Snow storm West of Parco Sasso...January 16, 2017 in Italy
Next on our itinerary were the Frasassi caves, the largest of which is big enough to fit Milan Cathedral inside. We set off along the Apennines but at around 2:30pm it began to snow. It continued snowing and began to lay on the road. After a while it got so bad that we started to slip and were unable to climb the gentle slope ahead. We stopped, put on our required fluorescent vests, deployed the warning triangle and strapped on the snow chains. In Italy it is obligatory to carry them in winter and we were very glad we had a set. A little further on we pulled into a layby west of Parco Sasso Simone e Simoncello as we didn't want to risk going any further. By this time we were at 525m above sea level and the layby had 9cm of snow, but we thought we'd wait out the worst of it then continue in the morning. We'd checked the weather forecast before we set off and did so again, but there was no snow forecast.
Well, nothing much else happened for the rest of the day other than it continued to snow. In fact, it continued to snow all day and all night too. A local farmer had been enlisted to drive his tractor up and down the road with a snow plough attached to the front and a gritter to the back. He did this from just after we arrived, every couple of hours throughout the night. A few locals and one or two small delivery vans were still using the road but the vans had rear wheel drive which made a big difference. The wind whipped the snow off the trees and cliff face that rose up opposite the layby and added to that already covering the ground and the van. We were partly enchanted by the beauty of it and partly terrified we'd get stuck! Vicky took a tape measure when taking Poppy to the toilet and we saw the snow rising from 9cm, to 13.5cm, then 19cm, 25cm and when we got up it had reached 48cm on average. It was only when we looked back at the photos we realised she was measuring in the lea side of the van and that it was well over half a meter at the deepest parts!
In the morning we had to push snow away from the van with the door in order to open it. It was certainly the deepest snow Vicky had ever seen and Will had only seen it as bad once when he was in primary school in 'the long hard winter of '63'. Poor Poppy's shoulders only just reached above the surface and she strangley didn't seem quite as enamoured with the white stuff as she had been the previous night!
The snow was still falling heavily and didn't look like easing up anytime soon. We decided to abandon our trip to the caves and try instead to get back to the coast.
We'd wished for snow at Christmas but this wasn't quite what we'd had in mind! The old saying 'be careful what you wish for' seemed most apposite.
To add to our predicament, Vicky had developed a trapped nerve in her neck overnight and so couldn't drive... no pressure Will! Trapped nerves sometimes come about due to anxiety; can't think what she had to be anxious about!
We started the engine, checking the exhaust was able to escape. Snow had blocked up all the engine's air vents and Vicky was just brushing as much as she could clear when lo and behold a saviour in the form of a snow plough appeared, heading up the hill towards us! With almost ecstatic relief we watched as it turned to plough the snow from in front of the van. It went back and forth pushing swathes of snow aside. Will backed up as much as he could so it could clear as close to the front as possible, leaving only about half a meter thick wall of snow for us to get through. After a good number of attempts, slipping sliding and stalling, Will broke us free! The snow plough had moved to clear the snow behind us in case we couldn't get out but Will had managed it!!
He drove extremely carefully along the winding roads as the snow kept pouring from above and being blown in all directions. After a while we felt able to stop and check the snow chains, only to find one hanging off and dragging behind the wheel. It must have broken during the struggle to get free. We didn't have a spare so just had to take it off and hope.
We had programmed in a coastal town but had to ignore the sat nav when it tried to direct us off the main road, because no other road had been cleared. It just made us feel all the more grateful for having been on a major route when the snow came in, goodness knows how we would have got out otherwise.
After nearly an hour and a half of driving, we came across a petrol station and being a low on fuel, pulled in to top up. It turned out to be a garage with refuelling facilities and they had snow chains for sale. We asked if they had some for our van and after umming and ahhing they said yes, went away and found a set. €100 later we had a brand new pair, one of which they had fitted for us.
We were beginning to see more signs of life, with people pushing snow clearing machines and shovelling snow off their drives. After a while we started to see tarmac under the snow and were eventually able to take the chains off and breathe a sigh of relief.
High winds and heavy rain greeted us as we drew nearer the coast but they paled into insignificance after the conditions we'd just been driving in.
We made a video on the way back down that we'll post the link to here once we get enough signal to upload it!
Finally managed to upload the video! See the link below or in the comments: