Introduction to the Apennines – Part 5: Monti della Laga

I was lucky to live and work for a year in Rome, where the highest peaks of the Apennines were accessible within a couple of hours. It was a hill walker’s paradise, with a feast of mountains of great variety, and reliable weather.

Had they been that close to London, those peaks would be crawling with walkers, but this 1,200km chain of mountains that forms the spine of Italy is undiscovered, despite being criss-crossed with hiking trails.

There isn’t much information available in English. We started our explorations with the excellent Cicerone guidebook Walking in Abruzzo, but good trekking maps are available (see below). Most trails are well marked with the red and white paint marks and signposts of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI). These things together mean that the peaks can be easily explored by experienced hikers.

In a series of posts I aim to provide a short introduction based on my own experience. It is inevitably focused on the Abruzzo and Lazio regions near Rome. The Apennines are amazing. I hope it will whet the appetite, and encourage some of you to explore this fantastic area.

This week I’m going to talk about Monti della Laga, a ridge of green hills north of the dramatic rock towers of Gran Sasso.

Monti della Laga forms the northern, and less famous, half of Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monte della Laga. In contrast to the dramatic rock towers of its southern neighbour, Monti della Laga is a grassy sandstone ridge which snakes from north to south along the border of the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo.

Monti della Laga (‘Mountains of the Lake’) takes their name from Lago di Campotosto, an artificial lake in the shape of a letter ‘V’ that was retrieved from peat bog in the 1930s. At an altitude of 1,313m, it is one of the highest lakes in Italy.

The green ridge of Monti della Laga may appear unremarkable beside the grandeur of Gran Sasso, but its leading summits rise almost as high. The highest peak, Monte Gorzano (2,458m) straddles the border of Abruzzo and Lazio, and is therefore the highest point in Lazio.

The southern end of the ridge is accessible from the town of Campotosto, above the shores of the lake. It’s a fine location from which to survey not only the lake, but the spires of Gran Sasso. From Monte Gorzano the ridge stretches south over the multiple summits of Cima della Laghetta (2,372m) and the range’s southern outlier Monte di Mezzo (2,155m). This latter peak can be climbed on a good circular walk from Campotosto, including some enjoyable ridge-walking along the range’s southernmost spine.

To the east Monte Gorzano can be accessed from the village of Cesacasina, which sits at 1,150m on a wooded shelf overlooking the Valle Vomano, the deep gorge that divides Monti della Laga from Gran Sasso. The trail rises through thick forest to reach the ridge. The higher peaks of the Apennines can be a dry desert devoid of water in the summer months, but this section of Monti della Laga is alive with bubbling brooks and the sound of running water trickling through narrow channels hidden among the thick tussock grass.

On the northern side of the range are a number of other peaks that rise almost as high as Monte Gorzano. Pizzo di Moscio (2,411m), Cima Lepri (2,445m) and Pizzo di Sevo (2,419m) are the next three peaks on the ridge as it snakes its way east and then back to the west. These peaks look north into the Marche region of Italy and another high massif, the Monti Sibillini. They are best accessed from the broad Tronto Valley on the western Lazio side. A road climbs up from the village of Sant’Angelo to the Macchie Piane, a high plain at 1,700m. From here it’s just a short hike up Pizzo di Sevo.

Alas, it’s impossible to talk about this western side of the range without reference to the 2016 earthquake and the aftershocks which followed, many of which were almost as damaging. It was the villages here that were worst affected, including Amatrice, the town that gave its name to Amatriciana pasta, where 299 people lost their lives.

When we travelled through this valley in 2017, signs of earthquake damage were impossible to ignore. Villages such as Accumoli, Pescara and Arquato were all positioned in precarious locations clinging to mountainsides. The houses had been devastated and lay in ruins. Many roads were closed and access to the mountains was consequently limited. We can only hope the area recovers more quickly than the town of L’Aquila to the south of Gran Sasso, which is still suffering from the aftermath of an earthquake in 2009.

For the first timer

An ascent of Monte Gorzano from the village of Cesacastina on the east side is a long but rewarding day, with plenty of variety. The ascent needs to be done in the summer months, when the snow is gone and the road is passable. The trail climbs directly west through forest to reach the ridge at a col, the Sella Laga.

From here, turn north and follow the ridge over the multiple summits of Cima della Laghetta to the top of Monte Gorzano. It’s an easy run down grassy slopes to rejoin the route back through the forest, but you have to be careful to enter it on a trail, the CAI 354, or it would be easy to become hopelessly lost.

For the beginner

There is a good road leading north from the village of Sant’Angelo on the west side of Monti della Laga, which weaves up to the Macchie Piane, a high plain at 1,700m. From here it’s easy to climb to the top of Pizzo di Sevo on grassy slopes.

For the adventurous

It must be tempting to complete the entire ridge from north to south, starting from Trisungo in the Tronto Valley, and descending to the shores of Lago di Campotosto beyond Monte di Mezzo. You’re looking at a distance of around 30km, with over 2,000m of ascent all told, across the majority of Monti della Laga’s 17 peaks over 2,000m in height.

It would probably require a night on the ridge. Since it’s a national park, wild camping is almost certainly prohibited, but on the plus side there would be no shortage of places to refill with water if you’re willing to descend a little off the ridge. Perhaps I’m dreaming, but that’s because a 30km ridge walk in a landscape such as this would certainly be a dream trek.

Photos

The trail from Cesacastina up Monte Gorzano passes through dense forest
The trail from Cesacastina up Monte Gorzano passes through dense forest
On the Monti della Laga ridge above Sella Laga, with Lago di Campotosto behind
On the Monti della Laga ridge above Sella Laga, with Lago di Campotosto behind
Approaching the multiple summits of Cima della Laghetta, with Monte Gorzano behind
Approaching the multiple summits of Cima della Laghetta, with Monte Gorzano behind
Arriving on the summit of Monte Gorzano, with the Gran Sasso massif behind
Arriving on the summit of Monte Gorzano, with the Gran Sasso massif behind
A snow-dusted Pizzo di Sevo from Macchie Piane
A snow-dusted Pizzo di Sevo from Macchie Piane
On a trail near Campotosto, with the Monti della Laga ridge ahead
On a trail near Campotosto, with the Monti della Laga ridge ahead
Monti della Laga seen from Monte Corvo in the Gran Sasso range, with Lago di Campotosto on the left and Monte Gorzano in the distance to the right
Monti della Laga seen from Monte Corvo in the Gran Sasso range, with Lago di Campotosto on the left and Monte Gorzano in the distance to the right

You can see more photos of the Monti della Laga region in my Monti della Laga Flickr album.

Blog posts

I’ve written several blog posts about our adventures in the Apennines. These will give you a bit more detail and a few more ideas on places to explore.

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2 thoughts on “Introduction to the Apennines – Part 5: Monti della Laga

  • March 9, 2019 at 12:36 pm
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    Hi Mark, I was born and lived not very far from Monti della Laga. I hiked them from one side to another along the ridge about 25 years ago. I do not think that one needs any permission to camp on the ridge, this follows from the regulation of mountaineering activities here: http://www.gransassolagapark.it/public/documenti/RegAlpinismo/RegAlpinismo.pdf
    I guess that the same applies to other national parks in the Appennines, with the exclusion of restricted areas (for example, Valle dell’Orfento in Majella). I would like to add that another attraction of the Monti della Laga are waterfalls, as the mountains are by waterproof limestone. See here https://www.majellando.it/le-100-fonti-sulla-laga-in-abruzzo/ for some pictures and videos, or google `cascate nei monti della Laga’. The best time of the year for that kind of hiking is late Spring, as most of them are related to the snow melting. I found only one guide book in English: http://www.gransassolagapark.it/Ecarteguide_dettaglio.php?id_pubb=6100, it might help your English readers. Thanks for spreading information on our beautiful mountains!

  • March 11, 2019 at 7:49 pm
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    Ciao Raffaele, grazie mille for the extremely useful advice. There really isn’t much about the Apennines in English, and advice from a local is always appreciated.

    I always wondered about the wild camping and other regulations, so I will be practising my Italian skills on this PDF. As for the guidebook – I managed to find it on Amazon, so I’ve ordered it 🙂

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