Itinerary 7: Monte Sant’Angelo (Full traverse)

The Majella massif has many interesting facets and holds some of the highest peaks of the entire Central Apennine. Although being one of them, Monte Sant’Angelo (2,669 m / 8756 ft) is perhaps one of the loneliest peaks of this range. Rarely climbed by those heading straight for Monte Amaro, or turning earlier for Monte Acquaviva, its lofty mountainside fortress is seldom given the time of a day and remains mostly undisturbed even through the main hiking season. From the normal route to Monte Amaro it is actually just a short detour to its summit. Still, there is no actual hiking path and in order to climb the last few meters to the top it is inevitable to use both hands.

There are only two conceivable routes to this summit. One via the normal route to Monte Amaro and the short and quite easy west ridge, the other via the valley ‘Valle di Santo Spirito’, the high plains ‘Valle di Macchia Lunga’ and ‘Piano della Casa’, the summit of Cima Sala del Monoco (2,214 m) and the prolonged east ridge. The second option is, without any doubt, the more varied and scenic route. It is much longer, too, generally equals a full traverse of the mountain and requires some rudimentary climbing skills.

The east ridge of the mountain is a great alternative route to the summit of Monte Sant’Angelo and partially coincides with the longest normal route in the entire Apennines: the east route from the village Fara San Martino to the summit of Monte Amaro, signposted as H1. The trailhead, a very small gorge at the mouth of the deep Valle di Santo Spirito, is situated at only 500 m / 1,640ft. The first part of the trail is quite evident and well signposted (H1, red and white). Even with a heavy bag it shouldn’t take you more than 2 hours to the first junction, Bocca dei Valloni (1,055 m / 3,461 ft).

From this point the valley gradually opens, and the trail, from now on only marked with small cairns and occasional waymarks (green and yellow), gets slightly steeper as it enters a vast beech forest. Before reaching the wellspring ‘Fonte Milazzo’ you will have to cross two glades. The wellspring, situated at 1,596 m / 5,236 ft, to the right of the trail and at the feet of a high escarpment, is fed by a number of small cataracts. (Note: During the winter months these rivulets might be frozen. With ice covering the entire escarment the wellspring is usually inaccessible.)

After refreshing your water supplies (or taking a shower?) simply follow the escarpment and climb the steep scree ramp on its uphill side. Hidden under an overhanging rock you will surely notice a small emergency bivouac. At the upper end of the slope turn sharp right and follow the narrow trail that runs along the declivity. After crossing a number of rivulets you will find yourself beneath another, much more comfortable bivouac, known as ‘Grotta dei Porci’ (1,793 m /5,882 ft). From the bivouac keep close to the rocks and look for a steep and narrow trail (F4a) that enters the forest to your left. Only a few hundred meters further on this trail you should pass by the last wellspring on this route. Where the forest opens and the trail peters out you have reached the high plain ‘Piano della Casa’.

Cross the plain in a direct line and climb up to the ridge. The view from up there is already fabulous: Cima dell’Altare, Monte Pizzone, Monte Acquaviva, Cima Sala del Monaco and, in an eastern direction, the deep blue of the lake Lago Sant’Angelo. Keep to the ridge and head for the pine trees on the east slope of Cima Sala del Monaco. There is some signposting in form of simple yellow spots, stripes or arrows that will help to avoid the nasty pine thicket. Further up the ridge this kind of signposting will also show the easiest scrambling route and, finally, accompany you to the summit of Monte Sant’Angelo. (Note: During spring and summer month, try not to step on the low-growing juniper shrubs, as they are home to the venomous “Vipera ursinii”.)

From where the pine thicket opens up again the terrain flattens out and it is only a short walk over the summit plateau to the heap of stones marking the summit of Cima Sala del Monaco (2,214m / 7,263 ft). Now the trail descends towards the col that connects this peak and the onset of the actual ridge of Monte Sant’Angelo.

The steepest part of the ridge consists of two escarpments which are connected by a ramp rife with scree and talus. The easiest scrambling route is signposted by yellow dots and arrows painted on large rocks. There are several fairly easy climbing passages (UIAA II-) and a narrow and somewhat exposed ledge. Harder and more interesting variations are conceivable, too. From top of the second escarpment the ridge keeps rising towards a false summit. Continue in this direction for a few hundred meters and the pinnacles of the true summit will come within sight.

As the actual summit ridge is broken up by a number of deep incisions it is advisable to bypass it on either side and use one of the short gullies in order to scramble up the last few meters to the small heap of rocks which marks the highest point of the crest, the summit of Monte Sant’Angelo (2,669 m / 8756 ft). Enjoy the great view!

To complete a full traverse of Monte Sant’Angelo take the short gully that descends directly from the summit, turn right and follow the short west ridge of the mountain that gradually broadens. On the high plateau at the end of it you will come upon signposting for Monte Amaro and the Monte Focalone. The hiking trail which connects these two peaks passes close by the no longer marked summit of Cima Pomilio. Turn left for Monte Amaro and the bivouac Pelino (about 1 ½ hours) or right for the Cima delle Murelle and bivouac Fusco (about 1 hour).

NB: Also a winter ascent is not impossible and can be a fantastic experience. But you will need to be well prepared and start extremely early in the morning in order to reach the summit before sundown. An overnightstay might be inevitable. Snow can be found well below the 1,000 m mark. Some steep slopes hold a vast amount of unstable snow, too. Due to their particular exposure (south, south-east) the snow pack is usually getting wet early in the day and violent slab avalanches are rather frequent. Indeed, the avalanche risk is never to be underestimated. Snow masses may break away well out of sight and hit you where you would least expect it, even in the forests that cover the valley floor.

It is imperative to check the avalanche radar and plan your tour accordingly. Especially the east ridge, usually an easy scramble (UIAA II-), will become a quite serious undertaking (PD+) and should better not be tried without proper mountaineering gear. Even with some experience in evaluating objective mountain hazards and after checking the actual snow conditions on location a substantial risk will remain.