San Marino – Mount Titano

Mount Titano – 2,425ft
Eric and Matthew Gilbertson
Date: August 26, 2012 (Eric), August 3, 2014 (Eric and Matthew)

sanmarino1I rolled over again in my sleeping bag as the tent violently shook around me. It was 4am and the wind had not relented for the past six hours. With every gust I felt the tent stakes inching closer and closer to being ripped out of the ground as my three-season tent struggled to withstand four-season winds. Sleep had eluded me the past six hours and I looked to my side to see if Kris was faring any better. But there was only an empty space where Kris had been laying just a few minutes ago.

Suddenly a monster gust hit the tent and, with only one body mass holding the tent down now, the stakes finally succumbed to the gale. The side of the tent that used to be held down by Kris started lifting off the ground and collapsing in towards me. My body weight was now the only thing preventing the tent from blowing away.

Kris and I had flown into Zurich, Switzerland on Saturday morning and met up with Janette for a week of country highpoint bagging. The weather in the Alps was forecast to be rainy and snowy all weekend, so we decided to wait out the weather down south by climbing an easy country highpoint first – Monte Titano in San Marino. The whole country of San Marino is about the size of Cambridge, but with a bit more topography. In the middle of the country is a big hill called Monte Titano, with a huge cliff on one side and a multi-century old castle on top. Rain, snow, wind, or mostly any other weather would not prevent us from walking up Monte Titano, so we drove south out of Zurich with confidence we would successfully climb at least one mountain on this trip.

sanmarino4We cruised through southern Switerland and into Italy, passing through Milan and Bolgna by dark. Our friend Nico happened to be from a town very close to San Marino and gave me some GPS coordinates of a secret campsite in the woods just outside the border in Italy. I had entered these into my GPS and we diligently followed the directions. By 9:30pm we turned onto a small gravel road just outside San Marino and headed into the woods. At one point the road dropped steeply and started getting rougher, so I hoped out and scouted ahead. Indeed, I found the exact spot Nico had described at the base of some big cliffs. I ran back to the van and we inched our way down to the spot.

We had brought two tents – a four-season MITOC mountaineering tent and my little three-season tent – and started setting them up just outside the van. It was surprisingly windy for an area apparently sheltered in the trees, so we made sure to put some big rocks over the tent stakes for extra strength. We were all a bit sleep deprived from busy work weeks and a red-eye flight, so quickly ate some dinner and jumped into the tents. This was supposed to be our night of catch-up, preparing us for alpine starts on the big mountains in the Alps during the week. But it was not to be.

Somehow the wind picked up soon after we entered the tents, and didn’t relent all night. I can’t recall ever camping in such strong wind in a tent, at least not in a three-season tent. I’ve camped on the side of Mt Washington in the winter plenty of times but always in a snow cave that’s immune to the wind.

By 4am, with the tent threatening to blow away with me inside it, I finally had had enough. I crawled out sanmarino2of the tent into the wind and quickly dismantled the tent so it couldn’t blow away. I stuffed it in its storage sack and laid my sleeping bag right on the ground. Now that there was no structure blowing around on top of me I could actually get a little bit of sleep. I just hoped it didn’t rain. Kris, meanwhile, had snuck back to the van and was attempting to sleep there.

By sunrise at 7am the wind had finally abated and I had managed to squeeze in a few hours of sleep. Kris fared about the same in the van. Janette, however, was a different story.

“I got a full eight hours of sleep!” she boasted. We still haven’t figured out how Janette slept through the whole night.
We packed up the tents and I took over the wheel heading to San Marino. The skies started out clear but as we left the gravel road and crossed into San Marino some dark clouds started rolling in. We wound up the narrow roads of Acquaviva and into the town of San Marino as we gradually climbed up Monte Titano. Soon there was no more road and we stopped our van in a visitors parking lot.

Just then the sky lit up with a flash of lightning and a downpour of rain started. Good thing we weren’t stuck up at 15,000ft on Mt Blanc or some other big mountain. We hung out in the van for a few minutes, but then decided to brave the weather and climb Titano anyways. We donned our rain jackets and sprinted out from the van,

Eric and Matthew on the summit in 2014

Eric and Matthew on the summit in 2014

up a flight of stairs, and under the cover of a tourist building. We continued walking up the narrow switchback roads that were probably centuries old and built for horses and carriages. At the top we found the entrance to the castle and paid our three Euros each to enter.

We passed through a turn stile, walked up some stairs, climbed up a few ladders, and found ourselves on the highest point in San Marino. From the top of the castle tower we could see the whole country. It’s amazing how such a small parcel of land can be its own independent state. The only obvious form of income for San Marino is tourism, and indeed there were dozens of tourist shops on the way to the summit of Monte Titano selling everything from shot glasses to medieval swords.

We toured around some dungeons and other castle rooms and watched the thunderstorms pass by to our east. Monte Titano was just the beginning of our highpointing week, though, and we had bigger and harder mountains on our mind. Grossglockner, a glaciated peak in Austria, was next on the agenda for Monday, and we wanted to make good progress towards the trailhead Sunday afternoon. So we gradually made our way back through the tourist stands to our trusty Swiss van, and headed North towards Austria.

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