Step 5: Exercise in the Majella National Park – Mick Fowler – From Cancer to the Himalaya

A trekking and climbing visit to Abruzzo in Central Italy had long been on the cards as part of my gentle return to normality. The idea was that it would be an enjoyable trip with Nicki and a way of continuing to get my walking and climbing muscles working well again after the setback of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

There is an amazing amount of fine, unclimbed rock in the Majella National Park.

Unfortunately, a little mishap in Scotland before leaving did something nasty to my calf muscle and made the thought of hobbling up to a bivouac hut quite daunting. We weren’t sure how long the walk would take but a sign at the start of the path included the words ‘Turistico’ and ‘Refugio de Martellese’ in the same sentence, which led me to optimistically think that perhaps it wasn’t as far as I had feared.

Five hours later the hut was in sight. My hobbling had numbed into a kind of lumbering walk and I had concluded long ago that Italian tourists are very hardy and it really was quite a long way.

The delightful bivouac hut of the Refugio de Martellese. No one there but us two – wonderful.

I had never stayed at a bivouac hut in the Majella park before and was most impressed at the small, unobtrusive building with a huge fireplace, five wooden sleeping platforms and not much else. Simplicity is all.

Difficult to beat the cosy atmosphere of an open fire in a small bivouac hut.

With dead wood from the numerous stunted pine trees, we soon had a good fire going and enjoyed a cosy evening with just the two of us watching the sun set. Normally, I bivouac out in the open but the experience was enough to persuade me that I should spend nights in other Majella bivouac huts.

Snow on the higher Majella summits led us to make our objective a ‘walk’ up a more accessible 2,200m summit. This should have been straightforward, but having committed the cardinal sin of blindly following a set of footprints, we dismally lost the way and almost failed to summit due to near-impenetrable stunted pines.

Stunted pines can be very challenging indeed.

The 1,600m descent back to the car was a strain on muscles not used to such activity. My calf still hurt but at least I was hobbling less than when we started out the day before. We passed several chamois that seemed to recognise a slow walker who was no danger to them as they stared curiously rather than running away.

Curious chamois recognising that I stood no chance whatsoever of catching it.

It struck me that maybe chamois are good indicators of fitness and Victor Saunders and I should aim to have them running away at first sight by the time we are ready for our Himalayan trip in October. In the meantime, I couldn’t help but notice that the Majella National Park has a lot to offer. A return visit is definitely called for.