Hiking the Big Stone: Gran Sasso, Italy.
January 1, 1970
by Alice Bellini
Chapter 1: Dawn.
Meet the Big Stone.
4.00 A.M. alarm clock.
As we went to sleep, so we woke up: a million stars over our head, the Milky Way shining clear across the sky and the mountain humbling us from the hight of her majesty, which needs no words and still is more eloquent than any sound.
The Gran Sasso, which means Big Stone, might not be the highest mountain of all, nor the most beautiful, famous or yearned for, but it is home to my hearth and my peace. In the confusion, it brings me back down to Earth.
Located in the Abruzzo region of central Italy, is the highest peak of the Apennines, reaching 2912 mt with the Western Peak of Corno Grande, the Big Horn. To preserve the mountain and its surroundings and wildlife, the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park was established in 1993.
Ever since the first time I set foot on that piece of Earth, I’ve never stopped loving it with all my hearth and brining it with me anywhere I go, helping me to remember what really matters and where I belong.
I normally go there to climb and enjoy new routes and experiences, however I love hiking and exploring new perspectives and ways of living the mountain environment. That’s why I appreciate so much long approaches before climbing and I was charmed about the idea of hiking many hours all the way up to the highest point of Gran Sasso, or around its beautiful beech woods.
On August 2nd, me and my friend Michelle decided to fulfil a bit this desire hiking from the little lake at the bottom of the Arapietra trail all the way up to the Western Peak, 1300 mt difference in heights, without using the cable car, which I don’t really approve as a way of getting to the top of a mountain, or halfway there.
If something is too hard for you, you either go for it anyways and take the struggle, or you give up. No shortcuts, no excuses. However, I do realise that age can make it way too impossible, as much as I recognise the need of this invasive structure during winter, when people come to this places to ski. But I prefer to keep it old school.
After a quick, freezing breakfast in the middle of the night, we drove from our tents (we were freecamping in a beautiful field at Prati di Tivo) to the little lake were the trail starts. To get there, once you reach the big square of Prati di Tivo, 1450 mt, where all the restaurants and shops are, as well as the access to the cable car, turn left and keep driving all the way up to the lake, 1650 mt, where the road ends. Half of it is a dirt road with lots of bumps and big stones, but if you drive very carefully it’s no big deal. On the way up, there’s also an ice cold water spring where to refill your bottles.
If you want to walk all the way up to the lake, it’s absolutely fine. It will only add a 5 km or so to the overall hike. If you choose to get there by car, you can park it right in front of the little lake, where other cars will surely be parked. You can also build your tent there, spend the night and be ready to go as soon as you wake up. However, you can’t leave it there during the day, so you will have to repack everything before leaving, which can be quite annoying and slow you down, so I suggest sleeping at Prati di Tivo. To do that, 500 mt before the big square, turn right and keep driving past the big hotel you’ll find on the left side of the road. As soon as you pass it, some beautiful fields will open on both sides: you can place your tent there.
When we arrived, a herd of beautiful wild horses with their fillies was browsing around. The sky was starting to get lighter in the distance. The air was frizzy. Silence was caressing everything. Emotions were buzzing.
So we got ready, opting for a fast and light asset. Just 1.5 litres of water each, some almonds, a couple of snack bars and “onion” clothings, as we say in Italian, i.e. dressing in layers. A camera for me, a pair of hiking sticks for Michelle. And a little stone, to honour the ancient tradition according to which walkers, hikers and pilgrims would carry stones with them to track the trail for other travellers, or to build crosses at the top of peaks.
Ready steady go!
So there we were, ready to go! Oh yeah, one more thing: even if it’s basically nighttime and it’s cold and you’re wearing hat and scarf, don’t forget to put your sunscreen on, or to take it with you. You could end up roasted, as I did. And I won’t post pictures of that just because I’m very embarrassed of myself and my silly oversight, especially because I did have sunscreen with me but I decided not to use it anyhow. Genius!
At 5.31 A.M. we were moving our first steps, determined to catch the sunrise from the Arapietra, an abandoned shelter at the top of a little hill before the real mountain begins.
The trail starts on the right side of the small hill right in front of the lake. It leads all the way to the cross and then it turns left, following the tracked trail to the Arapietra. This first part of the trail is roughly 30 mins uphill, a bit steepy but no big deal. At 5.56 A.M. we were waiting for the sun to come up and enlighten everything with its gorgeous beams. It was absolutely spectacular. Nature filled us with its absolute majesty, reminding us who is in charge of this planet and what she’s capable of. The amount of solemn amazement cannot be put into words.
We breathed in that moment for a good half hour, simply looking at the sun rising and being grateful for the life we have, that allowed us to be right there, right then.
I guess both our minds went silently back to a few words we had read a few months earlier, when we came to the Gran Sasso in January, during a very windy day (but this is another story!). On a board in a bar in Prati di Tivo, a Tibetan proverb would wish: “At sunrise, may each sunbeam take your dreams and lead them to reality”.
And I also guess that was the exact reality we both wanted our dreams to be led to for that day.
[to be continued]