2,655m Corno Piccolo was the last of the major peaks in the Gran Sasso range we were yet to climb. After our wrong turn three weeks ago, which took us up the via ferrata, rather than the normal route we had been intending, I wondered when our next opportunity would come. We are moving from Italy in August, and it may be some time before we are back in the Apennines.
We had one more opportunity last weekend, however. After attending a farewell party in Rome on Saturday afternoon (back home in London, we used to call them “fuck off parties”), we zoomed over to Prati di Tivo, the ski resort on the north side of the Gran Sasso range, where Edita had booked us into a hotel.
This particular hotel, the Albergo Gran Sasso, had a couple of advantages. In the restaurant that evening, the waiter’s opening line was “vino rosso, bianco o rosato?” Any restaurant where they ask you what type of wine you want before bothering to establish whether you even want wine, is alright in my book. The second advantage of this hotel was its location. We could literally jump out of bed and start walking up the mountain (after putting on our walking boots, of course).
We started out at 7.30, and followed the same route as last time up to Sella dei Due Corni, the col between Corno Grande and Corno Piccolo. We reached it at 10am. It was a fine morning, and a handful of rock climbers must have started out even earlier. The south and eastern buttresses of Corno Piccolo were a hive of activity.
We dropped down 200m, past the entrance to Via Danesi, the via ferrata route we had mistakenly taken three weeks earlier. On the way we passed an elderly hiker on his way down from the summit. He eyes were alight with enthusiasm, and he told us that today was 50 years to the day since he had first climbed on Gran Sasso. He was celebrating with a morning ascent of Corno Piccolo. Some golden jubilee! I hope to share the same passion for the outdoors when I reach his age.
Via normale on Corno Piccolo is a very enjoyable scramble, traversing up the south-west side of the mountain to join a ridge. There are a few sections needing use of the hands, but nothing too difficult. There is even another buco (hole) beneath a rock that you have to crawl through, like the one on Via Danesi that stopped us three weeks earlier.
Reaching the ridge, 50m below the summit, was a satisfying moment. It’s broad and smooth, unlike the narrow, exposed ledges that led there. The summit was more satisfying still, looking across to the four jagged summits of Corno Grande 200m above, easily the best, most elevated viewpoint of the Apennines’ highest peak.
It had been something of a crusade to get there. We first attempted Corno Piccolo on our very first visit to the Apennines. Our time in Italy would have felt incomplete without standing on its summit.
The day wouldn’t have been complete without screwing something else up, though. Not satisfied with one last mountain, we headed over to Corno Grande’s east peak to have a go at that one too. It’s only nine metres lower than the main summit, but a little trickier to reach.
The hiking veteran we had spoke to on the way up Corno Piccolo had warned us that there were no via ferrata (metal railings, steps and ladders), but it needed them. Only a few metres from the start there was a very dangerous section with limited hand and footholds, where a fall would have had serious consequences. There was no way I was going across it without protection. Broken legs, a helicopter rescue, and months of rehab are not things I would trade for a minor summit. Besides, if I’m going to be pulled off by a man with a big red chopper, I’d rather it happened in private, and not on a busy mountain with young families watching.
We turned around and headed down, a chapter of the Apennines over for us. Next, the Dolomites.
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