Walk 6: Pizzo Carbonara
Pizzo Carbonara, at 1979m (6400 ft), is the highest mountain in Sicily after Etna. However, because your starting point is the lovely Piano Battaglia, at 1600m (5200 ft), much of the hard work is already done for you. This unique circular walk to the peak offers staggering views in all directions, including views of Mount Etna to the east on clear days. The paths up and down are steep but well-marked – however, many of the pathways are rough and stony, so decent boots are essential. During the ascent look out for circular fluorescent yellow-green path markers on the rocks (sometimes too you will see red and white bars). NB: For the energetic, the short, vigorous walk No 7 up Monte Mufara can easily be combined with this hike on the same day.
Time: 3.25 to 4 hours; Degree of Difficulty: 4.
Total ascent/descent: 360 metres (1200 feet)
Starting/finishing point: The north-west corner of Piano Battaglia, on the wide road, just north of the mini-roundabout (P on map)
Directions to starting point: drive out of Polizzi on the SP119, through the 15th century aquaduct arches. Drive for about 10 kms until you reach the Y-junction at Portella Colla (1400m). Turn right towards Piano Battaglia on the SP54 – when you reach Piano Battaglia carry on along the road (which becomes one-way) above the Piano, until you reach a mini-roundabout – turn left onto the north part of the one-way road loop and park 200 metres up on the right, near the geological information sign (Photo 1, P on map).
Piano Battaglia: this beautiful hanging ‘valley’ at 1600m, surrounded by beeches, lies between Monte Mufara and the Pizzo Carbonara massif, and is, in fact, an extensive karst depression. It got its name from a battle (battaglia) that was fought here in the 11th century between the Arabs and the Normans. It serves as the bowl where the ski-slopes of Monte Mufara finish – and in July-September it is a popular site for herds of sheep and cows brought up for the summer grasses. There are a couple of restaurants/ cafes located on the piano, which open during the winter and summer tourist seasons.
Set off up the stony track in Photo 1, but after 50 metres, fork left onto the grassy track heading downwards across a shallow bowl. Over on your right you will soon see a large sink-hole (A on map), which is fenced for safety reasons. After another 300 metres again fork left and cross a section of eroded grassland. After another left fork, at two wooden posts, you soon reach the start of a series of zig-zags up to the shoulder between the two mountains (Photo 2 above).
About 30 minutes after the start you reach the trees, with great views back to Piano Battaglia. Look for a red and white marker as you enter the trees and after 100 metres fork left (B on map) – soon you turn left along a an exposed ridge (photo 3 above), with a deep, grassy bowl to your right. Then the path winds uphill, with views of Mufara and Battaglia to your left. You soon enter woods again, with a large old oak tree on your right (C on map). Climb for 10 minutes and when you emerge on a stony clearing, look back – on a clear day you will get a distant view of Etna, to the left of the nearby Monte Ferro.
Keep climbing, following the yellow markers, until after about 1hr 10 minutes you come to the edge of a deep depression (photo 4, D on map). You skirt this to the right, climbing around the flank of Pizzo Antenna (or Della Principessa). At about 1hr30-1hr45 you reach a wooden post, which marks the start of the final climb (E on map). The zig-zag path across rocks gets steeper and steeper until suddenly you are at the summit, marked by a large cairn with wooden branches sticking out of it (photo 5, F on map). The views in all directions are stunning, including views of the coast to the north.
The route down Carbonara starts, unexpectedly, by going north-west towards the sea – look for a series of small posts and the yellow markers. It wends downhill and then enters beech woodland. After about 10-15 minutes from the peak, the path runs around a deep, grassy bowl (photo 6, G on map), where the path turns west and then south. For the next 20-25 minutes, the path runs along the west flank of Carbonara, with great views across to the Cervi massif (photo 7). You walk in and out of beeches, with only gentle uphill and downhill sections. After a sharp uphill section, the path plunges down into a wooded depression and starts to descend – you will see the peak of Pizzo Scalonazzo (1903m) above you and a ruined hut on the hillside (H on map).
On a flat, open section of the descent, you get great views of Monte Mufara and the rear of the Quacella.
After about 50-55 minutes the path starts to zig-zag more steeply downwards, first in the beeches then on the bare hillside. The final section is a series of long hair-pins which descend the curved flank of the mountain. After about 1hr20mins from the summit the path descends to a car-park (photo 8, J on map) on the loop road around Piano Battaglia. Walk straight ahead on the road, which bend leftwards, and in about 10 minutes you will be back at your car.