The Gran Grasso massif here offers a continuous barrier that can only be crossed from one side to the other by few passes (“vado” means pass), which have been used since time immemorial by animals and humans alike. The “road” that goes up from Casale San Nicola to Vado di Corno, for example, was one of very few communication routes between the Valle Siciliana to the east and the Valle Aterno to the west. Here traders, pilgrims and shepherds with their flocks passed for centuries, as shown by how the path is dug out in the rock in some places, and is generally wide and easy.
There may be some confusion about the Geological path (“sentiero Geologico”). This was opened in 1987 by the Club Alpino Italia (section CAI Teramo) and went from Fonte Nera to Vado di Corno through the Valle dell’Inferno, passing through rock walls fitted with iron chains. As it turned out to be too dangerous in the lower part, this route was abandoned, however, and no longer maintained.
Today the “Geological path” refers to the classic route leading from Casale San Nicola to Vado di Corno. The lower part of this route is marked with painted signs, whereas the upper part -from the rifugio Nino D’Arcangelo up to Monte Aquila- follows the traces of the old path, with faded yellow-red marks and a steep section fitted with chains and steel cables.
Although the old trail has not officially been maintained, small improvements have been made and one chain section has been replaced. But beware that the anchors are still from 1987 and cannot guarantee your safety!
Total ascent/descent: about 1500 m.
Walking time: 6-8 hours
Distance: about 18 km. (20 km. when starting from Casale)
Signs: white-red signs on the road, yellow-red signs uphill, and white-red signs downhill from the summit of Monte Aquila to Vado di Corno
At Casale San Nicola (842 m.), right under the motorway pylon, turn left to take the road going south, which soon becomes unpaved. Continue straight on ignoring any junctions. After passing an old concrete volleyball court, the road becomes a little more rugged. It leads through a wood and after a few narrow bends it enters the valley. Pass the junction for Fonte Nera and park your car a little further on, near a small building with an information panel, just before the ENEL waterworks (2.5 km. from the village).
From the ENEL information panel (at about 1060 m.), continue on the unpaved road until you pass the stream of the Valle dell’Inferno right under the waterworks. After about 1 km. the road goes down and makes two hairpin bends; at the first bend, take a clear, signposted path on your right, with concrete steps leading down to the stream. After crossing the stream (1089 m), continue along a small concrete canal until you reach a track that clearly goes up. At about 1250 m., leave the track and take the path that climbs up to the right and takes you up on a ridge.
Follow the path to the end and enter the wood. Then you start climbing up by numerous zig-zags until you come out onto the meadows, at a saddle with a junction (1673 m.). Here you follow the path on the right, which goes slightly downhill to re-enter the valley. After crossing a canal, you reach the rifugio Nino d’Arcangelo (closed, 1655 m. – 1 hour and 45 min.).
From the rifugio, follow the road for a short distance, until you reach a hairpin bend to the left. Here you leave the road and follow a path with faded yellow-red signs that climbs to the right, up to the saddle with a great view of the Valle dell’Inferno below. The track takes you gently down to the bottom of the valley, where you go up again on the other side to arrive under a rock face with a fitted chain (1900 m.). Use the chain to climb up the first steep section, then use your hands for the next 5 meters, then another chain and finally a steel cable.
Now you will find yourself at the bottom of a long and steep grassy slope. There is no track and the terrain is difficult, just go straight up, aiming to the right of the large obelisk rock that dominates this part of the valley. Climb up the slope, passing some shepherds’ huts, to reach a saddle at the foot of a rock face. To get up to the crest, follow the track, keeping slightly to the left where you need to climb up a steep canal (1st-degree passage).
From here on, the slope becomes less steep and you can easily reach the summit (2494 m. – 4 hours).