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Italy: Appenines

Pizzo d’Intermesoli: "Best left to walkers with climbing experience". Gran Sasso, Italy, June 2005.

Pizzo d’Intermesoli, 2635 m.

After climbing up the Pizzo d’Intermesoli, the last 200 m consisting of a mix of very steep scree and solid rock faces, we were wondering what to do. Going down would be only 45 minutes but seemed treacherous. We asked an Italian men coming up after us if there was another way down and if he would go down again. No, he said, “pericolo”, while waiving his arms.

He was going to continue along the marked trail along the ridges all the way North, to Pradi di Tivo or Pietracamela. He seemed to know the way given his very quick pace and kept on going only stopping for a minute to look at the high peaks around us and pointing us to a herd of chamois. While disappearing, already at a 50 m distance, he gave us vague directions to follow the ridge first and go down on the sloping North-West side of the mountain.

Looking at the vertical cliffs on the far side of our target valley we were suppose to go down into, I was wondering. Is there a route down but why is there no trail indicated on the map. This looked suspicious. A new route to explore, always gives surprises.

Pizzo d’Intermesoli, 2635 m

Going up Pizzo d’Intermesoli foloowing the 1B route, seemed like a simple walk-up from Sella dei Grilli at 2220 m but from a distance the last 200 m up  looked very steep, if not a grade 4 rock climb.

From Campo Imperatore, the pass is easily reachable by three routes. The easiest is along the main ridge, the number 1 route to Capanne and go up Sella dei Grilli. We took the more direct crest route following the 1V trail starting past La Portella and crossing the Sella del Cefalone. This took us two hours going very slowly.

At Sella dei Grilli you have a magnificent view at the Pizzo and it not only looks very steep, but it is.

Pizzo d’Intermesoli, detail of the normal route up, from bottom left at 2220 m at Sella dei Grilli and straight to the top at 2635 m. Detail of photograph taken near La Portella.

It is only 400 m vertical meters up and you see a zigzag trail until it disappears on the solid rock faces and steep scree. Why is this number 1B routes marked as a dashed route (meaning not too difficult, still a walking route) and not as a dotted route (meaning for walkers with climbing experience)?

It seemed we would have to climb across a mix of steep scree and solid rock faces and the ridges could be even a 4th degree rock climb using the Lonely Planet quote for the direct route of the nearby Corno Grande, “a challenging scramble, best left to walker with climbing experience” (Walking in Italy, p. 269).

We decided to go for it. We could always go back earlier or continue the long marked 1B route along the crest to Prati di Tivo or Pietracamela, a 3-4 hour walk with an additional 3 hours back to Campo Imperatore.

While studying the route up, a rescue helicopter was doing touch downs on the Corno Grande which we went up along the West Ridge 3 days earlier and this now looked like an impressive ridge walk but we walked mostly in the clouds so we did nor really have good views down the 500-700 m high South face.

Corno Grande West Ridge with rescue helicopter practise flight. Norht ridge (right) is 500-700 m high.

It also touched the top of Pizzo Cefalone we went up two days ago.


Pizzo Cefalone North Ridge with rescue helicopter. Low ridge is the Sella de Cefalone.

The North route up Pizzo Cefalone on the picture above is said to be wiped out by land slides and littered with slippery loose scree, so we did not try this two days ago.

Going up

The first 200 m up route is easy, a well marked zigzag path goes up on reasonable solid scree. It suddenly gets very steep when solid rocks started sticking out in between the loose scree. The last 200 m up is much harder and we are often crawling on hands and feet holding on to solid rock faces. The yellow/brown markers on the route are numerous and well visible so you only need to look at a 4-5 m distance to find the route and you may not even notice you are on a steep slope with loose and slippery rocks.

At one point there is a 30-40 m 4th degree (60 degree) rock climb going through a small canal. At this point you should go back if you are and were planning to go back the same route and feel uneasy on  loose scree. However,  there are two, much longer escapes but these should only be done in good weather, see below.

You need some rock climbing experience going up a 30-40 m high canal. Standing on the ledges is easy while holding on by hands for safety but for those who never climb, a rope for security is recommended, especially going down. The last 50 meters above the canal to the top are initially a very steep scree slope but it levels out more and more when you get closer to the top.

On top and going down

On the top you have a magnificent view at the Corno Grande to the North-East, especially the West Ridge, and at Monte Corvo to the West, You also see the continuation of the 1B trail to the North along the crest. The map only indicates a single trail, a 2-4 hour walk all the way to Pradi di Tivo.

Now you seem to have only two options, continue the crestal 1B route for 2-4 hours, depending how fast you are, but you will need 3-4 hours to go back to Campo Imperatore. Going back down the same route you came up, is only 45 minutes but you need a secure stand on the loose scree and solid rocks going down, and, even more, no fear of heights.


We asked an Italian man in his late forties or early fifties coming up after us if there was another way down and if he would go down again the same route. No, he said, “pericolo”, while waiving his arms in an typical Italian way. He was going to continue along the marked crestal trail all the way North, to Pradi di Tivo or Pietracamela. He seemed to know the way given his very quick pace and stopped for only a minute, pointing to a herd of chamois in the far distance. We asked him if there was another way down and he gave vague directions to go down on the North-West side. I saw a possible trail that did not continue. When he was already at a 50 m distance we asked him again and he told us to follow the ridge first and go down along the sloping North-West ridges, giving directions waiving with his arms.

Looking at the vertical cliffs of Monte Corvo on the far side of our target valley we were suppose to go down into, I was wondering. No trail on the map, not even a dotted line. This looked suspicious. A new route to explore, always gives surprises. We were going to call the new route the “49th Birthday Route” as it was Ruud’s birthday today. We could always carry on following the long 1B route along the crest if this failed as Ruud was suggesting earlier: “I am not going down this route again, no matter what”. However, we would have to stay overnight in an hotel as it was already 1 PM.

Crest route with continuation of the 1B trail going North. The new route down from Pizzo d’Intermesoli is just below the grass of the prominent ridge (extension of the snow field), following the dip slope.

We followed the crestal route first till the 2438 m high saddle and had lunch. We saw the Italian men disappearing in the the distance and he was already close to the second peak, frightening a few herds of chamois with around 30 animals. This could be chamois country as it is isolated and there are probably few walkers on this route.

I had the feeling we had to go down all the way as far North as possible (far side valley on picture aboved) as the opposite Monte Corvo has a nice scree slope far North but closer there were vertical cliffs.

We stayed above instead of below the prominent ridge going down and went down along snow fields aiming at the scree slopes across the valley. This turned out to be the wrong way.

Going down in snow fields above the prominent ridge, wrong side down.

It looked fine going down easily for 400 meter but suddenly we were standing on top of 50-70 m high vertical limestone cliffs. No route down. I could see a scree slope touching the valley south of the ridge, a clearly safe route, but this would require to go back up for 300 m and go down again.

We continued North along slippery scree staying parallel with the contour lines assuming we could go down along a similar scree slope as visible across the valley. Suddenly, near what looked like a promising way down, thin bedded limestone was stucking out of a steeply sloping, soft rock wall and it got scary steep and very slippery, with little to hold on to. Again we missed 50-70 meters and there was no safe way down. The valley floor and scree slopes were not visible so there must be something steeper than 45 degrees behind, another cliff.

Steep North side, overview, seemed impossible to go down, when standing above.

Steep North side, detail.

We went back up at a considerable effort, also as it got very warm due to lack of wind with temperatures around 23 degrees Celsius. On top of the ridge we moved to the scree slope below the grassy dip slope (see Crestal Picture looking down, picture number 5), avoiding the steep snow field, staying below, and cutting towards the big rock cliff once below the main snow field. On the way down I saw vague foot steps in several places in the steep scree and we may be on the right track.

Overview at the Pizzo d’Intermesoli and the prominent  ridge. Route runs just below the big snow field in the middle and and the two small snow fields on the left.

Below the big snow field it is tempting to go left (West) instead of  continuing North-West and on the picture it is not clear if you could go down (see long valley in the centre above). Going North-West you have a choice to take the canal right below the main ridge (right) or a canal just below (left), marked with the last, small snow field on the picture below. We decided to go left as the right canal did not have a visible continuous slope as we saw a few hours ago standing on top of the cliff but unable to cross. After 50 m down there is another choice, left or right. The right canal has a continueous scree slope and the right one a steep grassy dip slope with a 2 meter high ledge you can easily climb down.

Route down marked in red, runs just below the ridge, just below single big and two small snow fields near middle-top to highest narrow scree slope middle left. Last section of our route on the ridge just below narrow scree slope, see next picture. 2 m rock climb indicated in blue.

Coming out of escape route, along the second ledge starting at the highest visible scree slope and going up to the right on the grassy ledge. 2 m climb indicated in blue.

Down in the valley

We left Pizzo d’Intermesoli at 1 PM and now it was 6 PM but we were down in the valley. Clouds were building up. We heard thunder a few times and felt a few rain drops. Going back to Camp Imperatore was still a long way, 1 hour back the Sella dei Grilli, 300 m back up to the pass, and 2 hours back along the 1V crestal route.

We got back at 9.10 PM, just before it got dark. The thunderstorm did not hit us but went South.


The next day, we walked out from Campo Imperatore to Paganica, a 7 hour walk, along the shortest route to l’Aquila. In the bus from Paganica to l’Aquila, we met a German particle physicist who worked in the underground lab below Monte Aquila, in the Labaratori Nationali del Gran Sasso near Assergi.

He was surprised we went up Pizzo d’Intermesoli as it was know to be a very steep peak. He was interested to know of a safe alternative route. My recommendations would be not to do the South route along the marked 1B trail if you feel uneasy doing a 4th degree rock climbs and standing on slippery, steep scree slopes but go up the way we came down. This is only 700 meters up but does add 3 hours to the trip so will  be in total 7-9 hours from Campo Imperatore instead of 5-6 hours. Also, finding your way on a 700 meter high mountain with steep cliffs on its sides is not easy if you have never been there, even in good weather. By going up and down the same  route you will be ensured of a safe trip.

“49th birthday route” down, in green, North-West of Pizzo d'Intermesoli. Scan of the 1:25,000 map of the Gran Sasso of the Club Alpino Italiano.

We called the new route the “49th Birthday Route” as it was Ruud’s Birthday today but unfortunately we could not mark it with cairns. Hopefully, there are volunteers we could do this noble work.

Enjoy, and safe trekking.


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