Cima Ogniquota & Monte Porrara

This year’s last winter ascent would take me to the southern most extension of the Majella range, a prolonged ridge that runs in a north-south direction, from the mountain pass “Guado di Coccia” to Valico della Forchetta and the old train station of Palena. The two main peaks of this ridge are Monte Porarra and its less frequented sister summit Cima Ogniquota.

From the village of Palena a road is ascending to the downhill end of an inoperative skilift. Where the asphalt road ends I parked the car. There were several options between which to choose. However, I decided for a rather “alternative” approach which would lead me first to a small torrent that descends the narrow and beautiful valley “Valle di Cocci” and, after a short but steep hillside, let me catch up with the main hiking trail.

At about 1,300 m larger spots of spring snow started forming a thin but continuous surface, broken here and there by some obdurate crocus. While the snowlayer grew gradually thicker, the view opened on the valley and on the prolonged ridge that stretches between the peaks of Cima Ogniquota and Monte Porrara. Though the actual trail was no longer discernable the mountain pass would have been pretty hard to miss. After an hour and a half or so I reached the col.

Snowcat tracks were all over the place. But except for a lone backcountry skier who was stoically pushing himself up the steep south slopes of Tavola Rotanda the whole area looked strangely deserted, the early morning scene thoroughly static. A deep breath and, turning my back at the col, the skilift and the backcountry skier, I started my own ascent towards the northern escarpment of Cima Ogniquota. When the face finally came in view for the first time I was truly over the moon with the sheer sight it. What an unexpected beauty!

It would have been surely to my delectation to try the >-shaped central gully, or find another route up the face itself. Sadly, the consistency of the spring snow would not permit me to place the ice axe securely. Since the trail was untraceable, and thus no option either, I decided to stick close to the rocky ridge. A fine and easy climb, after all.

The view from the top of this pyramidal escarpment was sweeping: the Majella range, the broad shoulder of Monte Morrone, the well distinguishable peaks of the eastern chain of the Grand Sasso Range and Corno Grande, the endless back of Monte Rotella with numerous peaks of the Marsican Mountains as a backdrop.

Now ahead of me lay a long and notched crest with some impressive snow cornices. Because of the latter it did not seem to be a good idea sticking too close to the drop. Bad enough, the less steeper east slope held a thick layer of wet and unstable snow resting on a a layer of solid ice. Walking without crampons I was constantly running the risk of sinking in too deep and slipping on the underlying ice. Crampons, really? A couple of close calls changed my mind and, reluctantly, I put on my crampons. After every second step I had to knock off the wet snow from underneath them. Progress became painfully slow and it took me almlost twice the time I had calculated for reaching Cima Ogniquota.

The last steep part ahead, the summit of Monte Porrara at a strinking distance, the snow cover suddenly changed and I could actually walk on it. I quickened my step slightly too much, I guess. As I finally stood on the very spot where the summit cross was supposed to greet me I felt rather sick than anything else. Silly me!

But there was no more time to lose, as heavy clouds were pushing in from the south-east. Beneath a limped, clear blue sky I had done quite well on the ridge. Those clouds, however, promised to become a true game changer. Though I left the summit only after a few minutes they were already on my heels and an angry wind was gaining momentum by the minute.

I guess I was lucky under the circumstances that my stomach showed to be no longer resentful, allowing me to push on. By the time I reached the steep and rocky ridge of the northern escarpment almost the whole scenery had been swallowed by a milky white shroud. While descendeding from the col the sun was no longer to be seen and the entire mountain was cloaked with mist and darker shreds of whirling clouds.

Note to myself: In the mountains time might become circumstantial, timing is everything.