right edge of the wood that covers most part of the slope up to the col ('Sella Dolcedorme'). A hiking path winds up beneath the trees. On the col turn right and follow the (pathless) ridge up to the summit.
South-east ridge, descending towards 'Canale del Malevento'
N.B. In case of sudden fog, low clouds or other imminent bad weather affecting the visibility conditions on the mountain, the south-east ridge is one of the safest and easiest descend routes and should be given preference. Also confronted with impenetrable snow slabs (and without crampons in your bag) it is worth a try.
3. From the south (Pollinello and Serra del Pollinello)
The main trailheads from a southern direction are Valle Piana (see respective section of the Pollino massif main page) and the fascinating ruins of the former Augustinian monastery Colloreto (dating back to the 16th century).
Descending from Serra del Pollinello
The later can be found close to the highway exit for the town of Morano Calabro. The evident and (mostly) signposted hiking trail passes several wells and traverses an impressive forest as it leads up to the pass of Colle Gaudolino. In case of doubt, keep to the right, as there are also deviations for Serra del Prete (7,155ft / 2,180m). - Once reached the col you may opt for one of the trails suggested above (1).
A few landmarks and impressions
Mt. Pollino (seen from Serra del Prete)
Mt. Pollino (central dolina)
The summit (in late April)
North face and Piano Toscano
View towards the Orsomarso range (SW)
Summit area (in the background Coppola di Paola)
Mt. Pollino (from Serra Dolcedorme)
Serra Dolcedorme (from the east ridge)
Mt. Pollino (from Serra delle Ciavole)
The nearest airports are Naples (about 230km), Bari and Brindisi (also about 220-230km). From Rome and its big international airports it is a considerably long journey of almost 450km. There is limited public transport in this region.
The actual mountain roads are largely in bad conditions, especially the high passes might become impassable after snowfalls as road patrol service is scarcely to be seen around. If you should consider to visit the Pollino Massif between late October through early May, don't forget to bring snow chains or allow extra time for the approach way.
from Naples: Take the A3/E45 in direction Reggio Calabria, Salerno (about 195 km). Take the Exit (Uscita) Lauria Sud and follow thestate the State Road SS19. At Castellucio Inferiore turn left and follow the indications for Viggianello or San Severino Lucano. - Alternatively, you may leave the A3/E45 at the location Pecorone and follow indications for the State Road SS653 (called "Sinnica"). Take the Exit Valle Frida and follow indications for San Severino Lucano. - For an approach from the south keep on the A3/E45 and take the Exit Morano Calabro or Castrovillari.
from Bari: Take the State Road SS100 (or the highway A14/E843) for Taranto. Turn left (indications for Jonica/Palagiano/Matera/Reggio Calabria) and take the coastal road E90. After passing Policoro pay attention, as the Exit can easily be missed, and turn left, taking the State Road SS653 (indications for "Sinnica". Take the Exit Valle Frida and follow indications for San Severino Lucano. - For an approach from the south keep on the E90, take the Exit Villapiana Scalo and follow the State Road SS92 in direction Castrovillari.
from Brindisi: Simply take the E90 for Taranto and keep on this road. After Taranto follow the same indications as above (Bari).
The Pollino massif, and hence Monte Pollino, is an integral part of the 'Pollino National Park'. With a total area of 1,960 square kilometres it is the most extensive national park in Italy. The park was officially founded in 1993. The same rules and regulations apply as for any other national park in Italy.
Elder-flowered Orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina)
Free camping is generally not encouraged (in other terms: it is not allowed). However, it might be tollerated from dusk until dawn and as emergency bivouac. No open fire etc. will be tollerated, though. There are no fees or permits required.
When to Climb
Monte Pollino can be climbed all year round. During the summer month and in fall the ascend is an easy and pleasurable hike. From Colle d'Impiso, for instance, it is only about 3 ½ hours on an easily discernible trail (the normal route). Things change, however, drastically with the first snow, i.e. in late October or early November. Due to often radical temperature fluctuation both the snow layer and its surface condition can vary significantly. Although they might not necessarily be needed, bringing crampons and an ice axe is recommended in order to evade discomforting surprises, especially during the descend. Larger snow accumulations can last well into May and even June.
Note also that with snow around hiking trails tend to become unrecognisable. Almost the entire base of Monte Pollino is girdled with extensive beech forests which can complicate the approach (both during ascend and descend); eminently where meters of snow will literally make you walk among the tree tops while negotiating a thicket of branches and twigs.
Mt. Pollino (north face at sunrise)
From late June trough early October the normal route is well-frequented and the summit plateau not seldom "crowded". Since most independent visitors and almost all the larger groups (guided tours etc.) will stick to the main trail and commonly arrive around early afternoon it is quite easy to avoid these congregations by eschewing the normal route in favour of any alternative and, obviously, by starting out very early in the morning.
Accomodation, mountain huts etc.
Most of the existing mountain huts in the area are currently closed and/or in poor conditions. As an exception can be seen the two mountain huts located on the high plain Piano Ruggio, south side of the mountain: Rifugio de Gasperi and Rifugio Fasanelli. A number of Bed & Breakfasts etc. can be found in the town centers of San Severino Lucano (to the north) or Castrovillari, Rotonda and Morano Calabro (to the south).
Right on the col between Serra del Prete and Monte Pollino is situated the always open bivaouc Rifugio Gaudolino. For additional information regarding accomodation in the vicinity you may also have a look at the respective section on the Pollino massif main page.
Maps in a scale of 1:25,000 are available for purchase directly from the IGM - Istituto Geografico Militare (search terms/key words: Frascineto, Castrovillari). For full information about available literature (maps, guide books etc.) you may have a look at the respective section for the Pollino massif and the Pollino National Park.