Itinerary 6: Monte Pizzone (normal route)

Monte Pizzone is one of the less frequented mountains of the Majella massif. With a height of only 2,214 meters (7,263 ft) its summit is not often given the time of a day by hikers or climbers. Indeed, scaling this mountain generally does not require any mountaineering gear or advanced climbing skills. It should not be underestimated, though, because in terms of endurance and commitment it is easier to reach the higher peaks of this range.

But what makes it so hard to reach the top? For one thing, it is the fact that there is no trail or signposting, so orientation can become an issue, especially with foul weather conditions and for anyone with a restricted knowledge of the geological features of this area. For another thing, the north and south slopes are very steep and rife with scree and loose rocks. They come with passages of extremely frangible crags. Although the direct exposure of the ascent routes is negligible, the consequences of a simple slip (or a broken handhold) may be a long and unstoppable slide, or a nasty fall. The thick vegetation (dwarf mountain pine) on its slopes only punctuate the sense of isolation and remoteness of this ‘minor’ peak and contribute to its rather feral aspect.

Ascending this mountain is hard labor, nothing more, nothing less. Because of its very central position and the truely unique views it has to offer, this secondary peak is still an interesting destination and climbing it a highly rewarding experience. All three routes (see below) are fairly demanding but should be viable in one (long) day, – provided you get up early enough in the morning.

Craggy passage near the col
Craggy passage near the col

Essentially, there are three routes leading to the top of this mountain. The most common and, arguably, the easiest is the normal route for Monte Acquaviva. It is signposted as hiking path P. The trailhead is the mountain hut Rifugio Bruno Pomilio, on the Maielletta plateau. The path passes the peaks of Monte Blockhaus and Monte Cavallo before traversing a pine forest that covers the steep north flank of Monte Focalone. At the heights of Monte Focalone – a broad plateau – turn left (east) and follow indications for Monte Acquaviva.

From the summit of Monte Acquaviva (8,980 ft / 2,737 m) you will have to descend no less than 600 meters in order to reach the col between the latter and Monte Pizzone. Except for a few cairns, there is no signposting. Before coming upon the actual col a steep and craggy passage of frangible rocks has to be negotiated. (see image above)

Some major obstacles can be avoided by bypassing them (on the left side). The final crest (beyond the col) is a really nasty thicket of low-growing mountain pines. Do not tangle with them, because eventually you will lose (at least your nerves), but try to find a ‘path’, i.e. some loosely connected spots of bare rock and scree, which descends for about 50 meters before rising again almost exactly under the heap of rocks that marks the summit.

Alternative Routes to the top of Monte Pizzone:

Alternative 1 – Fara San Martino – Valle di Acquaviva

The first part coincides with one of the normal routes to Monte Amaro and traverses the beautiful valley ‘Valle Santo Spirito’. It is well signposted as H1. At the junction ‘Bocca dei Valloni’ turn right (north) and take the trail G6. While proceeding the trail itself becomes increasingly less evident, so it is imperative to pay close attention. About 100 meters before reaching the well ‘Fonte del Pesco’ turn left (or refill your water supply at the well before trurning back and then right).

The path is now occasionally signposted with F2 and traversing a large beech forest before descending again to the bottom of a valley. The path terminates right at the torrent which can be crossed by bypassing the huge rock on its left hand side. Under overhanging rocks you will find a provisional bivouac (Grotta dei Callarelli).

From the bivouac face the east ridge of Monte Acquaviva and follow the left valley (Valle di Acquaviva) as it rises gradually. To your left you will have the heavily vegetated north slope of Monte Pizzone. Where the valley ends you may either take the slope that ascends further towards the east ridge of Monte Acquaviva or look for a negotiable breach in the pine thicket. From the east ridge of Monte Acquaviva it is possible to travers the east face of the mountain; simply aim for the col and, of course, avoid the pine tree thicket.

Alternative 2 – Fara San Martino – Valle delle Mandrelle

The same indications as above apply for the first part of this route. At the junction ‘Bocca dei Valloni’, however, keep on the main trail (H1) until you come upon the well Fonte del Milazzo. After another 200 meters take the hiking path H2 for the bivouac Grotta dei Porci, Piano della Casa and the valley Valle delle Mandrelle. Having passed the plains the trail, now running in a northwest direction, is skirting the slopes of the prolonged ridge of Monte Sant’Angelo. The peak and the steep slopes of Monte Pizzone are now on your right.

As there are no indications and no signposting you will have to keep an eye on the col that connects Monte Pizzone with Monte Acquaviva and a couloir that might lead you up to it. From the col you can follow the normal route.

Note: The scree ramps of the south slope and the couloir are not really amusing, and you will surely feel glad to have brought a pair of walking sticks with you.

There are two very spartan bivouac opportunities which can function as emergency shelters:

(1) Grotta delle Callarelle – situated at the junction between the valleys Valle di Acquaviva and Valle del Forcone (at the feet of the mountain); the bivouac is basically a natural cavity, closed on one side by a holey dry stone wall; the shelter has room for max. 3 guests and is endowed with a simple fireplace; nearby there is a small well (water trickling from the rocks); betimes very wet and cold, but can be used as an emergency shelter.

(2) Grotta dei Porci – situated on a trail that connects Valle S. Spirito and Valle delle Mandrelle and in vicinity to the plains of Piano della Casa; in construction and features very similar to the above mentioned bivouac, perhaps slightly more comfortable; water can be found at a well (Fonte del Milazzo), only a few hundred meters (toward the valley) from the shelter.