The reason was soon evident in piles of avalanche debris which were more of a challenge. There was also banked-up snow covering one side of the track. At the Forcella is a refuge, occasionally open for refreshment, and good views of the rocky M. Bove Nord.
Descend from the Forcella to Casale Piani di Pao, a concrete hut with a twisted metal frame nearby. Here there is a choice of routes. Carrying straight on down I reached tarmac at Ussita, a signpost desert which I fled towards Visso (608m) as the only destination I could reliably find. From Visso I took the main road in the Macerata direction, soon diverting to a tarmac minor road signposted for Cupi. A steady climb in worsening weather took me to the attractive Santuario di Macerato (998m) and then undulated to Cupi before dropping down to Fiastra.
At S. Lorenzo (648m) two alternatives for Sarnano are signposted. The road through Bolognola is the longer and harder. I took the easy road along the attractive Fiastrone gorge ending at S. Maria di Pieca at 467m. An easy road returns to Sarnano and Le Piane.
Forcella revisited. This time I followed the same route as far as Casale Piani di Pao and took the sharp right turn along a rounded ridge, dropping straight to Fiastra with good views, regaining tarmac on the outskirts of the town. I took the harder road from S. Lorenzo which climbs gently up a pleasant valley as far as Bolognola, then reaches Pintura by some vicious zigzags before meandering round the hillside to a pass at about 1450m. Finally a steep and scenic descent leads straight to Sarnano, a brick-build town with a dignified beauty, where lunch may be had at Il Vicolo.
I drove to Castellucio, a grim depopulated village on a pinnacle which now that it is on the tourist circuit has a chance to recover. It has a magnetic attraction for camper vans. A flat road (1374m) runs north to the Forca di Gualdo, and a right turn goes to the ski cabin of La Baita. From here the road becomes gravel. At the Fonte di Jumenta it declines further to being a footpath, and from here to the summit the route is a bicycle-impeded walk. It soon starts trending right across the face of M. Porche. In June a snowfield here looked dodgy, and a bicycle being less help than an ice axe I avoided it by a long and tedious clamber over steep ground. The path crosses over to the east side of the ridge and avoids the rocky summit. Then it descends to a cwm and the route, now officially a strada imperiale, becomes easier and patchily ridable. It traverses a gully which held snow when I was there but was no problem. Eventually you drop off a broad ridge onto a bad track which leads to the base of Castellucios pinnacle. There is a restaurant above the square in the village.
The walking route eschews the strada imperiale, crossing instead to M. Argentella (2200m). The old mountain biking book we saw had photos taken on this mountain, so it may be a feasible extension.
Grand tour of the Sibyllines
The Monti Sibillini are a part of the Appennine range down the spine of Italy. Their highest point is a little under 2500m, and they are less rugged than the Alps, but definitely mountains. The area is a national park, and there are several case del parco around where you can get information. They are well stocked with books, but almost all the info is in Italian. They also sell nice T-shirts.
I had a road bike and Colin had a mountain bike, so between us we covered a lot of the options. There are a couple of books available in the case that describe offroad routes, but the Kompass 1:50,000 map shows more. Colin had a lovely time.
For the road cyclist who likes wiggly roads, and we know what wiggly roads is a euphemism for, there is an irresistible circuit of the mountains. It is something like 160km in distance, and takes in at least 4300m of ascent, being only slightly less hilly than the Marmotte. Apart from 14km on a main road, it is very quiet and mostly you have the roads to yourself. I cant remember details of road signs, but I managed not to get lost, despite using the TCI 1:200,000 map.
My starting point was halfway between Amándola and Sarnano, because thats where we were staying. Its a main road descent to Sarnano, from where you take the road to Sassotetto. This is a lovely climb, steepish in places, climbing up past crags and cliffs, getting closer to the peaks. Continue past Sassotetto (a ski station) towards Bolognola. When you cross the pass, you get a view of the spine ridge of the mounains: you can see the track that crosses a high pass. Descend to Fiastra there is a shop, and bars, here. From the lake, theres now a roller-coster ride round to the west: follow St Ilario, Fiordimonte to meet the N209 to Visso. There is a shortcut through Cupi, which is marked as a white road on the TCI map, but Colin assures me that it is tarmac.
Here you face what seemed to me a murderously steep climb to the Passo di Gualdo; I was perhaps a little tired by now. The road is more busy as it seems to be in the book 100 best campervanreisen in Italien. Once over the pass, you find youself in a corner of the Piano Grande, a high flat meadow, rich in wildflowers. Its not far to Castellucio, a little village on a small hill on the edge of the plain. Its a little forlorn here, but there are cafés. The ride across the Piano Grande is just about the only flat youll see today. Cross the Forca di Presta, descend under the peak of Monte Vettore, bear right to climb about 200m to the next pass. There are views down deep valleys and across to the Grand Sasso.
From the pass it is mostly downhill through Montegallo (there is a good local restaurant here, on the left in the centre of the village) and then rolling (ie, 300m climbs) to Montefortino. Now youre by M. Sibilla herself. (There is a track that the map shows going up to the top; I managed on a different day to ride as far as the refuge. Beyond that its closed to motor vehicles, and I didnt think I could ride it on my bike with 25mm tyres and 34x26 gear). Now it really is downhill to Amándola. If you started here, you can stop and have an icecream. Otherwise, stop and have an icecream anyway. Then flog up the main road.