Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strada Régia

View on the lake
Here is another path we hiked some times ago.
On one side i liked it a lot, because it is in the forest and it offest here and there some suggestive lookouts on the Lake of Come (of the best part of it!).
On the other side i don't like the fact that it can be very busy. We didn't actually found a big lot of people, but it is clear that the path, also for the easyness, it is very popular.
We had tried it already some months before, but for some back-ache of mine, we gave up.

Como funicolar railway station can be easily reached by train. We went by car. A suggestion is to leave the car at the parking next to the "Fontanone" (it's a big pitoresque fountain). The fee for that parking is much less than the other parkings of the area (with few euros one can leave the car for the whole day).
It is forbidden, in Brunate municipality, to drive on SUV cars, but i would suggest not to go even with small cars. The roads are very narrow, but the main problem is the parking.
The funicular consists of two wagons that leave contemporarily one from Brunate and the other from Como, at every hours and halves. Their path is, for both of the wagons, on the same rail, which double in the middle to allow them to cross each other.

Pietra Pendula
When arrived to Brunate you walk on the road that, from the steps of the station, goes towards right. After few hundreds yards, after a left turn well signed, you arrive to the ground and finally, after coasting it, there is the start point of the hiking path named "Strada Regia" (="Royal Path").
The path is well kept by the local volunteer service and it doesn't have any big difficulties. It is almost completely downhill, and anyway the slope is never too steep, but it is very long. On the left of the path, from Brunate all the way to Montepiatto, you can enjoy a lot of views on the lake.
About at the half to the path there is a little church, where some benches offer a good occasion for a break.
Once reached Montepiatto follow the indications for the Church, which little square looks like a balcony, hundreds of feet on the lake. All around the square there is a little path to Pietra Pendula, a weird rock that looks like a contest to the gravity forces.
At Montepiatto it begins the descent, kind of steep (and so a little hard), even if on a path well settled with steps. This path takes you to the town of Torno, where you can go back to Como by bus or by boat. We preferred this last option, really more suggestive. The boat stops about every half an hour (the exact time schedule can also be found at the funicular station) and, from Torno, after a couple of stops, you reach Como pier, not far from the funicolar station.

More infos on this path at R's blog
  • Time taken: 4:11 (except the boat ride).
  • Difference of level (from Brunate to the lake): 581m [1906feet] (the lake is at 143m [469feet] altitude above sea level)
  • Covered distance: 28.3km [17.6mi] (excluded the boat ride).
GPS track:
in green the part on the funicolar, in read the hike, in yellow the navigation.
A: Como funicolar station; B: Brunate funicolar station; C: "Strada Regia" path start point; D: Chapel for the break; E: Montepiatto church; F: Pietra Pendula; G: Start of the last steep descent; H: Torno pier; I: Como pier

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hybrids? No, thanks!

Here some of our tomato plants growing in the garden
Last spring we planted some vegetables. It's my wife that mostly takes care of the little plants, but both of us put all our enthusiasm into this enterprise and finally, after much success with zucchini, in this period we are beginning to harvest our beloved tomatoes, maybe a little late, due to our mountain climate. We are very proud.

Our tomatoes taste much better than the ones you can buy at the store, because the fruits ripen while still on the plants. If only a tomato could be put in the telephone cable i would let you taste it yourself.

The prize for our devotion was being able to see the whole growth, from the seeds to the resulting fruits. But it's not only for this that i like the idea of gardening vegetables. I believe that producing our own vegetables shows that, atleast in part, one can exit from the logic of consumerism that fattens our society despite the poor countries.

Self-production of vegetables, moreover, reduces to the minimum any waste, especially in a subsistence system upon which the plants grow from the seeds saved from the previous year's harvest (we are planning to try this method). This past year experience delighted us so much that we have already begun to buy seeds for next year, and in this research i discovered a disconcerting thing.

At the store the tomatoes we like most are the "Mini San-Marzano". So we tried to look for informations about seeds of this variety, and we discovered that they are hybrids. In flower shops and nurseries we noticed also on packaging of other vegetables seeds the lablel "F1 hybrid" well shown.

As an ignorant that i am, i tried to give a meaning to this expression, as an analogy to the animal world. An hybrid is an individual born crossing parents of two different races. But what about it in botany?

Tomatoes "Rouge d'Iraq" variety
Surfing the Internet it opened to me a new world. A hybrid (i was looking in particular for tomatoes, but it applies also for a big number of other vegetables that are at the base of entire continents alimentation, like corn) is a plant born from a seed obtained from a fruit produced with a particular technique of artificial impollination.

The first step lies in reproducing plants by mean of autotrophic breeding, for a number of six to ten generations. Since tomatoes are hermaphrodites (that is that every flower contains both the masculine and femimine element), it is possible that they self-fecundate (autotrophic pollination).

This type of breeding obtains children-plants weaker than their parents, because (if i well understood) also the recessive genes reply. In genetics, between two alternatives, the dominante (stronger) gene tends to win, and this gene usually brings the best peculiarities, for example the vigor of the plant (infact a gene that carry a looser peculiarity would be already extinct in the history for natural selection). In an autotrophic pollination, instead, the genetic patrimony of the style (feminine part) is identical to the one of the pollen (masculine part), and so also the recessive genes can reply undisturbed.

Once obtained plants like that, weak but pure, the second step is to cross, by mean of artificial pollination, the styles of one genetical line with the pollen of another one (the artificial pollination is mandatory to be sure that the flower don't self-pollinate again). This process produces plants much more vigorous and fructiferous than the ancestors that started the lines. The seeds produced from the fruits of these plants are labeled as "F1 (= first generation) hybrids". So, buying seeds of "hybrid F1" varieties one can expect a better production, and this, if it is already stimulating for a little garden of one's family, it is fundamental for productive farmhouses.

Tomatoes "Cherokee purple" variety
The problem of hybrids obtained like that is that those plants produce fruits that contain seeds which genetic patrimony is very poor, so the next generations tend to be always weaker and weaker. So much that it proves inconvenient to use the seeds of the previous harvest to grow the next year plants.

The consequence of this is that the farmers must buy every year the seeds for their plantations. And who gets the benefits are the companies that produce hybrid seeds. Their strategy is to find commercially valid varieties, push them on the market and create a demand, so that the farmers must convert to those varieties and buy the seeds year by year.

Few multinational companies, which names are already known for production of genetically modified organisms (Monsanto, Pioneer,...) control also the market of these seeds, and so they are progressively becoming owner of the entire agricultural and food market, manipulating economy of poor countries that lived with subsistency farming till now.

For the farmers themselves it's impossible to learn to produce their own seeds by mean of ibridation, because, above the special skill required, this technique also needs a big effort in labor. Easier, for them, to buy the seeds from those multinational companies that brilliantly solve this detail of overworking cheap labor of the poor countries.

I am kind of ignorant about this matter, and till few days ago i didn't even know the existence of hybrid seeds. I wonder if there exist a movement that opposes to these techniques similar to what it is happening for GM products. I wonder if there is a regulation in Italy (i doubt there is any in the USA, being that there is none for GMO either) that imposes atleast to label the seeds obtained in this way.

I wonder, at last, how could it be possible to make an ethical shopping when buying vegetables in the stores: for what i know not even organic agriculture refuses hybrids.

References: Our tomatoes in these pictures are - i hope - all non-hybrids.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Refuge Larcher al Cevedale

Alpini's chapel at Malga Mare
Still on the same subject, here we go with another excursion we made just the day after the one at Lago della Vacca.
The original intention was to hike the "anello dei laghi" (="lakes ring"), that connects the starting point (Malga Mare), before reaching refuge Larcher, the lakes Careser, Nero (=Black), Lungo (=Long) and delle Marmotte (of the Marmots).

Still a little tired by the day before excursion, instead, we decided to leave the lakes for the next time and reach the refuge Larcher on the shortest, even if less spectacular, path, and then come back on the same.

Refuge Larcher
Malga Mare (strange name for a mountain farm at almost 2000 meters! ["mare"="sea"]) is reachable by car from Cogolo (TN). After some kilometers the road becomes really narrow and a driver begins to hope not to cross anybody in the opposite direction.
At a certain point, to keep driving a fee (2 euros) has to be paid to the guys of the Stelvio park, next to a parking lot. But we have not yet reached our destination: from that point there is still about 10 km to go before reaching the end of the road, where there is an hydroelectric generating station of the electric company and a parking.
Here, besides the Malga, there is also a little chapel dedicated to the Alpine soldiers and some picnic tables into the pinewood on the brook banks. Some cows are free on the fields.
The path starts with a fork: on the right it begins the path to lake Careser. We followed the other option marked #102 to refuge Larcher.

Refuge Larcher and Cevedale mountain glaciers
The best part is the beginning where the path winds in hairpin bends uphill among grassy fields, pinewoods and roaring torrents over which there are some little wooden bridges. In this part I was also able to see a deer. When arrived to the top it begins a long tract on a rocky path that goes till the destination.
At a certain point once arrived to plain "Venezia", there is another fork. The marker signs to Lago Lungo on path #146. Going straight the refuge starts to be visible while walking for a distance that looks neverending. The landscape opens on the perpetual snow of the Cevedale mountain glaciers. On the opposite ridge of the valley the Noce Bianco torrent, with its rapids can be seen. From the refuge, built right next to the cliff, a breathtaking view can be enjoyed.
The refuge, that has, besides the restaurant, also some bedrooms, can also be used as a base for several other excursions.
After a break and a sandwich with the local speck we took our way back on the same path.
  • Time to go: 2:35
  • Time to return: 1:52
  • Round trip distance: 13.8km [8.6mi]
  • Difference of level: 660m [2165feet] (794m [2604feet] uphill, 134m [440feet] downhill)
  • Altitude: from 1953m [6407feet] to 2614m [8576feet]
GPS track
A: parking at Malga Mare; B: refuge Larcher; C: Pian Venezia plain; D: Lake Careser; E: Lake Nero; F: Lake Lungo; G: Lake delle Marmotte

Friday, September 5, 2008

Holy cow, what an excursion!

The cow, Maddie, Mr. Bentley and me
(I am the one wearing sunglasses!)
In the Adamello National Park there is a pass named "Passo della Vacca" ("Cow's pass"), because right there, there is a rock which shape reminds one of an ox.
Next to the pass there is also a little artificial lake that has the same name, next to which, after the dam and the plant of the Electric Company, there is also a building for the Alpine emergency and the refuge "Tita Secchi".

One option to arrive to that place is to walk the path signed with marker #19, starting from Malga Cadino (an alpine farm house reachable by car). We tried this excursion (which unfortunately i don't have the GPS record) some days from the other excursion described in the previous post, but at a certain point, right before the last ascent to the pass, Mr. Bentley had to stop because he was too tired, so also Maddie and R. had to give up.

More interesting was instead the other alternative (documented with these photos and the GPS record at the bottom) that we succesfully completed last weekend. Starting at refuge Bazena you follow path #1 (former #18, as reported on Kompass hiking maps). This path, a little longer, but more level, was easy enough also for Mr. Bentley, who could do it safe and sound, although exhausted, till the end, as proved by the photo.
From Bazena refuge the excursion starts with a comfortable white road for few hundreds meters, and then a fork allows to make a detour from the main road and follow the nature path, enough close to the white road but plunged in the woods. On this path there are a lot of signs that indicate with drawings the names of the trees and flowers that can be encountered.

Cornone di Blumone (on the left)
parcially covered by Creste di Laione
(from Val Fredda pass)
At about one third of the path, the forest opens on the western rocky ridge of Monte Cadino, bordering Val Bona valley, where loud and constant whistles similar to bird cries reveal a large number of marmots that we could spy with our binoculars.
The path then reaches Val Fredda pass, where there is a fork. Always stay on path #1. After this point, Vacca pass could be seen, although the cow-shaped rock is still hidden.
Just few meters before the pass, after the last curve, finally the shape of the cow can be seen.
After the ritual photos, still following path #1, the monotonous view of the rocks all of the sudden opens to the enchanting little lake, where Mr. Bentley and Maddie finally found some refreshment. On the right, after the dam, you reach your destination: the Tita Secchi refuge.

After a deserved pause at the refuge (don't miss the warm polenta with melted cheese!) we took our way back on the same path.

To reach Bazena refuge, from Breno, follow the indications to Passo Crocedomini. The refuge is right next to the road. After Crocedomini pass, instead, following to Bagolino, Malga Cadino (the start point of the other path) is easy to reach.

Lago di Vacca and Tita Secchi refuge
  • Time to go: 4:05
  • Time to return: 3:02
  • Round trip distance: 23.8km [14.8mi]
  • Difference of level: 550m [1804feet] (993m [3258feet] uphill, 443m [1453feet] downhill)
  • Altitude: from 1818m [5965feet] to 2368m [7796feet]
GPS record.
A: Bazena refuge, B: Tita Secchi refuge, C: Val Fredda pass, D: Vacca pass (and rock), E: Malga Cadino