The current regulations in times of Covid-19 forced us to limit our travel within the metropolitan city of Rome and my sister and I decided to venture out on Monte Lupone, the third highest peak of the Lepini mountains. Some time ago I had climbed the highest peak, the Semprevisa (1536m), and had promised myself to explore the highest peak in the northern part of the chain.
In recent years I have been drawn to that mountain range that rises on the east while traveling to the southern coast of Lazio. A mountain range that seems imposing, a harsh and wild bulwark, which soars above the Pontine plain and separates it from the Sacco Valley. Unfortunately, it is not part of any protected area, except for some SCIs (site of community importance) and SPAs (special protection areas) of the Natura 2000 network, and it is a little-known region, despite its proximity to Rome, the rich historical heritage (Bassiano, Sermoneta, Ninfa, Norma, Cori, to name a few) and its extraordinary natural and geological characteristics.
Karst has carved the limestone reliefs of the Lepini Mountains (which began to emerge about 25 million years ago) and the beeches cloak them, clinging to the bare white rock with their roots. These mountains offer the visitor great silences, the memory of an agrarian age now vanished elsewhere and vast views.
To get to the starting point, we took the rough road that is located halfway between the municipalities of Segni and Rocca Massima and which, after a few kilometers, leads to Campo di Segni (830 meters above sea level). After parking the car, we find ourselves in front of a vast karstic plateau dotted by cows and sheep in a semi-wild state that gather around artificial and natural pools and drinking troughs.
We cross the plateau and more or less follow the marked path LH4 (Selena Palma) among the mothers who call their calves and, once at the picnic area at the end of the highland, we turn right into the woods. After a few hundred meters on the same path, a hiking sign points towards the “direttissima” (direct path) for Monte Lupone.
The maples, turkey oaks and hornbeams at the edge of the pastures leave room for knotty beech trees that populate the dense forest with their fairytale-like shapes.
The path climbs steeply inside the Serrone Lungo beech forest; the air suddenly becomes cool and humid. It winds through fallen trunks consumed by saprophytic mushrooms, silence, suffused sunrays and distant verses of cuckoos, wrens and firecrests, up to 1300 meters where it then turns left, following a narrow path going up and down among the beech trees. Here, in the shadow cast by the twisted branches of the beech trees, carpets of Apennine anemone, allium pendulinum and scilla bifolia grow. Instinctively, I caress the bare grey bark and I halt to allow myself to perceive all the different sensations: we are wayfarers, prisoners of our own will in a dense labyrinth where reality and fantasy mingle.
A few hundred meters from the summit, the views that makes the Lepini unique: on the horizon the Tyrrhenian Sea and the coast of Lazio coast appear, and slowly the shapes of the Circeo, of all five Pontine islands and Ischia in the distance also emerge.
From the summit the gaze sweeps over many distinctive Apennine mountain chains and the surrounding villages, inextricably linked to these mountains.
Monte Lupone is rough and bare but among the sharp limestone rocks a variety of spring flora grows that excites us for its poignant beauty and delicacy: the greater Polygala, the graceful forget-me-nots (Myosotis), the yellow orchid (Orchis pauciflora), the Valeriana tuberosa, the globularia but above all the horseshoe vetch (Hippocrepis comosa L.) with its pretty yellow flowers. This is only a small part of the very rich plant biodiversity of the Lepini Mountains which can boast over 1300 plant species (one third of the entire Lazio region!).
We write a few words in the summit book, kept in a box at the base of the crucifix (embellished by the quote by Walter Bonatti: “The higher you go, the farther you see. The more distant you see, the farther you dream”) and, as we descend from the path next to a stone shelter, we spot a testimony to the faith of the Lepini communities: a dedication to the virgin, a bell attached to the rough rock and some devotional figures. Further ahead, a shy horse eats the low-lying beech branches: it is small in size and lives in the wild, on the edge of beech woods and on high altitude grasslands.
But in the woods we perceive the presence of animals invisible to our eyes: the Lepini are the home of foxes, porcupines, wild boars, weasels but also wolves! Yet it is the songs of birds and the calls of birds of prey that instead of haunting our imagination, accompany our senses.
We continue straight on the path along the ridge, leaving on the right the “direttissima” that we used in the morning, to reach Monte Puzzo and rapidly descend, among the gorse in bloom, the path that accompanies us to Campo di Segni. We choose to complete the LH4 trail around the plateau, turning left and then following the dirt road among the flocks of sheep to return to the car.