Climbing Gran Paradiso 4061m – Graian Alps Italy

Gran ParadisoAt 13,323 ft (4,061 m) in height, Gran Paradiso is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful but also one of the “easiest” 4000ers of the Alps. The peak lies within the beautiful National Park of Gran Paradiso. It was first climbed in September of 1860 by an Englishman named John Cowell. The mountain is regarded as the highest mountain wholly within Italy and it had been on my personal radar for several years.

I’d first heard about the mountain through others while hiking in the Austrian Alps a few years earlier. At the time I had pretensions to go and climb Mont Blanc but I’d been gradually persuaded through conversations to try this less busy yet equally beautiful mountain a few miles across the French border near the Aosta Valley in Italy. So here I was a few years later ready to give it my best try.

Aosta ValleyThe main route up the mountain is graded F+, so if you’re looking for a big peak that is technically and relatively straightforward then Gran Paradiso ticks all the boxes and that was exactly what I was looking for.

There are two main routes to the summit for the average Joe: you either ascend via the Rifugio Vitttorio Emmanuel from the north east side or the Rifugio Chabod from the north west. We had chosen to attempt a full traverse ascending via Vittorio and then descending via Chabod to see the most of what this beautiful mountain had to offer. At least that was the original plan!

Both routes are glacial treks that end in a 20-minute technical scramble. By UK standards the final ridge is around a Grade 2 scramble, but it’s all also protected with pigtails to safely rope yourself into.

The Gran Paradiso National Park has very limited accommodation due to its safely guarded building restraints so my adventure began in Argentiere, at the wonderfully named Yeti Lodge, a traditional Alpine chalet just up the valley from Chamonix. I’d be based here before transferring through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to Italy in the morning. That night I met my fellow mountaineers and IFMGA guide followed by a lovely 3-course chalet meal.

Aosta ValleyUp and awake early we left for Italy. After about a two hour drive we arrived at the commune of Valsavarenche in the Aosta Valley, our starting point. From here we started to hike up to the Rifugio Vittorio Emmanuel Hut.

A beautiful 2-3 hour walk through alpine forests and over some moorland saw us make it to the Rifugio at (2775m). With 120 beds in total, the facilities are basic, but the location is simply perfect. We spent the afternoon with our guide Stefano practising technical skills with crampons, ropes and harnesses etc before retiring early to bed in preparation for the day ahead.

Rifugio Vittorio Emmanuel HutA true alpine start awaited us the following morning as we left well before daybreak to embark on our climb. The weather was already looking pretty grim from the moment we awoke and steadily deteriorated yet further as the morning progressed. Two big problems were occurring. Waves of fresh wet snow were falling on the top of layers of unhardened snowpack underneath. We were getting unseasonal snowfall for this late in June. Coupled with a relatively high and humid accompanying temperature the snow was not freezing to any real hardness creating a foot of fresh soft snow to break trail in atop unconsolidated cruddy old snow underneath.

The writing was already on the wall and after several hours of laboured ascent our guide stopped us dead in our tracks. The weather had closed in and we were now in a white-out. The snow was falling, we were behind schedule and the conditions worsening. We might have made the summit but the views would have been non-existent and the climb would have been a real sufferfest. Stefano pulled the plug and nobody felt like arguing!

We dejectedly tracked back down passing first a French Team and then an Albanian Team both still blindly (and possibly foolishly) forging a path heads down straight for the summit. But we had the advantage of a day in hand with an option of using our second day from the Chabod Hut side still to play, so all was not lost.

Our Plan B appeared to be a tactical retreat all the way back to the valley, a quick nip along the foot of the valley to the Chabod trailhead and then a second plod back up the hill to the Refugio Chabod situated at the foot of the north-west face at 2710m . We were a weary band that eventually shuffled into the mountain hut at around 2.30pm that afternoon.

Refugio ChabodWe ate as much pasta as we could stomach then hit the dormitory bunks and slept solidly until 7pm that evening. We were spent forces mentally and physically and needed to recuperate to try again for the peak.

I slept like a new born baby that night but with one failure behind us we were leaving nothing to chance this time around. The weather forecast was looking much better with a clear moonlit night ahead meaning dropping temperatures and no chance of precipitation forecast for the morning, which all hopefully meant good snow conditions under foot.

We were up at 3.30am and the first team to leave the hut that morning. We tip-toed out across the moraine fields in the darkness our way lit only by the head-torches on our helmets, eventually we made it up onto the Glacier de Laveciau.

Crampon PointWe roped up. The glacier is an intricate maze of crevasses which we now carefully wound our way through, all the time ascending slowly. The moon shone down on the cold ice which glistened under the crunch of our crampons. As daybreak finally arrived we had made it to the windy col the Schiena d’Asinoand (Donkey’s Back) finally at last the summit was insight!

Gearing up on the colMountains around the Gran ParadisoThe final 100 metres of climbing were indeed an exciting and exposed scramble and eventually after a few tricky moves with crampons scratching across rock we found that we had arrived at the exposed tiny summit, we had it all to ourselves (learning later that we had been the first team from the north-west side to reach the the top that day). The views were sublime particularly of the Mont Blanc Massif and the Matterhorn far away in the distance. Just visible Verona flickered in the morning sun many miles away.

On the summit of Gran ParadisoAlas, and all too soon we had to start our descent. Happily I was allowed to lead the team back down as I’d been last on the rope during our ascent. Now in glorious sunshine we yomped back down the glacier following our own footsteps that we had left on the way up only a few hours earlier.

Descending the glaciers on the north west side of the mountainSatisfied and fulfilled I finally flopped down outside the Chabod Hut back at a staggeringly early time of 10.30am. Collapsed on a wooden bench drenched in the morning sunshine and looking back up the glacier to the picture perfect summit of Gran Paradiso I promptly ordered myself a beer each and some yummy cake with whipped cream on for good measure.

Now I know it is bad form to have a drink before the sun is even over the yard arm but to hell with tradition I’d thoroughly earned that pint and it was a fitting way to sign off on what had been a terrific little adventure!

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Download GPX data for the route at:
http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/81414/jamehand/The-Gran-Paradiso-4061m-Graian-Alps-Italy

Accommodation:
https://yetilodgechamonix.com

Guides Website:
https://granparadisoguide.com/en/

Adventure Outfitter:
https://www.keadventure.com/

 

Piz Da Lech (Via Ferrata VF3B) – The Dolomites

Later in the year I want to attempt to climb the mighty Triglav, the highest mountain in Slovenia. To summit the mountain in style a series of Via Ferrata (VF) routes can be taken all the way to the summit. However, before attempting such a trip I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and where better to do that than in the home of VF itself the Italian Dolomites!

snapseedLuckily for me I had a week booked in July to go to Italy where I’d be doing some hiking and mountain walking based in Corvara in the Sud Tyrol, so while I was out there I booked myself onto a VF day on a one-to-one basis with a local Mountain Guide.

The Alta Badia Guides Office suggested a route called the ‘Piz Da Lech’ rated at a VF3B. VF grading is easy to understand. Difficulty is rated on a 5 point scale (1 being easy and 5 being the most difficult). Exposure (as in how steep the drop offs are, or how catastrophic a tumble might be) is rated as an A, B or C, with C being the most exposed. So the route seemed pitched pretty perfectly for me, moderately hard but with a few serious moves and some exposure to get used to.

Some technical details of the route:
Via ferrata, completely secured with steel cables
Type of path: 95% steel cables, 5% steps.
Complete gradient of the climb: 380 m, 2-2:30 hours
Complete gradient until the beginning of the via ferrata: 30 m, 20 mins.
Gradient of the ferrata: 190 m, 1:00-1:30 hours.
Gradient to the summit: 160 m, 30 mins.
Descent: from the Piz da Lech summit, 2,910 m, descend along the normal route (with red signs). The last short steep stretch of the descent is secured with metal cables and fixed with steel; 1:30 hours.
Facing: South.

So I set off with my guide Michel up the Piz Boè Gondola from Covara in the early morning bound for the rocky slopes of the Sella Range above. I was ready for a bit of adventure and the day did not fail to deliver.

There was some excellent climbing to be had on the rock itself whilst the wire, ladders and stemples were all well-positioned for when it became too impractical to climb unaided. There were also the two famous ladders towards the end of the climb to negotiate, these ladders themselves were airy and fun but required a bit of force to pull through, especially on the top one.

The route finished with a nice mountain walk across a lunar landscape to the summit which had the ubiquitous cross upon it and far reaching views across the Dolomites.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first real taste of Via Ferrata and the surroundings couldn’t have been better for a climb with stunning mountain scenery. Hopefully my little adventure will have put me in good stead for the sterner test to come in September out in Slovenia.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Download GPX data for the route at:
http://www.shareyouradventure.com/map/81662/jamehand/Piz-Da-Lech-3B-VF-The-Dolomites-11-Jul-2019-at-0903

Guides Website:
https://www.altabadiaguides.com/en/index.html

Snowshoeing The Runch Hut Round

Snow Shoeing Dolomites style

I’d never put on a pair of snow shoes before, but there’s always a first time for everything!

Continue reading “Snowshoeing The Runch Hut Round”

Cinque Torri & Lagazuoi’s Hidden Valley

The Lagazuoi cable car is as breathtaking as it look

The names conjure up emotions of high adventure and daring-do, so when the opportunity came to ski the Cinque Torre or (Five Towers) followed by the fabled Hidden Valley it was just too irresistible a chance to ignore!

Continue reading “Cinque Torri & Lagazuoi’s Hidden Valley”