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More than a mountain, it's a massif, a world unto itself, a legendary place bearing the scars of battle and an atmosphere of tragedy and sadness. For it is hallowed ground, the final resting place of thousands of young men who died gallantly for their country. It is also a destination for hikers, hang gliders and paragliders, cyclists and mountain bikers, history buffs, climbers, naturalists, motor sports enthusiasts, nordic walkers, pic-nickers, and seekers of silence and tranquility. It's our "backyard mountain," ever-changing: sometimes sunny, green and inviting, at other times dark and forbidding or mist-cloaked and mysterious, always dominating the landscape as well as the imagination.

Mountain Facts...

• height: 1775 m (5769 ft); vertical gain from Romano d'Ezzelino: 5230 ft. (in 16 miles)

• distance around the massif: about 100 km (62 mi.)

• Peaks of the massif include: Cima Grappa, Col del Orso, Col della Berretta, Col Moschin, Monte Prassolan, M. Fontana Secca, M. Palla, M. Asolone, M. Pertica, M. Pallon, M. Boccaor, M. Oro, M. Coston, M. Meda, M. Piz, M. Roncone, M. Boscon, M. Cismon, M. Solarolo, M. Cornosega, M.Tomba, M. Santo, M. Tomatico, M. Meatte, Cima della Mandria. Some of the locales are Costalunga, Lepre, Ponte San Lorenzo, Campo Solagna, Campo Croce, San Giovanni, Forcelletto, Finestron, Spinoncia, and more.

A Little History, and More...

The origin of its present name is not certain. One hypothesis is that it was derived from crapp or grepp, meaning crag in an ancient pre-Latin language. It has nothing to do with grappa, the alcoholic drink, which comes from grappolo, a cluster of grapes. The nearby city of Bassano del Grappa takes its name from the peak; just coincidentally is the city also known for the firey, potent liquor. Some maintain that the mountain was once called Alpe Madre, Mother Alp.

It was in August of 1901 that the patriarch of Venice, Beppe Sartor of Riese (who would later become Pope Pius X), arrived in Borso del Grappa to start his trek to Cima Grappa to bless a new statue of the Madonna. He was surprised to find a large group of pious townspeople waiting to accompany him on the journey, which he made astride a white mule. This event has entered into local legend and was reenacted in 2001, on its 100th anniversary.

In World War I the Italians were engaged in a deadly struggle against the Austrians, who had routed them at Caporetto and were poised to invade the Veneto plains. If they succeeded, Italy would be lost. The Italian army regrouped and prepared for its heroic last stand along the Piave River and the adjacent mountain massif--Monte Grappa--which they had transformed into a fortress, with tunnels, bunkers, trenches, and gun emplacements blasted from solid rock (they can still be seen today). Every Italian citizen joined in the effort, contributing whatever they could to help their soldiers. The troops fought numerous battles, first defensive, then taking the offensive and repelling the invaders forever. The monument and ossuary on Cima Grappa are a testament of the tragic cost: there lie the bones of 12,615 Italians and 10,295 Austro-Hungarians who never came down from the mountain. The remains of many others continue to be discovered (as recently as August 2014), along with their helmets, uniforms, boots, canteens, weapons, and sometimes, ID tags. • Click here to see photo albums of mountain warfare in WWI. • Click here to read an excellent in-depth article about the battles on Monte Grappa. • Click here to read more about the city of Bassano del Grappa, at the foot of the mountain.

The Madonna was hit by a shell and damaged, but the soldiers saved the beloved statue. It was restored and continues to watch over the mountain top.

World War II brought more misery, suffering, and death to Italy. Monte Grappa was the refuge of the local partisan brigades which had organized to fight the occupying Nazi forces. Aside from having symbolic significance, it provided a vantage point from which the resistance fighters could look down into the Valsugana/Val Brenta, the main supply route from Germany to its forces in Italy. In September of 1944 the Germans decided they'd had enough of partisan sabotage, raids, and sniping, and surrounded the mountain. Forcing women, children, and old people to march ahead of them, the German army moved up the mountain, murdering any partisans they found, as well as civilians even suspected of harboring them. Other resistance fighters (not only on Monte Grappa, but in many other places) were captured and publicly hanged or shot, their families forced to watch. A powerful to them by the sculptor Murer stands just below the summit. The city of Bassano del Grappa, at the foot of the mountain, was awarded a medal for its valor during the occupation. • Click here to read the account of a local partisan courier.

During the cold war, a NATO base existed on Cima Grappa; theneglected, ugly structures are finally going be demolished. A underground hotel has been proposed for the site.

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Lives are still lost on Monte Grappa. Probably its nearness, accessibility, and familiarity lull people into a false sense of security, causing them to not take the mountain seriously enough. This is a mistake: Grappa must be accorded the same respect as any other mountain. We can never let nature's beauty blind us to the fact that she is harsh and unforgiving of imprudence, carelessness, and stupidity. In 2003 alone, the mountain rescue volunteers on the south side of the massif carried out 26 operations on Monte Grappa. In December of that year, rescuers on the north side had to save a group of scouts who were stranded in a snowstorm. Later that winter, they had to rescue the occupants of a car entrapped by icy roads, excursionists who climbed up the via ferrata and then felt--cold! (and hadn't brought extra clothing), and mountain bikers who lost their way (and their shoes) in waist deep snow (duh!). They also searched in vain for a missing airplane which, it turned out, had actually crashed on the nearby Asiago Plateau (only moments away by air but a couple of hours by road). In 2005 a paraglider pilot had to be rescued when his chute became entangled in the branches of a tree growing from the side of a cliff. In recent years, at least one hiker fell to his death, a cyclist died in a head-on collision with an automobile, and bizarre accidents claimed the lives of motorists. In one case, a man who had stopped to take a photo put his car in forward instead of reverse, and in front of his horrified wife, drove right over the edge of the cliff. The most horrifying incident was the death of a married couple and their three sons while they were descending the mountain one evening. Their car went off the road in the place where the drop is deepest and steepest, tumbling hundreds of meters straight down into Valle Santa Felicita. Equally chilling is the considerable evidence that it was not an accident. The most ridiculous accident happened in September 2007, when the driver of a car carrying his wife and another couple just drove off the road while gawking at the war monument and admiring the scenery, instead of watching where he was going. The car tumbled hundreds of meters down a slope and all four people died. There was a lot of talk about making the "dangerous roads" safer, but it's not always possible to protect people from themselves.

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Monte Grappa in a stormy and rather eerie vein. You would not want to be on the mountain in these conditions.

Monte Grappa has many moods and guises. Once I rode up to see the finish of the annual classic bicycle race; the top third of the mountain was swathed in fog and we pedaled along in a cocoon, able to see nothing but the road just ahead of us, with no landmarks or reference points to tell us where we were, how high, how much of the climb remained. I felt disconnected from this world, like a ghost moving through some non-earthly realm--a strange, disconcerting, and fascinating sensation. We reached the summit, then waited and watched as a lone rider rounded the final curve and came into view, the following car's headlights piercing the mist--an unforgettable image. I once mentioned to the proprietor of the Rifugio Bassano on the summit that I would love to be there during a thunderstorm. "You may think so, because it looks so beautiful as you watch from below," he said, "but if you were up here you would have a different idea entirely. You can't possibly imagine how absolutely terrifying it is."

Evening is my favorite time. The tourists have all gone down the mountain; the sun gilds the distant peaks in the west, which look like islands rising from a quiet sea. The steep valleys are already deep in shadow, the air grows chill, and an immense silence and profound peace fall over the mountain. The world below ceases to exist. There are only the mountains, mists, and meadows, clouds and sky, golden light...and the spirits of those who rest eternally in this hallowed ground.

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The Monte Grappa massif is a wonderful place for mountain biking and hiking. One of the attractions is visiting the malghe (alpine dairies) which are renowned for their excellent cheeses (morlacco, bastardo, and ricotta), which are sold directly to the public. Some of them are also agriturismo (farm touring) establishments, offering simple, hearty, delicious local specialties (polenta, game, mushrooms, cooked cheese, etc.), and in some cases, lodging as well. The many malghe on Grappa include Malga Archeson, Malga Archeset, Malga Coston, Malga Paradiso, Malga Cason del Sol, Malga Mure, and more. There's nothing the Veneto people love more than driving to these remote and picturesque locales, enjoying lunch with family and friends, and going for a walk--simple and genuine pleasures that make for unforgettable experiences and treasured memories.

A Monte Grappa Gallery

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(above) typical landscape (right) Pian della Bala.

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Pian della Bala and Val delle Mure, as seen from Cima Grappa

Sentiero (trail) 152, which connects Pian della Bala with Cima della Mandria. It can be seen on the far right in the adjacent photo.

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(left and above) Two views from fascinating Sentiero 152. The road in the distance runs from below the summit to Monte Tomba. It's the black road on the route map on the Climbing Monte Grappa page.

Pt 2 - Climbing Monte Grappa

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Cima Grappa, the official site of Rifugio Bassano on the summit, has webcam images.

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2001-2017 The BiciVeneto lion logo and all text and photos on this site are, unless otherwise noted, the sole property of April Pedersen Santinon. Duplication, reproduction, or use of the text, images, and photos without the author's permission is strictly prohibited.

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