Chapter 2: reaching for the sky.
It’s 6.21 A.M. now, the Big Stone is starting to soak in the sunbeams of this new day and its colours are starting to get closer and closer to its characteristic white-blueish-light grey. Silence still is the absolute master of this moment.
We started hiking again, from Arapietra to the cable car station, where the Madonnina dei Parti di Tivo can be found (2015 mt). This is a short, lighter section of the trail, where the slope gives hikers a break and some beautiful wild horses can be admired again.
I’d like to remind you that this point of the trail can be reached via cable car, but then again: I wouldn’t suggest using it, unless you really can’t do otherwise. Of course it saves you plenty of time and hassle, but you would miss the amazing first part of the trek and I personally think that reaching the top is exciting of course, but the journey to it is why we really hike.
From the Madoninna two different trails depart. The right one is the Ventricini trail, which runs along Corno Piccolo, the smaller peak of Gran Sasso, and leads to climbing and mountaineering routes as well as the Danesi via ferrata, which reaches the top of the Horn (BEWARE: because of the tragic earthquake that struck central Italy in August, part of this via ferrata collapsed. It’s better to stay away from it.)
The left one leads to the Franchetti Shelter (2433 mt) and is the one we went for. The sun got warmer and allowed us to take off some heavier clothes and feel lighter. The mountain was now awake and we started to cross a few faces as well.
This is a section I particularly like. It starts venturing into the real mountain, allowing hikers to walk between the two Horns. The majestic East Face of the Small Horn overlooks trekkers the whole time. Better to put your helmet on then!
Another 40 mins of hiking and Zen was there, waiting for us! Solemn custodian of the Franchetti Shelter, this young boy is a beautiful Abruzzese Shepard Dog, who faithfully follows his owner Luca Mazzoleni (the Alpine Guide in charge of the Shelter) around the mountain.
Now, there’s no shortcut to the Shelter: it can be reached on foot only. This means water here is recognised for the priceless resource that it is and, as a very kind and mindful sign reminds all visitors, rubbish should be kept with you throughout the whole hike and thrown away once you are back downstream.
The view from here is absolutely gorgeous. Buddhist prayers wave in the wind, the air gets cold again and the sky gets a bit closer. Peace starts to reach another level of purity up here. Humbleness becomes necessary. The mountain teaches respect. The only thing you can do is to accept your humanity, and be grateful for it and its limits. They allow you to explore, be curious and discover this amazing Earth. No room for omnipotence up here.
And now, no more stops!
Leaving Franchetti, we walked all the way to Sella dei Due Corni (2523 mt), the Gap between the two Horns. The Little Horn gets a whole new look from this perspective, very different from the one you can enjoy from Prati di Tivo. Its curvy, gentle lines leave the scene to high pillars of rocks reaching for the sky, looking like Flames of Rock. And guess what…this is what they’re called!
At the Gap, we followed the big arrow pointing to the Big Horn. Here we go…the hard part of the hike is finally here. It will be a long and steep walk all the way to the top, including fixed rope sections. There’s a bunch of different signs showing the path to follow: they can be a bit bewildering but don’t worry, follow any of them – and the flow – and you’ll be okay!
At one point, the hike crosses the Normale trail from Campo Imperatore, which comes from the other side of the mountain and is simpler and most definitely shorter than ours’. Here we turned left and entered the hardest part of this last piece of trail. I must be honest: it didn’t feel particularly tough, however I can see it can be quite tricky and sketchy for those who are not used to this sort of environment. It’s not dangerous, but rather steep and solid.
A little advice time! The later it gets during the day, the more people you’ll find after the hike crosses the Normale trail. Most of these trekkers are new to the mountain and can be quite slow, so if you want to enjoy a bit more calm and intimacy, I suggest you get there as early as possible.
At around 10:45 we were enjoying the view from the top of the Western Peak of Big Stone’s Big Horn (2919 mt). Yay! Satisfaction was filling everything and the excitement of seeing new perspectives of this mountain I love so much made me so happy and amazed. Curiosity was literally at its peak!
Enjoying the outcome of our efforts, we sat there, looking at the endless horizon.
And all I could think was that all those borders and boundaries and nations everyone talks about, I couldn’t see any of them.
I could see only an infinite amount of soil and water and sky and hills and lakes and rivers and fields and trees covering this amazing globe. But no lines determining where my freedom of movement and exploration ends in the name of a different nationality, a different passport, a different language, or colour of skin.
And I wondered why men and women on this planet keep on ruling one another according to those inexistent, dividing concepts. I wondered how it happened that men and women decided to impose limits and limitations to one another and to themselves. I wondered when it happened that invented laws and confines became more important than life, hospitality, sharing and that endless magic that this planet offers us everyday.
Nature is so simple and yet so various at the same time. Differences make it strong and mighty and there’s no human fiction that can stop that. Mountain summits allow us to see far, far away and get the demonstration of how useless and ridiculous and fake all these limits of ours’ are. Nothing can contain, define or restrict this planet. Human we are, and humans we’ll always be. There’s nothing we can do about our own limits, if not accepting them and live in peace and gratefulness with what we have. And eventually we’ll realise that this planet is an inestimable blessing.