Monte Pasubio: A Hike of 52 Tunnels

Monte Pasubio, a rocky summit in Vicenza, was the site of some of the most important battles of the Italian Front in the First World War.  Today it attracts hundreds of hikers each day who come to climb and even scramble up its steep trails and tunnels.

Getting There

The two hour drive from the tiny town of Cornuda passes through vineyards, corn fields and other villages before arriving at Paso Xomo.  Yes, unlike Italian, there are x’s in Venexian the language of my ancestors which is spoken in these parts.  At Xomo, there is parking available for 5 Euros. The trail head begins with a large sign marking the entry to the Strade Delle 52 Gallerie as well as information plaques in Italian, German and English.

Entrance to Monte Pasubio hike
Start point of Monte Pasubio hike

The 52 Gallery Hike

The hike takes you up a 6.5 km mule track that served as a supply road for the Italian military positions here in the First World War.   2,300 meters of the path are contained within 52 tunnels and the 2.5m wide path has an average incline of 12%, with 22% at its steepest.

Monte Pasubio Scarubi road
Monte Pasubio Scarubi road

Recognizing the importance of holding onto Mt. Pasubio and the whole alpine plateau, The Italian miners constructed this supply route in just 9 months. The road and tunnels are a fine example of Italian alpine engineering and hard work: Tunnel n.19 is the longest excavated passage at 320m and tunnel n.20 makes 4 helical turns as it rises steeply inside a rock spire which provides access to higher portions of the mountain. It is akin to walking inside a giant corkscrew.

Monte Pasubio inside tunnel
Monte Pasubio inside tunnel

Not far from the exit of tunnel n.52 is the Porte del Pasubio, the final halt of the Austro-Hungarian Strafexpedition (Punitive Expedition) offensive. One hundred meters from that is the Refugio Generale Achille Papa, a lodge where weary hikers can refuel with local meals like polenta e funghi or minestrone.

I made my descent from Porte del Pasubio at 1928m, via the Scarubi road, a much wider supply road that winds its way down the northeast face of Pasubio, to Paso Xomo at 1058m.

Trail markers Monte Pasubio
Trail markers Monte Pasubio

History of Monte Pasubio

Monte Pasubio tunnel n.1
Monte Pasubio tunnel n.1

Monte Pasubio was of great strategic importance to both the Italian and Austro-Hungarian forces and huge efforts were made to gain control of it.  The Austrian offensive in the Trentino was comprised of 18 divisions, 400,000 men and more than 2,000 cannons.  By 1916 at least 50,000 Italian soldiers were living, fighting and dying on Pasubio’s windswept slopes.  The Italians constructed makeshift huts that were attached to the side of the mountain and safe from Austrian artillery.

In the winters most of the fighting subsided as both sides were busy just trying to survive the frigid temperatures and the terrifying threat of avalanches.  During three winters of alpine combat at least 60,000 soldiers were killed by avalanches. To put that into perspective, on the entire Western Front a total of 25,000 troops died as a result of poison gas attacks.

Scarubi road and cliff Monte Pasubio
Scarubi road and cliff Monte Pasubio

With fighting on Pasubio resulting in stalemate, each side began mining under each others’ positions in an attempt to detonate explosives underneath sections of the opposing forces’ front line.  On March 13, 1918 the Austrians ignited a 50,000kg explosive under an Italian position completely destroying it.

However, Monte Pasubio never fell and the forces of the Triple Alliance were eventually repelled as Italy marched to victory in 1918.

A Day at Point Roberts

Moreno and I have been coming to Point Roberts to enjoy the waterfront for some time, but now that we have most of our Africa gear, and since we’re planning on doing a couple of multi-day hikes while we’re there, Moreno and I decided to take a multi-hour hike around Point Roberts to break some of our stuff in.

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Point Roberts lies on a 13km2 peninsula on the west coast of the United States. It is part of Washington State, but as it’s not attached to the mainland whatsoever (see map), you have to go through Canada to get there by land.

A day out to Point Roberts

09:34 The border crossing is quick – visitors are only Point Roberts bound – and this ease of access makes it an easy getaway for Canadians who flood the town during the summers swelling the population of 1,500 to three times that number.

09:45 On Tyee Drive, the two-lane artery that runs down the length of the peninsula, you pass a couple of gas stations and realize one of the main reasons for those from up north to visit: cheaper gas. Immediately on the right are a handful of post offices and shipping services on the right – the other big reason to visit.

09:50 You can see the marina up ahead, and beyond it, the ocean. Though small, Point Roberts is blessed with big vistas on all three of its coasts: coves looking out onto the ocean in the west, waterfront cabins facing Saturna and other islands to the south, and the forest viewpoints looking out onto the cityscape of Vancouver and Mount Baker to the east.

10:30  Off Apa Road to the east, the tide is low and the locals enjoy the sandy flats interspersed between the otherwise rocky shore. This area was once a favoured spot for the Cowichan, Lummi, Saanich, and Semiahmoo tribes, and the Salish Indians gathered together at Point Roberts to fish the salmon that came through during the summers.

11:45 Walking along South Beach, you reach another mudflat and take a left into the tall yellow grass towards the hill. The path veers under a small gathering of trees to expose a rusted boiler the size of a sedan, one of the few remaining signs of the cannery that resided here.

Walking through tall bushes in Point Roberts
In our safari gear it was like searching for lions

While the first Europeans came around 1791, it wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the government turned the area into a giant fishing district. A cannery was set up right on shore and was eventually bought out by the great Alaska Packers Association[1].

Now the only remnants are dilapidated boilers, rusted and discarded over the beach and fields.

13:10 After a short picnic under some trees lining the back of the cobbled beach, you decide against walking towards Birch Bay, and find a route up towards upper Lily Point instead. There is a barely visible path straight up the bush covered walls past the cliff face, and you lunge up a 45° path for the next hundred meters with the dirt shifting below you, grabbing on to branches you hope are attached to the earth, at times being chest to the ground.

13:15 It is hot, but you have made it onto solid, horizontal ground and are under the cover of forest. Lily Point Marine Reserve contains a series of trails (as well as a newly constructed wooden staircase to get up and down the hill) and preserves one of the most significant ecosystems in the region[2].  The lookout point is near the entrance to the Reserve and overlooks the Straight of Georgia and the beaches below. With the low tide and blue skies, Mount Baker is clearly visible and the ocean stretches out in front of you.

2:30 The walk along Apa Road back to the car is mindless, and you’re ready to relax with a cold beer and some snacks. Not too far is the Southbeach House Restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious and generous helping of the seafood salad and a quaint lawn terrace overlooking the cobble beach you had started on, but you opt for a refreshing gin and tonic with fish and chips at the Pier restaurant instead. Situated near Lighthouse Marine park on the opposite end of the peninsula, it offers a change of scenery and the opportunity to visit the Point Roberts Marina.
The vista from Lily Point - Mount Baker and beyond.
The vista from Lily Point – Mount Baker and beyond.

4:30 Stuffed and satisfied, you declare the Point Roberts day out a success. Your two choices now? Head back towards the border, or enjoy the beach as the locals do.

Fun Fact Trivia

Why Point Roberts is called Point Roberts?

A secret place I can’t tell you about

Somewhere on the outskirts of Vancouver, just beyond the winding streets of urban life, a park entrance patiently sits waiting for the uncommon visitor.

It beckons silently: a simple sign before an unassuming dirt path. A hint of a forest.

A wooden staircase, so characteristic of provincial parks in this area – the variety of Capilano, the Grind, Deep Cove – leads around the bend into the lush vegetation of only the cleanest temperate forests.

The mid-afternoon December sun is bright, just warm enough to thaw frosted ears and hands and noses. We sit on the giant boulder cliff as the waves swirl around the rocks below and lap at our feet. Everything is glowing under the golden setting of the sun and I am sworn to secrecy so that it can stay this way forever.