Corno Grande (2912m) is the highest mountain on the Italian Peninsula and I was really looking forward to do a real climb again, not just a simple hike.
A night in Assergi
First I drove to L'Aquila, where an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude in 2009, caused devastation to the old town and killed more than 300 people. I disliked all the traffic in L'Aquila, so I continued immediately towards Gran Sasso National Park. When I arrived a skiing resort near Assergi I could see a cluster of hotels along the road. It was already late, it was a bit chilly outside and I had sore legs after a long hike to Monte Amaro, hence I didn't want to sleep in my tiny Fiat. The hotel set me back a whopping 75 Euro, but that was half board including a 3 course dinner and a breakfast.
Next morning I drove the winding road to Campo Imperatoro while the sunrise started to illuminate the top portions of the mountains in Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. The view of Corno Grande rising from the alpine meadows was absolutely mind boggling, this must be one of the most stunning landscapes I've ever seen.
I didn't see any snow on the mountain. In a normal year the first snowfall might cover the upper slopes of Corno Grande already in the beginning of October. I didn't bring my crampons to Italy, so that could indeed have been a real show stopper, but again, luck was on my side.
Which route to choose?
I parked my car next to Albergo Campo Imperatore (2130 m.a.s.l), where I counted less than 10 cars. I started to hike on the obvious trail above the upper building. I overtook a couple of slower groups before I arrived at a saddle (2330 m.a.s.l). Just a few meters ahead was the fork where I had to take a decision which route to choose, the easy normal route or the much steeper route up the south face (Via Direttissima). I didn't bring my helmet to Italy, so in case there was many climbers ahead of me on the south face, I would opt out and go for the normal route instead. Luckily I didn't see any people at all on the south face and that made my choice very simple. I was going to climb the interesting south face (Via Direttissima) and have no worries about other people dislodging rocks above me.
Funny climb on the south face
I walked fast towards the south face and shortly later I started on the switchbacks in the scree slopes at the foot of the face. Then I arrived at the solid rocks where the remaining 300 meters of elevation to the summit, consist of funny scrambling and easy climbing. No more difficult than YDS class 4 if the easiest route is found, but substantial harder if you "get lost" and start to mess around.
Getting lost didn't seem to be a big issue here, because the rocks were tagged with green painting (triangle or arrow) every 5 meters or so. At one occasion, however, I lost focus and moved towards a voice on my righthand side. A couple from Germany appeared out of nowhere, as they where down climbing a fairly steep pitch. They told me that they had struggled for a long time trying to find a feasible route up. They were coming down to see if they could get back on track. We searched further right, but it was too steep and no green tags to see.
Instead of retracing my steps to the point where I had lost the green paintings, I impatiently climbed directly up a small cliff, which would have been creepy to descend without a rope. Being on top of that cliff gave me a much better overview ahead, and I spotted a green triangle in a crack 10 meters on my lefthand side. I was clearly off-route but I managed to traverse towards the crack after a careful move across a slab. Understandably the German couple didn't follow me, but I shouted to them to walk 10 meters to their left, where they probably would find the start of the crack.
I continued in easy scrambling terrain, and below me I could see that the German couple had found the crack and was moving up. I came to a fixed rope, the first and only aid on the route. The rope must have been placed there because of exposure rather than difficulties. This was probably a spot prone to accidents, especially if the rocks were wet or icy. But now it was dry conditions, so I trusted more in myself rather than an old rope and an anchor I couldn't see or check from below.
Summit and descent
Above the fixed rope it was only easy scrambling to the summit. I met a guy sitting next to the solid cross of steel. He told me that he had walked up the normal route. I asked him if this was the highest point of Corno Grande (Vetta Occidentale) and he confirmed, even though the eastern summit (Vetta Orientale) looked a bit higher from here. A traverse to the eastern summit seemed to be a difficult one, so I was quite relieved to hear that it was 10 meters lower. No need at all to get over there :-)
I spent more than 40 minutes on the summit, enjoying the sunny weather and the awesome views in all directions. My plan was to descend the easy normal route, but I obviously chose the wrong path/paintings and ended up on the west ridge route instead. But this route turned out to be easy scrambling and it eventually joined the normal route further down. Back on the normal route I noticed all the people coming up. Based on my simple counting it looks like 9 out of 10 people choose the normal route to Corno Grande.
Safely back in the car I had plenty of time, since Corno Grande had only taken me 4 hours including a long break on the summit. I so much enjoyed the drive in eastern direction across the wonderful plateau known as Italy's "Little Tibet". I stopped frequently to take photos of grazing horses on the alpine meadows. I could also see Monte Camicia (2564m) along the road, and it was really tempting to do a hike up there in the afternoon. But my original plan had been to drive down to Castel del Monte, do some sightseeing around, and return for Monte Camicia the following day. I decided to stick to my original plan.
My GPS-track at EveryTrail