This is a trip that happened on my second Alpine trip, we had just had a successful trip to the summits of Tete Blanche and Petit Fouche! Unfortunately it had rained like never before and we got pretty wet, so by the time we were back in the valley we had a day off to dry and sort out kit as we had completed 3 summits in 3 days, with valley to summit accents without using the cable lifts. So a day off was much needed.
During this break we got out to the town and towards the end of the day got out the guidebooks and decided to have a crack at Gran Paradiso, so we set off in the van for Italy from Chamonix. We picked up a random hitchhiker from the tunnel and found our way to the nearest town to Gran Paradiso national park, and pulled up into a nice quiet car park. That was until daft o’clock in the morning when we realized we were parked next to a building site with JCB’s and a ton of plant rolling around and walking everyone up.
First things first you need a map. So we pulled into a campsite, and boom map in hand! Next drive to the end of the road and park up, pack up shit and get going on the long slog up the mountain to the hut. No navigation skills needed here! Just follow the signs to the Vittorio Emanuele II hut. The route up was actually as nice as many of the alpine treks I have been on, with green forests, lovely views and waterfalls everywhere, as well as the occasion view of the wildlife. It was a busy path with many people going up and many going down, I’ve always had a sense of foreboding when walking up to a route, whatever the grade, and seeing those who have come down with all their own experience fills me with a sense of jealousy, as I want to be in their shoes (boots) so to speak!
We got to the hut and had a short rest before continuing; past and making our way further up the mountain keeping to the route and looking for a good Bivi spot. This time we found a good one, already built up and with only small refinements needed, which included a view that was ours. We had a boil in the bag meal and whilst setting up camp and rechecking the guidebook pages on the camera, ready for the day after, before getting an early night. I absolutely love being outdoors overnight; the fresh air in contrast to what was becoming a not so fresh sleeping bag, especially after my boily meal! But the stars are something else, and certainly something that I missed on my first Alpine trip when every night was in the huts. Being in a Bivi is for me the best way to be in the Alps and get a real feel for what its all about, I would nearly go as far as saying that I would be happy just to walk set up camp and go back down…nearly…
I was piggy in the middle and slept well after the days walking, an early morning broke my sleep and I shot up straight into action doing the food, whilst Mike and Colin got an extra few winks! We eventually set off and left a few bits at the Bivi to collect on the way back, and to save on weight for the summit (the biggest problem with a Bivi is the extra shit you have to carry!). The route initially was a bit hard to find as we had not done a recce the night before. There was some other people on the same route who had made their way from the hut, so using their lights and some navigation, we made our way to the glacier and set off up some initially steep ground. This eased off, although it was still an incline and eventually we came to an opening of sorts with some lovely views to the mountains that surrounded us. It was about this time, that I realized that we could also see the summit of Gran Paradiso, and therefore the diagonal line of indented snow leading to the summit rocks.
We were having a little difficulty with the rope and working as a 3, as the man in the middle (mike) was getting pulled all directions, this was creating a bit of friction between us. I’m sure the stress of a few hard days, mixed with living in close quarters; hard work and altitude were not helping either. This was the highest we had been on the trip. As well as this Mike had had to endure Colin’s and my verbalized bowel movements for a week or so in the van, nice!
We finally got to the summit rocks and their was a little bit of a queue, we made our way across the traverse, after giving way to some returning traffic, these guys were being belayed by their guide I guess so took a little time and gave us time to have a look at the nice sheer drop, which was change of pace as the whole route had been on pretty much solid ground the whole way. We just clipped as we moved in the fixed gear and then Colin just retrieved the gear as the last man. Finally we had made the summit, Its was busy their with other groups, so the solitary photo with the Madonna will have to wait for a future trip, that said, I was still happy to have made it and as with most Alpine summits the views were amazing, although I felt a little rushed by the mass of people starting to arrive at the summit.
We made our way off the rock using a different route over the rocks and followed the same route down. There was a couple of tiffs on the way down, as the pulling and throwing of the rope got on everyone’s nerves. Hand bags were getting thrown out the pram a little, although a little worse was to come! We made a slow decent and this time stopped at the hut for a celebratory beer, We had not drank much or eaten much during the day, so it was safe to say that after one solitary beer, for the rest of that decent I was pretty drunk. I was bringing a new meaning to the term lightweight!
We finally got down to the van and decided to look out for a place to stay, an actual campsite! Showers! Cleanliness! You might be wondering why all the exclamation marks, ‘it’s a bloody campsite, not the Ritz’ but this was the only shower we had for a month…just let that settle in…Howling I know, what a bunch of grot bags!