Running with the Bulls in Italy

So there is hiking to be had in Lake Como.  This was a bit of a surprise to me as I thought it was all about the Lake. On such vacations and work trips I am first inclined to find a place to row.  On this trip my son, an avid hiker, was visiting so I was okay with giving up some water time to hit the trails.

  Day one.. we took a boat from Faggiato across to Rovenna and hooked up with the well marked Rovenna-Moltrasio trail.  A respectable effort with a 700ft total climb and few sporty sections, one with a steep drop against the trail and a chain link grab line (more on provided grab lines later) on the other.  This hike earned a “great family hike” label on my Strava feed ( )and we were proud of our effort and adventurous spirit.  That night my son said he wanted something a little longer and higher.  As a self appointed Lake Como master hiker with one day of experience, I said, “Sure, whatever you find, we’ll go in the morning”.

Day Two.. My son awoke ready to go and explained his extensive planning, “I found a few trails on google and it looks like we can get up to a peak around 1900-2100feet”.  I didn’t acknowledge that it was three times the elevation of yesterday’s effort.   However, to show I was involved in the planning, I quickly added, “yeah, I saw some stairs behind our breakfast place, lets go”.  Off we went, the stairs behind the breakfast place were fairly steep and became consistently long lengths of upward straightaways after every short turn.  After a half mile we noted that we had already hit yesterday’s climb, we turned another corner and continued on the next cobblestone upward climb.  It struck me how well maintained the small road sized path was.  Thinking we must be close to the top, we arrived at the town Cappella di S Rocco and as I looked around the narrow alleys of beautiful stonework, I thought out loud, “Who put a city up here?”  As we headed out and further up out of town things became more woodsy and rural as we felt we were certainly on the trail system and must be close to the top, right?  The first bit of excitement was a 4 to 5 foot black snake that cut between us across the trail, went over the steep side and down and out of sight.  “He didn’t look poisonous, but keep your head up” I offered as I grabbed a walking stick.

For the next hour we continued uneventfully up.  As we approached the 3000 foot ascent mark I was sure this “around 1900-2100” foot peak had to be close at hand.  Then we saw it.  Sunshine and a hint of possible grassy slopes to a peak beyond our current forest canopy trail.  If our google nav was correct we’d soon be in the saddle of two peaks (Monte Palanzone and Madonna del Soldo) and our only decision would be which one would give us the best views and picture opportunities to Lake Como below. ( )

  But then something strange happened, as I saw a blue fabric handrail attached to plastic stakes I heard some cowbells.  We hadn’t seen anyone on the trails past the village and I thought, “this isn’t Alaska, who hikes with cowbells”.  About then a scene directly out of a Coen movie developed, some horses and donkeys ran up to our left  and on the right as we cleared the trees we saw a very full cowpen with some old, large bulls.  There was another strip of blue fabric and I realized these were two electric fence pens with a small corridor between them that we could pass by the bulls and gain access to at least one peak.  We started to pick the peak on the left as donkeys and horses seemed like the better pen to be in.  However, there was lots of tall grass in that pen and the thought of even a non-poisonous snake bite at this remote spot seemed like a bad idea.  We decided to climb under the fence and take the peak to the right.   My under the fence crawl was not as low as required and as the fabric touched my backpack the lightning bolt feeling of my left hand on the ground confirmed that this was indeed an electric fence and not a handrail.  So it wasn’t my ominous presence that kept the bulls merely staring at us as we walked by them.   Newly invigorated (electrified in fact), we headed up the fairly steep, grassy clumped and old cowpie inclined field towards the peak.  Over the first rise I saw some movement further up the hill and realized there were a few more cows further up.  We slowly proceeded and at a point decided the peak was out of the question as three more younger bulls were in the way.  We had an amazing view of the Lake and proceeded to take pictures and admire the scenery.  I set my backpack down and wrung out my sweat soaked shirt.  About then I saw one of the young bulls take a look down at us.  It almost seemed like a Gary Larson farside moment and I can not completely rule out that he wasn’t on his hind legs looking down on us.    

I turned to Kagen and said, “We better go, they see us”, and we quickly began down the hill, Kagen ahead of me bound walking and me shirtless with backpack in one arm and shirt in another.  Soon we crested a small rise and I looked back and realized the bulls couldn’t see us so I relayed, “We should be good, they can’t see us.” A few steps later I heard what sounded like the last few meters of a cross country ski race.  Loud, rapid cowbells.  “RUN, they’re coming!” I yelled and we bounded down the hill to the low hanging fabric that shocked me earlier.  Kagen timed a beautiful dive roll under the fence and sprang to his feet with cloud of gravel and some road rash shins and knees.  I threw my pack and shirt over and opted for the non slide crawl avoiding both the gravel road rash and the shock on this under the fence crawl.  We laughed and regrouped a few feet from the snorting cowbell clad young bulls behind the electric handrail and headed out for our hike downward.  It was a quick paced quad trashing descent but we were anxious for some lunch and a swim in the cool Lake Como waters.  An epic experience for sure and I asked Kagen to re-hike it when he is 53.  I plan on going along then but at 85 I’ll have to keep the training up and maybe bring a cattle prod for a walking stick.  Next time you’re at a water wonderland, consider the hiking options as you might wind up with an unplanned epic event…No Bull.

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